“Innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have. When Apple came up with the Mac, IBM was spending at least 100 times more on R&D. It's not about money. It's about the people you have, how you're led, and how much you get it.” - Steve Jobs

List of cultural assumption observations

On my flight from Oslo to Copenhagen, I started a list of cultural assumptions and moraes I observed throughout the last 10 days of my stay in Scandinavia.

As a summary I’ve spend 3 days in Copenhagen, 2 days in Malmö, 3 days in Stockholm, and 2 days in Oslo. I mostly spent time with various interaction designers within these cities and from around Scandinavia.

Most of these observations happened in the course of just “living” my life day to day through my travels.

So here’s the list in no order (and remember, just my observations:

  1. Mom left a baby outside in it’s stroller while she went into the cafe to get coffee. (She did ask a total stranger to watch the child.) On a side note at the airport that same day a woman went to the bathroom and asked me to watch her personal belongings.
  2. Scooters (think Razor) were being used by various roles. There were different designs, but for staff who had to travel up and down the concourse, they sometimes had scooters. My favorite was the newspaper delivery guy b/c it was a 3-wheeler so the front could hold a lot of papers.
  3. you push a button to open the door on a train or bus. in Oslo they had 2 buttons, 1 for most people and 1 for people who needed more time to get in (the icon was a baby pram). This was on local commuter trains, inside doors of the trains, on buses, and on long distance trains.
  4. Speaking of public transit. There was an honor system with transit. yes, there were “control” agents, but in 10 days, I only got checked on the Airport Express train from Stockholm to Arland Airport.
  5. Moving on to bathrooms, I’ll start w/ 2 levels of flushing. I know they do this throughout much of Europe and even Israel, but I was reminded of it often. it didn’t happen everywhere. The idea is that flushing #1 doesn’t require as much water as flushing #2.
  6. Most facets for showers/bathtubs had numbers on the temperature control part of the tub and the pressure and the temp were separate controls.
  7. Handheld showers were everywhere (though my last designery hotel also had a waterfall shower head and I LOVED IT!)
  8. Many showers don’t have curtains. many hotels have half glass bath tubs and many hotels/bathrooms in private homes don’t have bathtubs at all and the “shower stalls” were often just a curtain and sometimes not even that. (I experienced similar stuff in Israel too.)
  9. Light switches for bathrooms are outside the room quite often. Drives me fuckin’ crazy.
  10. Nudity is a lot more accepted. I notice this in TV commercials mostly
  11. Bike culture is huge, especially in Copenhagen, so I’ll start there.
  12. in CPH bike paths are EVERYWHERE. They are so sophisticated, its really hard to explain. you just have to experience.
  13. In CPH (and in Oslo) putting children on your bikes were quite common. In CPH in particular there were 3 brands of 3-wheel bikes all made locally that accommodate either children or cargo.
  14. In CPH many services are done on bike including the postal delivery
  15. My fave infrastructure piece in CPH was that bike paths had turning lanes. (yup! it was that crowded)
  16. In CPH for sure, but also in STO and Oslo very few people except children wore helmets when riding.
  17. People in CPH didn’t lock their bikes to a solid surface. They do however have a pretty standard set of locks that lock the back wheel preventing the spokes to turn around the hub. Of course, I was told that people ask why there is a high rate of bike theft.
  18. In CPH there were many bike rentals but few bike shares (everyone has a bike, why do a share).
  19. In Oslo bike shares were HUGE. They were also very visible in STO but both countries’ infrastructure for bikes was just being figured out.
  20. Work practices felt really different too. My fave is obviously the standard 5 weeks vacation and most offices closed for 3 weeks in July. Now that I get 22 weeks vacation this isn’t as big a deal for me, but I feel for my peers who often get 2-3 weeks and often (and this seemed odd to the Scandis)  can’t even take them.
  21. Universal healthcare is pretty standard. yes, they pay for it in taxes, but the safety net on healthcare is HUGE
  22. But this led to an amazing discussion where I finally got to a core difference between Scandi and US. Both countries believe in individual success being rewarded. But in Scandi they believe that individual success cannot be at the expense of the community.
  23. Design aesthetics were really different in each country, but “minimalism” or “centricism” was a common theme.
  24. It seemed that DK was only into strict minimalism in the best modern tradition. There were even strong traditions of progressing from cheap stuff from Ikea to more inheritable or heirloom pieces.
  25. In STO there was a connection to the rustic aesthetic in both architecture of homes and in furnishings.
  26. Hotels were ALWAYS modern minimalist to a 1.
  27. oslo had a host of electric cars and a service of car sharing setup around a model
  28. i was related the great story of how Danes go indoors during the cold months, but they do so w/ their curtains open. I liked that story a lot. Then in summer they rush outside. And I can say in Oslo and CPH there were tons of people outside when the sun was out. in STO it was pouring the whole time.
  29. the Scandis held their knife oddly. Hard to explain. They did hold it appropriately in their right hand, but they did it in a very different angle than I’ve seen in the US.
  30. Baby strollers were almost always prams (4 large wheeled). Bugaboos, Stokki Exploris, and Quinny’s were around, but not nearly as often as these prams.
  31. My friend has a VW TDI (diesel) where the car shuts off at a light. Its not a hybrid and its a tad disconcerting until you get used to it, but I’m sure it is a HUGE energy savings. My friend claims upwards of 60-70mph in his car.
  32. Chip & Pin for credit cards abound.
  33. People use cards for much more and the use of checks is unheard of (at least in Oslo)
  34. Meals in restaurants are served in very small portions (appropriate and mostly delicious)
  35. All 3 cities had robust, efficient commuter public transit at all levels.
  36. OSLO and STO had GREAT!!!! Amazing!!!! bullet trains from the airport to the city center. CPH didn’t need a bullet b/c the airport was practically in the middle of the city.
  37. HUGE appreciation of history
  38. All 3 countries are royalists. They love their royalty.
  39. On the trains there were plastic bags provided so that you can easily dispose of trash, but also as a community task take a bag with you if you see it is full.
  40. On another note on plastic bags in Skane & DK there were plastic bags in the bathrooms available for fem hygiene.
  41. Restaurants in museums were REALLY good! Expensive, but not that much more than similar quality. They also were almost always make an order, take a number and we’ll deliver it to you table, where the main dish was delivered, but the sides and salad were buffet style.
  42. Chocolate milk in the executive lounge at the Hilton CPH. CHOCOLATE MILK! I’m sorry that is unheard of.
  43. Dark chocolate hot chocolate. LOVE IT!!!! Milk + dark chocolate is a wonderfult thing.

UPDATE: 44. citizen’s acceptance of having government place controls on their lives, their economy, etc.

45. Deep connection to the outdoors, family and the combination there off.

What do you think?

One I want to add is not about Scandinavia, but a story I heard today. That we often see Asian tourists wearing surgical masks. *I* assumed that this was a person scared of getting sick from swine flu scare. What my friend told me was that it was probably someone who was sick who was probably preventing the spread of their contageon. It was a mind boggling moment.

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  • http://designaday.tumblr.com/ Jack Moffett

    Fascinating set of observations, Dave. I love this stuff. Thanks for sharing.


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