From Ohio to Europe…part 2!

For those of you that enjoyed reading James Moyer’s experience of traveling to Europe for the first time, I’ve just received the second installment.

James Moyer’s travels so far….
Here I sit for a few hours without internet in Brussels’ Chareleroi airport, which does King Charles proud, except for the fact that Ryanair almost exclusively serves it. At any rate, I found a 1 cent Euro coin which until this point I didn’ t know existed. It’s sitting on my luggage boring me with its sultry temptations of .013 USD. Do I keep the euro cent? I don’t think any machine uses it. Do I give it away to someone? Not if I uphold some sense of dignity for people in general.

I’ll put it back on the floor for someone else to struggle with this conundrum.

The fact that I am internetless does bring up the (slightly expected) reality that Europeans don’t like to give internet away for free. Even in the supposedly four star hotel which the European Union taxpayer had me sleep in, internet was not free, and I had to sign up for some type of rancid marketing scheme to get it for a couple of days. I am stuck in this airport now and they want €20 for internet. Why do Europeans insist on keeping me from my facebook? Those likes don’t just like themselves.

On the topic of this airport and dignity, the bathrooms have condom machines. Under what circumstance will those condoms be used, and is that something I needed to have paid in advance on the Ryanair website?

*The stereotype of Holland has this cute little windmills. They actually exist.

*The up-down wailing tone of the European emergency vehicle siren…also exists.

*I feel we Americans buy a lot more Chinese stuff than Europeans do. I don’t know if that is an advantage to anyone in particular, but I note this because I saw this cheap plastic game in the gas station (my first gas station in Europe!) that was made in China and I thought that was remarkable in some way. I remember looking at the blanket I was provided in the hostel and was fascinated that it was made in Holland. We’d just get cheap shit like that from China.

Speaking of the hostel, they didn’t provide towels. They wanted to charge me €4.50 for a towel and there is no way that I am paying that type of money for a non-Chinese towel.

I used the bed sheet instead.

It dried off by the time I needed to sleep.

Kind of.

*French women (err, Wallonian women) eat in this really unappetizing way. Like they move their mouths more vigorously. I just don’t like it. Bridgette Bardot certainly wasn’t in a film eating, it would have shattered her career.

*Returning to the topic of bathrooms, American bathrooms notoriously have dividers between toilet stalls which are incomplete–you can see below and above them. European bathrooms actually have full doors and walls–creating a little private closet: a piss-smelling ceramic haven from the busy world.

After almost no consideration at all, I have concluded that I prefer the American style partitions because the European ones, while nice in theory, are clausterphobic in practice. I just don’t want to be alone with a toilet.

This does mean that I am selecting the more invasive separators, which allow someone whose eyes are naturally 8 inches off the ground to spy what type of underwear you might be wearing. I’m not making fun of the panty-shy, this is a thought I’ve had before and have strenuously mitigated during my unplanned encounters with these partitions.

*The piss smell in European bathroom cleaners? It smells like an outhouse to me. That’s my description of it. I’m now on the lookout for what the magical ingredient is that causes this smell. Will it be eau de outhouse? Perhaps in Germany it will be smellenaufhausen.

My main take away from these insights is the fact that it’s common to see hotels charge for added extras these days. It’s an interesting annoyance that I also find (not that I stay in hotels often) – you expect a level of service in a hotel and when ‘new’ charges are introduced, it quickly cheapens the whole experience. That being said, charging for breakfast, the internet, tea/coffee etc are easy ways to make extra money or are they ways of reducing the intial cost to encourage more people to stay in them?  The Tune Hotel chain are doing exactly that – removing everything apart from the bed and shower to keep costs low to make the hotel affordable.

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from Ohio to Europe…

I was fortunate to spend a couple of days last week in Brussels to attend the Digital Agenda Assembly and meet the other OpenIDEO web start-up challenge winners. The ten of us had only ever met in a virtual context on the OpenIDEO platform before this event but we had a really great time together (well, I know I did!). Luckily there was time to socialise as well as ‘work’ and we got to share stories from where we live (Ireland, New York, Austin, San Francisco, Istanbul and London were some of the cities represented).

This was James’ (Moyer from Columbus, Ohio) first trip to Europe (James, have you left the States before?) and over dinner we had a great discussion about the differences between England, Belgium and Ohio. So many of James’ stories fascinated me that I (gently) persuaded him to write up some of his thoughts to share on my blog. And he did! I hope you all find them as entertaining and insightful as I did:

Columbus to Europe

James Moyer’s travels so far….
This entry covers travel in Brussels and Amsterdam (and the bus trip in between the two.) I have had a fascination with Europe for a lot of my life, so many things didn’t necessarily surprise me, yet their reality was still so odd.

