March 9, 2021

Frequent Flier: Treat People With Respect, and Always Remember to Pack Duct Tape

Any country that has a stock exchange is on our radar, even places like the Maldives, where they recently opened an exchange. In the last six weeks I have been to 16 countries and flown more than 40,000 miles. I recently returned from Asia where I visited 10 countries in 14 days. I spend so much time in the seat of an airplane that when I go to the dentist I instinctively look for the seat belt when the chair is reclined.

My son thinks it’s all very glamorous, and he thinks I get to stay in all these luxurious places. He’s wrong.

I was in Ghana several years ago. There was a power shortage, and they had rolling brownouts. I was in the shower and there was no window in the bathroom. The brownout hit, and I could barely get out of the room without hurting myself.

After that, I started carrying a small flashlight and a roll of duct tape with me wherever I go. You never know when you’ll need those things. As a guy who travels a lot, I can tell you duct tape solves a lot of problems.

I love to eat like a local wherever I go. In Bangkok, I eat the street food, and enjoy it. One of my favorite restaurants there features little plastic stools for patrons to sit on. Four people can dine for $15, including tip. It’s not luxurious, but it is great food.

People often ask me if I experience any anti-Americanism. I really haven’t. I am a true believer that no matter where you go, if you treat people with respect, a nice smile and a little bit of charm, they will go out of their way to help you. I have rarely been proven wrong.

I always want to be very respectful of cultural differences, but sometimes those differences can get confusing. On my first trip to Japan, I met with seven Japanese businessmen. The gentleman who arranged the meeting also invited me to dinner that night with the group. At the end of the meeting, they thanked me and said goodbye with no mention of the dinner. I whispered to the person who set up the meeting and asked him about dinner plans. He was quite dismissive and said they were no longer available. I thought I must have offended them and I felt terrible about it. I went to go eat dinner by myself.

Several weeks later my business partner and I received a letter telling us the Japanese businessmen wanted to proceed and partner with us. I was astounded. I really thought I had screwed up. Years later I told the story to an American businessman who lived in Tokyo and was married to a Japanese woman. He explained that the guys I met with probably lived far from the city center and didn’t want to commute home late. Since they had already decided to go forward with us, there was no need to take me to dinner. If they had decided not to do business with us, they would have taken me to dinner so I wouldn’t be offended.

Another time, I was doing some business in Karachi. I found out you could order whiskey through room service. But I was told I had to complete two forms. When the waiter delivered the whiskey, he had the forms with him. One was to certify that I was not a Muslim. No problem. The other was to certify that I was using the whiskey for medicinal purposes only. Well, whiskey can help you relax, so that was no problem either.

By David Grayson, as told to Joan Raymond. E-mail:

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