Wednesday, March 15, 2006

byte me, CeBIT

At 6 o'clock this evening in Hannover, the CeBIT Messe - the world's largest information technology fair - closed its doors for another year. It was a busy week - 450,000 visitors to the fair, people coming and going all day. Hotels, restaurants and stores full of the world's citizens. It's going to be a quiet weekend after they've all gone home.

Every time the CeBIT rolls around, I get a bit of a stomach ache. Because I worked there once. That's right. I, a gal who couldn't tell a bit from a byte until the late 90's, spent a week as a hostess at the CeBIT Hannover in 1991.

As many of you know, I arrived in Germany in the summer of 1990 and by the time spring 1991 rolled around, someone, and I'm pretty sure it wasn't me, thought it would be a cool idea for me to get my first job. I was in between German courses and the CeBIT was coming up, so a friend of Mr. M's suggested I put in an application. C was a university student who had worked at the Varta stand at CeBIT for years and she had access to all the companies hiring students for the week.

I sent out my illustrious resumée to all and sundry, not really expecting a reply. Then the ominous letter came. Epson had hired me, along with a bunch of other students, and wanted us to travel to their headquarters in Düsseldorf for a training session about a month before the fair.

Can you say panic attack?

I made it to Düsseldorf and back, still not quite sure if I knew anything at all about computers or scanners or plotters, and fairly positive that if I did know something, I wasn't going to be able to communicate it to anyone else.

But I must have looked like I had two brain cells to rub together because instead of being banished to a week of making coffee and sandwiches for VIP visitors or handing out promotional articles, I was to be right out on the floor dispensing information and fielding questions about Epson's products. My partner in crime was a certain Fräulein N, a young business administration student whose main goal seemed to be to spend as little time at the Epson stand as possible. Every time you turned around, she was on a break somewhere. In my mind I christened her "The Man Magnet" because when she was actually at the stand, she was usually surrounded by hoards of men trying to get a date with her in the evenings after work. No one had told me that the CeBIT is also a meat market. All those lonely men away from home, all those pretty hostesses. Oh oh. Of course as an old married lady I had no part in all that, but it sure was fun to watch Fräulein N doing her thing.

Between us I think The Man Magnet and I managed to do a decent job considering how little we knew. Every day from 9 to 6 we'd do our very best to convince people that they absolutely, positively had to have our products. If the going got tough, we were allowed to refer visitors to our technicians, but we faked our way through most of it. And all in German. I got to speak English exactly once, to a British journalist whose German was worse than mine was.

To be honest, I can't even remember which products we were assigned to - 326 processors, I think - but I can tell you that what was presented there was light years behind what you'd find at the CeBIT 2006. Technology has come a long, long way since then.

It was an interesting experience, and the money was great, but my feet hurt so badly by the end of the week that I swore never to go back there again except as a visitor.

These days, being a hostess in my own home is much more my speed.

By the way, Ginnie attended this year's CeBIT and has some great photos to show for it. Go take a look.


At March 15, 2006 11:31 p.m., Blogger Dixie said...

I love that story. That was a great story!

At March 15, 2006 11:55 p.m., Blogger traveller one said...

Yeah... a good story! I liked the way you tied in life today with a bit of your personal history.

At March 16, 2006 12:49 a.m., Blogger Expat Traveler said...

I gotta good laugh at some of that!~ Still I'm impressed by your ability to speak German so fast back then. I guess my biggest problem is not speaking the language when I should...

I loved Ginnies pics too which I saw just before coming here. :)

At March 16, 2006 12:58 a.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

386 processors ???

Nice story

At March 16, 2006 12:59 a.m., Blogger Sandra said...

I saw a story about this tech fair on CNN International and I yelled, "Hey, I know someone in Hannover!" I was wondering if you'd blog about it.

At March 16, 2006 7:31 a.m., Blogger Karen said...

Lol, I hate needing to work trade fairs. And they are meat markets. The most exhausting part of it is having to go to dinner in the evenings with important customers, and then hitting the bars with them. Followed by being fresh and awake the next morning only to stand on your feet another 8 or 9 hours.
"Ich bin als Schwan aufgestanden, und gehe als Ente nach hause". (Referring to the length of the feet :-)

At March 16, 2006 10:31 a.m., Blogger Tracie B. said...

all it takes is a pretty girl, huh? here in italy, they almost never hire anyone to sell anything if she isn't cute!

At March 16, 2006 1:31 p.m., Blogger christina said...

Dixie - Fräulein N was a hoot. I have no idea what happened to her.

traveller one - Large groups of bottom-pinchers really aren't my thing. :-)

Expat - Yeah, well I kind of just got thrown into it and HAD to talk, and it wan't really that bad. Use it or lose it, I guess.

anonymous - 286 and 386 - cutting edge technology in those days!

