Newcastle railway station in arctic conditions 1991 [photo: Henrik Hemrin]

England has been the destination for many of my business trips. Despite many occasions to learn I still fail to understand how to dress.

My first business journey to England must have been in the latter part of the 1980's and my latest one perhaps ten years ago.

Most of the journeys have been to manufacturers. It means I have been on the customer side and my role has been as a technical engineer. The other ourneys have been company internal visits or for education.

One of the more memorable destinations for education travels have been to the University of Essex in Colchester, for courses in fibre optics. At these short courses industry and students have joined the same courses. The library at the University of Essex has a pater noster elevator. If you ever had tried one, you remember it. That one at the university and one in the building at Gärdet in Stockholm that at the at that time for my ride was the Philips office, are the only two places where I have tried a pater noster elevator. If you do not know what a pater noster elevator is, look it up! The courses at Essex did not require any specific dress code as I recall, maybe with the special course dinner one evening as an exception. What I remember mostly of this course dinner was the tradition that attendees from Sweden performed with a song or two in Swedish, probably before the desert. Those courses had had attendees from Sweden for many years and not at least from my company. They had created this tradition, and my colleagues who already had been there did not forget to tell me and colleagues who going there about the tradition we needed to pass on. And the course leader had not forgotten it. And well, I have some distant memories of us singing.

The English language is very rich of words. The course leader at all three courses spoke an excellent well educated English that was very nice listen to. And I am sure he had the skill, not that he practiced it, to scold someone to be an idiot or anything in words that would sound as if he had said something polite. If my English only was a fraction as good as his!

But now to the business meetings and dress code concern.

The most practical dress code at business meeting would be a shirt, a tie and a jacket at the daytime meetings in conference room and factories. But that is not really what I am comfortable to wear. So most of the times I instead wore a proper shirt, proper trousers and eventually a nice sweater. So I was dressed properly. At business trips, you have to remember you represent your company. The dress code has perhaps been easier, more freedom, for me as being on the customer side. In general my dress code at the business meetings has went fine. I hope.

But how to dress for the evenings is really the challenge. It is very common for me to be invited for dinner in the evening at least once every visit. Going to a restaurant in my mind means dress up rather than down. But in England it is not that simple. Some business dinners have been to a nice restaurant where dress up is correct choice. However many business dinners have also been at a pub. And often I have not known in advance where we will go. Sometimes the host has been kind and told us in advance and sometimes we have tried to figure out the code with some indirect questions.

At day time, very many of meeting participants from the manufacturer have the shirt, tie and jacket code. And absolutely that has often been their code at the dinner as well. And sometimes more casual, like I use in day time.

But it also happens that they have dressed down significantly - not to a proper causal but to very worn jeans and a worn sweater. If I, or my colleagues, for the same dinner have dressed up it can feel a bit uncomfortable. But worse to dress down to a restaurant that requires a dressed up code.

At one trip we stayed in a hotel at a golf club. We also ate dinner at the hotel restaurant. The Swedish representative assured us tie was not required for the dinner. Coming down from the hotel room to the restaurant, I learned tie was mandatory... At this journey I had not brought one with me. Maybe they had to borrow at the restaurant, I do not remember. Anyway, a colleague helped me out; we went back to his room, I borrowed a tie from him, and then we could go down and eat.

Lesson learned - always bring a tie in the luggage. If it looks good to the shirt or not is not relevant really.

It has been a relief to see that also Englishmen can dress wrongly. I remember a dinner vaguely. I am not fully sure, but maybe I had dark jeans. I think I had. Jeans were not allowed, but my trousers passed the control. But at least one guy from the company we visited wore jeans that not passed. As I remember he had to travel home and change.

Another observation is that the tie at the work is like a code to distinguish if the person is a white or blue collar employee. Again, if the tie match the shirt and jacket, that is not an issue. I remember specifically one occasion that made this clear to me. The business meeting ended relatively early in the afternoon, and probably it was a Friday. Our hosts took us on a touristic tour in their cars for a few hours. But outside the car before the tour started, this person who always had a tie at meetings, pulled off his tie, put it in the luggage space, and unbuttoned the upper shirt button. The office day was over and now he was ready to enjoy the leisure travel with his customers! I should say, we had met many times and knew each other well.

So in conclusion, how to dress especially for a business dinner in England is still a mystery to me. But despite the dress code is a mystery, almost all of those English dinners have been very pleasant both when it comes to food and the social interaction.

I have not forgotten my first journey to England when my manager got back problems and lay flat on his back on the floor in the conference room at the business meeting. But that is another story.

And oh, the photo from the railway station in Newcastle. It was a winter day. The loadspeaker advised to stay home and not to travel. Because it was arctic conditions. That was like 5-10 cm snow and a some degrees below zero. Far from arctic conditions in my view. Although northern England is accustomed to have some snow, London is less prepared. You may need to be dressed for winter also in England.

Written with a smile,

Henrik Hemrin

20 February 2021

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