Thursday, June 03, 2010

Trust in Copenhagen: Insane Arrogance or Social Capital?

I'll try to resist the impulse to do a travelogue of Copenhagen,, but I will indulge myself in observing one curiosity: the unusually (to me) high level of trust among bikers, joggers, pedestrians and even sidewalk-sitters in the face of oncoming traffic. You could call it just arrogance and self-absorption, but I think it is more: these folks appear to believe--really believe--that the oncoming driver will do the right thing, or at least the compassionate thing, and not knock them down.

Example: you try to make a right turn out of a major street in Copenhagen; the biker comes up on the right side. I don't have any idea who, technically, has the right of way. What I do know is that the driver had just better yield because if not he is going to have a large dent in his front right door --not to mention the little puddle of scum on the street--after the biker whangs into him, not for a moment having reduced his speed. The thing is that in the US, even if I did have the legal right to keep charging forward on my bike, I don't think I would trust the driver to recognize it--or not, at least, unless I whooped and hollered and waved my hands and (best) made eye contact.

Here's another: I was in a car with a local who drove her little stick shift into a diagonal parking slot. We came back after half an hour and observed four people sitting on the curb just next to the front bumper. Fine, no complaints. But it was a stick shift car and my hostess had a bit of trouble getting into reverse. Two or three times she slipped into gear only to see the car inch forward. We never actually maimed anybody, but the fascinating thing is that nobody moved (although one guy did wave his toes at us, as if to call our attention to his presence). Seemingly they just knew that sooner or later she would work things out and all would be well. And the hell of it is that of course they were right.

I admit I find this a bit bewildering and as I say, it may be just a form of insane self-absorption. I prefer to think of it as another instance of social capital--in a country where most things work, apparently this works too.

But item: I see by a local English paper that police started a crackdown on bikers violating traffic rules. After just a short while, the cops had to stop because they ran out of tickets.

1 comment:

Charles H. Green said...


Thanks for this thoughtful and interesting article. It highlights a powerful example of trust.

The link below shows that we have chosen to include your post in the December Trust Matters Review:

Thank you again for writing such good content.

Charlie Green, CEO
Trusted Advisor Associates