On Observing People and Cultures

Walking with open senses in a new place one observes more, of others and oneself. Little things expand mind, and cultural signs need to be interpreted. Mind works the unknown known.

Let me start with America & business sense. If you buy a ticket from station A to station B, it could be sold per zones (e.g. subway in London) or, by pressing station B on a display, the machine calculates the sum to be paid (e.g. subway in Hongkong). In BART (Bay Area Railway Transit in San Francisco) you look for price of Station B listed on a board. I pay my 8.10$ journey with a ten dollar bill, but no change comes out, because the machine obviously has an American soul and it expects a 10-15% tip. To get exact change, I must start deducting from 10$: first a dollar, then 9 times 10cents.

Even if the ticketing is not the greatest, the public transportation of the Bay area is. Considering that it is after all located in the United States of Private Cars. The passengers in BART nevertheless appear to be from the lower social ladder, bohemians, and some occasional tourists. Bicycles are also trendy: you can even have your bike installed to the front of the bus (is it possible in bicycle countries like Denmark or Netherlands?).  Cycling (and walking) the hills of the city may be one of the reasons, why it is almost difficult to see fat people. I only wonder why people do not use more public transportation. The train from the City to San Mateo was so efficient that I wonder, why I hadn’t use it before. Okay, it goes very seldom, but if there were more people using it, it would travel more often. Hey bay-areaists, learn the power of win-win: use more public!

America. The heaven of marketing. At the customs I wasn’t startled by the quick photo session, but when the officer asked for an elevator pitch for the consultancy I practice. Aa..it…is…we… Be ready anywhere anytime for anyone with an elevator pitch!

America. Transforming businesses. I had two stores in mind that I’d like to visit: Sharper Image to look for cool items and Borders for books. At the corner, where Borders used to be, there was yet another empty office space looking for a new tenant. The amount of empty offices was stunning compared to my last visit to the city two years ago. Sharper Image and Borders are now to be found only in the realm of the world wide web. The cultural revolution of online shopping is so clear to any Californian that even the sales girls at Macy’s tell they read all their books with kindle or ipad.

America. The cultural melting pot (emphasis on the pot). I had an American resident sitting next to me on the plane. Not a typical cowboy or surfer, you’d expect. She was wearing close to a burkha and her English was still quite broken. We were filling the custom forms before landing, when she asked me, should she write her father’s or husband’s name as her “family name”. Who would have thought that “family name” causes confusion, but in the case of a married Muslim woman it certainly does. When a Muslim woman marries, she gets her husband’s last name while the last name of her father retains as part of her family’s last name.

Only three days in a city, and many many more random observations. Think if you observed your customers to know what they want, need and how they behave. What could you gain? Where do we go next?

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