Security Culture: Americans are Ferengis, Europeans are Vulcans

Lunch table conversations tell a lot about the culture of security in Europe and the US

It's that time of year again. The organisation's training and travel budgets need to get spent or else they'll be reduced for next year. So, it's time to hurry up and pick out conferences to attend which are scheduled in the last three months of the year.

I was lucky and got to go to two this year-one in London and one in Berlin. The one in London was also attended by lots of fellow yanks; the one in Berlin entirely by Europeans (sauf moi, bien sur). What a difference in the lunchtime conversations between the two.

For example, in London I sat at a lunch table with a group of mostly American CISOs and vendors. The conversation started innocently enough with discussions about the difference in the work environments and the approach to information security between the States and Europe. Now, at this point the conversation could have gone in a variety of different directions-discussions of cultural differences, national stereotypes, differences in laws, et cetera. Instead, the Americans at the table mostly wanted to know how existing security products could be tailored to meet European needs or how Americans might be able to 'break into' the European market. They wanted to know what security companies were doing well in Europe.

From there the conversation went on to a favourite American pastime which is how to get rich quick. It seemed like every American at the table (myself included) had an idea about a business or a product that everyone would want to use.

The conversation was peppered with references to famous American tycoons like Buffet, Gates and Walton. Invoking their advice and experience was treated with a reverence usually reserved for Bible readings at religious revivals. And the analogy is not too far off the mark as the entity being paid homage in this case was none other than the god of free market capitalism. The Americans at my table had kept the faith in spite of the horrible economic meltdown that was occurring daily in the global financial markets. They were the true believers.

Six weeks later I found myself in a similar situation at a different security conference in Berlin. Even though it might sound like the start of a joke, I really was at a table with 5 Europeans (a Swiss, a Brit, a Frenchman, a Belge and a German). Bratwurst and sauerkraut had replaced fish 'n chips and mushy peas on the menu, but the nature of the conversation had a similarly abrupt change. What did you do last night? Went to the Opera. Oh really? Which one? At present we have three Operas going on here in Berlin. Mozart? Yes, he's my favourite too. The performances at the Staatsoper are among the best in the world. What? That's nothing compared to what we have in Vienna. Austria has the best opera, Germany the best classical concerts. No way! You're ignoring Italy completely. That's true. What about west end theatre in London? Oh, much better than Broadway. Really, you think? Did anyone see the documentary on BBC World last night? And so on and so on.

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