x

If English is your choice, call Jon Stamell at 212-444-7192.

If you're more comfortable with Spanish, please call
César Hernandez at 212-444-7193.

(We can probably accommodate you in Croatian, Italian and a little Mandarin too.)

We'd love to give you our email addresses but it seems to initiate a cascade of spam, from those awful web crawlers, so if email is your preferred mode of communication, please enter your name and email address below and we'll contact you right away.

Posts tagged with Paraguay

The way slogans should be

Posted on May 15, 2014 by 1 Comment

WayLifeThere’s a great article today by Gail Collins in the NY Times (My State’s Prettier Than Yours) in which she tries to understand the promotional slogans of our 50 states.  Give up Gail.  It’s incomprehensible.  State and country slogans have always been a pet peeve of mine because they usually don’t relate to anything distinct or different about the state.  Collins gives plenty of examples.  They’re usually a result of the excesses of bad advertising agencies or over zealous economic development and tourism teams.

There’s a list of state slogans at Wikipedia (List of U.S. state slogans) and 105 country tourism slogans at a blog called Tourist vs. Traveller (105 tourism slogans from around the world) along with a nice little video to show them all with their logos (which a lot of tourism development folks think is a brand, but that’s another topic entirely).  Collins covers the states pretty well so I’ll focus on some of my favorite country slogans.

Did you know Albania is “A new Mediterranean love”?  And all this time, I thought it was a mysterious country that supplies pizza parlor chefs to New York restaurants.  Austria is “Arrive and revive”.  I’m sorry. I don’t know what that means, particularly since I’ll have jet lag for a day or two once I arrive.  Here’s one I like:  Belarus is “Hospitality beyond borders.”  Does that mean I have to leave the country for hospitality?  One of my favorites is Romania because I’ve been there twice:  “Explore the Carpathian garden.”  Now, I never saw the Carpathians on either of my trips (hint:  it’s a mountain range), but I suspect that slogan will mean a lot to the winner of any national geography bee.

You have to read the list yourself.  It’s full of surprises.  (Actually, I think that’s Connecticut’s slogan.)  You can travel from Pure Russia to 100% Pure New Zealand in a few lines.  (Maybe Russia only got to 90% so they didn’t want to tell us how pure they are.)  “Bolivia awaits you”, which is nice to know since I probably won’t make it there for a few years.  The “Dominican Republic has it all” so don’t confuse that with “Honduras, todo esta aqui.”  They have it all too but only in Spanish.  I also like “Paraguay, You have to feel it!”.  I’ve been there too and I suppose they’re talking about their vicious mosquitoes.

Τhe amazing thing about all of these slogans for states and countries (cities have them too; don’t get me started) is that they say absolutely nothing about the country, its culture and what makes it distinct and different.  Years ago, states had mottos or nicknames that said something about them and often appeared on auto license plates.  Alabama was “The Cotton State”, Florida was “The Everglade State”; Georgia – “The Peach State”; Hawaii – “The Aloha State”; Michigan – “Winter Water Wonderland” and so on.  Washington D.C. was “Nation’s Capital”, which tells me a lot and that no other state can say.  Now, it’s become “The American Experience”, which is ironic since it’s never been a place that Sarah Palin went looking for her “real Americans”.  As a child, I always loved the slogans on license plates and could recite a lot of them.  They told me something different about each state and I wanted to visit them all.  Now they all blend into a meaningless hodgepodge that I bet nobody but each state’s tourism employees can recite.  It’s bad for the state or country, self-aggrandizing and simply poor communication.

I used to live in Maine and often drive there for long weekends.  We have a house there and a car with Maine plates that says “Vacationland”.  I like that, although I also like that it’s been called “The Pine Tree State.”  Sure, there are pine trees in other states but drive into Maine and you’ll think there must be more of them there than anyplace else and it does give you a picture.  For many years, they had a slogan on a sign when you enter the state, “The way life should be.”  Yes, it’s another one of those silly slogans but I have to admit that as someone who lived there for 25 years, seeing that sign always made me feel like I was home.  It meant a way of life to me and I hoped for others visiting for the first time.

