A Travel Vignette

illustration of the use of the European flag


From a Belgian Travel Diary (1997)

Brussels: Eurocrats and Telephone Jacks

A Bob Djurdjevic Column, September 1997

BRUSSELS - If anyone tells you that Europe is ready for the 1998 opening of its telecommunications market and the benefits which such standardization brings - laugh! Loudly! For, only a Eurocrat could assert such nonsense with a straight face. And only someone who hasn't dealt with the Euro PTTs would believe it.

Brussels is the "capital of Europe," at least as far as the Eurocrats and other Globocrats are concerned. After all, Brussels houses the European Union government officials, as well as NATO's. So you'd think that of all European capitals, the Belgian PTT would be the showcase of the most advanced telecom standardization and integration. It is not. "It is a second world telecommunications system," a frustrated IBM European executive told me last year.

After my Sept. 25 experience at the Brussels international airport, the place of all places in Europe which, one would think, should have the state of the art telecom facilities, I finally understood what this IBMer meant...

Arriving from New York, we landed in the thickest fog this 150,000 miles-per-year traveler has ever seen (I didn't see the ground until we hit it!!). I thought I'd kill some of the three hours I had till my next (delayed to to fog) connection to check my e-mail messages and/or do some other Internet work.

Starting with the Sabena first class lounge, I checked out ALL executive lounges at the airport looking for a North American-type telephone jack. None had it. Every staff member I talked to reacted as if I were the first traveler with a laptop who had ever asked them such a question.

"You expect me to believe that I am the first person who has ever asked you that kind of a question?" I would reply, hoping at least to embarrass or agitate them a little, considering that nearly every first class business passenger I see these days lugs a laptop bag instead of a briefcase.

They weren't embarrassed or agitated at all. More than anything, they looked back at me with a perplexed gaze.

"Is there some place here, at the airport, where I could buy an adapter to go from a North American to a Belgian telephone jack?" I would ask.

At that point, the executive lounge staffer would give me a look as if I had just asked for directions to the lost city of Atlantis. An invariable consultation with another staff member would follow - invariably in a language I did not understand. (Guess they must have been speaking Dutch, since it was neither French nor German. Invariably, double looks of sorrow would follow).

"Sorry, Sir, we don't know. Maybe you could try some stores downstairs?" they pointed in the general direction of the duty free shops.

"Sure thing," I thought skeptically. But I did it anyway. Just in case...

The stores didn't have the telephone adapters, either. Only the AC ones. Which no respectable laptop user needs anymore anyway, since most respectable laptops have a universal power supply.

"You don't?" I would feign a shock.

"No, Sir."

"And where do you recommend I should look for a telephone adapter?"

"Maybe in the city. I don't think there are any at the airport."

"I see," I replied, this time NOT mocking disgust. "Maybe in the city? Guess the keyword in that line should be on - MAYBE?!"

By now, you may be getting the idea about to what sort of a traveler the Brussels Euro-Euro airport is catering - the crowd with the hair dryers and curlers, not the ones with the laptops.

Welcome to "United States of Europe," a pie in the sky idea, a Eurofantasyland dreamed up by the first cousins of the UN Globocrats - the Eurocrats, the Treaty of Rome descendants.

As frustrated as this was for this writer from a purely business standpoint, in some respects I was pleased. Not just because I got to catch up on European press while waiting for the fog to lift at the Brussels airport (double pun intended).

But also because these incidents showed that Clinton can preach the virtues of globalism to the Americans all he wants; Blair can blare to the British such rehtoric all he wants; Kohl can cajole Germans all he wants; Chirac can crack the whip to the French all he wants... But at ground zero, where the rubber meets the road; where common people live - Americans want to be American first; British want to be British first; Germans want to be German first; French... but of course, French want to be French first, and have the last word about it, too.

The Eurotelecom superhighways will undoubtedly be built one of these days. As the Euro railroads once were. But to a Belgian executive airline lounge attendant, good looks; friendly smiles, strong coffee and great wine will still be more important than the telephone jacks or laptops. Maybe the laptop owners should also adopt such a view the world?

"Never, never!" I can just hear my multinational clients shouting at this point. "Torch the heretic!"

True, hell will probably freeze over before a North American executive business traveler signs on to such an idea. But as a consultant and adviser to some of the top North American executives, this writer enjoyed a private chuckle at the thought anyway.

You can do with me as you please, but please - don't torch the message! Remember what happened the last time someone did?

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