Davos Notebook

Jealous Davos Mistresses

By Anya Schiffrin
January 25, 2011

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This is part of 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.

Of Snubs and Men

The point about Davos is that it makes everyone feel wildly insecure. Billionaires and heads of state alike are all convinced that they have been given the worst hotel rooms, put on the least interesting panels and excluded from the most important events/most interesting private dinners. The genius of World Economic Founder Klaus Schwab is that he has been able to persuade hundreds of accomplished businessmen to pay thousands of dollars to attend an event which is largely based on mass humiliation and paranoia.

Wives feel sympathetic to their husbands and share their pain. But we have our own problems to cope with. After all, we are the on the bottom rung of the Davos ladder.

The most revealing sign of our lowly status is that we are forced to wear the ultimate badge of shame — the white name tag.

Here is how it works: everyone at Davos has to wear a name tag and these are color coded by status/occupation (speaker, organizer, journalist etc). Usually these name tags include some kind of affiliation, such as the company or organization you work for.

But wives’ name tags state only their name. This means there is nothing on it that could help a stranger strike up a conversation. If you don’t use your husband’s name then you are guaranteed virtual anonymity. Upon being introduced to someone new, the normal Davos gesture is not to look at the face of the person they are meeting but to look down at his/her name tag.

The wives’ name tag guarantees that the Davos man in question will instantly decide you are of no value and so he immediately looks over your shoulder for the next best opportunity, i.e. someone without a white name tag who is, by definition, more important than you. Many wives refuse to be Davos wives and the white name tag is the reason they most often cite for their decision to stay home.

I have often thought that the WEF should put something, anything, on the wives’ name tags just so as to give us a talking point. I wouldn’t mind wearing a tag that read “loves cooking” or “adores cats” (Not really. I hate ‘em.) Anything so that someone who actually wanted to talk me would know how to strike up a conversation.

People lose their heads in this hothouse atmosphere and behave in ways that they probably would never even consider in another setting. My own introduction to Davos’ competitiveness was years ago. The husband and I had just arrived from a night flight and a limo ride to our spartan but centrally-located hotel room. We dropped off our bags and staggered over to the Congress Centre to pick up our name tags. Winding through the little corridor on the way to the registration we ran into an old colleague of my husband. We stopped to say hello and were greeted with a gloating reply: “I see my book got a better review than yours did in the New York Review of Books this year.” (!).

SWITZERLAND/

Another time I was sitting at a lunch next to a tycoon who happens to be a close friend. Without a word of apology, a woman rushed over and took him away so he could sit up front with the VIP giving a lunch talk, leaving me stranded. Needless to say I am used to being abandoned for a better offer but as it happened, the tycoon and my husband already had a small meeting scheduled with the VIP the next morning. They didn’t need this randomly pushy woman to provide an introduction.

But if wives have it bad, mistresses, who are invited under a variety of guises and usually wind up with a white name tag, have it worse. Typically their men are swallowed up by a tsunami of meetings and interviews and don’t have the time or inclination to take their mistresses around with them. Often these men go to high-level dinners to which wives and mistresses are not invited. The skinny and beautifully dressed Davos Mistress typically hangs around the auditoriums waiting for a couple of minutes with her man. While waiting, she keeps her eyes peeled looking to search and destroy the competition.

The only thing worse than a white pass, is no pass. Rumor has it (heard first-hand from more than one jealous Davos Mistress) that there are legions of women — let’s call them the aspiring mistresses — who do not get a coveted Davos invitation and badge and so can not enter the Congress Centre but who come anyway. They book a hotel room and prowl the streets hoping to snare their prey. They are the worst enemies of the Davos Mistress.

Big dinners and the Saturday night soiree present another ugly dilemma for the Davos Mistress. If her man does not want to take her or has to go to a small working dinner, she faces a quandary. Does she go to the gala and hope to find another man, one who could perhaps become a boyfriend who will eventually marry her? Unseemly as it is to trawl for new prospects while officially at Davos as a companion to her man, it makes sense to use the World Economic Forum as a place to find a better boyfriend. Does she go back to the hotel room and simply wait for her man to return? Or does she find a gay friend and get him to take her out in the evenings? Many a Davos mistress has suffered greatly from her ambiguous position.

Wives, mistresses, girlfriends. We are the hangers-on, the bottom feeders of the great circus that is the World Economic Forum. The pit in my stomach tells me it’s time to get ready for another trip to Davos. But the rubbernecking is irresistible. Soon I will be hanging around the coffee bar with the other Davos Wives watching the endless parade of strutting movie stars, presidents, former senators, zillionaires and has-beens pass me by.

Photos, Top: Shoes of Davos attendees at the World Economic Forum. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth
Bottom: A woman is accompanied by a dog near the Swiss mountain resort of Davos. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

Comments
19 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

This is WONDERFUL!! Thanks for sharing. I can totally relate (though I have a greater chance of being swept away by a supernova than of ever attending Davos).

Just substitute Spouse’s company office party for Davos, and anyone can understand.

Posted by LadyGodiva | Report as abusive
 

Bravo, maestro, bravo ! One of the best article in last 10 years. Things must be called by the right words. This is lesson for all journalists around the world. Do not write in gloves. Be open-minded…

Posted by journalist92 | Report as abusive
 

Perhaps the mistresses could get their own reality show to keep the poor darlings busy.

