All posts by Deirdre Straughan

The Infamous Miniskirt Photo: Give the Customers What They Want!

The photo above first appeared on the Adaptec website in April, 1998.

Over the years some of my colleagues griped that having a picture like this on a corporate website was “unprofessional,” and I suppose it was. But (a) why does “corporate” have to mean “boring”? and (b) there’s a story behind it.

It all started with a (rare) vent of my own to the Adaptec discussion list, titled “How NOT to Obtain Customer Service.”

Which I later followed up with “How Not to Obtain Customer Service – a Final Peeve”, which included this throw-away comment: “I used to wear miniskirts to conferences, precisely because this made everyone assume that I was a purely decorative booth bimbo. I then enjoyed the shock on people’s faces when I proved to have a brain or two in my little head after all!”

I wasn’t surprised when this resulted in several requests like: “How about a couple of mini skirt photographs to prove your point regarding Deirdre being a female name?” I laughed them off, until I received this plaintive note: “I’ve had a really tough week. I could really stand to see you in a miniskirt.” So I dutifully put on my miniskirt and had my husband take the picture, and posted it on the site for the benefit of our list subscribers.

Time marches on… I still adore the denim “Born 2 Burn” shirt and the cowboy boots, but, sadly, don’t  fit into the miniskirt quite as well as I did…

Alex Britti in Concert

This summer we went to a concert by Alex Britti, a singer-songwriter as yet unknown outside Europe. He’s popular with the bubblegum set for a few immensely singable songs such asLa Vasca (The Bathtub), but he considers himself more a guitarist – and turns out to be a hell of a good one.Unfortunately, we hardly got to hear him sing during the concert, due to the chorus of teenyboppers who sang along enthusiastically (and badly) with most of the songs. Early on, I asked the girls behind us to stop: “I came to hear him, not you,” I pointed out. Their mother retorted: “Lady, if you want to hear the music, buy the CD. This is a concert.”

Defeated by this, er, logic, I retired from the battle, and had to be grateful for the guitar solos: delightfully un-singalongable, and very well played. These seemed to confuse much of the audience, who muttered to each other: “What song is this?” or got up and went for a beer.

Alex Britti must be frustrated. He’s made lots of money and gained some artistic freedom thanks to his lighter bestsellers, but his audience doesn’t seem to understand or appreciate the stuff that he himself likes best!

Other musical experiences this summer were less than stellar. Roseto, the little town on the Adriatic coast where my in-laws live, used to be a pleasantly sleepy place with nothing to do at night except stroll around, eat gelato, and watch kids on the carnival rides. But now it aspires to the trendy disco status of the Adriatic’s hotter spots, so the beachfront establishments all have permission to play music til 1 or 2 am.

This would be somewhat bearable, or at least understandable, if the music was good. However, it was all REALLY bad, mostly youngsters basically doing karaoke with automated music machines – their equipment was far more impressive than their abilities deserved.

One band started out relatively promising, playing real instruments, with an admirable selection of blues tunes and guitar licks ripped off from Stevie Ray Vaughan. But the guitar wasn’t quite in tune with the keyboard, and the singer wasn’t in tune with anything. After hearing “Pride and Joy” murdered two or three times, we were ready to strangle the drunk who kept demanding encores.

We could easily perceive even that detail, because my in-laws’ apartment overlooks the beach, within a stone’s throw of two of these establishments (alas, I had no stones). After we finally dropped off to sleep at 2 am one night, I was awoken at 8:00 by a group of retirees just arrived on an group tour. “Ecco il mare!” shouted one enthusiastic fellow – “Look! The sea!” (And just what did you expect to find on a trip to the seaside…?)

Note: I have also translated some of Alex Britti’s songs into English.

About Woodstock School

This year is the 20th anniversary of my graduation from an international boarding school called Woodstock School, located in the foothills of the Himalayas in India.

Woodstock was founded 150 years ago for Protestant girls. India was a rough place for children then, so it was usual for westerners to send their kids to boarding school back home, or to the hills in India where cooler weather meant less disease.

By the mid-1970s, the missionary population in India was diminishing, and Woodstock realized that, to survive, it would have to change direction and emphasis. A new school charter was adopted, aiming to recruit a student population of 1/3 North Americans, 1/3 Indians, and 1/3 others.

So Woodstock is a very international place. The 60 graduates in my class represented 14 different nationalities, plus every major religion and several “minor” ones. We were intensely together – studying, playing, living, growing up – ten months of every year.

When you grow up with people of other cultures, you know in your gut that, beneath surface differences, we’re all human, with similar feelings and aspirations.

The only thing we didn’t tolerate at Woodstock was intolerance itself. One girl arrived in 1979, fresh from the US where her father had been in India’s diplomatic service. One day she wore to school a “Nuke the Ayatollah” t-shirt she had bought in the US. None of us were fond of the Ayatollah, but many of our schoolmates were Iranis who had left their home during the Iranian revolution because they were in danger from one side or the other. (One boy exhibited horrifying drawings of violence he had witnessed firsthand, such as soldiers machine-gunning a crowd.) All of these kids still had friends and family back in Iran, and of course nuking the Ayatollah would have meant nuking those innocent people as well. I don’t think anyone actually said anything to her about the t-shirt, but she never wore it again.

Woodstock taught us not only to accept the different, but to embrace it. Miscegenation was the rule: most of the teenage couples were mixed by race, religion, culture, or nationality. Many of us went on to marry people of other cultures, races, religions, and nationalities, and are raising children in countries we were neither born nor raised in. This is only the most obvious manifestation of the culture of tolerance that Woodstock instilled in us. Even Woodstockers who go back to their hometowns, marry, and raise children there, have a different attitude than most of their neighbors.

Most of the world’s strife is born of ignorance and misunderstanding. Many people cannot comprehend how someone else could see things differently than they do; their instinctive reaction is: “Anyone who doesn’t think the way I do is evil, stupid, or insane.”

Woodstockers, however, accept that others see things differently, and are able to respect others’ opinions and beliefs even when we do not agree with them. The world could use more people with this attitude. If there were more schools like Woodstock, there might be fewer wars.

I don’t have the money to create more schools like Woodstock. But this idea has been in the back of my mind for a long time: What if we could fund scholarships to bring more kinds of kids from all parts of the world to Woodstock, for at least a year, maybe all four years of high school? Kids from all countries, cultures, and social strata, especially inner city/disadvantaged kids who otherwise might not have much of a future. And, in the present context, we might specifically “target” kids from areas like Israel/Palestine, for whom a chance to meet “the other” in a different context could change their attitudes – and, in a small way, their country’s future.

But I wanted to talk to you all about Woodstock in hopes of reaching some “ordinary” kids as well. If you have or know a teenager who has a sense of adventure, let them know about this extraordinary school. BTW, it’s also a well-recognized place to get a great education. Woodstock grads go on to college pretty much wherever they want (two of my classmates went to MIT), and thrive on higher education (my class can so far boast at least six PhDs, two MDs, and almost everyone got at least an undergrad degree). Great music instruction, sports, lots of hiking, and fantastic scenery. And an experience that will stay with you for a lifetime.

ps One of our distinguished alumni is TED’s Chris Anderson; here’s what he has to say about his Woodstock experience: An international school in India with a message for the world