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What Does It Really Take?

13 December 2011 1 comment

My colleague and friend Michael Barrett captures a good BBC article worth reading on what it really takes to be an expat these days.

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Categories: Working Life

You Lost! (No Apologies Necessary)

9 October 2011 Leave a comment

The other day I was buying my frozen foods at the local Picard.  This store is a true gem of French commerce.  They specialize in nothing but frozen foods.  See my previous post How Painful It Is to Shop on what it is really all about.  At first I was very skeptical about this place due to my American roots.  I always felt that frozen foods in the American supermarket were literally . . . crap.  They were routinely tasteless and unsatisfying.  So my shopping habits never really included the frozen aisle except maybe for some ice cream.  In France, such is not the case.  My colleagues at work encouraged me to check my local Picard stating that they even use their products to serve to house guests – its that good.

My point on this blog is not to be an advertisement but to share my recent experience at the Picard.  Like many French stores, they are trying out American marketing gimmicks to get you to come back.  Right now Picard is having a promotion that if you buy something you get a free scratch-off ticket to win a prize.  La di da.  We all know the routine.  You take the card home and then scratch it off with a coin hoping you get a cute little prize making you feel good.  As if the store is soooooo nice for giving the gift that you will come back and be a faithful customer.  Well maybe the phrase consumer addict might be more appropriate.  In any case, I returned home and put my new purchases in the freezer.  Immediately I got out a coin and began scratching feverishly at the card to acknowledge my cadeaux (gift).  In big letters, one word stared at me.  Perdu! (Lost!) For a second I thought the words were actually laughing at me to rub in the fact I lost.  I thought “Well I am never going back there again.” What a let down after trying to develop a relationship with a frozen Chinese dinner.  Then I snapped out of my entrapment.  Why am I being so sensitive?  It is just a marketing gimmick.  It was also an American in Paris moment.  I don’t have French skin.  The same gimmick in the States would have said Please try again!  Words of encouragement.  Words that wouldn’t be deemed as offensive or inconsiderate.  Even though the French know how to be formal their constant pleases and thank yous, they are definitely more honest and direct.  In the States we care more about niceties and how one feels then accepting a reality.  I lost.  I can’t change that reality.  Accept it.

Did This Man Win or Lose?

Did This Man Win or Lose?

Another variation of this dichotomy is new employee orientation at work.  I read that French companies don’t have them (or a very small one).  At Amadeus we didn’t really have a formal orientation except a few hours with our Human Resources representative.  She covered the basics about our work contract, pay cycles and insurance.  We didn’t get anything in reference to dress code or even who is Amadeus?  The attitude is that we are adults and you are smart enough to figure things out.  The French are not about hand-holding.  They feel it would be rude to treat you like a baby and show you every little thing about the company.  You want to know something?  Then ask a question – the right question.

I reflect back on the new employee orientation at my previous job in Philadelphia.  We actually hired a consultant from . . . you guessed it . . . Walt Disney to redo our orientation.  He came up with a fun-filled, feel-good, one-day session.  There were games, videos and lots of animation in the PowerPoint slides.  Even a group picture taken at the end of the day.  A true sensory experience whose goal is to make sure you came out with a smile.  After having worked in a European setting for well over a year, I can tell that my current colleagues would not have made through lunch.  They would have left to go look for another job.  Why?  Their reaction more than likely would have been “Don’t treat me like a child, just tell me what I need to know.”  In other words, let’s not sugar-coat reality.

This difference in approaching reality even starts out young in schools.  French parents get nervous when their children’s backpacks are lighter than the weight of the kid.  Homework and more homework is their mantra.  American parents won’t hesitate to go to the teacher to tell them they are assigning too much homework.  I read a brilliant metaphor between French parents and American parents when they drop off their kids at school.  The American parent will say ‘have fun!‘ whereas the French parent will say ‘work hard.

I am not the only one who has observed this difference.  My good friend Clara has pointed out similar examples in her blog Pardon My French!  (sorry, it is mostly in French)  She witnessed during her brief time in the States how kids at an award ceremony all received something (no one was loosing) and the American obsession with the superlative in describing everything.  [How many times have you walked out of movie theater and the first thing said is “Wasn’t that a great movie?” instead just acknowledging that it was just an okay movie?  Think about it.]