Sandra - It's an interesting fair if you go as a visitor - I went a couple of times after that and my husband used to go occasionally.

Karen - I only had to go to the final party and that was enough for me. Dirty old men everywhere. LOL! I love that saying about the feet. So true!

tracie - I don't think Epson was that picky - none of us were really raving beauties, but I know to work at some companies at the fair you have to practically have the looks of a super model and fit into a size 4. It's a pretty sexist atmosphere.

At March 16, 2006 1:50 p.m., Blogger Cathy said...

Funny story, Christina and I'm very impressed that you still remember the computer number and everything!

So do you have an Epson now?

At March 16, 2006 2:39 p.m., Blogger christina said...

Cathy - the 386 is all that stuck in my head. We had to learn all that bit and byte and serial BUS stuff - it was like learning a foreign language all over again.

Nope, nothing from Epson in our house. :-)

At March 16, 2006 7:01 p.m., Blogger CanadianSwiss said...

Fun story. I'd love to go to CeBit, but I'm afraid I'd never get Orange out of there. And yeah, I guess you could call these big exhibitions a meat market. I have a week every year in Düsseldorf for our fair and I come back totally dead!

At March 16, 2006 7:31 p.m., Blogger Ginnie said...

What's funny about all this, Christina, is that one of the exhibits (I think I've blocked it from my mind) had sexy girls in Hooters-type shorts sitting on top of cars selling only God knows what. Themselves, I guess. I didn't know "we" still did that!! UGH.

But I love that you have this memory so soon into your Germany stint. You really could/should write a book. I'd buy it in the blink of an eye!

At March 16, 2006 8:29 p.m., Blogger mrsmogul said...

I have a friend that lives in Germany. I keep forgetting where she lives LOL. The problem with her is that she can't speak GERMAN!!

At March 16, 2006 8:50 p.m., Blogger mar said...

I loved your story! I was there 1985 (I arrived in Germany in feb 85), resume in the hand, handing it out like it was a fresh Pretzel. Mr. Mar was in the pc industry then so I got to go with him and only a head hunter called back. A nice man who really helped me out. Got a job on my own in august 85.

At March 16, 2006 10:11 p.m., Blogger christina said...

canadianswiss - Oh yes, Orange could spend hours there - there's tons to see.

Ginnie - I can't remember if it was that extreme back then - we were just required to dress "smartly" in dark clothing. The stuff these days is way over the top, but I guess hotpants and technology must be connected in some weird sort of way. :-s

mrsmogul - Hi! Thanks for stopping by. Some people do seem to get by without learning the language, but I can imagine it must be pretty isolating.

mar - It's nice to have some connections, isn't it?

At March 16, 2006 11:04 p.m., Blogger Sal DeTraglia said...

It seems like half my co-workers were at the CeBIT show this week. I should've fabricated an excuse to go there myself. I really want a piece of that hamburger cake.


At March 16, 2006 11:40 p.m., Blogger christina said...

Sal - Maybe they'll let you tag along next year? Someone told me that the display of the latest low-carb tongue depressors was pretty impressive.

I'm afraid the hamburger cake was a goner a couple of days after it made its grand appearance. But you've got a birthday coming up in a couple of months, right? I wonder how well buttercream frosting holds up in the mail?

At March 20, 2006 3:48 a.m., Blogger Tim Rice said...

I'm a bit behind in commenting. But thanks for sharing your story of your involvement with CeBIT. It gives me a fuller picture of you and that part of the business world. And as I think I mentioned in Ginnie's blog, I think CeBIT would be a show that I would really enjoy if I had the opportunity to go to -- at least if the language barrior wouldn't get too much in the way.

At March 20, 2006 4:35 a.m., Blogger Just another American Expat said...

Many of my co-workers have gone to Cbit over the years. I've always wanted to go but couldn't find a good excuse for spending the money.

At March 22, 2006 11:31 p.m., Anonymous Bettina said...

Hi Christina, I came here via Ginnies blog.

Your story reminded me of my own attempts to get a student job at the CeBIT - sadly I was rejected as a hostess. Well, they told me they'd love to have me, being the language genius that I am, but apparently I was not tall enough. For their/the agencies standards, that is.

Now that I have a serious job (opposed to tending bar as I did to get food on the table as a poor student, but I digress) at a computer magazine, I have been to every CeBIT in the last six years, every single day it lasts. I flee Hannover right after the doors close and have a reanimating vacation in the south, mostly to get a new pair of feet fitted.


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