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Arbitration is an adventure

International arbitrators are a globetrotting bunch. One week it is Paris, the next Geneva, to be followed by Moscow, Stockholm, Vienna, Warsaw or New York. Such is the calendar of a renowned arbitrator. Conferences are followed by hearings, and the latter by meetings. Some arbitrators have problems with their calendar. It is difficult to find a free week in the respective calendars of the three tribunal members. The very act of searching for a free slot in the calendar at a deferred hearing poses technical problems. The old-fashioned book of appointments is going out of use. Some arbitrators do not carry it with them. They call their secretaries and ask: "Would you please check my availability." Many arbitrators rely exclusively on electronic notebooks. If a hearing is to be deferred, the arbitrators produce their mobile phones and scan the screen for available dates. "I'm available on August 15", says one arbitrator. "I'm free on November 1," says the second. "And I have no appointments on November 11," says the third. And it might soon turn out that all of them are available on December 23 or May 1. Why? Because electronic calendars do not take into account public holidays or even international holidays. The departure from the old-fashioned book of appointments may prevent the arbitrator from visiting the graves of his relatives on All Saints' Day due to a hearing scheduled for October 31. Likewise, a hearing scheduled for December 26 in Paris would interfere with some arbitrators' plans for Christmas, even though it is a business day in France.

It is therefore good form to mark and respect public holidays in the provisional timetables which are observed in the respective countries of origin of the parties and the arbitrators as well as at the place of arbitration. This remark is particularly pertinent to multi-cultural societies. An international arbitrator should be aware also of movable feasts, such as Thanksgiving, Easter, Ramadan, Columbus Day, Independence Day, Chinese New Year, the Russian Maslenica, Veteran's Day, Orthodox Christmas and Orthodox Easter.1 The established practice is to refrain from any activities on such dates and schedule convenient hearing dates for the parties. Still, how to respect local religious holidays that are completely unknown abroad?

I once served as arbitrator in an Asian country. Both parties and their legal representatives invariably numbered a dozen persons. They were always dressed in highly traditional dark suits or uniforms.

I took a roundabout route to get to a scheduled hearing. Due to failure at one of the main European airports, my plane was rerouted. I flew different airlines, via different transit countries, making stopovers and missing connections due to delayed flights. I reached my destination past midnight. I was just about to heave a sigh of relief when I discovered that my luggage had gone missing. "Please don't worry – said a representative of the airlines – "we'll find the luggage and deliver it to your hotel tomorrow afternoon." "Tomorrow afternoon?" I thought to myself, viewing myself in the mirror. I was wearing jeans and a T-shirt and a pair of comfortable loafers. Apart from a black blazer, there was nothing I could put on the next morning. Come 10 a.m. I was due to open a hearing and face two teams of attorneys in conservative business suits, not to mention the two impeccably dressed co-arbitrators. "Please take me to some night store" – I said to the hotel driver. – "Sir, we've had a holiday today (he said the name), so the stores will not open until noon tomorrow; maybe the market will open a little earlier, but it won't be open in the morning. I said: "Please help me – at ten tomorrow I must have a suit, dress shirt, tie and black shoes. Think something up!" The driver scratched his head, produced a mobile phone and started making phone calls. "You know, my cousin runs a clothing store at a big market. He was not going to open it tomorrow, but in this case he will open it for you at 9:00 a.m. We'll go there and you'll buy everything you need."

He reassured me. We arrived at the market at 9:00 a.m. It was empty. The stores were closed. We began to wait. The cousin arrived at 9:20 and tried to open the store. It turned out that he had taken the wrong key. He jumped on his scooter and drove off. He said he would be back in no time. The clock was ticking, my heart pounding. The cousin finally came back at 9:45. We plunged into the store. It dawned on me that I would not buy any suit anyway. I focused on finding the trousers to match my black blazer. I ordered a shirt, tie and cuff links. No problem. Now for the black shoes! The driver and his cousin grew anxious. "Sir, we don't do shoes," said the cousin. "That's right" – said the driver – "I didn't want to scare you. I thought maybe one of my colleagues or waiters would lend you their black shoes; I checked with them at night, but none of them have shoes your size."

What was I supposed to do? It was now 10:00 a.m. I had to race to the hearing with my ridiculous-looking loafers on. Somehow, the old Polish adage: "There are three things that make a man – his wife, his shoes and his vehicle" struck me as highly appropriate to the occasion. Being completely at a loss what to do, I even invoked my Guardian Angel's help. We were walking toward the car, alongside a long row of closed stores with metal blinds. At the end of that grim gallery of storefronts kneeled a man tinkering with a padlock. Was he unlocking it? Deep down inside, I was praying for a shoe store. But what are the chances of finding a shoe store in a bazaar? One percent, or five? The sun was scorching my blazer-clad back. What a way to start the day! I came closer and could not believe my eyes. I glimpsed the "Woodland" logo underneath the lifted metal blind. I ran into the store. They had three brands of black oxford shoes, one of them fitting my size perfectly. I still believe this is the best pair of shoes I own. Guess why I like them so much?

  1. For more details, see Piotr Nowaczyk “Arbiter XXI wieku – w poszukiwaniu arbitra idealnego” – Miedzynarodowy i Krajowy Arbitraz Handlowy u progu XXI wieku – Ksiega Pamiatkowa Liber Amicorum, dedykowane dr hab. Tadeuszowi Szurskiemu., pp. 99-108.