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On Forex Congresses…

The following item was written about 10 years ago by Gerry Göhler, who is retiring from the markets this month after 50 years. It was published in ACI’s Forex Inter, as a fond memory of his times with the Financial Markets Association.

For the benefit of our younger dealers, a historical comparison of Forex meetings/congresses is in order, so that we may bring into perspective how times have changed. You will have to be your own judge whether or not you want to call present happenings progress or something else.

Going back a few years in time (some 20 to be exact) a Forex Meeting was relatively uncomplicated. Preparations took about 15 minutes. We usually met after work at a third rate restaurant where waiters in shiny (from old age) jackets with soup stains on the lapels served a few simple dishes and sandwiches with a few bottles of beer (no glasses). In this Spartan atmosphere we renewed old acquaintances, listened to a semi-boring speaker – and after the formal part of the evening was successfully concluded, we adjourned to places of even lesser reputation for some modest carousing. Total cost to the bank: $3.25 for the food, $5.75 for the booze and $2.50 for participation.

FX rates were pegged by the IMF, inflation and salaries were low, the world was kind of cool and life definitely simple.

Enter the Exciting Eighties

Preparations for a Forex CONGRESS (no longer is it called a Meeting, but a Congress) take approximately two years – in close collaboration with the host country’s government, Interpol, police, etc.

The monies involved to hold a congress are staggering and a definite shot in the arm of any host country’s ailing economy. 3,125 participants come from 58 different countries to the garden spots of the world, accompanied by their wives or partners, they use an average of 4,638 taxis per day, consume 3,125 breakfasts in 2,856 hotel rooms, drinking an average of 12,480 cups of coffee, etc, etc.

The meetings are held in the National Congress Halls, chaired by no lesser personage than the Finance Minister or the Central Bank Governor. Pre-lunch entertainment usually includes a minimum of 100 horses, 135 Folkloric leather panted guys and/or 248 lace pantied girls (98% of which are not that good looking) accompanied by one accordion player and two or three untalented singers (and a partridge in a pear tree).

The relatively modest eight course lunch is usually followed by a refreshing nap during the “working sessions” or during the major policy address by a titled (Count de… or Earl of…will do) luminary of the host country’s government. Most of those speakers have very soothing voices in a foreign tongue (translated over earphones by a sexy voiced female with a lilting accent) – not a bad combination for an almost hypnotic digestive sleep. You are sure to wake up at the end of the speech because the guys at the head table can’t hide (or sleep) and will applaud vigorously into their very own personal microphones – to show the boss they really paid attention – at which point you just open your eyes and start clapping your hands together, which in turn assures everybody that you also heard everything.

Now, later in the evening comes the fun part.

The GALA DINNER. This is not held at just some mere ordinary restaurant – no by gosh, nothing less than a castle will do. It must be at least 200 years old, beautifully restored, reeking with history, where kings and emperors once resided and dined.

The menu is a work of art, suitable for framing, Louvre quality. It is not unreasonable to start the courses with Pickled Nightingale Tongues, followed by Duckbilled Platypus Liver on Melba Toast and Aardvark Kneecaps in Aspic…naturally accompanied by the appropriate grapes of the region such as Pipi Chat 1972 (blanc), Pipi Chien Royal 1938 (rouge) and Chateau Pipi Cochon 1963 (rose).

Ordinary waiters don’t just put the food in front of you. NO…men in medieval uniforms with white powdered wigs, white stockings ad black lacquer shoes carry trays of food like offerings for an altar. (If they walked around San Francisco in these duds, they would probably be arrested on the spot – or maybe not, come to think of it). Fanfares and drums announce each change of course during the dinner. Now the end result of this funereal procession with music is of course the annoying fact that your food is stone cold by the time you try and eat it.

The seating arrangements at the Gala Dinner are also worked out by real artists, with a flair for the strange and bizarre. Our neighbours at this table usually speak eight different languages. The thing to do is to put an American (who speaks nothing but American – not even English) next to a guy from Zimbabwe, a Russian observer, the delegate from Bulgaria and the monetary chief from Bora Bora, add to this one Italian colegio with very little English and a guy from Peru who only speaks Spanish and I invite you to make a tape recording of the fabulous dinner conversation.

Before you may eat, however, you must also listen to several clever dinner speeches, which is OK in itself, because usually that is the price one pays for a formal dinner. But unless you sit at the Head table, and are an accomplished lip reader, the speech is possibly closer to the sound effects of a very vast railroad station where they announce trains and nobody understands anything at all.

I did not mind hearing the Budapest String Quartet playing Haydn and Mozart in the marble toilets of the castle. After all, I like to do things in style. But when you need a city map to find the John and the whole trip (from table to John to table) takes more than 45 minutes, and when you get back, somebody has finished your Chateau Pipi Cochon, then I must assume that all this Congress business has become larger than life itself and now I must find a damn good explanation to tell my management why I should go to the next one.

Editor’s note: Gerry announced his retirement from ACI in November, at the Executive Committee and Council meetings held in Santiago de Compostela, Spain – and, having been made an honorary member of ACI, he says he plans to attend next year’s World Congress in Paris. So, over a 50 year career, 40-or so of which have been spent as a member of ACI, I think he’s managed to find some reason to keep “going to the next one”.

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