Building Bridges of Understanding
MEMBERS’ SURVIVAL GUIDE FOR FOREIGN CONGRESSES
So you are thinking about going to Paris for the 20th congress, but…
……travel is not your thing. Hormone and pheromone research suggests that approximately one third of us are either adventurers or smell other adventurers (phew), which leaves the rest of us who do not want to deal with long plane rides trying to sleep sitting up. Still, you know the 2015 ISH World Congress will be the best congress ever, and what you need is the MEMBERS’ SURVIVAL GUIDE FOR FOREIGN CONGRESSES. So here goes:
Let’s start with the planning stages. Get your passport early, and always check if a travel visa is needed. If you have a passport already, check when it expires. If it expires during the congress, get a new one, or plan on staying in Paris. Put your passport someplace really safe that no one else can find. That way you will have a passport to lose or misplace that provides ample anxiety for maximum excitement just before the trip.
Shop for inexpensive airplane tickets, but draw the line at more than 4 stops to get from New York to Paris- and if you insist on that really cheap ticket that goes to Paris via Chicago and Moscow, then only take a carry-on. No way that suitcase will change planes as often as you do, it goes to Madras via Novosibirsk.
Pack the carry-on with your toothbrush, and consider buying your toiletries abroad. Otherwise you are likely to be filing the bathroom cabinet of airline security officers who will dispute the liquid portions you so carefully measured.
If you are presenting, put your items on a flash drive, print out your slides, back them up on the cloud, Google drive, and another flash drive and then email them to yourself. Obsessive planning relieves that anxiety already in hyper drive because you cannot find the tickets. But remember, if all else fails, you can wing it.
You cannot find the tickets because they are virtual- somewhere you put the booking number, which will allow them to materialize on line, if you can remember which airline it is, which is difficult because the airlines change their names depending on where they are. USAIR in New York could be Finnair express in Moscow (or Rangoon)… something about Star Alliance which is another name for Star Fleet Command and space travel. Just say Captain James T. Kirk is your Uncle.
And in case you do feel like you are going to outer space –jet lag can do that to you– here is some etiquette to follow. No one takes travelers checks with them anymore. Put lots of money in your checking account and visit the ATMs regularly. Forget using your credit cards, because if you did not tell the credit card company that you were going to be in 4 cities (on your way to Paris) they will decline the use of your card anyway. Euros, thank goodness, are like dollars, except for their value–euros are way more valuable, but just consider 1 euro as 1 dollar and worry about it when the bank statement comes. That way the coffee in Moscow will seem less expensive than the $10 you just paid. Jet lag will do that to you, too. Unfortunately, the cup of coffee won’t undo Moscow jet lag. Sorry, so sorry, you are now on a Japan airlines flight to Novosibirsk. Oh, well, adventurer….
In your preparations, if you do not speak French, consider a language course – it won’t help you beyond being polite, please and thank you and where is the toilet, the ATM, and the melatonin, but at least you can feel self-righteous that you wanted to learn the language. C’est la vie!
Having decided to travel to the Congress, sitting on the plane, you feel excited, proud, and as having professionally “finally arrived”. And as you exit the plane, and see unreadable signs (what is the international sign for ‘you are in the wrong terminal’ anyway?) this supreme confidence merges with surprise at how “foreign” everything feels. You look around spontaneously calling out “Maman, Maman, Je veux Maman!” having achieved the age regression you planned on demonstrate.
Once you arrive at the airport, take a moment to lament not having Googled how to get from the airport to the hotel. Europeans are very savvy about public transportation and the train really is fast into the city. Ask anyone in English, what to do, and ignore that they are ignoring you and pretending not to speak English (if still age regressed, lay prostrate on the ground and throw a temper tantrum, someone will help you). Remember, they took the same language course you did. But you can sing to them- most learned their English listening to American and British music.
Did I ever tell you the story about the airplane that took me to the other Paris airport? And after 5 inquiries about which bus to take to the REAL airport, two people told me the same thing, and I boarded that bus. It’s a small world after all.
At the hotel, drink more coffee and stay awake until Paris nighttime–that way you can trick your body into thinking it really is time to sleep, you can use your honed hypnotic skills to count sheep, while looking out the window at the awesome Eiffel tower. (Absolutely none of this works in Paris because Paris is so cool after you want to go to sleep; you will miss critical and important stuff if you go to sleep; DO NOT SLEEP!)
Scout out the congress venue, where your workshops are, and what the technical equipment is, and most important, find the free Wi-Fi. It will put you right at home and you can get that email that has the PowerPoint slides because you cannot find the flash drive (it’s in Khazakazan, being mined for information, but you new that, right?) But if you cannot download those slides, remember that you have to speak slowly so others can understand or translate you and you will only get through half the slides that took you weeks to prepare, anyhow.
Other etiquette. Europeans like to kiss hello. Americans say hello and shake hands, hug, and maybe give one air kiss. The Scandinavians insist on a two cheek deal, and the Italians go for three- maybe they are afraid they missed one cheek or they are just warming up to keep their romantic image alive, not sure which. I don’t know about the French, sometimes it’s one, sometimes two, sometimes three– So just stand still and let them kiss you as often as they like while you count. You can gather interesting data to report on at the next congress.
I am smelling an adventure coming on. See you in Paris, the City of Lights.
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Here are a few more tips for those of us who are longer of tooth and want to make the trip as easy as possible:
In thinking what we do, we always get direct flights or no more than one stop – if we possibly can. Frequent flyer miles can help with the cost. Stay away from seats that don’t recline. For such a short trip – 6 + hours we don’t go for business class unless money is no object. Then go for it.
We always check our big bags but carry on our lecture notes, travel confirmations and a change of underclothes/shirts and toiletries in case the bags get diverted – which they almost never do by the way. Two smaller bags may be easier to navigate with instead of one huge bag. Always carry with you: enough prescription drugs for the duration of your trip plus a few days more, know the generic names, and have your spouse and yourself carry a list of them. Generic refills are usually available if needed.
We get foreign currency at our local bank so we have Euros in our pocket when we land, and we just found out the US Airways credit card will not bill extra when we charge things abroad. Sometimes we wait to get our Euros in the arrival airport – those ATM’s are often the best deal. But we go for convenience not the slight savings you can get by extensive searching.
If we can share a limo or taxi from the airport the cost is reasonable and the convenience is great.
At every hotel, while we are already booked for the Congress section/rate, I ask if we could upgrade our room for a few more Euros. Often we get an executive section room with lounges etc. for very little more.
For the elders in the crowd…..once you have arrived at your hotel, you might take a short nap. When you get up, make yourself be on local time. That nap, even for an hour or two, makes a difference.
Finally since the expense of the trip is sometimes awesome, plan to stay abroad and have a longer vacation/holiday while you are on another continent. We try to do this after the Congress when we are fully over jet lag, the Congress duties are done, and we can just enjoy ourselves with nothing else on our minds. We usually get wonderful travel suggestions from the more knowledgeable local or well-travelled attendees.
Everyone speaks English if you get the right age group. Always ask the youngest person you see. They are computer literate and are very helpful.
One last thing: always leave a daily tip for the housekeepers on your unmade bed pillow. These people work hard for so little.