January 27, 2012 / 4:18 PM / 7 years ago

Reuters Magazine: Confessions of a Davos Spouse

(Reuters) -


Planning for Davos starts quite early in the year. Months before it actually begins there is the inevitable jockeying for spots on desirable panels with important people, a frantic glance every day at the email to see if any interesting dinner invitations have come in, and a hunt for a hotel room in a location not too far from the conference venue. Wives like me don’t have to do any work at Davos so I just think about packing. Moisturizer is crucial, since the mountain air is so dry, and I will try to rustle up a couple of respectable outfits that I can wear by day and at the evening dinners as well. Then there is footwear. You can carbon date Davos Wives by their shoes. Newcomers tend to wear attractively dainty heels. Veterans like me have given up. I don sturdy shoes and try not to slip on the ice.


Davos tends to be more interesting during periods of social upheaval. Confronted with facts that threaten his worldview, Davos Man loses some of his smugness and becomes a bit more confused. Founder Klaus Schwab is always interested in the zeitgeist, about the global protests, the euro crisis, the Arab Spring, and Occupy Wall Street. How Davos Man will respond I don’t know. My favorite comment during a panel on global warming a few years ago came from a businessman who reminded his audience that one upside to global warming is the ease of drilling for oil under glaciers. This year there will be more security, plenty of gloomy observations about the state of the world economy, questions about whether China can maintain its expansion, and so on. We’ll also see a lot more conservative heads of state at Davos this year, since so few social democratic governments survived the elections and turmoil of 2011.


We go to any panels we can actually get into. Usually that means the ones about art and science, which Davos Man tends to skip. Last year’s panel on the pollution of the world’s seas was packed with wives. When we can’t get into a panel we may repair to a local café for hot chocolate or sign up for the perennial horse-drawn carriage ride to a fondue restaurant up in the hills. If all else fails, we can always prowl the halls of the conference center, hoping for a sighting of Bono or Tony Blair.


Every now and then one spots a Davos Husband, gay or straight, but he’s a rare species. They are often mistaken for Davos Man and tend to be good sports about their role as trailing spice. They don’t join Davos Wives in their traditional activities. I suspect they are on the ski slopes or watching panels. I hope to meet one this year. What do people talk about at the dinner parties? The men discuss economics and the women discuss how they feel about being Davos Wives. Some swear they won’t come back but they usually do. We trade stories of snubs and panels we couldn’t get into. Davos is a competitive place; there is always much comparing of notes so people can learn which events they didn’t get invited to. Gossip is a valuable currency - as it is everywhere-so any juicy examples of drunken midnight misdeeds are passed around pretty quickly. A lot of untoward groping goes on after hours and that is discussed quietly rather than openly.


Davos encourages bad behavior. It comes from the hot-house atmosphere of high-powered egos, the high altitudes combined with too much drink. All sorts of people who would never stay up late can be found - cocktail in hand - at the Google party, the Time Warner reception, and the gala dinner on Saturday night. It’s usually too loud to have a conversation but they try. Last year one businessman held forth about his travails in Russia and kept the crowd entertained with a lengthy description of how he lost his company to the tax authorities. That passes for a gripping evening at Davos. There are always a lot of men who become “geographically single” when they arrive, and even the nerdiest expert in anti-malarial bed nets or obscure financial instruments fancies himself a player the moment he steps foot in the Zurich airport. Late at night, these men can be found eyeing the local talent, and there are rumors of at least one baby being born nine months after a night of passion at Davos.

Anya Schiffrin is the author of "Bad News: How America's Buinsess Press Missed the Story of the Century." She is married to the economist Joseph Stiglitz.

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