A Bob Djurdjevic Column, August 1987STOCKHOLM - The animal world and my work in the computer industry crossed paths during a speaking engagement in Stockholm, Sweden, in August 1987. I stayed at the very elegant "Grand Hotel," right across a canal from the Swedish Royal Palace. As it frequently happens because of my blonde hair and the "DJs" in my name, the hotel staff mistook me for a Scandinavian. But, my blank stare after their rapid Swedish quickly dispelled that notion.
After my late-morning check-in, I went for a walk along a canal. I have from prior experience found that a brisk walk after a long flight usually helps ease the inevitable jet-lag. Right after I crossed a small bridge, I noticed a blue sign which read "DJURGARTEN" pointing to my left. "Hm..." I thought. "How strange. I didn't know I had any Swedish ancestors" (I was thinking of the DJUR-portion of the sign).
Once back at the hotel, I asked the staff what "DJUR" stood for in Swedish. "The animal," replied a young lady smiling sweetly. Little did she know how shattered I was when she said that. Some ancestry that would be!? "And so, what's a 'DJURGARTEN'?" I asked after regaining my composure. "The zoo," she said. I decided I'd better stop my genealogical research right there...
The following day, I had been engaged by a Swedish company to give a talk at a meeting of computer user executives from Sweden, Denmark and Norway. Having been to Stockholm on previous occasions, I could tell that my driver seemed to be taking me further and further away from the city center. "Where are we going?" I asked with slight apprehension. But, alas, he could not speak English (which is rare in Sweden). So, I just had to trust his knowledge of the city.
Soon it became evident that we were approaching some sports complex. There were signs pointing to various parking facilities, and others with pictures of racing horses. "My God," I thought, "maybe he doesn't know what he is doing after all! What are we doing near a horse racing track?" I had visions of a couple of hundred executives who had traveled from out of town hissing and booing my host when they announced that their American speaker never showed up.
Making things worse, my driver had just parked the car in a parking lot next to the race track. Not being able to talk to him, I just followed him inside. As it turned out, this race track had an excellent conference facility on the other side of a building which also housed an elegant dining room in which the patrons can dine and watch the races, too. "Horse racing is our favorite national pastime," explained one of my hosts. "That's why we try to combine business with a little bit of pleasure."
Indeed, after my talk we were given the grand tour of the facilities, including a visit to the stables where the trainers and jockeys talked to us about their work. Afterward, a scrumptious dinner was served. But, since this was only my second day in Europe, my eyelids were already getting heavy by about 20:00. I thanked my hosts for their hospitality, and asked if I could be excused and go back to my hotel. "Just a moment, please," the president of that company replied. He returned with a black cache with a golden string tied around its top. "What's that?" I asked, figuring it may be a gift of some sort. "That's your fee," he replied. "My fee?" I was unable to hide my astonishment. "That's right, your fee," he explained calmly. "It's all there -- in U.S. dollars. Please feel free to count it if you'd like. By the way, we will need you to sign a receipt."
With that, he thrust at me the bag and a piece of paper. I accepted them almost reluctantly. I couldn't believe that my hosts would have taken the word "cash" so literally. I opened the cache and glanced inside. Several fat bundles of $100-bills neatly stacked and tied together. I took one of them out and fanned it through my fingers. "I am not going to count this," I said as I signed the piece of paper.
My imagination was starting to work overtime. After all, I was at a race track. Maybe that's why the cash was so readily available? But, I also had visions of the drug deals which go down in American TV films -- also using only cash. I had never before in my life had that much cash on me! And this was only the first leg of my two-week European tour. How am I going to take care of this cash on airplanes, or in cars and hotels?
"Thank you very much for your prompt payment," I said trying not to show too much anxiety or surprise. Looking at my hosts, I realized that they didn't find this one bit unusual. Oh well, I thought. I wished my American corporate clients' accounts payable department managers could be there to witness the way some Europeans do business.
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