Posted by bambamhaupt | Report as abusive
 

This does not speak well for the women who allow themselves to be used like this. What’s wrong with simply labeling all non-functioning participants “Visitor” with an affiliation of their choosing? The ultimate solution is for more women to become economic and political leaders rather than play “second fiddle.”

Posted by DesertDavid | Report as abusive
 

DO the shoes on the right belong to Sarkozy?

Posted by sivana | Report as abusive
 

Heart-breaking.

Posted by elalal | Report as abusive
 

The women with white name tags are attending Davos as dates – not because they have earned attendance through accomplishments in the political or economic sphere. Why are they then surprised that they are not the most desired conversation partners? It’s a complete hypocrisy to attend purely as a date and then expect to be treated as something different from that.

Posted by djaniela | Report as abusive
 

Excellent article, but, unfortunately, the only thing some readers are going to take from it is that you hate cats.

Posted by KeithOK | Report as abusive
 

How sad. This could have been written in the 50′s. Aren’t there any male spouses or companions there? Did they stay home or has WEF been unsuccessful in attracting female participants?

Posted by FionasMom | Report as abusive
 

I enjoy your spirited writing and wit – fun to read! …but, I confess, I sorta feel the same as djaniela… If someone is hasty in judgement or seeming shallow, then who needs them for good conversation anyhow

Posted by penandink | Report as abusive
 

I’m so glad I’m a guy. If I attended a conference with a woman, and got a white name tag, I wouldn’t think anything of it. It sure is complicated being a woman.

Posted by average_guy | Report as abusive
 

Wow, given the state of the world, I shouldn’t be surprised that the richest and most powerful are “wildly insecure” over hotel rooms and dinner parties…and their wives and girlfriends feel dissed in the lobby. Hairless apes one and all.

Posted by mmichaels | Report as abusive
 

And to think that the “Boom” Generation set out to change the world for better? How pathetic, it’s sickening, half the world is starving, there are wars and problems blowing up everywhere, and the root of it is greed. Are they all drunk on the hubris of what they imagine they accomplished? A reality check will be a calamity bigger than any of us imagine, wake up you fools, there isn’t a lot of time before the foolishness of the last 30 years comes crashing down on everyones heads either environmetal/economic or big wars. We are all going to pay collectively for the selfishnes. Who cares about a badge or a room; soon it will be like sipping Champagne in a Pig Pen. Ever tried it?

Posted by scruffy007 | Report as abusive
 

I’ve been lucky enough to be the Davos Husband 3 times, traveling in the company of my brilliant and accomplished wife.

As we travel to Davos from Silicon Valley we’re immediately tagged as being, well, from another planet. For one thing we don’t dress as well.

The gender-bias is quite clear as men walk up to us, and become disoriented trying to figure out how to start a conversation. Once we’re dialed in as being nerds everything sails along quite smoothly: either MEGO and off Brownian motion takes them or we have a nice chat.

In the evenings my role is often to act as an offensive lineman for my diminutive and slight wife, as the testosterone filled corridors, stairways and checkpoints are teeming with crazed bulky bankers dashing about looking for their mistresses. I’ve almost always been the biggest guy with a beard and long gray ponytail in these scrums, allowing my wife to get to her meetings. er parties.

The dinners have always worked well. I’m a good skier, and I always take advantage of the guided skiing. I’ve actually not done any of the other hosted wifely events. Drinking with the ski guides is fine.

Posted by CaseyD | Report as abusive
 

FionasMom, possibly it’s b/c women more often choose to do other things rather than become global political and economic movers and shakers. There are notable exceptions for sure. Also ironic that the question was posed with someone with whose user name suggests they are deriving much of their identity from being a parent. :)

Posted by JonnyL | Report as abusive
 

What’s the big deal here? The very easy solution to the white name tag “problem” is to simply hand-write on it your identification or print out an adhesive label that you can affix to it to give others an indication of who you re or of who you claim to be. Enjoy the relative anonymity, which can be very powerful. Don’t whine about it. These conferences, just like big, international art fairs, are notorious for their multiple levels of VIPs and for the sucking-up they do to such people. Who cares? To care about something so stupid is a reflection of one’s own deep insecurity and willful giving-in to these ridiculous power structures. In the context of these events, you’re only as ignored as you want to be.

Posted by Reader111 | Report as abusive
 

Good article, but we can assume that this mistress actually had a “journalist” name tag. Maybe she can take ME to Davos next year.

Posted by mheld45 | Report as abusive
 

excellent! i love it:-)

Posted by jakobinarina | Report as abusive
 

I am thinking of so many possible solutions that I might use to ensure the classy event stays that way!

A t-shirt that says “I am with not-so-stupid.”

Some drop earrings and a pin that matches. The pin hold a second name tag that has your full name and your husbands lineage on it.

A second badge that says, ” I protest the colour badge caste system.” that will start some heady conversation!

Wear all of your old Davos badges and any other badges you and friends can find and buy a boyscout merit badge sash and cover it in a lot of cheap pins and badges from other conventions. Make one large homemade badge that says you are “trading badges and pins.”

Wear the badge on the tip of your nip to ensure you a positive response and lots of conversation from the higher caste of badges.

Because being noticed is why everyone is there, wear low cut dresses and make a homemade rainbow pin. You will feel so much less of a lesser and be noticed so much more! Going topless assures same and you could just say you lost your badge! No one will mind!

Posted by youniquelikeme | Report as abusive
 

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