Archive for September, 2012

Ca va couter cher

30/09/2012

How much?

75% income tax on earnings over $1.3 million a year probably looks like a great gesture, but how much will it realistically bring in?

I am unlikely ever to fall into that category, but I can’t imagine many people who do feeling too happy about either moving to France to take on top jobs, or on staying put if they’re there already.

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Sell me a guitar

30/09/2012

Interesting article here on the fortunes of Fender, the guitar maker.

One commentator in the article is quoted as asking ‘“what possible niche is left unexploited by Fender?”

I’d suggest making more of an effort to sell to people like me, who now have the money to afford the guitars they used to want but were not able to afford. We don’t have the time to play them now, but we can put them in the corner and admire them lovingly.

Keep marketing to people who actually make a living out of their guitars and keep selling to people who are starting out and are buying the cheaper models, but tap into what I call the ‘daft market’.

Setting up a secondhand/used arm would also help. Use the company’s marketing reach to start milking my demographic. Doing this without hurting the bricks and mortar stores would be a challenge, but I can think of a number of ways this might work – Fender’s online marketplace aggregating and marketing stock from certified Fender resellers, for example. Go on, sell me a 1960s Jazzmaster. It doesn’t matter if it always goes out of tun – it’ll look great in my living room.

The electric guitar world resembles, to me, the book world of the early 90s. Linked to bricks and mortar stores, albeit with their own limited online presence, selling things you only buy if you are physically in the shop. Last year I nearly bought a guitar, but didn’t. I did buy two effects pedals, but only because I happened to go past Chandler’s Guitars in Ealing, as well as drop in to a shop during a holiday in New York. If I hadn’t popped in, I’d never have bought anything.

I’d trust Fender to market and ship a guitar to Dubai, or at least to help me trust the process by endorsing a shop to do so.

So, get a move on Fender, before Mrs Saul reads this and cancels the budget. Start selling to people who don’t really need your product, but can probably afford it.

ps Jesus Wore Ray Bans classic numbers were recorded using a Tokai Stratocaster from the early 80s – a very nice Fender clone.

Don’t throw the fax machine away just yet

26/09/2012

My Algerian visa application was rejected the last time, as the invitation letter was addressed to the Algerian consulate in London, not in Dubai. Big difference.

This time it was rejected as the invitation letter was a print out of a scanned copy sent by email. It had to be a faxed copy, so that, apparently, the consulate could read the sender’s phone number, even though this was clearly listed on the invitation letter itself and the invitation letter contained all the requested info, along with the company stamp.

Next up, will cash be accepted, or will I have to pay in gold nuggets after sending a hand written begging letter attached to a pigeon?

Still none of this is as bad as the day Libya decided that you had to have an Arabic translation of your passport page in order to get in. This was decided one morning without informing the hundreds of foreign visitors already on their way, who all had to return on the next available flights – flights which were all booked out taking people home.

Fortunately this didn’t affect me, but it did hit a few of my colleagues…

Skip uni, never work in the Gulf

24/09/2012

Lots of articles in the UK press at the moment about A-level students not going to university as they are put off by the though of being in debt, now that they have to pay the fees themselves.

I think it’s crazy to expect everyone to go to university, but it’s equally crazy for people to miss out on doing something academically worthwhile when they are capable, just because they are concerned about being in debt. Most of these people would be happy to rack up huge debts via a mortgage, but are scared of taking out what are easily repayable loans at extremely attractive rates.

This debt is not credit card debt – it is close to free money to help you better yourself, broaden your horizons and improve your career prospectives.

It would be nice if the government still covered university fees, but the loans scheme is the next best thing. Far better than a graduate tax in terms of value for money.

To get a decent job in the Gulf you need to prove you have a university degree. The degree does not always need to match the job you’ll be doing, but you will, typically, need to be a graduate. Having a master’s degree on top of that can also help – changing jobs without a six month employment ban if you’re not working in a free zone, for example.

I wonder how many Brits who are now going straight from school to vocational, employer funded accountancy or similar ‘on the job’ training will find themselves unable to work over here and in other emerging markets in a few years’ time, thanks to the lack of a degree?

Konstanz

23/09/2012

I was in Konstanz at the beginning of September for a friend’s wedding.

I was struck how little has changed in the town centre since I first went there in 1993.

The same businesses seem to be running with the same management, the same bars, the same ice cream shops, the same cinema. Old logos and signs are still in evidence. The hairdresser’s near a friend’s hotel was celebrating its 45th anniversary.

Germans seem to look the same as well. Older people wear expensive but sturdy and long lasting coats. Teenage fashions don’t look that different. Even the punks lounging around drinking warm beer and begging haven’t changed their clothes (probably literally), although a few more piercings and tattoos are in evidence. The travelling alcoholic tramps – a very German sight at every railway station and town square – all had the same type of rucksack their doubtless long dead colleagues used to, clinking with empty bottles of the same brands of beer and schnapps.

The kind of obesity that’s now common in the UK doesn’t seem to have had the same influence in this South German tourist town. Slim, healthy looking Teutons still stroll and cycle around, with lots of middle class professionals still smoking twenty HB a day, years after their British equivalents gave up their Benson and Hedges. There appeared to be a ban on smoking indoors, but even pipe smokers were in evidence when the sun came out and lunchtime beers were being drunk in the cafes.

