There is no way that my deepest imagination could have pictured the scenes which unfolded last week on my first international business trip. The world I now find myself in is at once exciting, bewildering, challenging and awe-inspiring.
My peers are brilliant in engineering and languages, coming from corners of the globe I’ve yet to explore. I can’t help but hum Ernie’s little ditty “One of these things is not like the other. One of these things just doesn’t belong.” And yet somehow, this is exactly where I belong right now.
This isn’t my first foray as a fish-out-of-water. Back in the day I spent a season as the only female at a landscaping company, I spent a long and very wet summer as the only cow-girl at a dude-ranch. Heck, I even spent my formative years looking and playing like a boy – who knew this was all training for today?
Ironically, this business trip, where I was the only woman in a sea of men, fell during the week of National Woman’s Day. When the hotel staff handed me a small bouquet of flowers upon check-out, I asked my colleagues where their flowers were. I was informed that it was National Woman’s Day. Huh, who knew? Awkward.
I admit to feeling a bit conflicted about my position as a woman. On this trip, without fail, I was served first at every meal we had. Doors were opened for me, umbrellas offered.
Does this show a level of inequality? I guess it does.
Should I be offended by that? Am I regressing the plight of women by admitting that it was all very nice and greatly appreciated?
I wasn’t asked to fetch the coffees or take minutes. No one called me “little lady” or “doll”. I was seen as a contributing member of the group, fulfilling the role I was hired for. Gender played a role but in no way did I feel diminished or repressed. Quite the opposite.
I know I’m lucky. Not all women are.
The trip was to demonstrate a new technology our engineers have made possible. At a test-facility in Trieste, Italy (with the hills of Slovenia just behind the plant) one of our massive engines was run through simulation tests to prove the technology’s effectiveness. And it did. In front of important guests from Korea, Norway and France; all there to witness for themselves the seamless execution of the new technology.
It was impressive. WE were impressive. Among our guests, I was also a “first timer” having never been to our test facility before. I didn’t need to pretend not to be wide-eyed and slack jawed; many of us were.
Checking into the hotel was another story. I did my best to hide my “WHOA!!” excitement, pretending like it was no big deal.
Oh right, we’re here for work. Focus…
I firmly believe that I didn’t embarrass myself. There was the unfortunate shoe incident but there was really nothing I could have done to prevent that.
The factory was amazing. I wasn’t allowed to photograph all I wanted to. The enormity of the plant was remarkable. Massive scale, all automated and efficient. The beauty of the enormous propellers being polished and tested was truly something.
And then there was the food. Thank goodness these trips, for me, will be limited to once a month at most. Eating that well, night after night, would be serious trouble. And the wine! Thankfully I’m not foolish enough to try to keep up with my male colleagues in this regard. The after-dinner grappa was not a temptation even remotely. Limoncello on the other hand… I only indulged once.
The majority of the time was occupied by factory tours and meetings. But the morning we were to leave, the sun came out and I had an hour to explore the pretty city of Trieste.
All-in-all, a pretty awesome first trip. Can’t wait for the next one. London in April.