Even in the banal responses among friends you catch the subtleties.  You invite your American friends to a drink after work and not too common you hear “sounds great!  let’s do it!”  Then you turn to your French friends and receive a straight forward “pourquoi pas?” (why not?)  Notice the usage of the negative in the French response.

So where do I fit in? For those of you who know me well, this post may show my slight advantage.  My ex-colleagues told me more than once that there were unsatisfying moments in our professional relationship.  A major change would occur in one of our work projects and they would come and tell me.  I would listen and then simply say “okay“.  My colleagues were disappointed because they wanted an emotional reaction to the change.  They wanted a “That’s ridiculous!” or a “That’s awesome!” or a “No way, that is so much more work!“.    Another example was when I answered the phone.  If it was a close colleague identified on my caller ID, I would answer with a simple “yes?”  Why?  Because I knew they had a question for me and didn’t feel the need to go through the niceties of “Hello.  How are you today?”  Graciously I have always worked with intelligent people who accepted me for who I am.  No apologies necessary. 😉  I gave my ex-colleagues plenty of memories triggering smiles and laughter over their cup of French pressed coffee.  😀

Yet in my new sugar-free reality, I may have actually gagné (won).

Love It or Leave It . . . It Is August!

1 August 2011 Leave a comment

Time is up!  Whatever you have left undone in your office, home or neighborhood – you are just going to have to leave it.  August is at the door and he wants you!  It is time for you to go to paradise.  I am not talking about some out-of-the-body experience here.  It is a temporary moment to truly breathe and relax (in theory) before September arrives with full gusto.

Is It August Yet?

Is It August Yet?

They have always said that everything shifts to lower gear in France during August.  I have to bare witness that yes, in fact, it does.  Whether you like it or not, life around you will take on a new energy – a pensive one.  Depending how you approach life, this change may not be bliss and actually raises the potential of some frustration.

At work, there is definite change of mood as the speed of all projects is alleviated.  The word deadline walks around without a proper definition.  Not to mention you walk down the hallways and there can easily be an eerie silence.  Things don’t come to a screeching halt, we are still an international IT firm that has clients looking at a different calendar and living in a different season.  So it is business as usual.  The colleagues who are in the office in a way look forward to this month as it is a great time to catch up on smaller projects.  There are fewer distractions.  August is also a time to exhale after the July rush to complete projects in order for everyone to go on vacation.

What about outside of work?  I have to adjust my way of life in several manners.  My bus (#230) that carries me to work every day now has a different summer schedule.  My wonderful 5:09 p.m. express bus after work is now a local bus.  During off-peak hours, the bus now only comes every hour instead of every 30 minutes.  I don’t blame them, there is plenty more room on the bus with fewer passengers – so why run as many buses on the road?

I have enjoyed that my neighborhood post office is open until 6:30 p.m. allowing me to pick up any letters or packages right when I get home.  Well I just saw the new hours posted for August and they are now closing at 5:00 p.m.  If I need their services, I will have to wait till a Saturday morning.

My favorite boulangerie has announced on their front door that come August 15th, they will be closed all together until September.  I will have to buy second grade bread?  I did what any good French person would have done – rolled my eyes and complained to the first person I met.

So where are my bus driver, postal worker and baker going on vacation this month?  In 2011, they are staying in France.  I have seen several news stories that the French are taking their vacation domestically.  With the talk of an economic uncertainty and the revolutions in the Arab world, the French are choosing to leave their passport in the closet and program their GPS to another region of France.  I can feel it first hand since Nice is a key tourist destination.  I don’t have any exact numbers but there feels like a lot more people this summer in Nice compared to last year.

Because Nice is a travel destination, there is a flip side to all this vacation energy.  For one month it is easier to do food shopping.  The little market across the street is now open all day Sunday instead of just a half day.  The supermarché down the street is now staying open an extra 30 minutes in the evening till 9:00 p.m.  Everyone has got to eat!

So how am I defining my August?  Well for one, I am taking all my Mondays off for the month.  I mean why bother working a full workweek?  Then the last week of August I am off to Bordeaux to meet a close friend and classmate at the Alliance Française de Philadelphie.  That trip will be another great opportunity to see another corner of France, home to one of the oldest wine growing regions.

Metro, Boulot, Do-Do . . .

15 February 2011 3 comments

As I recently just had my end-of-year review at work (that I passed with flying colors), you could say I have found my groove.  It is a sustainable groove allowing me appreciate the good rhythms, navigate the quick beats of stressful deadlines and motivate through the doldrums.   So how does this DJ spin?  Let’s take a look.