40937319A few years ago, they added another sign about a 100 feet further down the road that read, “Worth a visit, worth a lifetime”, which signaled to me that they hired a new ad agency that wanted to establish its own brand of creativity.  Then, a year or so ago, they plastered “Open for business” underneath “The way life should be.”  I suppose it’s nice that the state is trying but did anyone check to see that Forbes put Maine last in its best for business rankings?

OpenForBizAt its core, this is all about determining what a state or country’s marketing strategy is because slogans, if they have any purpose at all, should tell us why that place is worth our patronage for business, tourism or simply, aspirations. Anyone who pays attention to strategy knows that it must tell us why the product is both distinct and different from any other, and if that strategy is not true to what’s being delivered, it is totally meaningless.  Slogans, however, have become a tactic conjured up by advertising or public relations agencies without a thought to strategy and that’s why they are incomprehensible and instantly forgettable.

Share

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

My 9/11, Part 2

Posted on November 21, 2011 by Leave a comment

(See prior entry for Part 1)

My travel ordeal from 9/11 was complete and I slept through much of that day.  My plan had been to get out and see Asunción but lack of sleep and hunger took over.  Besides, as I didn’t have my luggage and didn’t know whether it would arrive, one of my priorities was finding a few basic clothing essentials in case I was going to make my presentation the next day in jeans.

After lunch at the hotel, I walked outside where some workers were erecting a large sign for the conference.  They were showing me as the second headliner.  The top dog was Alvaro Uribe, former president of Colombia.  I suppose he deserved to have his photo over mine

I walked across the street to the local mall to buy a clean shirt and underwear.  (Something about the idea of talking to 700 people in suits while wearing three day old underwear didn’t have the right appeal.)  What can you say about a mall?  They’re pretty much the same all over the world in both developed and developing countries.  That’s both comforting to a wayward traveler and a bit disturbing as we continue to lose our national identities.  Was that Benetton store I just walked by the one in the Rosebank Mall near Johannesburg?  No, remember I’m in Asunción today and it’s the Shopping del Sol mall.  How could I forget?  There’s Burger King in the corner.  Maybe I can get some good Paraguayan food there.

Underwear and socks, no problem.  I picked those up at a completely forgettable store but now I wanted a nice shirt so the conference attendees wouldn’t think I walked to Paraguay.  I walked the corridors of Shopping del Sol mall looking for the right kind of store.  Then I saw the words “Christian Dior”, the store name, “Giorgio Patrino” and most important, “Liquadacion” plastered all over the windows and underneath “40%, 50%, 60%” – my kind of place.

Like most high-end stores around the world, the well-dressed staff looked me over as I entered and saw a downtrodden mess of a man and I could tell they were considering asking me to leave.  But my quick gringo response to the salesman’s query, “solomente buscando” gave me away as someone who might have a wallet stacked with credit cards, so he gave me the run of the store and I soon found the fancy shirt section.  After a few minutes, I found a nice Italian shirt in my size.  I looked for the price and there was none on the shirt, always a bad sign.  So I asked the ever-watchful sales man for the price.  He looked at me, looked down at the shirt, smiled and said 819,000 guarani.  Now that sounds like a fortune in guarani but a quick calculation told me it was about $190, in my world, a fortune to pay for a shirt.

So, I looked at him, looked at the shirt and said, “muy, muy, caro!”  He shrugged.

I pointed to the store windows at all the Liquadación signs and cleverly said, “es imposible que el precio es correcto; es mas barrato in los estados unidos; es mas barrato en Italia”  Although, frankly, I had no idea what the shirt would cost in Italy but clearly, he could see that he was dealing with one tough hombre.  So he took out his calculator and gave me a new price, “645,000 guarani.”

I shook my head and said, “todavia mas caro.”

He went to work again on his calculator, looked back at the store manager who nodded at him and, after a moment, he offered, “385,000 guarani.”

