The first time I visited England was some 10 years ago to help run an insurance symposium in London’s financial district. Much of the event was held at Lloyd’s, the venerable insurance marketplace, and the birthplace of the modern insurance industry, some 350 years ago. One need only spend a few moments in the presence of the Lutine Bell, and Lloyd’s loss book to get a sense that despite the towering modern glass architecture, there remains a deep reverence for the history of the organization, and the industry it embodies.
My second visit to England is this week, when I attend an internal company conference held in Chesham, just to the northwest of London. When I caught my cab out of Heathrow airport and told my driver where I was going, he wanted me to make sure I was aware of what I was requesting. After all it was a good 30 miles away.
The two experiences reminded me of that old saying that in America, 100 miles is a short distance and 100 years is a long time. In the United Kingdom and Europe, the reverse is true. I like to bring that up time and again to remind myself of the differences between our two countries, but moments before I began writing this column, I was given a far more powerful reminder.
I had been sitting in a lounge with a colleague, discussing her flight across the Atlantic, when two women sitting next to us suddenly stood in silence, with their heads bowed. My colleague and I stopped talking. I wanted to stand in—for what I was not sure—but I just froze in place, afraid to make a sound. Two minutes later, the women sat back down again, clearly moved by the moment of silence. I apologized to them for having spoken during it, and they most graciously assured me that there was no problem at all.
Still, I had clearly missed an important detail and soon learned that this day was Remembrance Sunday and, on the eleventh hour, there would be two minutes of silence across Great Britain and the Commonwealth.
I am a bit of an Anglophile—we watch the BBC as a default channel at home. I follow the English Premier League, rather than the NFL. I shop in the English section of my supermarket. And I have often felt I might be more at home in Britannia than in North America, for reasons I can’t quite explain. It might be a hiraeth—that Welsh concept of feeling homesick for a place you haven’t visited. We all feel it; I feel it toward the British Isles.
And yet, I had failed to prepare for Remembrance Sunday. I felt like such a heel for doing so; how hard would it have been for me to check what major national holidays might occur during my visit? I already knew that people would be wearing poppies for Armistice Day; I surely could have checked on any other national events of which to be mindful. After all, when one travels abroad, one has an obligation to honor the customs of your host.
Ultimately, this was all no big deal. But as the moment of silence passed, I thought about how similar American and British culture is, and yet how far apart. How easy it was to make a simple error and in so doing, offend a solemn and important moment among great friends. And I thought, if it was this easy for me to not get Remembrance Sunday right, how hard it must be to coordinate even larger, more complicated arrangements across national and cultural lines.
I am often asked how much of our readership is outside of North America. It is a bit of a moot point, I answer, as compliance is a global discipline and our readers are mostly international or global organizations that must take into account the regulatory expectations of multiple jurisdictions. That is easier said than done, of course and, while we have always, at Compliance Week, had a special appreciation for what it means to build, execute, and maintain a robust international compliance program, this Remembrance Sunday, I realized it just a little bit more.
So here is to those whose work spans the world, whose view for what is right with the law and right in one’s heart must take into account worldviews far from home. It is no small thing.