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Today's quote:

Monday, January 22, 2018

What arrogance!


Quite some time ago, this septuagenarian sat down with an octogenarian who shared his migrant experience with me. Like me, he had come out to Australia but ten years earlier and from Austria, that little country next to mine. He confided in me that he was going to burn it all and leave nothing to charity. As he put it, "No one ever did me a favour!

What arrogance! I mean, we all live in this web of interdependence of family and friends, neighbours, teachers, and employers who exerted influence over us and did us favours for which we owe them gratitude.

There was "Herr Sapper", my primary school teacher, who expressed his regrets at my parents' financial inability to let me go on to higher edu-cation in a glowing reference which convinced "Herr Weber", then direc-tor of one of Germany's largest insurance companies, to sign me on as articled clerk which ordinarily would've required tertiary qualifications.

I'll never forget the name of the Australian immigration officer who gave my "Auswanderungsantrag nach Australien mit Fahrtunterstützung" the big tick. He signed my character assessment - "Appears good type. Neatly dressed. Should settle without difficulties" - with a great flour-ishing "Accepted. Schultz" (pipe down, all you Hogan's Heroes fans!)

There was Mr Robert Reid, ANZ Bank's Canberra manager, who gave me my first real job in a new country, even though he couldn't read a word of what was written in my German references. And it was Mr Reid again who rehired me after my sojourn to Germany and South Africa, despite the bank's rule never to rehire anyone who had left.

Then there is that 'Good Samaritan' in the ANZ Bank who helped me get into chartered accountancy after I had applied for a position in Hancock Woodward & Neill's Rabaul office. Their branch manager in Canberra started the interview by saying, "I don't really need to see you as some-one in the ANZ Bank I play golf with has already praised you highly. I just wanted to shake hands with you and welcome you to the firm."

There was the Czech-American Sid Lhotka who in less time than it took to exchange pleasantries hired me for the Bougainville Copper Project; and my next boss, Merv Nightingale, who, at the end of a very tough six months during which we successfully started one of the world's biggest industrial catering contracts, gave me a reference so full of praise that the Frenchies hired me sight unseen as their chief accountant in Burma.

And what about Hong Kong-based Robert Bell of Price Waterhouse Associates who looked me up in Burma? He later hired me for a job in Malaysia, thus giving me an introduction to the smoke and mirrors of management consulting and the confidence to start my own firm later.

I think I got the lucrative job in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia solely on the strength of my knowledge that the Spanish Muslims in Cordoba already had paved roads and street lighting when the rest of Europe was still living in smoke-filled hovels, so here's thanks to my history teacher.

In 1985, having created my very own annus horribilis by recklessly turning my back on an expatriate lifestyle and returning to Australia without a job and a home, the owner of a multi-million-dollar mail order business hired me to computerise his business and for a year I wrote software in PICK. He fell victim to the taxman and still earns an occasional dollar "doing casual character work in stores", i.e. Santa Claus at Christmas time, whereas I've gone from strength to strength.

But don't get me wrong: some of all that good fortune had to do with the fact that I didn't fit the stereotype of your average married-with-two-kids-and-a-mortgage accountant and was willing to go where others feared to tread; also, none of those people hired me for the express purpose of doing me a favour but to do a job for them - and I like to think that I repaid them in spades and gave them many times their money's worth - but I still think they did me a favour. To think otherwise would be the height of German arrogance - or Austrian for that matter!


P.S. 'Septuagenarian' as in September - or seventh month ('octogenarian' as in October - or eighth month). September the seventh month? Yes, in the original Roman republican calendar, September was the seventh month of the year rather than the ninth. The Roman calendar was only ten months long and included the following months — Martius, Aprilis, Maius, Junius, Quintilis, Sextilis, September, October, November, and December. The last six months were assigned names according to their ordinal numbers — Quintilis is the fifth month, Sextilis is the sixth month, and so on. It wasn’t until 45 BC, when Julius Caesar introduced the Julian calendar (named after Caesar, himself), that the year grew to include two more months, January and February. Quintilis and Sextilis were later renamed to July and August in honor of Julius Caesar and Augustus Caesar, but despite repeated attempts to change them, the names for September, October, November, and December not only stuck, but spread to other languages. I'm still trying to educate you, Des!