Jim O. experiences culture in Deutschland.

For our vocabulary lesson today, consider the word "cosmopolitan." It's a fancy term that basically means being open-minded and aware of the big picture. The opposite of cosmopolitan is provincial, which describes people who act as though everything revolves around their little corner of the world.

The cosmopolitan-provincial spectrum is about attitudes, not geography. Bigots are provincial. People who enjoy the company of people from different backgrounds and interests are cosmopolitan. Provincial people talk mostly about themselves and their personal concerns. Cosmopolitan folks enjoy conversation in which they learn what makes other people tick. Provincial people are totally absorbed with local events. Cosmopolitans are aware of the forest beyond the trees. Provincials are fearful of the unknown. Cosmopolitans are explorers. Provincials think small thoughts. Cosmopolitans think big.

I had always considered myself a pretty cosmopolitan fellow, until one day in 1993 when I was revealed to have been infected with a deep strain of provincialism. It came on the first day of my first visit to the world's largest plumbing-heating exposition in Frankfurt, Germany, known as ISH based on the German acronym for International Sanitation and Heating.

I was working as editor of that industry's leading trade magazine at the time and had heard various people rave about this event, but it never meant much to me. Most of the companies that exhibited there didn't market in America and hardly any American plumbing-heating companies had much of a stake in Europe. So I had always ignored it, thinking it of little relevance to "my" audience. Then Messe Frankfurt, the local organization that had developed and sponsored the show (designated a "trade fair" in their parlance), invited me on a free junket in hopes I would spread the word about what they had going to my American audience.

What an eye-opener that event was! I saw technology on display from 84 countries around the world, things I'd never dreamed of. Only a handful of American companies exhibited there and few people from these shores chose to visit. But rather than diminish the fair's relevance, this only added to its exotic allure. I also learned that plenty of foreign firms exhibiting at ISH yearned to market in America. They simply lacked contacts and know-how. That spells opportunity for a shrewd businessman.

I have only missed one of the every-other-year ISH shows since then. In fact, our magazine three times has sponsored tour groups from our industry, helping to grow the U.S. presence considerably.

210,000 square feet of walls, etc.

So when I heard an announcement that the same Messe Frankfurt organization will be hosting this year's International Trade Fair and Congress for Roof, Wall and Insulation Technology in Frankfurt on May 8-11, I figured it's worth clueing you in. I've never attended this event, deemed Roof & Wall 2002 for shorthand, but I know enough about the way Messe Frankfurt operates to recommend it. If I were in your business, I'd make it a point to go.

They are anticipating some 500 exhibitors covering more than 210,000 square feet of exhibit space spanning two huge, modern exhibit halls, and some 45,000 visitors. Exhibits of particular interest to Walls & Ceilings readers include wood construction, dry construction, thermal insulation, metal plate, sheeting, tapes, boards, solar technology, machines, tools and equipment, ladders/scaffolding/safety equipment, and building protective agents. Considerable space will be taken up by various designs for solar heat and power generation, including photovoltaic systems, solar cells and transparent walls and facades. Symposiums will take place on innovative products and techniques. An energy-saving theme park will zero in on materials and methods for optimum energy conservation.

Besides a tax write-off junket, what's in it for you? Here's are some valid reasons to pursue this trip.

o Business opportunity. It's likely that some companies exhibiting at Roof & Wall 2002 would be interested in cracking the American market, but have no contacts here. Who knows what doors could open to you?

o Technical innovation. European craftsmanship permeates construction over there, as does an obsession with energy conservation. This is a great chance to enhance your professionalism.

o Styling. Many architects are infatuated with European styling. Find out why.

o Tools galore. Tool exhibits are among the most popular attractions at the plumbing-heating show in Frankfurt, and I imagine it would be no different for your trade.

o Knowledge. Cosmopolitan people pursue knowledge for its own sake, regardless of whether there may be an immediate practical payoff. Do you view yourself in the top ranks of your profession? Then it's time to acquire a worldwide view of what's happening in that profession.

o Hospitality and fun. European trade show exhibitors typically have private meeting rooms set aside, as well as hospitality areas where they ply visitors with food and drink. These shows give off energy and excitement.

And, let's not totally overlook the recreational aspect of foreign travel. Germany is a tourist's delight, and this is a perfect opportunity to tack on an extended vacation.

Further information about this trade show, including air travel and lodging assistance, can be found at the Web site www.dach-wand.messefrankfurt.com. Find the English language button and have fun exploring.