Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Tacos, anyone?

About two years ago, two teenage boys from Italy stayed with us for about five days as part of a student exchange through my daughter’s school.

This week, we’re hosting two teenage boys from Portugal as part of the same project.

With the Italians, I made tacos for dinner one night: easy-to-cook and conveniently serve a group. Although the poor Italians were stunned and hardly ate a thing, I thought I’d try it again anyway with the Portuguese boys.

But alas, when we told them we were having tacos for dinner, they asked what “tacos” are. When we pointed to pictures of meat-filled wraps on the tortilla package and cornmeal shells on the taco box, there were no signs of recognition. Nonetheless, we took them through the ritual of stuffing a tortilla, and restrained our amusement as they first tried to cut the wraps with a knife and fork (which caused the wraps to flop open, bringing our guests back to square one) then follow our example of picking them up and eating them rolled (but neglected to hold the bottom closed whereby all the filling slid out onto the plate). They ate one each but declined seconds.

What astonishes me is that even in Sweden, tacos and tortillas are, today, common, everyday food. Any Swede under 60 can handle a taco. So is Sweden preternatural in its culinary tastes? Or is Continental Europe gastronomically chauvinistic?

Teenagers who’ve never seen a taco? Who’d have thought!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Time to raise Jan Forsberg's salary!

I read recently that Jan Forsberg’s salary has increased something like 60% over the last five years. (Jan Forsberg is the CEO of SJ - svenska järnverket - Sweden’s rail transport company.) Yet trains in our area, Mälardalen, run as poorly as ever.

As I thought about this paradox, I realized we’ve been looking at the problem of CEO salaries and company performance all wrong.

It’s common wisdom that poorly paid workers, or people who feel underpaid, care less about their work than those who believe their financial compensation is commensurate with their efforts.

It appears that Forsberg feels undervalued. The trains in our area are chronically late, when they show up at all. And the least bit of cold weather brings the system to near collapse. As I see it, poor train service is indicative of Forsberg’s job dissatisfaction and that SJ is not paying him enough.

The trick is to get Forsberg to care about his work. This means his salary should not be linked to performance (i.e. the better the trains run, the more he earns). He should instead be paid what he thinks he's worth to motivate him and to keep him happy.

We must get Forsberg to care about his job. That’s why whenever there’s a problem with train service, I say it’s time to raise Forsberg’s salary! Only when he truly feels valued will we see better train service in Sweden.