Davos Notebook

Desperate Davos Wives

By Anya Schiffrin
January 25, 2011

DAVOS/

This is a series written by Anya Schiffrin, author of “Bad News,” and the wife of Nobel Prize Winner Joseph Stiglitz. The opinions expressed are her own.

Preparing for Davos

This is the time of year when Davos Man — that renowned signifier of the world of international power and commerce — is preparing his presentations, having his secretary book his limo from Zurich airport to the hotel Belvedere and leafing through the stack of dinner and cocktail receptions that pile up in advance of this annual event.

My husband is a Davos Man, which makes me a Davos Wife.

I’ve lost count of how many times I have stood by my man on the buffet line and in the luggage scrum at the Zurich airport. Along with countless other wives I’ve put in my time and always felt that we are under represented. The World Economic Forum ignores us completely and only has a few activities lined up for us: cross country skiing, ice driving an Audi and the ubiquitous open sleigh ride.

Determined not to sink so low as to do a pathetic wifely activity, I sneered at the latter for years. But when I was finally dragged on to one I discovered it’s incredibly fun. I did notice, however, that after ranting about the Republicans and the Iraq War on the way to the cheese fondue lunch, no one wanted to sit with me on the way back. Oh well. It meant I had the yummy fur-lined blanket all to myself.

For this Davos Wife, January is the time of year I make my preparations. Foremost among them is solving the question of what does a New Yorker, who wouldn’t dream of skiing, wear to an icy Alpine resort whose original claim to fame was housing the tuberculosis sanitorium in Thomas Mann’s “Magic Mountain”?

So I have developed a short packing list which covers all the essentials:

• Moisturizer and an SPF 45 sun screen to protect against the harsh Swiss sun for those few moments when I am out of the airless Congress Centre squinting in the day light.
• Burt’s Bees chapstick—for the same reason.
• Nice shower gel because the soap in the hotel room bathroom is bound to be small and scratchy.
• Sturdy but comfy snow boots which have zippers (not clasps or laces) so they can easily be taken on and off. I have a pair of Bally ones that I splurged on in the sales of 2005. And thank God I did because that was the year that the Indians took over Davos and the town was filled with sari-clad women slipping in their gilded flip flops. The sales at Bally are a high point and I always make sure I have room in my suitcase. One year I looked in on envy as a gent of Middle East persuasion bought three pairs for the wife back home.
• A small bag to carry my shoes in as I slide over to the Congress Centre each day. (No need for a bag to carry around inside as the sturdy local frauleins check everyone’s coats and slushy boots upon arrival.)
• A thick coat to pad the inevitable falls on the ice. I always wear my bargain basement Turkish shearling to Davos after I learned the hard way one year that floor-length down doesn’t provide the same level of padding.
• A flashlight for finding my way up snowy hills when searching for my hotel in the dark of night. The main streets are lit but we don’t qualify for a hotel on the main drag. Those are saved for the really important people.
• A cell phone that works internationally so I can text message friends to rendezvous at the comfy couches in the Congress Centre and let the folks back home know which VIP is picking his nose during the Saturday night concert.
• One nice outfit to wear to the soiree on Saturday night, even though nowadays most people ignore the instructions to wear black tie.
• A couple of presentable outfits to wear during the day. I haven’t decided yet which I will wear. Most women go for a standard dress for success business suit type thing. I just wear black and to hell with it.
• Flannel pyjamas because it gets very cold at night
• Sleeping pills to help cope with jet lag. (Nothing worse than staggering off to the inevitable breakfast with Pakistani PM at 2am EST)
• Bottles of water as it’s very dry there.
• A few books and magazines to read while waiting for my husband. Vanity Fair is too thick so I will try and pick up a copy of Monocle at the airport.
• A thick skin. I developed this over the years. It’s a vital protection from the barrage of snubs that are bound to come my way.

