Stanley Bing

Understanding the G20

Will the economic summit restore global confidence? And will there be an open bar?

By Stanley Bing

(Fortune Magazine) -- As you read this, the economic leaders of the world are gathering in Pittsburgh for the G20 economic summit.

While interest in this event is high, knowledge about its participants, organization, goals, and menu are little known to Americans, many of whom are still busy following the fallout from the Taylor Swift-Kanye West imbroglio. Here are answers to key questions.

Q: What is the G20?

A: It's a group of 20 finance ministers and central bank governors who come together from around the world. This year they've already been in London and Copenhagen. Now they're meeting in Pittsburgh.

Q: What does the G stand for?

A: It stands for "gonzo."

Q: Why 20? Why not 21 or 19?

A: That's complicated. Several people who were invited had prior commitments, including the finance minister from Burkina Faso. This is unfortunate, because he was supposed to bring the beer.

Q: Is this anything like the G8?

A: Yes, but less exclusive. The G8 started as the G5 in the 1970s, but then expanded when Italy felt snubbed. That made six. Then Canada sent a case of Labatt's and was accepted into the party, followed by Russia, which simply showed up at the Four Seasons Hotel in Naples, Fla., and wouldn't leave the lobby.

After that, nobody could even get in the door. Hence the G20, which is far more inclusive and, according to some, a lot more fun, with an enhanced schedule of off-campus day trips and occasional events where spouses are invited.

Q: Why are they meeting in Pittsburgh?

A: Parking is very inexpensive in Pittsburgh. A perfectly clean and well-maintained garage will cost you 10% of what it would in New York or Los Angeles.

Q: Why is President Obama going to be there?

A: President Obama's strategy now is to be everywhere at once. The guy would go to the opening of an envelope.

Q: Who's on what side? Are there sides?

A: Of course, with 20 participants there are going to be cadres, cliques, and splinter groups. Nobody really likes Gordon Brown of the U.K. very much, and several practical jokes are now being planned at his expense. Many attendees are cozying up to French President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose wife, Carla Bruni, is entertaining at the clambake Saturday night.

Q: Are the meals sit down or buffet?

A: A combination. Hors d'oeuvres followed by a buffet with formal table tent seating is the norm at dinner. There is a box lunch after the morning session on Sunday so that people can head out to the golf course for early tee times.

Q: Is dress "business casual" or more formal?

A: Suits with no ties for the men except at the opening session, where participants are encouraged to wear the festive garb of their native lands.

Q: Open bar?

A: Sure, although it may set you back a couple of bucks to get them to bring out the top-shelf stuff.

Q: Does the G20 issue some sort of statement after the conference?

A: Of course.

Q: Who is writing that?

A: No one knows. Rumors are that Bruce Vilanch was seen boarding a private jet to Pittsburgh.

Q: Are the recommendations made by the G20 enforceable?

A: Not at all.

Q: What if nobody pays attention?

A: Life will go on.

Q: What about the future of the G20?

A: They're considering expanding the vegetarian selections at the first 2010 conference, which will be in Australia.

Q: Why Australia?

A: Beer, mate! Beer!

Stanley Bing has recast his book "Executricks" for the paperback edition due out in November; it is now entitled "How to Relax Without Getting the Axe." For more Bing, unrelated to the Microsoft search engine, go to stanleybing.com. To top of page

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