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.

A Delightful Reflection, Dallas, and Dali

November 9, 2007
A miscellaneous collection of ideas and an explanation of handling multiple small jobs.

Reflection of family in glassSeveral items on the agenda, gathered with my “Ironing Basket Approach.” If you want to know what that is, read to the end.

ONE: A perfect reflection

I think the picture above is one of the best examples of reflection photos. It was taken by my brother, Art Fabian, a talented amateur photographer, when we were visiting the Getty Center in Los Angeles. He found a glass wall and had all of us stand so our reflection was framed by the beautiful stonework for which the Getty has become well-known. What makes it particularly interesting is the way in which the picture shows the architecture in a creative way.

I share it with his permission because I’d like to encourage all of you to send your reflection pictures. And if you don’t want to share your pictures, just take them for your own enjoyment.

I love reflections. They add a dimension to the world that throws me pleasantly off-kilter. I encourage you to take a photo of family, or individuals, this holiday season through a reflection on an interesting surface, as in this picture. You might start planning now and have an idea of how you’ll take a picture when people come to visit, or you go to visit someone else.

TWO: Program for parents and adult children

On Sunday I go to Dallas to meet with Jane Toler, PhD, who is collaborating with me on a training program for therapists who want to work with parents who have difficulty with their adult children. As some of you know, my first book, Letting Go of Our Adult Children: When What We Do Is Never Enough, is based on my experience with our son, work with clients, and interviews with more than one-hundred parents. Now I would like to take my twenty years experience in this arena and help people who have strained and broken relationships.

THREE: An artist’s subconscious

In clearing off my desk a moment ago (using the Ironing Basket Approach which I’ll explain in a minute) I was about to throw out the Los Angeles Museum of Art catalog. Then I opened it quickly and saw a picture of “The Magik Lantern,” a 1931 film with the following description:

Cornell’s RoseHobart, arguably the earliest found-footage film, transforms the 1932 B picture East of Borneo—the story of a woman in pursuit of her missing husband through a tropical jungle—into a mystical collage blasted by Dali upon its New York premiere. Dali allegedly accused Cornell of stealing the film from Dali’s own subconscious.

Such a powerful subconscious explains a great deal about Dali’s fantastic paintings.

FOUR: Dealing with miscellaneous jobs

Here’s an explanation of my “ironing basket” approach to doing lots of miscellaneous small and medium-sized jobs that get neglected in favor of more pressing, or more interesting, projects.

When I was a child, umpteen years ago, before we got permanent press and steam irons, we would sprinkle clothes with a soda bottle with a little cork that had holes in the top. Then we’d roll up each item so dampness could spread evenly through each piece. Next came the decision of how to proceed with the actual ironing – a chore few but the most compulsive homemakers, or children thereof, enjoyed.

There were basically three approaches. One was to take the biggest pieces and iron them first so that the hardest work would be over when the more numerous smaller pieces were left – hankies, napkins, t-shirts, etc. Another way was to do the many small pieces first, leaving only a few larger ones. Then there was the approach I tended to follow: close my eyes, reach into the basket, and iron whatever piece I happened to touch.

So that’s what I’m doing today with all the scattered pieces of paper that need my attention. I won’t let myself touch anything on my desk or the two tables in my office unless I actually complete the task. Most only take a moment or two, but they’ve all been neglected much too long. If I take time to sort them into piles of “importance,” some of the jobs will never get done.

I offer you my ironing basket approach free of charge for whenever you find yourself depressed by piles of too many jobs you’ve neglected for too long.