tekom: Some thoughts on Germany

Sarah O'Keefe / Conferences10 Comments

The tekom conference wrapped up yesterday (Friday), but like several other North American attendees, I stayed an extra day to bring the airfare down. (The difference between leaving Saturday and leaving Sunday — over $1000. One extra night in the hotel? Significantly less than $1000. Extra night in hotel plus money spent while sightseeing on Saturday? Didn’t look too bad until I converted back to Euros. At least I didn’t buy the killer boots, NICKY. [Nicky: “They were on sale! And they fit! And it was only 80 euros.” Me: “Per boot.”]

Some differences between North American conferences and this one. Overall, attendees were:

  • more likely to be men (my rough estimate is a 65%/35% male/female split; the numbers would be reversed at STC or similar conferences).
  • more international. In my workshop registration list, I counted 18 participants from German-speaking countries; the rest were from all over Europe and the rest of the world–places like Italy, Scotland, and China. STC would be ecstatic with an international component of 30%. The overall numbers for the entire conference were probably lower as I was presenting in the English-language tcworld sessions (as opposed to the German-language tekom sessions).
  • much better dressed than the average U.S. conference-goer.
  • smaller (cough) than the average U.S. conference-goer.
  • more in number. The estimated I heard was approximately 1800 attendees for the dual conferences, plus another 1000 that only visited the trade show floor.
  • unlikely to be from North America. I don’t think I saw any American attendees who were not either a) presenting or b) participating in the trade show.
  • very polite as an audience. Although most participants spoke very good English, it’s obviously more difficult to listen to and comprehend a presentation being given in a language that is not your native language. As a result, I think participants were busy concentrating on comprehension rather than on challenging the presenter with questions. Several people did ask me some pretty interesting questions after my presentations, and I think they did just didn’t feel comfortable standing up in a room of 30 (or 130) attendees and trying to formulate a question quickly. In English.

The trade show component was enormous, and the booths were unbelievably elaborate. I think I might have mentioned the chocolate fountain, but there were also spinning logos atop the booths, juice bars, champagne, pretzels, croissants, fresh fruit, and assorted tchochkes including stuffed hamsters. Yodeling stuffed hamsters. Sadly, the trade show floor was so big that I could never find the stuffed hamster booth, even though my directions were to “look for the booth where the staff is wearing lederhosen.” (Nobody could remember that company behind the yodeling rodents, which I suppose is bad.)

I was pleasantly surprised to find the hotel, conference center, and restaurants smoke-free. Apparently, an ordinance passed recently (since the last conference). (Discussion of the anticipated law, in German, here.)

Wiesbaden was founded because of hot springs and became a resort town back in Roman times. (more on Wiesbaden from Wikipedia in English and German) People still come to the various bathhouses (no, not THAT kind) for the water, which is said to have healing qualities. The hot baths go up to 66 degrees. Celsius. For those of us who think in Fahrenheit, that’s…um….really, really hot. (150.8 degrees Fahrenheit)

In some of the baths, you are supposed to be “textilfrei.” Hmmmm.

At several places in the city, you can see (and drink) water coming from the hot springs. The Kochbrunnen (“cooking well”) has hot, salty water coming up out of the ground. While we looking at it and noticing the sulfurous smell, a woman walked up, filled a glass, and drank it down.

A colleague from a German consulting company stopped by our booth and said (in German), “I have come to assassinate you.” (!) Now, I speak German fluently, but that was a new one. When you don’t live in a country, you miss out on all the new slang and idioms. It turns out that he was not mad at me. The expression is similar to “I’ve come to attack you,” which in a certain casual context might mean, “I’ve come to ask you to do something.”

I’ve been de facto translator in several places. The waiters, of course, all speak English quite well, but when they discover that I speak German at the table (and nobody else does), they tend to start talking only with me and asking questions like, “And what does SHE want?” I suppose this is because they figure that speaking English runs the risk of miscommunication, but it does seem a bit impolite to treat the non-German speaker like a non-entity. One waitress did a great job of talking to me in German and everyone else in English, which was quite entertaining.