Maybe I could have gotten him down further but he had dropped his price by more than half, so I said okay and the shirt was mine for $90.  He seemed like a beaten man, although the manager was smiling behind him.  I left content but thinking that this exchange could have taken place almost anywhere in the world.

I returned to my hotel to work on my presentation.  As numero 2, I wanted to be good and I had been asked to speak for 90 minutes, something I had done once before but it’s a lot of work to keep the masses entertained for that long.  What preoccupied my mind though was what Karin had said to me during our drive to Asuncion when I asked how they were going to get me out of the country as I was there illegally without a visa.  She said, “there may be a bribe involved.”  I began to wonder what life inside a Paraguayan prison might be like.

Later that day, I met some of the officials of the Paraguayan Trade Fairs organization.  One told me he was a good friend of Paraguay’s Vice President and assured me that I wouldn’t have to pay the maximum fine, which I learned was $6,000.  “I’m sure we can get you out for no more than $1,000.”  Good thing I got that shirt for half off.

The conference and my presentation the next day will be covered in later blog posts.  However, the organization was very professional and my session was well attended.  I had started to think about looking like Steve Jobs up on the stage wearing jeans but Karin showed up the previous night with my suitcase, so I looked pretty much like every other suit in the place, only I had a headset mike and earpiece so the simultaneous translator could tell me to slow down or repeat a sentence.

The following day, I had scheduled a lunch with a cabinet minister in Chile, a meeting that I didn’t want to miss.  I looked to see if I could get to Buenos Aires the night after my presentation so that I wouldn’t miss my morning flight to Santiago but the last flight out of Asunción was too early for me to make it.  The next morning, I was scheduled for a 6:00 am flight to BA and then the short flight over the Andes to Santiago but that meant I would have to leave the hotel at 4:00 am to go through customs and make my flight.

I had dinner that night with the owners of Paraguayan Trade Fairs.  The same gentleman who told me about paying the fine sat next to me but said nothing about my visa.  However, he was genial, interested in my speech from earlier in the day and well-traveled.  He said something to me about the region that I think encapsulates some of the culture of the countries in the southern cone region of South America, “Paraguay looks at Argentina and Brazil; Argentina looks at itself and Chile looks at the world.”  I find all three countries to be a bit provincial but Chile is certainly the least so and the one that has built a strong economy based on global exports.

Years ago, on a Scandinavian trip, I heard an expression about that region which goes, “The Finns design a product; the Swedes build it; and the Danes sell it to the Norwegians.”  These are generalizations but there is a little bit of truth in them that describes their national character.

At 4:00 am the next morning, I was bright eyed and bushy tailed (as much as one can be with four hours sleep) at the hotel when Karin, her husband and 18 month old son pulled up to take me to the airport and get me out of the country without a jail term.  This couple deserved a medal for how they took care of me, although as my local travel agents, they felt some responsibility for not ensuring that I knew about the visa.

Karin asked me how much money I was carrying.  I told her a couple hundred dollars and a little more in euros.  “Forget the euros,” she said.  I was trying to as I acquired them when the euro was about 20% higher.

When we got to the airport, she walked with me right past the security entrance to go through customs.  There was a guard there but he didn’t bother to ask for our tickets or passports but ahead of us was the usual lineup of customs agents sitting in boxes stamping passports and asking probing questions about travelers’ visits.

I waited in line for our turn, not knowing what Karin had in mind.  She pointed toward the end of the row and said, “See the guy in the last booth?”  I nodded  “That’s our man,” she said.  Now, I knew some sort of fix was in but had no idea how it would turn out.  When we got to the head of the line and it was our turn, we walked over to our “hombre elegido”.