6h00 – Alarm goes off to this random French radio station I found.  At this hour is the business news which makes for an interesting vocabulary lesson on the brain first thing of the day.

6h25 – I actually get out of bed and look out across my terrace to make sure the Mediterranean Sea is still there.  The sun is beginning to rise adding color to the new day.

7h02 – By now I am all showered and ready to go with a little time for a small breakfast of yogurt and fruit.

7h23 – I am racing down my 7 flights of stairs (for a little exercise instead of the elevator) to go around the corner to my bus stop.

7h31 – I am boarding the #230 bus direct to Sophia-Antipolis via the autoroute.  These regional buses are practically like tour buses with nice cushion seats; not the typical public transit bus seats like those within the city of Nice.  I pop in my headphones and check what has happened on Facebook from my iPhone from the previous night.  Then I usually take a few minutes to read.  (Option B at this point is not too often sleep.)

8h10 – I arrive at the side door of the Amadeus campus in Sophia-Antipolis (pending there was no accident on the autoroute).  I go up to the 5th floor where my office is located and start up my computer.  I am typically the first one to arrive within my office of 5 roommates.  Then I take a quick glance at my e-mail to see if there aren’t any urgent messages or if Bangkok (our internal help desk) processed one of my Work Orders overnight.

8h24 – I head to our on-site café for a standard breakfast of a croissant, orange juice and a café au lait.  I also get banana to keep for an afternoon snack.  Often I meet another colleague so we catch up; mutually building up the energy to face the day.

petit déjeuner?

petit déjeuner?

8h50 – Back at my desk deciphering which task to tackle first.  I focus on some writing of help topics that is going into our next release of a hotel revenue management product.  Even though our online help needs to be in 15 languages, the business process is to produce all documentation in English first.  Then a translation team replicates my team’s projects into the various languages.  This business strategy is a key reason there are so many Anglophones in my department (British, Irish, American, Australian, South African, etc.) and not a lot of French.

10h00 – I attend a meeting with my Team Lead along with a Trainer, Special Project Managers and Product Managers on the new release of our authentication software (how our users login).  We are focusing on developing the documentation (online help, user guides, quick guides) from one source.  We need to begin analysis on all audiences that will be using the documentation including airlines, travel agents, hotel clients and even our internal help desk in Bangkok.  We isolated our test markets to be Scandinavia, Zambia and Korean Airlines.  Release date isn’t for another 8 months.

11h05 – Coffee break needed.  If the vending machine is working properly, we are happy and we head to the terrace for breath of fresh air.  (I will say I am fortunate that my office is close to this terrace for breaks; not everyone at Amadeus is this fortunate.)

11h16 – I am searching for lunch companions on our Instant Messaging service.

11h20 – Back into my writing.

11h57 – Heading off to the cafeteria (actually the canteen as the Europeans would say) with a colleague.  The food isn’t bad but it isn’t exceptionally good either.  I have to give them credit for serving a descent meal to potentially 2,000 employees that could walk through.  Plus they make an effort to provide a well-balanced menu of choices.  It is not fast food quality.  The real challenge is after the cashier and everyone is scrambling to find a table and chairs; space is at a premium.   We got notice that Amadeus has committed in 2011 to expand this space recognizing a dire need.

12h55 – We finish our lunch and depose our trays and head to the café for a coffee to complete the meal.  Everyone is eyeing the seating available outside for another opportunity to be in the sun.  Well that and the fact several of my colleagues want to enjoy a cigarette.

13h23 – Heading back to the grind.  Yes, lunch usually lasts 1.5 hours.  This is very French.  Do not disturb them during this hour and no one eats at their desk (unless there is a deadline).  One of the biggest HR issues in this country is the complaint “my manager interrupted my lunch to ask me to do work.”  I kid you not.  It did take me a while to adjust to this way of life.  My American mindset told me as soon as you finish eating go back to your desk.  Not here, you truly enjoy your time and conversation with your colleagues.

15h05 – Another coffee break.  I have been occupied with doing screen captures using Adobe Captivate 5 for an e-learning project on how to do airline reservations on our graphical interface.  I found it shocking that we still support the old fashion command prompt version of this software much like the old days of MS-DOS.  Why?  Because the airline staff is stubborn and doesn’t want to break old habits.  They have already memorized the crucial commands to issue tickets and boarding processes.  They aren’t using our graphical interface as we would like them too so we have to support both.