And finally, a sad story about being clueless. For dinner one evening, we went to a sort of quick-service Italian place. When you walk into the restaurant, you are handed a card, which apparently has an RFID chip. You go to the pasta station to order dinner, and the cook behind the counter rings up your order, waves your card at the register, and hands it back. Same thing at the bar. When you’re done, you take your card to the cashier, who waves it at her register, which then brings up your bill.

So, after a tasty dinner, we go to pay, and after the waving operation, and a swipe (!) of my credit card, the cashier hands me a pen and a blotter-looking thing. I just assume this must be some new magic signature-capturing device, so I start to sign the blotter. The cashier looks at me kind of funny and says, “Um…it’s still on its way.” And about 5 seconds later, she places the PAPER credit card slip on the blotter. Oh. I console myself with the fact that at least she had something entertaining to tell her friends over beer later.

About the Author

Sarah O'Keefe


Content strategy consultant and founder of Scriptorium Publishing. Bilingual English-German, voracious reader, water sports, knitting, and college basketball (go Blue Devils!). Aversions to raw tomatoes, eggplant, and checked baggage.

10 Comments on “tekom: Some thoughts on Germany”

  1. Sarah, you are so nice to us German, small (cough), well-dressed conference attendees. It sounds like you may come back next year? Welcome!
    – Michael
    PS: You forgot to mention the (very useful) anti-static brush, which some carefully selected people got at a certain booth with red walls…

  2. I should have mentioned the very useful anti-static brush, but it’s definitely not a tchochke (which implies a certain lack of usefulness). Look for me with a CLEAN laptop at the next conference.
    I probably should also have mentioned that I spent a truly astonishing amount of money at the chocolatier. Including a horse for my daughter. I hope it makes it home without losing its head due to Somebody’s intense hunger pangs on an insanely long flight.
    Mmmmmm. Chocolate. Maybe I’ll eat the stuff intended for my office instead.

  3. Sarah, thank you for the talk on DITA on Wednesday! It was really good!
    No, I can’t remember any non-presenting NorAm attendees either. On the other hand, why travel overseas when there are STC conferences nearby? Regarding the politeness, I wonder whether it is a certain European inhibition rather than insecurity about language? I don’t know. You were, incidentally, the only lecturer I listened to who actually asked the audience about their language skills.
    The smoke-free thing is an EU directive passed a couple of years ago, which gives the member countries some leeway in exactly how and when to implement it, but it’s been a blessing. I’ve never been much bothered by cigarette smoke and the first time I went to California in the early 90s I found the absence of cigarette smoke weird, but boy, do I love it now.
    I did taste a few drops of quellenwasser from a hot spring and it was vile. I’m sure the strontium and arsenic did me good, though!
    This was my first German conference, but if the Tekom conferences are this good, it won’t be my last.

  4. This was my first Tekom, and I throughly enjoyed the sessions and the exhibition. I hope to return again next year.
    And my new boots are amazing 🙂

  5. Hi Sarah
    Thanks for this info. I’ve been lobbying my company to send me to Tekom for the last few years, unsuccessfully. I submitted 2 times for presentations but both were rejected. Our company is in Concord, Massachusetts, USA.
    Could you discuss the benefits to North American writers attending such an international event. Are there things you learned there you will not learn anywhere else (business/tech stuff of course 😉 )
    Any suggestions on what types of presentations have a chance of being accepted? I do not have a long presentation resume, and I feel Tekom prefers more experienced presenters, not giving less experienced presenters a chance. Commments/suggestions appreciated. thanks. sounds like it was great.

  6. Hi again Sarah
    Thanks for the helpful recommendations and info. I’m very comfortable with international audiences based on 13 years airline experience, 3 1/2 years living in France/Switz, and speaking multiple languages. I need to convince mgt of the value, and work on my resume. Maybe I’ll see you at the next Tekom world! thanks again.

  7. “I don’t think I saw any American attendees who were not either a) presenting or b) participating in the trade show.”
    Yes you did. 🙂
    While I have to agree with most of your observations, I must contest that at least one was there, and there may well have been other “expatriate Americans who have lived in Europe for a long time” who speak German well enough to blend into the woodwork–or at least not stick out all too obviously!
    Good to see you again,

  8. Oops, sorry Roger. You’re obviously an honorary European. 🙂
    And Raj, the answer to that question, as to many others, is “It depends.” I prefer initial caps in a list, but the really important thing is to be consistent.

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