I grew up in Alberta and I’ve been lucky to see so much of the world so far. Last year I visited Europe on Contiki’s Scandinavia trip and it helped me gain a fresh, new perspective on life. I experienced this inherent, public trust in Scandinavia and I’ll never forget it…
Whether you’re selecting your own bottle of beer in a Copenhagen food hall or filling your bag of candy at a pick-and-mix store in Sweden, there’s no one watching over your shoulder. You can borrow expensive board games from the library, unchecked, and families are careful to return it just as they found it.
These small details stood out for me. During my trip I felt so trusted and therefore an obligation to be responsible and look out for everyone else around me. The trip really caused a shift in how I want to live within a city and community. Here’s my story of how travelling through Scandinavia taught me so much about public trust…
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Travelling around Scandinavia solo made me who I am
My experience at the salad bar
My first experience of Scandinavia’s sense of social responsibility and trust was in Sweden. I stopped in my tracks because laid out in front of us was the most magnificent salad bar. In fact salad bar doesn’t quite do it justice. This was a salad FEAST. An extravagant spread prepared by our benevolent host. We weren’t lounging poolside, gorging ourselves in a budget resort or at a close friend’s home, taking advantage of their abundant generosity. Instead, the salad bar was in the middle of Sweden’s version of a grocery store. There was fresh crab, cheeses, fine-cut meats, devilled eggs and an assortment of pastas. It was all laid out free for us to load into our bowls and justify as ‘salad’.
Once my bowl was loaded up with a melange of carbs and expensive goodies, it was time to assess the financial damages. I fully expected to bring my salad up to a store clerk and have to shamefully turn over my haul to be weighed. But a judgemental staff member was nowhere to be found and instead, we were entrusted with weighing and calculating the cost of our salads ourselves.
I turned to my Swedish friend shepherding us through the supermarket and ask what was stopping us from weighing the bowl half-full, and filling it up with the most expensive (crab, steak pieces, you get the picture) items afterwards? Certainly, back home, there would be checks and balances to stop people trying to take advantage of the system. Surely, there must be something in place here as well? She gave me a puzzled, condescending look. “That’s just not done here”, she chided, “it would ruin it for everyone else.”
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Driving with clocks in Sweden
We then moved on to Falun, Sweden. There’s a regular practice of carrying a small, laminated clock in your vehicle wherever you go. Once parked in a designated stall which limits the duration of the visit, the driver sets the time on the clock and displays it in the window. This way, when the parking attendant comes around, they know exactly how long the car has been parked there for.
My first thought was concerned with gaming the system. How can I judge when the parking attendant comes out, can I artificially set the clock half an hour later to get a little bit more time in my spot? It occurred to me that this thought pattern was very North American. The idea that, given a little freedom, we take advantage of the system as much as possible is very un-Scandinavian.
Libraries in Finland
I observed the same kind of friendly, social responsibility in the Oodi Central Library in Helsinki Finland as well. The residents of Helsinki have access to a myriad of services including large-scale screen printing, an impressive library of musical instruments and notably, their board game collection. Star Wars Rebellion the board game is a 145 CAD game. Not cheap by board game standards. However at Oodi, library members were encouraged to take it from the shelves and bring it home to play with their families and friends, no strings attached. They know there aren’t library staff allocated to count the 153 plastic miniatures contained within the box. They simply make sure not to lose any of the pieces so someone else has the opportunity to enjoy the game after them.
What would our public life look like if we adopted a similar public trust? What are we scared of? Travelling to Scandinavia left an indelible impression on me. There are a thousand different ways to show respect and love to one another during challenging, uncertain times. Maybe it takes looking inside ourselves – and across the Atlantic – to grasp some of the finer points of living on this planet together.