While in Switzerland, I attempted to steal a Rolex executive’s watch, dozed off during lecture by one of the world’s top scientists, and introduced my imaginary friend to an audience of Ambassadors, members of Parliament, and top-level executives of multi-national corporations. I’d say my diplomatic mission was a success.
I was fortunate enough to be chosen as one of about 20 American “Young Leaders” to join about 20 of our Swiss counterparts for a week of dialogue, Swiss culture, personal diplomacy, panels, presentations, tours, and some of the exquisite food and wine I’ve tasted on either side of the Mississippi. Most of the participants were politicians, executives, analysts, entrepreneurs, or writers. I was the first K-12 teacher they’ve had in the 19 year history of the conference, although there were a couple of university professors there, too. Overall, just a remarkable group of accomplished young human beings. And me.
Our mission this week was to better understand each other as individuals, as cultures, and as economic and political players on the world stage. I think we succeeded, and forged some new opportunities, partnerships and friendships. It was an incredible week.
There were too many unique experiences to write about, so I’ll just share the top 20 things I learned:
- Fly business class on trans-oceanic flights if at all possible (special thank you to Swiss International Air Lines for generously donating flights to all participants!)
- To blend in on the streets of Europe, wear dark stylish clothing and smoke a cigarette. A scarf will help, too.
- A large majority of Europeans were very relieved about the U.S. presidential election, and very hopeful.
- Even some U.S. Republicans are hopeful, too.
- The Swiss are generally modest and somewhat reserved compared to Americans, but open up quite a bit once they get to know you. Drinking helps accelerate this process.
- Americans tend to open up a little too much when drinking.
- There’s a reason why Swiss watches are world renowned for quality. Too bad I’ll never own one.
- I like Switzerland even more than I used to, and that was a lot.
- I have many new friends in Switzerland.
- Numbers 8 and 9 (see above) work quite nicely together.
- Five-star hotels use up a tremendous amount of natural resources. But they’re pretty comfy.
- People have more commonalities than they have differences.
- Being a gentleman crosses cultural boundaries and never goes out of style.
- Going out dancing is a great way to improve bi-lateral relationships.
- Swiss would generally like to emulate America’s creativity and spirit.
- Americans would generally like to emulate the Swiss’s craftsmanship, financial market success, and attention to detail.
- Pride, tradition and patriotism could make numbers 15 and 16 (see above) difficult.
- Dignitaries seem to enjoy being formally and repeatedly recognized at gatherings, which I find time-consuming and mind-numbing.
- PowerPoint presentations are not any better on the other side of the Atlantic.
- Wherever you go, people are people. I like that.