Eating the free food

VIENNA, Austria. Journalists in the United States jealously guard their sense of independence. In order to avoid even the appearance of bias, we’ve invented all kinds of rules silly rules for ourselves.

One of these cardinal rules is never eat the free food. When going out for a meal or even a coffee we pay for everyone at the table or at least for ourselves. We are not a guest, we are a professional doing a job.

When we return with restaurant receipts, the business-side isn’t happy, each expense is met with a withering look from accounting, but it is one principle that even the bean counters in the age of cost-cutting have learned to accept.

In Austria, the rules don’t seem nearly as rigid. One Austrian ex-journalist told me, Austrian journalists live from free meal to free meal.
Covering the Salzburg 2014 Olympic Bid, it was like Christmas came early. While the press was given very little access to the International Olympic Committee inspectors, they never went hungry or thirsty.

The thinking, I believe, is that journalists cannot ask the hard questions when their mouths are crammed with speckkndel.

I felt like a Puritan questioning the gifts lavished from bath salts to a miniature sachertorte to the press corps. The South Korean journalists, whose own country is competing with Austria for the 2014 Winter Games, didnt seem to mind as they brandished their Salzburg 2014 backpacks and hats we had all received as part of our Welcome Packages.

Things turned surreal when a South Korean television reporter wearing a Salzburg 2014 baseball cap almost went live on his country’s national television to deliver a report. Fortunately, his quick-thinking producer yanked the cap off his head before he had a chance to humiliate himself in front of a television audience of millions.

Im not going to pretend that I was above it all. Ill admit it, and so long to my professional reputation in the United States, that I ate my sachertorte, I gave the bathsalts to a girl and I gorged myself on speckkndel with the rest of them. Truth be told, I even have a blue Salzburg 2014 baseball cap as a souvenir that Ill give to a family member back home.

Because of my own weakness, and the quality of the Austrian cooking, I broke down and yes, I ate the free food.

5 responses to “Eating the free food”

  1. What helps us journalists resist temptation in the long run is that most of the time, the food is crappy. This should be no surprise, but for example, when Costco throws a “neighborhood workshop” they cater it with their own food. Yuck.

    Here in the Bay Area, the rich developers often get catered food from Whole Foods — expensive cheese spreads, fresh fruit, crackers/breads, cookies and brownies. The more they hope to pull the wool over your eyes, the more lavish it is.

    The one time I really had trouble resisting temptation was an election night, where I visited five parties. Three candidates were holding their parties in separate rooms at the same high-end Italian restaurant with delicious-looking hors d’oeuvres and wine. Another rented out a restaurant and did Texas-style barbecue that smelled amazing. And another, a source I’m fond of, had a party at home and told me to help myself to the prawns, which he’d “gotten especially for the reporters.” I didn’t eat a bite.

    I’ve had bosses who flipped out when we expensed taking a source out to coffee (basically, anything over $5) without clearing it with them first.

  2. All I can say: TANSTAAFL
    Or if that is hard to pronounce:
    “There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch”

    Actually I can say when in Rome …

    Don’t you love/hate mixed messages?

  3. ” And we never waste food!”
    I say the best way to understand people is to watch how they eat and listen while they drink!

    I get free lunches all the time at the PineCone in Sebastopol which BTW is closing this month.(Jan. 08) after 53 years of homecooked Greek-Americana.

    Somehow I missed this posting before so most of you fans will never see this.

    Feeding journalists is far far better than blowing them up.

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