The newest cars had Swiss number plates. Expensive but old – and well maintained – German plated vehicles seemed to be the standard, still, for German families.

I didn’t expect the 13th century buildings to have been replaced with glass and steel, but compared to the UK high street, things had very much remained the same.

I felt instantly at home, just as I did as an 18 year old on my first visit.

L’enfer, c’est les supermarchés

22/09/2012

As if spending time in Carrefour is bad enough, you have to put up with the pidgin English signs everywhere.

I can understand management not worrying about correcting a handwritten sign for ‘China Onion’, but what’s the deal with the drivel on these posters?

Most of the signage in the shop is utter nonsense.

Wallowing in filth…

19/09/2012

…is what Casablanca taxi drivers, or at least most of them, seem to do all day.

There are four types of taxis.

The least bad are the 1980s and 1990s Mercs that collect people from outside hotels. They are usually cleanish inside.

The airport taxis, which have recently had a massive upgrade from dirty 1970s and early 80s Merc 200s to 90s 190s. They are ok on the outside, pretty dirty on the inside.

The white Mercedes taxis which follow a vague route and stop to pick people up. These are 70s and 80s models and usually sit three in the front and four in the back. I have never taken one, but they look dirty inside and, whilst they are clean-ish on the out, they all seem to be about to fall apart.

The ‘petits taxis’, usually 1990s 205s, Puntos and, recently new Dacias. The new Dacias are too new to be that bad and are the result of the government offering subsidies to the drivers of particularly crappy cars to buy new ones. There are still tonnes of older petits taxis on the road though. I believe the Dacias are made locally in a huge new plant opened by Renault.

What amazes me is how the worst of the taxis are so unbelievably filthy. I can, almost, understand why you might not bother to fix your brakes, replace your tires and generally maintain your car, but what is stopping these guys even wiping the interior down with a damp cloth at least once a week? The cars look like someone has emptied a hoover bag into them. They are ashtrays on wheels.

Yuck.

Mr Mouhamed was singing the praises of his 1984 Mercedes 240. I asked him how many kilometres he had done, which caused lots of wheezy laughing and an admission that the odometer had stopped working years ago. The interior had all been replaced – probably about 15 years ago – with plastic seats and new door linings. He also had a solid wooden steering wheel. Whilst midway through his eulogy to this easily reparable, electronics free vehicle, he bent his head down to kiss the steering wheel, accidentally touched the brakes and bumped his nose.

This didn’t stop his effusive praise – this car is still worth $6,000 – more than a mid 90s Merc with more electronics that render it unrepairable, or at least more unreliable and more costly to maintain, the older it gets.

I was pleased to notice that the old Series III Land Rover SWB rescue trucks are all still going, most freshly painted in bright orange.

The inexorable onward march of English

17/09/2012

When I first started coming to North Africa almost ten years ago, it was all French. Even Sun partners had no one who could communicate well in English.

Today in the Sheraton Tunis, even the bell boy refused to speak French with me, carrying on a perfectly passable conversation in English.

Most customers, especially (and unsurprisingly) government customers, are still French only, but it’s increasingly common to be able to come here and, as a vendor, hire partners and have business discussions without speaking French.

Speaking French is obviously a massive advantage if you are selling. Speaking English is obviously a massive advantage if you are looking to represent brands and products you want to sell here, or if you are buying.

It’s interesting to see how this opens up the whole market to the world.

It also makes it increasingly difficult for me to keep using my French and keep it at an acceptable spoken level!

Odd photo choice

10/09/2012

The photo in this BBC article looks just like Sheikh Mohammed.

It’s an odd choice of photo for the article, even if it isn’t him. Odder still if it is!

Update – here is the original.

Ghana bound

08/09/2012

I’m off to Accra on Sunday – just over six years since my last visit.

Hopefully this time I won’t get flea bites on my ankles.

I was impressed by Accra when I last visited – apparently it’s even better now.

Annoyingly, they only gave me a single entry visa. This sort of thing drives me nuts – why take a whole page in my passport for a single entry? What’s stopping me getting a multiple entry? If they want more money, just charge more for a multiple. Anything’s better than constantly filling up a whole passport page with a stupid page sized visa sticker.

My main memory from my last trip was meeting Moses, who worked for the Sun partner there at the time. Moses had been part of a group of Ghanaians who had studied in Washington during the last 60s/early 70s on a scholarship. Of the group of ten or more, Moses was the only one who came back to work in Ghana. When he worked for IBM in the 70s, he had to call his manager occasionally, as you might expect. The problem was that he’d sometime have to wait for up to 18 hours for the community phone to be free. His US based manager could never understand why Moses didn’t call on time or more frequently and Moses could never get him to believe the hassles he went through just to place a call.

Plus ça change. Many of my US colleagues still can’t grasp the fact that mobile phone coverage and internet speeds might not be as fast in Africa as they are in the Bay area. Still, at least they are pretty ubiquitous in African’s main cities now.

I don’t remember Accra having any power cuts during my last visit, plus getting around was fairly easy. Much as I like my Nigerian colleagues, it’ll be a pleasant change to be in Accra rather than Lagos!