As if leaving Boston wasn’t hard enough emotionally and logistically, the journey to Prague was its own epic. The *plan* was to fly to Prague via Frankfurt. On landing in Frankfurt, the airport was promptly closed thanks to the volcanic ash. So, the journey took a new course.
First, collect the cat from the cargo area. Done.
Next, retrieve bags. Not done. Apparently, Lufthansa insists on the privilege of delivering your bags to your final destination. Versus releasing them on their own recognizance to you. Frankfurt felt pretty final that day when it came to air travel.
Next, secure a train ticket somehow to Prague. Done (after 2 hours). Actually, take a train to Nuremburg, then a bus to Prague.
This was last Friday. Today is Monday. Virtually nobody has crossed the Atlantic on a plane to Europe since, let alone within Europe.
All of this made me reflect on the fragility of our global – for lack of a better term – “supply chain”. We have so accelerated our pace of movement of people and goods, whether it’s for business or pleasure, that any delay is received as catastrophic. Imagine 100 years ago when the only way to cross the Atlantic was by boat. Over the course of a week.
Such episodes drive us further to rely on electronic connections in lieu of physical movement. Why ship a book when it can be printed on-demand at your local bookseller? And this connectivity concentrates the risk of depending on that same internet.
I’m not sure what do to about the risk. Only that we should always be thinking about what we rely on, whether we take it for granted, and how we would sorely miss it if not available.
Ennui. Self-loathing. Moral terpitude. Feelings you get from reading a Kafka novel? Nope. All by-products of trying to re-locate.
Some favorite experiences to date:
1. Applying for an expatriate bank account with Wells Fargo. I spend 20 minutes online supplying reams of personal details for me and my wife. At the end of the process, the web site says, “Congratulations, you have successfully completed Step 1. Please proceed to Step 2 by downloading and filling out this form.” Form 2 asks for the same information.
2. Immigration. I’m speaking to a colleague about the status of my work papers. “We’ll get that started when you get here.” My response, “I’m arriving on a one-way ticket with two suitcases and a cat in a crate. Do you think they will ask any questions?”
3. Post office box back in the States. My wife sets one up, but it can’t be finalized without my visit to the post office,showing a passport and another photo i.d. I get there and the clerk says, “Oh, that wasn’t really necessary. I guess I can take a quick look at your driver’s license.” Which he does. Then proceeds to do nothing with it.
4. Health insurance. With two weeks between jobs, I need to extend my old employer’s benefits using “COBRA”. I ask my HR person if I can arrange this in advance. “No. You will get an application in the mail a few weeks after you leave. You can retro-actively apply for coverage.” Try telling that to the dentist as their invoice gets rejected. Or, try to get re-imbursed for out-of-pocket expenses.
All of this reminded me of the Onion video about “Franz Kafka International Airport” in Prague. Enjoy: http://www.theonion.com/video/pragues-franz-kafka-international-named-worlds-mos,14321/
I had the pleasure of visiting Prague for a week in the early 90’s, staying with a friend from Canada who was living there at the time. Then, as now, Prague was chock full of stunning architecture. The city has the good fortune of having never been the site of a major war, and so 1000 or more years’ of architecture has been preserved.
Prague in the 90’s was a bit run-down, thanks to 50 years of Communist rule and the lack of strong capitalist incentives to keep beautiful buildings in good condition in the hopes of high-paying tenants. What was palpable at the time was the post-Velvet Revolution energy; freedom to express one’s self, freedom to pursue new business opportunities, an influx of residents from Western Europe and North America seeking good times and cheap cost of living.
Prague today is still in a state of evolution, but has become much more Western European over the past 15 years. While much of its historical identity is intact, thanks in part to that stunning architecture, you’ll see many of the same consumer experiences as elsewhere. Streets with luxury brands like Prada and Gucci, lots of German sedans, tourists from all over, etc. The cost of living is now approaching that of other major European cities, at least in the downtown core. To an American the place feels very different regardless of what might have changed.
I’m interested to learn what the Czechs think of all this. I will need to drink some beers with them to get to the bottom of it. I speculate that they will see the changes with mixed emotions. Many people were left behind economically as inflation took hold, especially in terms of housing costs. On the other hand, there’s a lot of freedom to do what one wants, including moving around Europe as part of the EU.
Well, it’s official. Nicole and I decided after weeks of deliberation to pack up and move from Boston to Prague. It’s one of those “once-in-a-lifetime” career opportunities to live and work abroad. I will be the SVP of Product Management for AVG (www.avg.com), a fast-growing and highly profitable company in the IT security space.
Nicole is excited about living in such a gorgeous city as Prague. She also likes the prospect of seeing lots of Europe on weekends and holidays. Hey, me too.
A prediction: In coming posts, you’ll hear more about the new job and company. And what’s different and cool about Prague. In a few months, I will complain about why Czechs can’t be more like Americans (or Canadians). Eventually, you’ll hear me say how it’s not that bad after all. I might even take shots at the U.S. like the Europeans do from time to time. We’ll see.
To my professional and personal friends: keep tabs on me here, on LinkedIn and on Facebook. I won’t be a stranger. Please don’t be one either.
More to come soon…