Been quiet around these parts lately, so I thought I'd post a little synopsis of my latest adventure.
As most of you know, I've spent the last couple years trading oil derivatives. Last week, the petroleum industry held their annual International Petroleum conference in London. I attended with a number of others from my firm, and had the chance to meet (face-to-face, finally) several people we do business with and a bunch of others we don't. Also got the chance to experience London from the perspective of a Londoner, as opposed to a tourist.
While the particulars of the business side of our trip aren't all that interesting, the city of London is a very cool place to spend your time. The people are universally warm and welcoming and great to be around. The city itself does a tremendous job of intermingling the old with the new, as parks and squares and cathedrals are interspersed with office buildings and sushi restaurants. The streets are very clean, and the sidewalks are not poured concrete but stone tiles; it was like constantly walking around on someone's back patio, which I thought to be quite charming. Though at first a bit difficult to navigate, what with the maze of Mews and Gates and Squares, once you figured out where the major thoroughfares were you could get around fairly easily without asking directions.
The populace is very multicultural; I attended a get-together on Wednesday evening hosted by an Iranian broker, and spent the night getting to know an Indian, a Frenchman, a Dane and an Atlantan, all living and working in London. They all had nothing but good things to say about their adopted city and were as eager to show it off as the natives were.
But while most around the world says that America is the standard bearer for conspicuous consumption, let me tell you that we have nothing on the Brits. Everyone is dressed to the nines virtually all the time. There are as many shopping districts as anything else; I discovered, as I wandered around the city, three different areas that could be considered comparable to our own Michigan Avenue here in Chicago. I spent an hour inside the famed Harrod's building and didn't even see a fraction of their inventory. And the cars, oh the cars. The streets were practically lined with Bentleys, Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Rolls Royces. It was as if spending well into the six figures on an automobile had become de rigeur. And they would park them on the street!
But despite all the trappings some took a relatively leisurely approach to their work. It was nothing to go down to the pub mid-day and have a couple pints at lunch or for a break in the afternoon. We were visiting a broker in the downtown area in their brand new, state-of-the-art building. We got a tour of the office and met some of the people that we deal with often, then went down to the pub around the corner for a pint or two before lunch. The pub, which happened to be one of the oldest still operating in London (it poured its first pint in 1610), was packed, with several people even lining the ledges they installed on the outer perimeter of the place (for resting drinks) and chatting with their co-workers or friends in the fresh air.
Yet in contrast to the propensity for mid-day drinking, everyone we met maintained the air of professionalism that we'd come to expect, and which I think is part of the British culture. They assume that everyone deserves the utmost respect and courtesy until they encounter evidence to the contrary. It was truly a wonderful experience getting to know the people and culture of London in such a way, instead of via the usual avenues of getting it from ticket-takers at Westminster Abbey and Big Ben. I highly recommend it to any and all with the means and the desire.
Hope you all enjoyed my travelogue. Still getting over the jet lag as I returned yesterday afternoon, so I might have some updates as I shake out the cobwebs. Stay tuned.