Davos Sketch: Curried rye bread, African scarves and the 'magic of Davos'

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The Independent Online

Easily the most incongruous sight in Davos this year is the proliferation of red-white-green-yellow-black-yellow-green-white-and-blue-striped bobble hats and scarves, as if a bunch of South African soccer fans had invaded the place – which in a way they have, as President Jacob Zuma himself, fresh from his recent nuptials (conducted in full Zulu regalia), leads probably the largest contingent of Africans to attend such a gathering. And there'll be plenty of talk about the World Cup. The scarves and hats were a gift from South Africa to every participant at the forum, and very welcome they are too in conditions that are slightly cooler and snowier than usual (good for skiing, they tell me).

The winter woollies add greatly to the gaiety of the event, but serve also as a further visible reminder of the steadily more cosmopolitan atmosphere in Davos, evident even to those who've been coming for a relatively short time – a reflection of the accelerating shift in economic power away from the old axis of the North Atlantic and Japan.

Last night, for instance, the Mahindra industrial group hosted its soirée, though only the curried rye bread on offer in the Swiss restaurant was much of a concession to proper south-Asian cuisine. Mr Mahindra himself was bullish about his company's prospects, a reminder that in large parts of the world there has been no recession at all.

With the Chinese and Indian interests represented so heavily here again, Davos is emphatically no longer a gathering of middle-aged white men in suits; there are plenty of middle-aged Indians and Chinese men in suits to chat to now. Only joking. They have colourful scarves, too.

The "magic of Davos" isn't always apparent as you pick yourself up from yet another unscheduled and bloodily close encounter with an icy Swiss pavement, but one vignette perhaps sums up what can happen here. Yesterday evening your correspondent was chewing the fat, and the curried rye bread, with, just by chance, a Swiss journalist, the chief executive of Tupperware and the guy who runs Mahindra's joint ventures with BT. There's some real nonsense written about Davos, but it is fair to say that at no other international conference could such a random group be thrown together. Such serendipity! And I now know an awful lot more about Indian business, and Tupperware – which is doing well from the downturn, with so many people taking packed lunches. See how much you can learn at Davos?