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Last week, I got a text from a former client turned friend: “Jeez! Are you at a super-spreader event?!”
I immediately responded with a selfie from inside the ropes of the IAA Mobility open space area at Munich’s Königsplatz, masked, outdoors: “Spread this.” We get each other and we have the same sense of humor.
Later that week, I got a text from a colleague, about to meet a pretty high up Capgemini Exec visiting the US from France face-to-face for the first time since, well, you know. I’d had a Teams meeting with her while working from Paris last month, and she was curious if I had insights about the business etiquette with our French colleagues.
This morning, catching up on email, I was informed that for an upcoming global auto team 2022 strategy & planning session, to be held outside the US (yay!), our travel plans need to be approved by my boss’ boss’ partner’s group boss’ (or something like that) before we can confirm our participation. I couldn’t help but wonder: does the guy who runs all of Capgemini in North America really need to be involved in this decision? And isn’t this a bit extra, even for a French company?
As I prepare my plans for returning to the US after 6 weeks abroad, I couldn’t shake any of these exchanges off.
So I prose, like I do.
It’s pretty simple: if you couldn’t prove you were vaccinated, showed a negative antigen COVID test dating less than 24 hours ago or had official documentation you were recovered from a previous COVID infection (Germany’s 3-Gs), you couldn’t get into any of the Ausstellung’s official activities, inside or outside, conference-related or public. Period. The end.
You had to wear a surgical mask at all times, that you could take off to eat or drink, but not for prolonged periods of time. The hygiene crew was everywhere, to pleasantly remind everyone to put their mask back on. In 4 days, and some 60,000 steps between the Messestadt and the outdoor conference venues throughout the city, I didn’t observe one altercation about it. In fact, I can’t recall observing not even one violation. Everyone was well behaved.
We were all returning to our first in-person conference-related events in a long, long time. What was more important than worrying about masks was experiencing the content, the cars, and each other. Sure, our masks came off in small groups, outside, where intimacy reigned. But whilst rejoicing at our return to real life human interaction, we were all respectful of each other and of the virus. I was pleasantly surprised that I got one of the chairs, and at their layout, for the opening keynotes on Tuesday.
I’m not gonna lie, even though social distancing was in effect, there were times where I felt it was all a little too much. For example, I didn’t wait in line to see the inside of any car and I didn’t go to mega press events. And I got out of dodge for the public’s weekend.
In my opinion, it was nothing like a super-spreader. No Florida beach on Spring break here…
It’s a personal choice, like everything else. I am a hugger. It’s just who I am, and of course, it’s cultural. I usually go for a handshake on the first meeting and if it goes well, I ask for the hug with the close. And if I’m really feeling it, the French comes out of me with the 2 bisous, especially in Europe.
Being Social in France
All of my encountering of human beings in France were social – I didn’t go into the office as everyone was on holiday (Paris in August, une vraie beauté). I went for the culturally appropriate bisous right away.
Mixing Business and Pleasure in Germany
Everyone I reconnected with in Germany personally got a hug – some longer than others.
On the professional front, I was a lot more reserved than usual. At first keeping my distance, feeling the other person out, whether it was my first time meeting them, or someone I hadn’t seen in a long time. In general, the fist pump was the way to go.
And depending on how the interaction went, at the end, almost always a selfie (it’s what I do) and either a fist pump or a hug. You can just tell from the selfies which meeting resulted in what outcome.
More on France and Germany
I’ve been asked what it’s like to travel internationally in COVID times. My answer: sure, it’s a little bit more complicated than pre-COVID, but with some planning, it’s fine!
Fully vaccinated rates: France = 62.9% | Germany = 62.3% | USA = 54.4% | Canada = 69.3%Source: Google
For France, plan ahead: they are really strict about their passe sanitaire; you need the QR code for pretty much everything, including sitting outside at cafés. I got away with my CDC card for about 5 days when I got there on 8/8; then they started to really crack down on their government issued “digital” version. You can get it by converting your foreign vaccination certificate via a very manual process riddled with French bureaucracy, seemingly barren any kind of data protection and completely impossible to follow up on. Patience! Be prepared to Google the latest process weeks ahead of your visit and don’t be surprised if it changes last minute. Vive la France.
If you aren’t down for all that, or your aren’t vaccinated, take an antigen test for €25. A negative test gets you a QR code good for 72 hours. I had to test 3 times before I got my long-term passe. There are COVID test station everywhere in Paris, including in almost every pharmacie (I recommend Saint-Gilles on Rue de Turenne in le 3ème. Tell Constance, Pauline and Ibou that Caroline from Virginia sent you!). And you can’t miss the testing tents on many street corners.
For Germany, believe it or not, it’s less complicated. Outside of IAA, I haven’t been asked to show anything to anyone for any reason. And I am going to have to look up where I can get a test before I can board my plane back to IAD next week. The only place I saw a testing center (it’s a drive-thru!) is at Theresienwiese, the large outdoor space that is normally home to Oktoberfest.
Next pleasure trip: Ô Canada! My home and native land.
Commentary: Travel life is a lot easier for the vaccinated. For me, it was a no brainer to get it. So I could travel more freely, and as soon as possible.
Permission & Desire To Travel
After 5 weeks of international travel, a conference attended by some 400K people over 6 days, and a return to the office as a visitor, I don’t have an issue with returning to in-person business and leisure travel. Don’t get me wrong, I am super careful, and responsible. For example, I tested before I left France to come to Germany, even though I wasn’t required to, for peace of mind and because I thought it was the right thing to do. I’ll test one more time before I return to the US (it’s mandatory to re-enter the country). I mask up and I respect social distance (mostly, outside of selfies and displays of affection, obvi). Professionally, I feel like needing travel approvals by high ups in a company are an administrative burden that unnecessarily adds stress to client service. But that’s me.
I am loving life on the road, again.