By Colleen Jolly
I am flying the wrong way around the world. I did not intend to do that as this trip is ostensibly for Australia, but it has actually worked out quite well.
I consider London to be a second home, one whose public transit I am much more intimately associated with than that of my own actual home. The London Underground or “tube” is a fascinating place. It is well lit and (relatively) quiet even during rush hour, which seems to be almost all the time here. The tube is constantly packed, and there is a soft hush of many languages that blends sweetly with the omnipresent tube voice gently but firmly admonishing you to “mind the gap” or to “change here for services to other destinations.”
Every time I visit London — particularly when I am conducting business rather than being a tourist — I learn something, often by involving public transit. You can rent a car here (although the Brits drive on the “wrong” side of the road), hire a car service to drive you around or take the ubiquitous Black London Cab.
I prefer public transit to immerse myself in whatever is the “normal” way of life for the people who live here. This makes me pay attention to where I am going and often means I get lost. Yet, in getting lost, I find tons of neat new things, and this has become a spectacular way to learn about a place. In many American cities, only some people take public transit. In London, everyone takes the tube (or the bus) and it becomes a great equalizer. You see mothers with prams (strollers) and bankers with their wide-pin striped suits and pink ties. I would guess that the royals even ride the tube, although I have never seen one.
London beats to the pulse of its transit. This informs the timing of meetings (running late is often blamed on the tube) as well as the dress and the materials you will bring. If you must bring a life-size replica of your product with you and wear stilettos, then you will not function well in London. You must be able to run up two flights of non-moving escalator to catch your connecting tube/bus/ train and cannot count on the lift (elevator) to be functional.
When thinking about international business — just go. Go wherever you think you want to do business. Try to do the things a banker, mom, or salesman would do in a different country and not what the American “you” would do. Find out what informs the decisions of your potential clients, consumers and partners. Never presume what you know or do not know. You will be surprised at what you learn.