Bad Designs and Nice Customs

November 17, 2007
What customs would you like to bring from another country to yours? And what designs and customs don’t appeal to you?

Downtown street with trees in Dallas I begin this blog with three not-terribly-important questions/comments, just ones that make me wonder if the people who design systems actually use them.

1. Why do airports (and other public facilities) have automatic faucets in the bathrooms with water set so high you almost burn your hands? If it’s too hot for me, it could burn little kids. Turning down the temperature would be better for everyone’s comfort and save the fuel used for heating the water. If someone can give me a good reason why these temperatures are high, please tell me.

2. When you check in at the electronic ticket touch screens at airports, do you notice that the alphabet you use to spell out words is not in alphabetical order? It’s in the order of the keys on a keyboard! That would be fine if the screen were horizontal. But who looks at a vertical screen and thinks, “Great. This is just like my keyboard at home.” I don’t. I always have to search for each letter even though I am a very good typist. Does anyone know a good reason why these touch screens are designed that way?

3. In the Dallas airport when I went through security check-in there was a table with the standard gray containers for shoes, laptops, jackets, etc. that must go through screening. But there was a three to four foot gap between the table and the rollers that drove the container into the maws of the machine. You had to pick up the box and carry it across the gap. Why? I’ve never seen that done in other airports. Always I’ve just pushed my box onto the rollers and into the x-ray machine. One of the TSA employees told me that people have dropped those trays in moving them. Wouldn’t it be better if there was no gap? Or is there some significant reason why that airport is different than others?

Another question I have today has to do with differences between cities and countries. Until this week, the only time I’ve spent in Dallas was in the airport as part of a stop-over (didn’t have to go through security then). But this week I was delightfully hosted by Jane Toler, about whom I wrote in the last post.

I was much impressed with how clean the streets were, as in the picture at the top of this blog. Los Angeles has its clean areas, of course, but it’s not unusual to see at least some papers and trash. I’d love to bring not only Dallas’s clean streets to L.A. but their lower house prices as well. On the other hand, they can keep their heat and humidity.

All of this made me think about customs we’ve found in other countries that I’d like to transport to the USA. For example, in Germany they have a lovely tradition of seating strangers at the same table in a restaurant (perhaps not in the most fancy restaurants, but in those we frequented).

When you enter a restaurant and there aren’t any more empty tables, you or the waitress will ask those already seated at the table, “sitzen sie?” If I remember correctly, that means, “is this seat free?” We never had anyone turn us down. In the process, we had interesting, and sometimes amusing, conversations with Germans who tried to speak English (using our extremely limited German would have been much too painful for all of us). Once we sat at a table with a woman who was already sitting at a table with an elderly couple, though she had come by herself. After half an hour she laughed and said, in excellent English, that they were trying to say they had a “daughter” in Florida and we thought they had a “doctor.” Apparently our attempts to communicate amused her greatly. In any case, we found the tradition quite pleasant and convenient.

Water bottle on outdoor tableThen in Australia and New Zealand we came upon an approach to serving water in restaurants we would love to import to the USA. They would put a bottle on the table, like the one on the right at an outside restaurant at Lake Tepako in the spectacular South Island. With this method we didn’t have to keep asking the waiter to come and fill our glass. We could do it ourselves. If you think this is a good idea, how about suggesting this when you’re in a restaurant? Maybe if enough of us ask for this (water filled from taps, which makes the meal less expensive because it saves the cost of glass or plastic bottles), we can start a new tradition in our own restaurants.

So here are questions I hope you consider.

HERE ARE SOME QUESTIONS TO HELP YOU EXPAND YOUR HORIZONS. After all, the motto of the blog is “Enrich Your Life. Enrich Your Relationships” and travel definitely enriches my life and the life of my husband.

What custom would you like to import from another country or another state into yours? How would it improve life for the people who live where you live?

What would make it hard to get your community to follow that tradition? Why?

What tradition do you think it would be good to export from where you live to another place? Why?

When you next travel, notice what ideas you can bring back with you.