16h12 – Eat my banana.

16h45 – I log my time for the day in our internal system of which projects received my man hours of the day.  I also report any key changes or events that may have occurred.

17h00 – Promptly leave the office to head downstairs for the bus stop.  The culture here is to work typically a 9 to 6 schedule but my commute is much easier if I do the early in, early out strategy.  For my work colleagues in Philadelphia, they will find this very bizarre behavior.

17h08 – I get on the express bus that heads straight for the autoroute and then Nice.

17h49 – Back home and checking my mailbox for any bills.

18h00 – Planning what to do for dinner.  Cook? or call a new friend for dinner out?

Of course I describing a generic timeline and there are always variances.  We do have our moments of stress.  I had one day recently where our Learning Management System (LMS) went down and as soon as I got in at 8h00 it was non-stop action.  I even had to shorten my lunch 😉 and take a much later bus.  My colleagues have a full days when a document goes to publication as we have a strict process; often those are days they may have to eat at their desk.  I would say the stress level here is of peaks and valleys and back in Philadelphia it was a constant flow.  That statement is as much a comparison of two very different companies as much as two different cultures.  France isn’t a total land of leisure as I am hearing more and more about the stress of Paris; the New York of France.  There often the inhabitants work long hours, have long commutes across the city and stress out about making ends meet financially.

In the end, I now can say the typical phrase of the French when you ask how their day was “Metro, Boulot, Do-Do” translated as I commuted, worked and slept.

It Is All Downhill From Here . . .

1 January 2011 Leave a comment

Going Down?

Going Down?

Allow me to fulfill a cliché; let me reflect as it is a new year after all.  I often get the question how long will you stay in France? Honestly, that is a tough one to answer and usually answer I don’t know yet.  To have such a colossal change in one’s life (moving to a foreign country) there is a necessity to let it play out for a while.  See how things fit and feel; the positives and negatives.  My employer, Amadeus, knows this need all too well.  Hence why for the 3rd interview they fly their candidates to do an all day face-to-face interview.  They want to make sure you feel comfortable here in the Côte d’Azur.  I believe they were more attracted to me being single as frequently it is an easier transition for one person instead of many.  I have heard stories at work of how they found candidates, hired them and relocated them plus the families and only to lose their investment not even a year later.  The new employee was adjusting fine and doing well on the job.  It was the partner or children of the employee that were not adjusting well forcing the new employee to resin and move back to their home country.

We still have two positions open in my department at work and my managers have been actively interviewing.  For a recent example, there was a Canadian that was a prime candidate and made it all the way to the third interview here in France.  He was married and had children.  Unfortunately, when he went home and reflected with his family, they turned the position down.  He stated it wasn’t enough pay but you never know what the family discussion was like on such a big change.  He may have been just hiding behind that reason.  Of course from a business perspective, Amadeus would rather write-off a plane ticket then the whole cost of relocation for a family.

So the words of wisdom among expats is to really give the new location 3 years.  After that 3rd year, you can truly feel acclimated and feel your new home is just that, home.  The 1st year is the honeymoon and you love your new country, new sights, new sounds and new cuisines.  The 2nd year is when the pendulum swings the other way.  All you notice are the negatives about the new country.  The people all of sudden become either annoying, rude or stupid; the food suddenly becomes overrated; the bureaucracy either makes you want to scream or cry.  Finally the 3rd year is when things level out; you appreciate the true positives and accept the negatives as what they are.  In the meantime, I hope to being traveling in 2011 specifically here in France.  I am truly excited to have the opportunity to explore the different cities such as Toulouse, Bordeaux, Strasbourg, Dijon and Lille for long long weekends with no worries about jet-lag.

My Carte Vitale

My Carte Vitale

But let’s get to me. 🙂  It is interesting that this new year is supposedly all downhill.  I say interesting because I feel like I have so much less to worry about.  A couple last pieces of the puzzle to complete my transition arrived in the mail last week.  I had my official Carte Vitale with my French social security number.  I am officially in the system and can get any health care service in this country and automatically have 70% of the bill paid by the State.  A big relief has you never know what life brings you.  The other item was my acknowledgement from the Préfecture on my driver’s license.  My file is ready for them to receive my PA driver’s license to exchange it for a French one.  Another relief as you only have a year from point of entry to do this exchange.  My car insurance company requires me to do this step to remain insured.

