Just when I thought I’d gotten all the Oktoberfest stuff out of my system for the year, I packed a bag, finished up a presentation and waited for the airport shuttle to pick me up and take me to Emirates‘ Lounge for Lesser Deities. I was off to Shanghai for a week to do some training to the people I support in the region (meaning all over Asia and the South Pacific). I had a lot of room left in my suitcase, as compared to my NAFTA trip, where my suitcase scooted in at just one pound under the weight limit, and I had no idea I should have packed my Trachten (Lederhosen, traditional shirt, suspenders, Haferlschuhe, wooly socks) along with my .
I overnighted it on the plane, which you can do on an Emirates plane in business class to a realistic degree of comfort. I woke up in Dubai to a fantastic airport and an enormous business class lounge there. I waited about four hours and continued on to Shanghai to the Sheraton Hongkou hotel — a rather new and classy place to stay not far from my company’s office building. The taxi trip to the office was an eye-opener. All that stuff you’ve heard about roads in China: absolutely true.
I found the people there in the office very welcoming and friendly and helpful. My first night there, they took me out to a great restaurant for dinner and gave me a glimpse of the Bund — the waterfront area famous in Shanghai for 90 years already.
But during the training, when I was trying to encourage open discussion and group participation in the exercises I had planned for them (with a few exceptions), they weren’t helping me at all. I felt abandoned and confused, flipping through my slides at light speed and amazing myself at our pace. My training presentation went off without a hitch, content-wise and concept-wise, in Mexico and the U.S., but clearly something was different here. No one was willing to talk. No volunteers. No shared experience. Almost no questions. Certainly no cross-functional discussion. I still have a thing or two to learn about business culture in Asia.
I thought these people must be crazy uptight at first. And then I watched them cut loose at the Holiday Inn Oktoberfest.
Some had been to Germany before. Some had even been to the real Oktoberfest before — though surprisingly, none of the actual Germans present in our party (there were three, and one from Bavaria even!). My main contact knew what she wanted and made it herself after the waitress couldn’t bring her one — a Radler. As the party progressed, I grew more and more astounded how these reserved, conservative, shy, self-conscious colleagues of mine from the day before really tied one on to the beat of all your traditional and non-traditional Oktoberfest favorites: YMCA, Dancing Queen, Das ist so ein Schöner Tag, Cowboys und Indianer. One notable exception: !? And I have to admit: I was missing Country Roads. Enjoy the video.