On an early February morning, some of my colleagues and I found ourselves at the Stuttgart airport waiting for the plane to Warsaw. It had previously been decided that we would spend two days in the Warsaw offices to get to know the Polish colleagues personally and to change the scenery a little bit.
From my previous experience, I knew that this trip would be about work, and nothing but work. We would meet and greet, then we would spend most of the day in meetings so that we would not have time for our daily work until the day was almost over, when everybody would sink into their laptops trying to salvage the work that had been waiting all day. Around 7.00 p.m. someone would suddenly remember that we had a dinner reservation (where we would again sit for a few hours) to get to, so people would start rushing around the office, some still talking on the phone, others typing on their laptops, others gathering their stuff. Finally, we would arrive at the full and loud restaurant to claim our table of 20.
I do not know about others, but I never enjoy going to a foreign country because of work. The travel itself is time-consuming, and people always talk about work (at breakfast, lunch, dinner, and in any other non-office related situation). I like my work, but not so much that it must constantly be on my mind and my lips. After two days of rushing around, hasting through work, sitting through meetings, and hurrying through meals I feel desiccated and wish to see no person for at least two following days.
With these thoughts on my mind, my lack of joy must have been obvious while I was absently staring into my laptop waiting for the boarding to begin. I was pulled out of my numbness by my colleague Samira* with the words “I see you are as excited about this trip as I am.” At that moment we made a pact: no matter what would happen, we would escape the office at 5.00 p.m. and go explore Warsaw. And so we did.
We managed to convince our Polish colleague, Marcin* (which, by the way, was an easy task as he was all in for showing us the city) to escape with us and to get a very private tour of four hours while the rest of the group spent their time with their noses stuck in their laptops.
And what a magnificent private tour we got! We saw the whole city through the eyes of a local who spent most of his life there, including the place where he kneed down in front of his girlfriend and asked her to marry him. We followed his footsteps through his everyday city, saw the bakery where he bought his bread, the small hidden Polish restaurant that offered traditional Polish meals where he took his family out to dinner from time to time (and where we had our dinner), walked through the historical city, listened to piano music on a singing bench and sang while we crossed the piano keyboard-shaped zebra crossing. It was such a joyful evening even if the February evening hours were covered by a leaded fog that gave the whole experience a mystical and forbidden feeling.
The next evening there was a small tour planned for our team in the center of the town that took about one hour. People did not like the cold outside and preferred to go to the restaurant instead of walking through the streets of Warsaw. It was then when Samira’s and my eyes met and a smile crossed our faces in a conspiracy: we knew that our decision for the private tour the previous evening was the best thing we did. It was our little secret experience.