I’ve been going to the World Economic Forum almost every year since 2000 and like many people I love it and I hate it. I love it because I see old friends and find out what is going on in countries as diverse as Malaysia, South Africa and Brazil. I like hearing hear what Davos Man has to say about the state of the world economy. I am always curious to find out what will be the buzz at Davos and flavor of the month for the Great, the Good and the Downright Nasty.

I don’t love the exhaustion, the endless waits for important speakers, the stodgy food, the tiny hotel rooms and the obsession with status that marks nearly every conversation. I agonize every year about whether we should go, whether Davos is really passé and whether it’s time to move on. But like most people I know, I always give in. After all, Davos is irresistible.

Photo: A general view shows the Swiss mountain resort of Davos January 24, 2011. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler

Comments
9 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

Oh, feel so sorry for you. What trouble you have to endure, what pain you must feel, being DAVOS wife.
Dying third world children feel nothing compared to you…

Posted by kordo | Report as abusive
 

I find this scenario utterly baffling. I cannot for the life of me imagine why any man would take his wife (his wife!) to a business conference. As this woman describes, they are totally useless and worthless there, with absolutely nothing to do, and zero to contribute to the gathering but gossip with other wives. The one crucial thing to avoid in travel is excess baggage, and wives are definitely right up there at the top of the list of excess baggage on a business trip. I wager anyone could take a list of the attendees at Davos and draw a perfectly straight line between the group of fake successes-real losers, who take their wives, and the real winners, who manage to leave the barnacle at home.

Posted by FirstAdvisor | Report as abusive
 

WOW Reuters, first the article advertising some lady’s 10 commandments book and now this. What a waste of my morning!

Posted by minipaws | Report as abusive
 

Actually I do understand why “wives included”. Spouses are spouses and very often the support of a spouse is crucial factor.
Just that… this is a forum that tries to find means of solving world’s problem. This blog was inappropriate in this sense…

Posted by kordo | Report as abusive
 

If you are so desperate not to have fondue lunches, drive Audis, or sit around in “yummy fur-lined blankets” then stay home. No need to whine to us about it.

Oh wait I get it, it’s a satire piece right?

Posted by iflydaplanes | Report as abusive
 

What a great post – I started on today’s post and clicked back to this. I really love the observations. I can’t believe the heavy negative comments and the crude sarcasm on what is a lovely colour piece – guys get a life.
Why do we read books, look at art, travel, if not to observe life in all it’s shapes and forms. As someone who would not get invited to Davos, being neither great nor rich (but not bitter about it either) this gives me as a reader, a view that would be similar to the observation point I’d like to adopt, casting a cold eye as the horsemen pass by.
Keep it up Anya – sod the begrudgers!

Posted by LuoBoTi | Report as abusive
 

Thanks for the light-hearted look at a what is often an overly serious event. What I enjoy about Reuters is that it combines serious events with real-life situations and perspectives. In this case, Davos is very much a clubby atmosphere and you have offered us a peek and a chuckle.

Posted by kjf215 | Report as abusive
 

Excellent post.

I live in Aspen and have been invited both to speak at both Davos and the Aspen Ideas Festival. I now decline all the invitations. The treatment of ones spouse at these meetings is deplorable, as is the treatment of speakers. Schriffrin has it exactly right. The organizers are obsequious to the CEOs and the rich while treating those of us providing substances very badly. The idea that a noble prize winning economist has to find his way up an unlit icy path to a hotel off the main street is outrageous.

When you get past 60 you look for opportunities to have fun with your significant other while attending these meetings, especially since the organizers are generally cheep offering lousy hotel rooms, modest remuneration for air fare, and rarely paying for talks. Obviously the WEF is not worth the trouble. And believe me, the amounts they put out to bring Joe to the meeting would not go very far to feed the world’s poor.

Posted by Coloradohigh | Report as abusive
 

Sweet post.
I can’t imagine the hostility that is posted above.
Thanks for sharing

Posted by rKnox | Report as abusive
 

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