This is a story now several years old. I was then an Asian bank trainee lost in the posh and elegant glass rimmed offices of a European city. I had been deputed by my institution to absorb elements of international finance.
In my mind, as I set out for this training exposure, I had an unwritten internal agenda: obtain the secrets of Teutonic competence and replicate it in my Asian environment. I had to break their ‘efficiency’ code. I observed everything they did, took notes and absorbed. Imitation is the best form of flattery. I had always admired the European ability to work hard and smart and had attributed this resolute effectiveness to the foundations laid down by Calvinism. Expertise would be my takeaway, I decided internally.
I would spend several hours staring at rapidly changing Bloomberg and Reuter screens trying to decipher what and why and how international markets were pulsating to buy and sell assets. The markets those days went to dizzying levels as swarms of dealers from Sydney to London hounded Sterling in some concerted move crafted by the hedge funds. “This is the time to learn”, the bankers told me.
The work at the bank was strenuous. Given my low level of exposure, I seemed to comprehend market dynamics rather slowly. I had several nagging doubts on the occurrences even as the market rushed past at a frantic pace.
The trader who was officially designated to mentor me was an experienced hand named Patrick. Patrick, however, seemed to be extremely busy. This busy nature of his duties made him rather reluctant to respond to my nagging doubts. He advised me to just sit quietly and observe whatever he was doing. Often, he would indicate that I should listen in with the extra cord to listen in to telephonic conversations he had with dealers. Otherwise, I just had no mentoring!
Having only limited experience to international markets, I had several nagging and lingering doubts. I tried to seek my mentor’s answers, but it looked like Patrick was annoyed (or was it irritated) at my volley of questions. Once, he told me derisively in German ‘fragen kostet nichts’ (asking costs nothing). With that conversation; (a rather curt if not rude statement), I decided that discretion is the best part of valour. I tactfully avoided Patrick. To my mind, he now represented ‘Teutonische arroganz’ not Teutonic efficiency.
About a week after this conversation , one evening, as I was walking out a little later than usual to the lonely Taunus metro station, (next to my bank), I was accosted on the way by a group of Neo – rebellious youngsters. I had been forewarned by the Training head on my first day of reporting to keep off that shady area. On this day, I had unwittingly disregarded that advice.
The youngsters surrounded me, mocked me , called me an ‘asylee’. With fear gnawing within, I blurted out that that “I am not an asylum seeker but a bank trainee”. That seemed to provoke them more: they taunted me as a ‘short, dark stout man’ and as a parasite on the system. To add insult to injury, they advanced menacingly. Not knowing how to defend myself in a strange land, I did all that a helplessness man could do: pray and plea.
The threats were loud, deafening. I felt like a cockroach in the kitchen sink. I thought I would be battered or sprayed up on with insecticide for the sake of the common good of getting rid of unhygienic insects. Suddenly, I just wanted to go home.
I cowered, put my hands on my head and waited for the inevitable. Then from somewhere in the distance, I heard a familiar stentorian voice, as cold as ever. Through my half closed eyes, I could see Patrick bellowing out to them and threatening them with legal action. I saw that the youngsters scamper away with as much eagerness as they had set on me. I was shivering a bit when he came down the steps and unexpectedly hugged me.
In retrospect, I thank the neo rebellious youngsters. Patrick and I never discussed the incident again but the very next day, Patrick gave me a drive along the Autobahn. At office, he not only answered all my queries but would earmark specific time periods to teach me the economics of the market. I believe I took home a piece of the Teutonic efficiency, thanks to my mentor, Patrick.