Nice guys trump jerks at Davos
By Ian Bremmer The downside of Davos hobnobbery is that some of these folks can be decidedly unpleasant. I bumped into one of them at the Google party. I won’t post his name, as it’s gratuitous (though tempting), but suffice it to say he’s a well known tech guy in his thirties. When he was ...
By Ian Bremmer
By Ian Bremmer
The downside of Davos hobnobbery is that some of these folks can be decidedly unpleasant. I bumped into one of them at the Google party. I won’t post his name, as it’s gratuitous (though tempting), but suffice it to say he’s a well known tech guy in his thirties. When he was introduced to me, he had a little circular piece of confetti on his lapel that looked like a rosette (of the sort they hand out to lords and knights and such). So I said it was a rough year at Davos, when even the rosettes were made of paper. But despite the fact that he was standing directly opposite, about a foot away, in the middle of four folks having a perfectly nice conversation, he had tuned out from the handshake and was looking for someone he considered visibly important.
The good thing was he reminded me of a good story about rosettes. That also involved a self-important fellow. I was at some reception in a building in Manhattan several years ago. Sutton place, to be more precise, which definitely has its stuffy side. I knew the owner of the apartment, but nobody else as it turned out, and I looked to be the youngest at the gathering by about twenty years. I gave a once around and tried to nose into a conversation or two, but to no avail. Until I saw a fellow in a suit, tie, and rosette nursing a glass of wine all by his lonesome.
I said hi, and I asked him what the rosette was for. And he said, oh, it’s nothing. But the thing was, I was actually interested (and it was the only conversation i was going to have going…), so I asked again and said that he was wearing it, so surely he wanted people to know what it was, and that I was honestly interested. No, he said, that’s not why he wears it. He wears it so that other people who are wearing theirs will be able to recognize him, and vice versa.
So I said that I had just circled the apartment, and there was nobody else wearing one. So he could take his off, and then he walked away.
But I digress. And I should really contrast that with Carl Bildt, the Swedish foreign minister, who plopped on a couch next to me after lunch, relaxed as can be, to see what was up. He’s tremendously competent, I’d say the best of the European foreign policy contingent (Richard Holbrooke’s soft-spoken alter-ego), a complete superstar back in his home country, and yet he’s completely unassuming. He had just come from Israel, so we got to share notes on Netanyahu, muse a bit on U.S.-China relations, and then consider how to relate to Russia (certainly three of the most dynamic foreign policy issues actively in play right now).
I should give another personal example, because I think the more modest approach is actually more common at Davos — it just gets drowned out by the louder exceptions to the rule. Takumi Shibata, the Nomura banker who took over Lehman — none of the Wall Street swagger, no appearances on high-level panels, and completely jovial over breakfast this morning.
Two good guys, one bad guy — score one for Davos. As the political scientists like to say, the plural of anecdote is data…
Ian Bremmer is the president of Eurasia Group and GZERO Media. He is also the host of the television show GZERO World With Ian Bremmer. Twitter: @ianbremmer
More from Foreign Policy
Can Russia Get Used to Being China’s Little Brother?
The power dynamic between Beijing and Moscow has switched dramatically.
Xi and Putin Have the Most Consequential Undeclared Alliance in the World
It’s become more important than Washington’s official alliances today.
It’s a New Great Game. Again.
Across Central Asia, Russia’s brand is tainted by Ukraine, China’s got challenges, and Washington senses another opening.
Iraqi Kurdistan’s House of Cards Is Collapsing
The region once seemed a bright spot in the disorder unleashed by U.S. regime change. Today, things look bleak.