Smith: Brexit effects, China’s middle class and other notes from a European excursion

For the last two weeks, I’ve done something that I don’t do very often.

I traveled to Spain and Portugal for a vacation for the first time in a decade.

Along the way, I scribbled down scenes that might be of interest to a larger audience. Here are my notes:

• There is value in long evening conversations. One night at dinner in Lisbon, we had the pleasure of meeting and talking to an acting coach who helps scientists tell their complicated stories to pharmaceutical companies. His secret sauce: Learn to be comfortable in your own skin. Treat people with kindness. His email to me the next day: “Our conversation, and thinking about it afterwards, was — and still is — one of those experiences that refreshes one as we go along our often tiring, sublime, mysterious, cruel and exquisite Path. Meeting you renews my optimism in what’s possible. Let’s try to keep in touch.”

• Lots of women are traveling together in groups – more than I’ve noticed on past trips to other parts of the world. By pure observation, more seem to be college-age. This reflects the switch in the numbers at American universities, where women outnumber men by more than ten percent. A relatively recent Census Bureau study shows that a college degree means more than $1 million in earnings over the life of a career. A quiet, major change is underway.

• Chinese tourists are a constant sight, oftentimes in large groups that scurry about cities on foot from one monument to the next. They represent the growing middle class in China. They reflect their country’s economic success and will be the nation’s future voice. It will be interesting to see how China tries to manage the demands of this growing and powerful population.

 • There is availability of cheap, fast transportation – not only in the sky but also by bus, cab and train. High-speed trains can take you from Madrid to Barcelona in a few hours. You can go a long way in a cab for $5. Everyday, jets crisscross the sky for as little as $50 between large cities.

• Cleanliness is real. Streets and curbs are regularly swept, and public employees take care of flowers and grass. Wherever we go, we see carefully manicured landscapes that many take for granted. This creates a certain ambiance about a city that distinguishes it.

• English is dominant. Announcements are made first in the native tongue and then in English — in airports, train terminals and bus stations. Shopkeepers and people on the street can speak English. It is taught in the schools and is an economic necessity. Still, it’s not unusual to find someone who can speak four or five languages.

• There is a resounding fear and concern about the acts of terrorism that seem to happen daily. While people are welcoming to refugees, for the most part, there is a growing political debate that brings out exactly the kind of extreme ideas that are often thrown about in American politics. One must not forget that Spain expelled all Jews about the time that Christopher Columbus came to American shores.

• The economy is chugging along despite the Brexit vote and uncertainty about the future of the EU. The global nature of business — meaning most have locations in many parts of the world — provides stability. But it also emphasizes how interconnected we all are.

• There is willingness to stay focused. The great church, Sagrada Familia, has been under construction for almost 100 years in Barcelona. The unbelievable concept of architect Antoni Gaudi, the church has survived Gaudi’s untimely death from a tram accident, the Spanish Civil War, the Great Depression, World War II and countless other challenges. It will be completed in 2026, one hundred years after Gaudi passed away. The church represents the city’s dedication to Gaudi and his dream.

Randall Smith

Randall D. Smith is the Donald W. Reynolds Chair in Business Journalism at the Missouri School of Journalism and is the founder of Missouri Business Alert. He can be reached at




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