So what do I have left to worry about in my second year? Really, not much. My interaction with the bureaucracy will be minimal leaving less room to get upset with them.   My personal budget is in good shape now having cleared most of my moving bills.  Friendships are blossoming.  Work is clear and I know what to do (and not do).  I have strong colleagues at work and plenty of people to go to lunch with.  Amadeus is making plenty of profits so we have longevity for business.  Time will tell if this blog will take a more antipathetic tone and I follow the paths of previous expats.  The main thing is to stay focused on year 3 in order to really assess whether I stay in France or not.

Personal note: For those interested in what I did specifically to bring in the Nouvelle Année, I spent the evening with some new friends.  First I did have to work a half-day that clearly had a relaxed attitude.  Then one of my new friends hosted the evening in his apartment for simple food, wine and dancing.  It is one evening you can have a party in France and not have your neighbors yell at you for being too loud.  The party lasted until 3:00 in the morning and then we all got safely home.  France is really cracking down on DUIs (since it has a not so good record compared to its European counterparts) and the police are out full force on New Year’s Eve.  Luckily my ride didn’t encounter any along the way.  It was good time and just the way I like it as I am not one to really go to public spots on New Year’s.  Bonne année et bon santé!

All the 1’s and 0’s lead to Erding, Germany

5 December 2010 Leave a comment

If you have ever stepped foot into an airport to fly somewhere, I bet you that your personal 1’s and 0’s were sent to Germany. I’m talking about your personal data either to complete a travel transaction or for the plane to be cleared to leave.  All data in this digital world gets reduced to a series of 1’s and 0’s in order for any type of communication to occur between computers.  So how does that fact relate to my life in France?  Well the digital heart of Amadeus resides in Germany, not France.  Let me back up a minute to explain.

Friday Night at the Acropolis

Friday Night at the Acropolis

Once upon a time there was a database named Sabre . . . Yes, Sabre was the first database within the airline industry built to handle all reservations and transactions.  Based in the States, it was the only player in the industry during the 1980’s.  The European travel market was just taking off and becoming more affordable for the average European.  Yet Sabre wasn’t known to play well with the growing European fleets of Air France, Lufthansa, Iberia Airlines and SAS.  When a travel agent made a request for flight availability on given route, Sabre would always should American based airlines first in the list.  You would have to scroll down to find the European airlines in order to make a purchase.  As you can imagine, Europe wasn’t happy with this bias.  So the four airlines I mentioned above got together to come up with a business plan to create a competitive database with the mission statement that it would be neutral, not showing bias to anyoneAmadeus was born.  SAS withdraw from the negotiations but the remaining three airlines invested in the new independent IT start-up, Amadeus.  Consequently the decision was made to spread out the three main offices of Amadeus in France, Germany and Spain respectively.  Madrid, Spain holds the actual headquarters including the CEO, Finance departments and Marketing.  Sophia-Antipolis, France holds all key product development and support.  Finally Erding, Germany holds all operations including our mega-data center.  Amadeus has grown so successful we are the dominate player in the global market for not just airlines but the entire travel industry including hotel, car and cruises.  Amadeus literally handles 500,000,000 database transactions every day.  We own the largest civilian data center on the European continent.  Our marketing team put together this web page with a short video that really puts our data center on the map.  If all this techy stuff lights up your transistors, I encourage you to take a peek this one journalist’s blog who was invited on a tour.  This feat in technology is quite impressive, including our annual electricity bill of €4 million.

Pyramid of Chocolate

Pyramid of Chocolate

So why all this marketing jargon to explain a good Friday’s night fun? This past Friday was our big Christmas party for the Sophia-Antipolis office.  The party was held at the local convention center here in Nice called the Acropolis.  Don’t forget that this party had to accommodate nearly 2,000 employees.  We had a huge hall to ourselves with a formal sit down dinner.  Everyone was expected to dress up for the evening.  We were served chapon, a castrated rooster raised for the high quality of meat.  A dish that is a Holiday treat in France.   Unfortunately each table was restricted to one bottle of red wine and one bottle of white.  Once we finished them, the servers told us they had strict orders to not offer any more (honestly I think it was just to control consumption since most people had to drive home).  The meal concluded with a huge pyramid of chocolate seen in the photos.  As there was nice music in the background throughout the meal, suddenly Jay-Z’s Empire State of Mind with Alicia Keys dominated the scene (a little surreal and shows the dominance of the American music scene).  Our CEO from Madrid, our Executive Director in France and our HR director formally made a presentation to acknowledge employees that have been with Amadeus for either 10 years or 20 years.  One of the reasons I was attracted to Amadeus through my interviews was the longevity of its employees and it showed this evening.  We had 80 employees receive the 20 year status mark.  Going back to the short history I gave up above shows these guys were here from the beginning.

