Foreigners – they’re not like us

Ben Harvey returns for another observation for a Friday afternoon, fresh from a week of relaxation in Portugal.

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They say that you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone – mostly, this is true, especially in the areas of money & being happy with your own body. However, it really stands out, of course, when you detach yourself from all your links, all your connections with friends and colleagues and business and go on holiday. And then don’t like it.

I’ve just returned from a week away in Portugal and I am incredibly, incredibly glad to be back. The relief, as the wheels of the plane kissed down onto this green & pleasant land (at least, as pleasant & green as Heathrow can be. Duty-free absinthe springs to mind, for some reason) was incredible – it rose off me like steam. I’m not a nervous flyer, even when storm-fronts over Spain kicked our little flying tube around the sky and flung my poor gin everywhere, but I did get the feeling that the crap, wonky technology upon which Portugal relies may have somehow infected even the hallowed, proud vehicles of British Airways.

Don’t get me wrong. Portugal has a plethora of smashing things about it, and the people there are embarrassingly friendly, but the same laissez-faire attitude that defines the relaxed, sociable, three-hour lunch-break culture is a total anathema to two things; business & technology. It’s telling that a country that receives whopping subsidies to spunk on everything else (building pointless motorways, stealing all our fish…) has a still-dormant telecoms market that’s totally dependent on foreign providers. Not even its own government wants to throw money away on communications, and that’s saying something.

All of this got me thinking – recently, our own market here in the UK seems to have taken the tiniest of pauses, a quick breather, just to catch up with itself. The relentless push from providers & retailers, unbroken now for a decade, for better handsets, better packages and the general rabid-pace of weaving services into every new gadget, laptop and media-device has led – quite naturally – to a certain plateau. It’s not a mid-life crisis, because (in my unhumble opinion) the industry is, relatively, in its early twenties; but it does share certain similarities in terms of wanting to make sure it’s in a place, a state that it actually wants to be in.

This self-awareness, snapping as it does across an entire industry simultaneously, is as rare as a rocking-horse turd, and so we should savour it. It’s the equivalent of those charming football matches they used to have at Christmas in the trenches of World War One; a time to catch up with friends and not feel too pressured by your competitors, and have a bit of a snigger at the Italians as they feel the repercussions of attempting slide-tackles in a minefield.

However, before you know it this brittle, short-lived bubble of calm will burst and it will be back to the status quo of relentless development, of non-stop rivalry and the buzzing – albeit breathless – rush of life at the bleeding-edge of business which, let’s face it, is why you read this website in the first place. But, bloody hell, isn’t that preferable to the alternatives? We’re privileged, as it were, to work where we do and to do what we do. My reasons are as follows:

Exhibit A: Portugal

There’s a reason why you never hear about network executives hurling themselves in desperate despair out of their windows when they fail to make sufficient headway in this territory – it’s because none of the networks give the faintest of shits. I must admit to being staggered that this country has landlines, let alone the Star-Trek level of underlying technology to be able to send a text-message. I saw no shortcodes on adverts. I saw no media streamed between people in streets or in bars or in offices. The entire nation was bereft of BlackBerry and the only bluetooth available was a type of chewing-gum. But they’ve got great coffee, though, so…you know. That’s OK..

Exhibit B: Japan

There’s a reason why you never hear about network executives hurling themselves out of the windows in Japan, too; they find ritual disembowelment to be rather more effective, in times of corporate disappointment. Japan, as you’re no doubt aware, is so far ahead of us in terms of mobile usage, capacity & capability that it’s not even funny. A full and rather more useful essay on Nipponese telephonic culture will be forthcoming just as soon as I’m able to squeeze Ewan for the cost of the air-fare, but needless to say it’s roughly comparable, market to market, as our car industry is to theirs. The upside, of course, to being second-place in terms of turnover & innovation is that we don’t have to listen to the happy mewls of Hello Kitty handsets which is, as I think you’ll agree, a small price to pay.

Thus: in conclusion, I’m glad to be back in the UK if only because we’ve got the balance right; we’re pushing all fronts forwards but not so fast we’re over-extending. The Great Unwashed are still hungry for newer, better kit. Everything, basically, is respectable. Where else, really, would you rather be working…?

Anyway. Enough patriotic flag-waving. I must leave you now – I’m off to the Chinese embassy to get a work permit.

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Hilarious stuff, thanks Ben!

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