If you are an outside sales person as I am, you know the challenge of getting companies to agree to face – face appointments. Everyone is too busy or has another meeting, conference call, conflict, or other reasons they cannot meet with you on a particular day or at a specific time. If you couple that with trying to schedule appointments over a defined period of time when you have a colleague joining you from another country it can be very challenging.
That is one of my challenges when I have colleagues from India, China, or other far away countries joining me on sales calls. Still, once I have the appointments scheduled I very much look forward to meeting and traveling with these visitors to the USA. I find that many of them have been to the USA previously but typically to one of our more “Metropolitan” areas like New York, Chicago or Los Angeles. I’m not from and I don’t live in one of these big cities. I live in Wisconsin and work from my home near Milwaukee. If that still doesn’t give you a mental picture of where I am; find Chicago on the map and trace your finger north. If you come to Canada you’ve gone a little too far.
One of the more enjoyable parts of the experience for me is getting to know these visitors and my role as a “Cheesehead Tour Guide” for these “Strangers in a Strange Land”. What I am referencing here is the fact that some people refer to Wisconsinites as “cheeseheads”. The other thing I am referring to is the cult classic, science fiction novel Stranger in a Strange Land, written in 1961 by Robert Heinlein.
First, let me provide a historical note about Cheeseheads. It was NOT a Chicago Bears fan who tagged us with this name. Actually, it dates back to the Civil War. A commodity that was sent from Wisconsin to feed the federal armies was cheese. This food was easily transported and less subject to spoilage. Thus began the nickname for Wisconsin troops.
Briefly, the plot of the science fiction novel is about a human who was born on the planet Mars and raised there by Martians. In his early adulthood he comes to earth for the first time and encounters a culture and land that is totally foreign to him. It is easy for me to imagine my foreign colleagues experiencing sights and hearing terms or local slang for which they have no concept. Let me share a few of the things that I‘ve found amusing.
Most of the visitors I’ve met are not too familiar with US sports. This seems to be especially true of baseball and football. Imagine trying to explain the sport of football and at the same time rationalizing why a grown man has painted his face green & gold and wears a large foam headpiece shaped like a wedge of cheese. On one occasion I had the opportunity to show a co-worker from India the legendary home of the Green Bay Packer football team. The stadium is named Lambeau Field and many sports announcers often refer to it as “the frozen tundra”. This man was born and raised in an area of India where the average year round temperature is 25 Celsius. Imagine his expression when I explained that he could look forward to winter temperatures here of less than -18 celsius. I told him too about wind chill, annual snow fall (average 122 cm) and the need to carry a snow brush/ice scraper in his car to clear his windshield after the car has been parked outside during snowfall.
I also find it amusing when someone asks me for directions to the water fountain. Everyone is familiar with the device that when a button is depressed shoots an arc style stream of water for drinking. Here in Wisconsin we know these as a “bubbler”. The original device was a round bowl in the center of which was a metal ball that housed a water valve. Water was projected upward in a vertical one inch stream that “bubbled” above the ball. This device was patented in 1888 by a small Wisconsin company, the Kohler Company, which today is one of the largest privately operated companies in the United States. The name “Bubbler” was actually trademarked for their new product. There are still original working Bubblers around the Wisconsin State Capital in Madison, Wisconsin.
The most recent past trip was with 2 gentlemen from China. We traveled by car through some rural areas of Wisconsin, passing many farms and crop filled farm fields, and farm silos. My colleagues were quick to ask me what those long, sylinder structures are, I could probably have had a lot of fun with that answer but I was polite and told them the truth straight out. Then things that I take for granted such as seeing deer and wild turkeys or Canadian geese flying in “V” formation were all new to them. I was disappointed for them that they could not aim their cell phones quickly enough to get pictures of the deer we saw.
In a few days I will be with a colleague visiting from Ningbo, China. We’ll be meeting with customers in Wisconsin and Minnesota and while we travel to our appointments I’m looking forward to showing him and telling him about these places. It should be another great experience as I show off the beautiful Fall foliage in our trees.