As some of you may recall, I've gone to the IFA Berlin tech trade show the last couple of years. It's basically like the European version of the Consumer Electronics Show, though it focuses more on appliances and innovation that tech products that are necessarily coming to the stores next quarter. But they're similar.
And you may recall too that I've written about how the show is massive, interesting, but a tad disorganized in its rambling spread, and other ways.
(One of my favorite photos I took, for instance, was this one, which helps explains the difficulty of getting around and finding the hall you're looking for. If anyone can decipher their numerical sense of direction you're a better explorer than I am.)
IFA Berlin is coming up soon, and I've begun preparing for this year's extravaganza -- and so, too, is Messe Berlin, the organizing group. Though the "organize" part might be a bit misleading. Though "Messe" is so perfect that I believe proves the existence God and His sense of humor.
Anyway, throughout the year I get press releases from the good folks there. (At least I think they're press releases.) But they come more in droves as the show nears. Here's one, for example, that I received just the other day --
Right. Pretty interesting, eh? Now you know why I so look forward to going every year. How do you pass up something like that?!!
There are a lot of times, I know, when Americans get blindly xenophobic, not just insisting that the rest of the world speak English, but expecting that everyone does. But this isn't a case of that.
IFA Berlin is a world exhibition. And it wants to be seen as perhaps the leading world tech exhibition. And if you're going to accomplish that, I'd think that Rule One is that you accept that there is a world out there. And it's not just Germany, and most people in it don't speak German. And they do speak English. It's not that Americans don't speak German but do speak English. It's that the French, Italians, Turks, Japanese, Chinese, Venezuelans, Indians, Russians, Spanish, Israelis, Nigerians, Libyans, Australians, Egyptians and Lebanese don't speak German, but do speak English.
And they're likely just as bewildered when they get information sent to them like this, as Americans are. And British, South Koreans, Uruguayans, Mexicans, Taiwanese, Canadians, and...well, you get the idea.
I've been told that there are warring factions within Messe Berlin -- one group of traditionalists who want to carry on the legacy going back over 90 years when the IFA exhibition was indeed just in Germany for Germans (and largely promoting radios...), and those who want to focus on the world market they're trying to attract. This battle can be seen in the press room, where the press table is covered in piles of official documents almost exclusively written in German during the first few days of the show, but more and more bringing out those in English as the event goes on.
And to be clear, I don't only get press emails written in German, since half the time they'll be in English. But it's not like I'll get one of each at the same time, hedging their linguistic bets. It's random. German one day, English a few weeks later. But that's not the bizarre thing. You see, this isn't a case of "Well, we don't know who'll be receiving these emails, so lets just send them in German because we're German. The bizarre thing is that you do know who'll be receiving them. After all, it isn't hard to know which countries' emails are German-speaking and which aren't. German email ends in ".de" -- you can see it right there, in the presse-information above. You can't miss it. "Stehle@gfu.de." And "Vonerropp@messe-berlin.de." Perhaps in Austria they have a lot of people speaking German. Fine, send German-language email there. But most everywhere else? Seriously, why would you send a press release written in German to Malaysia? Or Peru? The show organizers (ah, that word again...) have to be able to figure out how to filter email -- it's a tech trade show, for goodness sake! Someone there has to know how code software. Or group together bulk email.
Ah, but no matter. The mess is somewhat part of the fun of Messe. It might be a convoluted show, but it's an enthusiastic one. And there's fascinating technology and products. There are other problems about IFA Berlin that aren't great. But at a certain point, you learn how it runs and accept it for what it is. And with this being my third year ahead, I've begun preparing and am slowly getting the hang of it, I think.
And if there are any especially intriguing new kühlschranks there, I will be sure to let you know. You can never be sure when you'll need a new one to store your milk, vegetables and cold cuts.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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