Rotating Dance Floor

Rotating Dance Floor

After the presentation, the dance floor opened up and rotated . . . yea, rotated. In the middle of the dance floor there was a raise circle that literally began to rotate clockwise.  Everyone got on board and started to dance to the music and have a good time.   Those that weren’t dancing made it back to the open bar for more beverages.  It really was a pleasant evening.  I got a free ride from one of my colleagues and left the party around 3:00 in the morning.  It seemed everyone was most appreciative for such an event as they didn’t have a Christmas party last year (due to the economy) and the strikes we had earlier this year due to going public on the stock market.  Of course we will see what next year will bring.  The guard is changing as our new CEO takes reign come January 1.  These past two CEO’s (from what I have heard) have been very people orientated and approachable.  They lived by the philosophy of work hard, play hard.  Amadeus is known in the industry for its past employee parties being on a large scale.  Yet we will see if the new CEO will continue this trend; he comes from a finance background and maybe more worried about the bill at the end then the party itself.

Categories: Working Life

Realignment Is Needed . . . and We Are Not Talking Tires.

5 September 2010 Leave a comment

Some important stuff is happening polictically here. At the national level Sarkozy, the president of France, is making a direct impact on the face of Marianne.  Yes, the French see their country as female and have a formal name for her.  You can review French pop cultural history to identify which celebrity posed with pride to be the Marianne of their age.   In any case, there are two dominate issues on the French news these days.

Marianne representing La République Française

Marianne representing La République Française

First the French government reacted to a police conflict with a colony of gypsies by deporting them back to Romania.  The essence of the government argument is that they are not contributing to society but just feeding off of it.  Thanks to my fellow Domer Micheal Barrett living in Paris, you can dig deeper on the issue with this excellent FAQ on this topic.  Of course there is an uproar about this measure, both internally and externally.  The government of course is not in unison on the topic.  Key political figures have used the metaphor of the Nazi deportation of Jews that occupied France did participate in during World War II.  The Catholic church has openly expressed disapproval with even one priest wishing a heart attack on the president.  To complicate things further, both France and Romania are part of the European Union.  The laws of the EU state that the citizens of participating countries can freely travel and reside in the other countries.  So to simply put them in another corner of the EU only means they will return in due time.  What are the citizens thinking?  The polls show the deportation as favorable as most French are concerned with their gang mentality and failure to integrate into French society.  It is a tough issue.

The other issue with directly impact my life and good old fashion strike.  Yes, this Tuesday there will be a national strike of all sorts protesting Sarkozy’s initiative to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62.  Of course the precursor to this change is the recent economic downturn and looking ahead of how to pay for the social security system for the retirees within France.  France is enjoying the lowest retirement age within all of Europe.  My American mindset is having a hard time to empathize as this move is nothing more than a reality check.  Yet many political figures and the populus feel the money can be found else where, particularly by taxing the rich.  For this week, I just want to get to work and back and make sure my American friends arriving this week won’t get stranded.

AmadeusNow let us turn more locally for the realignment of Amadeus. This Wednesday and Thursday there will be a company wide meeting on our status as a company.  Due to the fact we have over 2,000 employees they have to run the 3 hour meeting four times to give everyone an opportunity to participate.   I signed up for the very first one Wednesday morning.  Right now, Amadeus looks great on paper.  Our 2Q earnings were recently reporting as having a total revenue growth of 11.9% (in a global recession) giving us a net profit of €246.8 million . . . no complaints right?  Not so, remember my previous blog on our strikes earlier this summer.  These good figures are making many employees further disgruntled.  Remember last year the average employee got a zero pay raise, not even for inflation.  This year, the average employee is finally getting a simple 2% inflation adjustment.  It begs the question where all this money is going?  Not to the employees.  Consequently at the meetings this week, the unions asked everyone to wear black as a visual representation of employee dissatisfaction.  I’ll be anxious to hear what will be presented at Wednesday’s meeting as I will wear my neutral white shirt and jeans.