One of my fondest memories of a business trip, is my trip to Copenhagen in 1996. I was there to support some meetings between one of our Indian licensees and their customer NTPC (an Indian power company). The meetings were held at Haldor-Topsoe, a consulting engineering firm, in suburban Copenhagen. Apparently, even the Indians didn’t want to have a meeting in India. In my role as an application engineer, I was purely there for technical support of the specification review, between the Danish consulting engineers, our Indian licensee, and the turbine manufacturer EGT (European Gas Turbines) of Essen, Germany.
The meetings were held the week after Thanksgiving, and we flew out on a Monday. We arrived at our hotel in Copenhagen around 10:00 pm Tuesday night. The girl at the front desk gave us a message from the German’s at EGT, that they would be in a conference room on the 2nd floor, preparing for the meeting, and to stop by when we arrived. So we dropped our bags in the room, grabbed our laptops and headed to the meeting. There were six Germans, sitting around the table, with half liter glasses of Tuborg in front of them. After introductions, the first thing they did was order us a round of beer. The cute little blond waitress (and in Denmark they are all cute little blonds) arrived with a tray full of beer, and set us up. The Germans immediately ordered another round. That little blond got her exercise that night ferrying beers upstairs to our meeting, and taking empty glasses back down to the bar. By the time the meeting finally broke up around midnight, I was pretty much in the bag.
The days that followed were long, and painful negotiations between our Indian licensee and NTPC, over the most mundane and irrelevant portions of the technical spec. It drove the Germans crazy. As for me, it was entertainment. The Danes would read a section of specification, listing the 4 acceptable suppliers for a given component, and our Indian licensee would request the addition of 2 other suppliers to the list. The Indians from NTPC would object, and a 15 minute discussion would commence. At the end of 15 minutes, our Indian licensee would finally give in, and repeat, “OK, just to confirm the 4 acceptable suppliers are…” and then he would list 3 of the names from the spec, plus one of his own. If the Indians caught it, the argument would start up all over again. In this way, our licensee wore the customer down the way that a stream polishes a stone. Slowly. Excruciatingly slowly. I think the German’s nerves were frayed by the afternoon of the first day, and the meetings continued like this for 3 days. And so a week passed slowly by.
Our hotel was out in the fringes of Copenhagen, and we never got much of a chance to go out until Friday evening. To save on airfare we had booked our return flight for Sunday, so we had 2 evenings, and a Saturday to spend in Copenhagen. For me and my colleague, an amiable salesman from Louisville, it was like a trip to Disneyland. Friday was the first Friday of Advent, which is a festive time in Copenhagen. The walking streets (Stroget) in the city center come alive with Christmas decorations, crowds, outdoor musicians, sausage stands, and vendors selling hot mulled wine. We wandered the streets for hours, eating hotdogs with horseradish mustard, and sampling all the Danish beer we could find. My personal favorite was the Tuborg Christmas Beer. I drank gallons of the stuff. Sigh… if only they imported it here.
My colleague was a very outgoing guy, which compensated for my shyness, and he struck up a conversation with every bartender, and bar maid in Copenhagen that weekend. The bars were packed with people singing along to the music, and in very high spirits. I remember one particular bar where the bartender kept feeding us drinks for free, and insisting that we stay until bar time, which was hours past the last train back to our hotel. We only managed to escape through the crowd when he wasn’t looking to catch the last train home.
I fell in love with Copenhagen that weekend. On Saturday, we spent the whole day strolling the sights, and shopping. The slanting winter sun was achingly beautiful as it hung so low in the sky that afternoon, and the nighttime was a repeat of the evening before. By the time I left I was convinced that the Danes were the happiest people in the world. Apparently, they still are. And in a country full of warm blonds and cold beer, who can blame them?