Customs customs

I flew to Stockholm by way of Mexico City and Frankfurt. (Frankfurt, at least, makes sense.)

Arriving in Mexico City, I completed two Customs forms. After deplaning, I presented these to a dour official with limited English, and discovered that, despite my best efforts, I hadn’t filled them out quite correctly. Two mistakes. These were corrected, and I was given a copy of one form to keep, being necessary later to pass through security and leave the country.

In Frankfurt, Customs was easier. I walked (no forms, no line) to a friendly official who, after inquiring about my German (“Nein sprechen sie deutsch!), spoke wonderful English. I presented my passport, he scanned it, and I was on my way. Easy!

In Stockholm, I landed, collected my bags from the carousel, and walked through a revolving door into a cool but sunny northern afternoon.

(I worried that I might have somehow entered the country illegally until I confirmed this experience with another traveler.)

They’re trusting, here.

Protections against theft (of many kinds) are limited. At the aforementioned Tallest Man on Earth concert, I collected my ticket from Will Call–but the ticket was never checked. I seated myself, and enjoyed the show.

Bikes are common in Stockholm (it’s a compact city, streets have bike lanes, and the traffic is courteous of cyclists). Most bikes are locked, but it’s not uncommon to see bikes just by themselves, waiting patiently and unrestrained near this entrance or that building.

All of this reflects a curious absence of an “us-versus-the-system” (/”damn the man!”) mentality. In America, (speaking very generally, of course) the system is perceived as trying to take advantage of the average person. Any opportunity, then, to turn the tables is relished (and generally exploited).

Here, the perception seems to be more of being participants in systems designed by others for the participant’s sake.

Each day I walk around, I see dozens of opportunities “to take advantage of the system.” Walk into the museum without buying a ticket (there are multiple entrances, and no-one is checking anyway). Slip into the metro with the person in front of you. Pour a cup of coffee from the cafe’s self-serve station around the corner without paying. Slip the cup and saucer into your bag on the way out–no one is watching. Grab that bike and take a ride.

And yet, seemingly, no one does these things. It’s as though these systems are designed with the assumption that their users are honest and responsible adults. It’s as though their customers are … customers. Not adversaries.

As an American, it’s strange to walk into a shop, a cafe, a museum, and to feel trusted. It’s strange, and delightful.

About Mark Egge

Two truths and a lie: Mark Egge is an outdoor enthusiast, opera singer, and a transportation data scientist. He lives in Bozeman, Montana.
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