Top tips from Davos spouses

By Felix Salmon
January 19, 2011

Just as the most interesting sessions at Davos are the ones you know the least about beforehand, the most interesting people tend to turn out to be the ones you’ve never heard of. If you do happen to find yourself talking to Bill Clinton or Bono or Dmitry Medvedev, you’ll probably be part of a large crowd of people and the conversation is likely to be superficial at best. On the other hand, if you just sit down on a random couch in the Congress Center, there’s a really good chance that sitting next to you will be a fascinating and very useful person to know.

And of all the attendees at Davos, the very best to get to know are often the spouses. There’s a smattering of Davos Deville types, of course, swanning down the Promenade in their fur coats, but many of the spouses are very smart, very engaged, very interesting in their own right — and tend to feel a bit left out, given the rigid Davos class system. Log in to the exclusive in-house social network, for instance, and they don’t even turn up.

Many Davos spouses have been going for years, and know the ways of the town and the conference very well. They also tend to be able to keep things in perspective, and realize when it makes sense to blow off a session on the state of global manufacturing to enjoy the blessedly empty slopes.

So here are some top tips from a couple of Davos spouses who know what they’re talking about. Both are women, as you might expect, so their advice is particularly useful for female attendees. But, especially if you’ve never been to Davos before, they’re likely to come in very handy for everyone.

First, clothes:

  • Wear snow boots that come on and off easily or that are cute and comfy enough that you’ll be okay wearing them to events.
  • Carry a waterproof bag for (a) your other shoes if you want to change into them, plus (b) whatever other schwag you collect during your day (you can check this bag at the Congress Center and at most of the hotels where the events take place).
  • Bring your warmest coat. (It gets really, really cold at night).
  • Layer your outfits: you will freeze outside and then boil indoors.
  • Wear gear that can be easily removed: you will go through airport security checkpoints at most events, meaning that you will unload all your coats, gloves, hats, bags, etc. into the x-ray machines at least 5 times per day, generally more often.
  • Cute tops are more important than cute trousers or shoes. There’s no shoe snobbery in Davos, except for maybe reverse snobbery. You don’t want to end up like Henrique Meirelles, breaking your ankle in three places when you slip on the ice.
  • Plan outfits that will work with a large plastic card hanging right at boob height.
  • Choose your picture on the card with care, because it will flash up each time you have to scan the card, which is a lot.

Second, activities:

  • Be prepared to eat lots of fondant, zweigelt, veal, sausage and spaetzle. Expect to see no vegetables whatsoever.
  • Order the strudel.
  • Make sure to go to the Kirchner Museum.
  • Go ice driving if you can.
  • Take a sleigh ride to fondue at the Alte Post hotel in the mountains.
  • Get a coffee at the Kaffeeklatsch.
  • Book yourself in to a couple of the WEF’s afternoon tea sessions, which are often really lovely discussions.
  • People-watch in the Congress Center, where you can also load up on coffee, soda, water, and snacks. Strike up conversations while you’re at it.
  • Sign up early for any events you really want to go to.
  • Smile at the Swiss military who will be EVERYWHERE. Smiling at them makes them nervous, and that’s kind of funny.
  • Be prepared for people to look right through you as though you are invisible.
  • Eat out of town, if you can, at the Landhaus down the valley or at the gasthof at Frauenkirch.
  • If you’re staying at a reasonably upmarket hotel, the concierge is your friend.
  • Pace yourself on the drinking: the days are long long long.

Finally, inevitably, there’s live karaoke with Barry the piano man at the Piano Bar in the Tonic Hotel on the Promenade. At that point, the badges have disappeared, and everybody’s too drunk to care about status.

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