Karin asked for my passport, handed it to him and commenced a rapid negotiation in hushed tones.  She seemed irritated at what he was asking for.  I thought about my newly honed negotiation skills buying a shirt two days earlier and was about to offer some suggestions when I heard a stamp come down on my passport like a hammer. She took my arm, walked me to the side and asked, “Could you give me $60?”  I pulled a couple hundred dollars out of my wallet and began counting twenties.  She pushed my hands down so that no one from customs would see.  I gave her the bills and she directed me toward the x-ray machines.  I lingered for a moment wondering if I was to watch her buy my way out but she motioned for me to leave.

Thus ended my trip to Paraguay.  Smuggled in and bribed out, a first and hopefully, a last for me.  The flights to Buenos Aires and then to Santiago were non-eventful except for the incredible views of the Andes.  I made it to my lunch meeting in time.

On the whole, it was a pretty interesting adventure, although one loss was that I never got time to see Asunción.  Perhaps, though, my introduction to the wonderful hospitality of the Paraguayans made up for that.

One final coda to the trip was that from the time I got off my flight in Santiago until I walked into my hotel in the city about 15 miles away took about an hour.  It was the kind of efficiency one sees in places like Zurich and wishes for in London.  The contrast to my trek to get into Paraguay was evident and I thought again about the direction these countries face and the way they are developing themselves.

Share

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

My 9/11, Part 1

Posted on October 14, 2011 by 1 Comment

I think it was around 3:30 am as we turned into a parking lot in some godforsaken place in the middle of Paraguay when I realized it was the tenth anniversary of 9/11.  That morning ten years ago, I was having breakfast with the president of one of the world’s largest public relations firms and I replayed the day in my mind.  I wanted to forge a business relationship with his firm and I think he was there out of curiosity as his agency had recently lost a competition for an agency search I conducted for a client.

Ironically, we were in a restaurant called An American Place at Lexington and 51st, now no longer there, and had just begun our breakfast when we noticed people gathering around the TV at the bar.  We asked the waitress what was going on and she told us a plane had hit the World Trade Center.  So we got up and went to the bar to watch.  I think only the first jet had hit at that point.  Like everyone there, we were stunned but went back to our table not quite sure what to do.  It may have been that the second plane then flew into the towers or something hit us that the country was under attack.  Uncertain of what to do, we got up, talked about calling our families and then parted.  I think Andy went back to his office as one of the airlines involved was a client.  I realize now that I don’t know what the rest of his day was like.

I was working out of my home office at that time having recently moved to New York, so I returned to my apartment on 43rd and 1st and, like millions of people around the globe, stayed glued to the TV for the next several days.  Much of it is a blur now but an image that will always be etched in my memory is waking up the following day and seeing snow outside my window.  When I went up to the glass to look, I realized that what looked like snow falling was actually ash.  I still shudder at the thought.

Ten years later, I was sitting in the back seat of a Toyota, somewhere in Paraguay, trying to sleep with little success.  In the front seat was a Paraguayan woman, 8½ months pregnant, reclining, sound asleep and next to her, her snoring husband in the driver’s seat.  I was wired from a day of coffee and soda so sleeping was out of the question.  I wanted to get out and take a walk but we were parked near a police checkpoint and I didn’t want to raise anyone’s suspicion.  I was there illegally.

It wasn’t meant to be that way.  I had been invited to be one of the keynote speakers at a prestigious business conference in Asunción, the country’s capitol.  I had been to Chile and Argentina many times but never to Paraguay and my image of the country was outdated and based on what I knew about a former dictator who was openly sympathetic to Nazis and stories of trading in contraband.  So I was curious and had been offered a reasonable fee to speak about branding.

The trip seemed uneventful at the beginning.  Business class on Tam Linhas from New York to Sao Paulo and then I’d get my connection to Asunción.  I left New York on the 9th so I’d get two days to see the city and form some current perceptions of Paraguay.  Everything went the way you’d want it to go on an international trip until I went to board my flight to Asunción.  I was asked for my visa.

“What visa?” I replied.

“You need a visa to enter Paraguay.” a surprised gate agent told me.  “You can’t board this flight.”

No one had said anything to me about a visa.  Not the conference organizers, not the Paraguayan travel agency that booked my flights and not the speaker’s bureau in Chile that arranged for me to speak and negotiated my fee.  Nadie.  Nada.

