Ze Chermans, And How I Feel
Back in the mid-nineties, I had a job in the marketing department of a B2B services player, a big one. I was all negotiating with printers, buying envelopes by the million and buying media direct without agency commission.
A few months later, I got involved in a start-up project in Israel. Weird from the get-go: Mr Big who owned the company insisted that the product marketing cycle be over Jewish New Year, on the basis that all countries had to fall in with his British mode of business, despite my telling him that no-one would be even working then. And the team was made up of me, a JAP from New York, and a German guy whose father was a priest who'd been involved in all the reparations stuff after the war, and had guilt tattooed in indellible ink across his forehead. The A Team, we weren't.
And weirdest of all, the project was run as a subsidiary of our German office. I tried to tell Mr Big that most businesses in Israel probably wouldn't want to sign a contract with a German company - because of the war - but he wasn't having any of it. Efficiency, that's what counts. Everyone else is marching out of step (to coin a war analogy).
So I'm in Israel, setting up a pilot project with my colleagues, and we're like the comedy Three Musketeers. Sample JAP: gee, is there no Zagat's guide to Tel Aviv? Er, no, sister, it's mostly felafel stalls. Sample guilty German to Yael Dayan, who we had rented an apartment from: Yael. You sound like a man. It is all the cigarettes you smoke. People were also a little scared because he answered the phone by barking "Eichart!", which left most Israelis quaking in their sandals. Sample me: I just can't negotiate the way I can at home. Everyone here's got chutzpah.
So Wolfram, the General Manager from Germany, is coming out to check up on us half-way through the project.
History: Wolfram had trained in the London office, and we'd got off to a bad footing, because he was working on a TV/radio project, and gave me the complete runaround. His media plan included a publication called Broadcast News. I talked to the world and her lover trying to track it down. He was senior. Eventually, in a meeting, I said to him "are you sure you don't mean Broadcast? Not Broadcast News?" As I said Broadcast News, I did that thing with my hands like I was a film cameraman - charades - to indicate a film. I also tried to do a Holly Hunter impression, but that's hard when you don't have dark hair and you're from Eastern European peasant stock.
"Not Broadcast," he replied, firmly, losing face, "Broadcast News". I resisted the temptation to do the charades thing that indicates it's a book.
But the damage was done: his star was on the ascendant, on account of his magic with a spreadsheet, and general efficiency, and I got black marks from him for enfooling him in a meeting. So I had to push really hard to get on the Israel project, because he didn't want me. Which was odd, because there weren't a huge number of people queuing up to go to a war-torn country in the Middle East - we all had some previous.
Another piece of history: after London and before Israel, I worked on a global project for Mr Big, going round each of the offices and standardising their key technology. Most people rolled out the red carpet: I came straight from Head Office, they'd get whatever I needed, Ma'am.
Not Germany. Apart from the fact that I got the culture all wrong and kept calling people by their first name, Wolfram had power. So I do my whole little presentation to the management team of what we're looking for from them (code for what they have to give us), and whereas everyone else kowtowed and ran out and got it, he said, looking at my list "von, two unt sree, ve vill give you. Four, ve vill not. Five, you vill tell us vot ze other offices are doing." He said this as he shone the bright light in my face. I felt a little uncomfortable.
He offered me lunch. Now the British bombed most of Frankfurt during the war - don't mention the war - so the office was in a new shiny high-rise in the burosdadt, and he took me in the glass elevator, down to the basement where the restaurant was. Cool marble floors. As he got out of the lift, I realised he had those clicky things on his shoes, toes tapping against the granite as he walked. Suddenly, I didn't feel hungry. Over lunch, he told me about his right wing politics while I tried not to think about the war.
So back to the plot. I'm in a pokey rented office in downtown Tel Aviv with the Guilty German and the JAP, and Wolfram rolls into town. Books himself into the Hilton; no appartment rental for him, he's all luxury and service-enabled. Comes into the office, tells us he had a hard time at security in the airport, and goes to the beach for two weeks.
Two weeks later, he's back in the office with a permatan to die for.
"Sasha, I am leafing zis ufternoon. You vill write me a letter for ze security."
So I take our headed paper, and write out, in the most grammatical Ivrit I can muster, the following:
"Herr Doktor Schmidt was in town to help us with our business endeavours. He was not quite as helpful as we would have liked."
Wolfram proudly puts the letter in his breast pocket, day dreaming of the duty free and air hostesses and whatever else floats his boat.
I heard that he spent hours in airport security. Hours.