12 January 2004
Foiled in his attempts to cement a partnership with a nice US firm in sunny Florida, the managing partner (MP) has turned his attention to our soon-to-be-acquired EU neighbours. Until he read the Sunday supplements over the holidays, he hadn’t realised quite how many were joining us. I imagine him crying out: “Ten of them! Good Lord, Margery, it’s like pick ’n’ mix for asylum seekers!”
He is fanatical about globalising the firm’s offering (he does love his writeups in the trade press) and the partners have snoozed through many a presentation on mutual synergy alignment, but the important factor in this year’s expansion is that he sees small Slavic states as pushovers.
“Right, on the phones,” he barked, gathering the partners together on the first Monday back. “Find out who’s looking to snuggle up to a robust Western firm offering high-value referrals.”
“But we hardly refer anything,” the head of planning pointed out. “That’s what they all complain about.”
It’s true. The MP regularly flies out to placate exquisitely-dressed, perfect-English-speaking Herren Verärgerts and Messieurs Encolères and offers work placements to their staff and children to stop them breaking away. The staff and children then turn up and are royally ignored by everyone in the UK offices, for no true Brit can believe that exquisitely-dressed, highly-educated and perfect-English-speaking foreigners, well-versed in European politics and international business strategy, are in any way worth noticing; or that 10 of them, say, are worth even one minor associate with a degree in law and media studies who struggles to formulate
an opinion on ‘Europe: Where Is It?’
On the other hand, our abysmal attitude has an early genesis, for while children from the Continent invariably grow up to be charming, generous people who think nothing could be nicer than inviting you to the family villa in Brittany, they start out as little monsters. And they always seem to stay with us.
I well remember the succession of picky French exchange students who sneered at everything I cooked for them, or the houseproud Pole who insisted on cleaning the bath before she got in it, or the droopy Spaniard who spent all day in her room writing tearful letters home.
One day, halfway through a particularly trying exchange (Italian, chatty, rang home every day and left us with a huge phone bill; or was it Belgian, autocratic, insisted on me doing his ironing for him?), I found Deminimus hiding under the covers upstairs with his Star Wars lightsabre. “Old one, you are wise,” he whispered to me. “But it’s time to remove this threat from the universe.” I explained that you couldn’t laser people’s heads off just because they weren’t like us, and returned downstairs to find the exchange student had thrown away everything in the fridge. Must have been the French one, then.
Anyway, the Lawyer has started unearthing Latvian and Lithuanian firms from international directory enquiries, as he recognises his chance to see the Baltic states for free. If he gets lucky, I reckon he’s guaranteed a personal tour of the capital cities from the top partners, unlike here, where visitors are treated to a traditional British evening down the pub with a couple of trainees, followed by the traditional British taxi ride back to the airport (see relative worth of foreigners, above).
“How would you like an Estonian exchange student, darling?” he asked me at the weekend. “That’s the Russian one. Or were they German?
Time to expand our knowledge of Europe, kids!” There was a general wail of dismay, and with a flash Deminimus had gone to get the lightsabre.