Within a few minutes I was approached by the airline’s security officer who explained the visa requirement to me again and then told me that they were going to put me on a flight back to New York that was leaving in a few hours.  While he escorted me to the business class lounge, I negotiated with him to have four hours to figure things out.  If I couldn’t get to Paraguay, I’d go directly to Chile where I had meetings scheduled the next week.

Once settled in the lounge, I began to email, text and call furiously to the event organizers, travel agent, speakers bureau and my wife.  “Why didn’t anyone tell me about the Visa requirement?  How are you going to get me into Paraguay, now that I’m stuck in Sao Paulo with a visa?  If I don’t hear from you in three hours, I’m going to Chile instead.”

Within my three-hour time limit, I received instructions from the event organizers that they had bought me a ticket to Buenos Aires and then another one from Buenos Aires to a town called Posadas on the Argentine-Paraguay border.  They told me I would be met there and driven to Asunción.

With my spirit of adventure in tow, I followed the instructions arriving in Posadas at close to 10pm that night.  I knew nothing about Posadas except where it was located.  The airport reminded me of other small towns around the world – two gates and served by only one airline.  It was, as the saying goes, not the end of the earth but you could see it from there.  Not only was there little activity, but neither my suitcase nor ride were there to meet me.  So here I was, in the middle of nowhere, Argentina, no luggage and no ride.

I went to the airline desk to find my bag and after the desk agent made some calls, he informed me that my bag was in Buenos Aires and he could have it in Posadas the next night at 10pm.  I asked how far it was from Posadas to Asunción and after checking with his friend in the back office, he told me five hours by car.

“¿Qué? Cinco horas! ¿Cómo peudo reciber mi equipaje cuando estoy en Asucncion?”, I pieced together with my fledgling Spanish.  Not that he needed to come up with any ideas as my whereabouts wasn’t his problem, he kindly informed me that there was a flight to Ausunción at the same time the next night and he could have my bag sent there.  Yes! One problem solved, assuming it was, in fact, my bag that he found in Buenos Aires.  I hadn’t seen it since I dropped it off at the departure counter in New York.

Now, for my ride.  It was 10:30 and after solving my luggage problem, the desk manager said, “Señor, tenemos que cerrar el aeropuerto.  No hay más vuelos esta noche y queremos ir a nuestras casas.”

My ride had not shown up yet, so again, I began to text, email and call furiously but typical of many small towns, cell connections weren’t great.  Then, I noticed one more problem.  My cell phone battery was getting low.  They were turning off the lights in the airport and the three or four staff that were there were looking at me sympathetically and sadly but not with any ideas.

I walked out in front of the airport.  There was one cab there, still hopeful that maybe he’d get me as a fare to somewhere; perhaps to my long lost Argentine cousin or to some wealthy benefactors with a large estancia on the border?  If I was going anywhere in a cab, it would be to the nearest hotel where I would spend the night and get myself to Chile the next day.  Then, I finally got a text from the people coming to get me, “We are late, the traffic has been bad but we’ll be there soon.”

I decided to trust the text not really knowing who it came from, waved the cab driver off, watched the airport staff close and lock the airport doors and head off to their cars to go home.   They waved as they went by with an enthusiastic “Buena Suerte!”  I looked around and saw there were no benches so I sat down on the curb and waited.  The thought occurred to me as I looked around and saw only some distant headlights that I might spend the night there, wherever there was.

About thirty minutes later, a car drove up and a very pregnant woman and her husband got out.  They introduced themselves as Karin and Diosnel and apologized profusely but said the traffic from Asunción had been terrible and the drive took seven hours.  I looked at my watch and grimaced with the thought that the return trip is going to put me in bed around 5:30 the next morning.  Well, it’s off to Asunción we go.

It took about a half-hour to get to the border and I was beginning to wonder how we’re going to get me across without a visa.  The only thing my drivers could tell me in a tentative voice was, “We’ll figure it out when we get there.”  It was about at this point that my phone began to receive automatic texts from ESPN telling me every time there was a score in the Michigan – Notre Dame football game.  The game was going back and forth and was a high scoring affair so it was really running my phone battery down with each text, but being a Michigan alum, I couldn’t stand the idea of turning it off.

Argentina and Paraguay are separated by the Parana River, second largest in South America after the Amazon, with customs checkpoints on either side of the bridge.  There was long line of cars waiting to cross into Paraguay, probably Saturday night revelers returning home from the high life in Posadas.  When we got to the first checkpoint, the Argentine customs agent asked for our passports.  He looked at them in a rush, stamped them all and waved us through.  Now, for the hard part I thought, entering Paraguay with no visa.  My phone sounded a text announcing that Michigan had scored again to take the lead.  I envisioned myself spending the night in a Paraguayan jail, hungry, lonely but knowing the score in the game.  But when we got to the other side, the border police simply waved us through.

“Easy peasy!” Diosnel exalted, and then, “I’m hungry.”  Personally, I wanted to just get on the road and get to Asunción as soon as possible, ever hopeful that a five to seven hour drive was a bit of hyperbole.  But Diosnel was hungry and we drove through Encarnación, a ramshackle Paraguayan border town.  I hadn’t seen much of Posadas on the Argentine side but after a few minutes driving through Encarnación, I could imagine that a Saturday night in Argentina could be quite alluring.  After a few minutes, we pulled up next to an Italian restaurant.  Is there anywhere in the world where there isn’t an Italian restaurant?  And no different than at hundreds of other similar restaurants in small American towns, the food was lackluster but the beer was spectacular.  It was called Baviera and, maybe it was the late hour and my weary day, but I could have been in Munich as I drank that beer.  Then I remembered what I had known about Paraguay as a haven for ex-Nazis and great beer in Paraguay made sense.  What else do you do if you’re an ex-Nazi in hiding?

When we left the restaurant and got back on the road, I looked at my watch and saw that it was 1:00 am.  The memory of the beer quickly faded and I prepared myself for a long drive to Asunción.  It also occurred to me that Diosnel had driven seven hours to get me and so far, another hour on the way back.  How was this guy going to stay awake to get us back?

It was a bright, moonlit night and as the small-city lights of Encarnación faded, we drove past what looked like fields dotted with palm trees – probably quite beautiful in daylight.  I tried to sleep but had consumed too much caffeine during the day and the monotony of the drive began to wear on.  That’s when we turned off the road so Diosnel could take a nap.  I looked at my watch and realized that it was 9/11.  What were the terrorists doing ten years ago?  Waking up?  Bathing and shaving all the hair off their bodies?   Preparing for their day of infamy and promised meeting with 72 virgins?

When I was growing up, I knew that places like Paraguay existed.  I had geography in elementary school and loved it.  I used to play a word game with my father.  He would name a place in the world and I would have to name another that began with the last letter of the place he named.  Then it would be his turn.  I never tired of it and it was how I learned about the world.  How else would I know about the Sea of Okhotsk or the Pirana River if my father hadn’t pulled those answers out when I thought I had him finished with no more places beginning with S or P left in the world?

I replayed the day as Diosnel and Karin slept and while I was angry that I had gotten into this situation, I was appreciative of their effort and that I could still travel to places like this ten years after an event that would change us forever.  I think I was doing what you’re supposed to do at times like that – remember and appreciate – so perhaps, the fact that I was doing that in a parking lot in the middle of Paraguay was okay.  Technically, I had been smuggled into the country.  Unsure of what the rest of the trip was going to be like or how I’d get out legally was yet to be encountered.  However, I think I gained a certain perspective on the world that day and the one I had ten years before.

In my next post, I’ll complete the story about the conference and getting out of the country.  When I asked Karin during the drive to Asunción, she said, “There may be a bribe involved.”  Not what I wanted to hear.

Share

Tags: , , , , , , , ,