*Europeans like bottled water. I’m not surprised by this, I just didn’t fully appreciate how much Europeans like bottled water. This is funny because Americans really like bottled water too, but Europeans seem to feel that it isn’t any good unless it comes in perfectly clear glass, instead of slightly opaque plastic. On this note, while restaurants in the US are happy to provide you tap water in a glass for free, the notion seem to trouble the Continental soul. (Priyanka and I had a very interesting experience paying €6 for a bottle of water. She ended up paying for it, so I could only really be horrified by it on her behalf.)

*Speaking of restaurants, condiments are extra. I’m often hear about Europeans complaining that sales tax is added at the cash register for items purchased (which I can sympathize with) but then charging extra for condiments seems to be approximately as vile. Perhaps I just really like condiments.

*Credit cards aren’t as accepted. Perhaps that’s just a Dutch thing, where they have created their own card based payment system…no, they were weird about credit cards in Brussels too. To be fair, this goes back and forth in America as well. Back in Columbus, credit cards are accepted everywhere, but I have found that stores in NYC are more selective. I was actually fascinated to find a store here in Amsterdam that didn’t even accept cash.

*There aren’t as many fat people…but I feel like there aren’t as many thin people either. I expected there to be less fat people, but less thin people was a surprise. Maybe the Hostel I’m staying in is just full of well-fed, stocky Germans and Spaniards.

*To go with those average sized people, elevators are unusually small to me (complete surprise.) Even in European Parliament buildings, which are nice, proper, modern office building the elevators are so small. It’s like they are encouraging people to use the stairs. And that can only be as vile as charging for condiments.

*More logically to me, the base floor of a building is numbered zero, instead of one. I happen to really like the number line though.

*I have encountered a lot of slow fluorescent lights. In the US we have started converting from regular bulbs to compact fluorescent bulbs, but one of the conditions was immediate startup. These older European bulbs are unsatisfactorily slow and I can only assume that Europeans enjoy the time in the dark for nefarious unholy purposes.

*Cows in Belgium are huge. I kept looking at them trying to figure out if I were seeing ruminating Fiats or if these were real live cows. No! They are cows! OMG they are huge!

*Dutch is like German but without German’s effervescent charm.

Bewaking 'monitoring'

This is awkward, but usually I charge to bewak in front of a camera.

*Toilets. I have much to say about toilets. I’d like to begin with the fact that they use a cleaning chemical here that I swear smells like piss. I’m curious to see if that’s the case in the UK too. I also see a lot more dual flush toilets here (one button for a small amount of water, larger button for a bigger amount of water for better flushing action.) It’s rather fascinating to me as an armchair designer to see how different manufacturers set-up the two buttons.

I would like to end by adding that I encountered a toilet in Amsterdam whose sole purpose was to convert the precious resources of water and noise into a gentle massage for the lucky toilet bowl contents.

My take-aways from these insights are:

  • I’m surprised, yet not sure why, about the bottled water comments… I thought Europeans weren’t fans of bottled water but I clearly have an idealistic view on the matter.
  • I will have to look at the size of cows when I next visit Belgium. I can’t say I’ve ever thought they were particularly large…
  • I have to disagree on it making sense that the ground floor starts on zero. I’ve never understood why we don’t calculate floors like the Americans do and start on number 1.
  • I love the fact that James has commented on the size of the elevators in Brussels. They are always tiny. Why?

I’m looking forward to the next installment of insights 😉 Thank you, James!

Guest blog post: Consumerism vs Sustainability

The following blog post was written by Carlos, an MA Design for Development student for a CSR module. It is a topic that really interests me, especially when theories are applied to the subject matter. I wanted to share his executive summary here but please note that any comments will be passed straight onto Carlos.

Consumerism vs Sustainability

Debate on Consumer Ethics & Innovative Practices Promoting Sustainable Business,

by Carlos Fierro, Industrial Designer,
MA Design for Development KU

Research shows that consumerism includes not only individuals, but also organizations and governments and all agents that participate in production and consumption. The ethical debate surrounding consumerism is framed by applying the perspectives of the theory of ethics and duties, stakeholder theory and from the egoist perspective. A theoretical analysis illustrates that all the agents that participate in production and consumption have the duty to make ethical decisions supporting the preservation of the environment and social responsibility. To empower the decision makers to make ethical decisions, it is fundamental that organizations and governments provide and reinforce the decision-making process with the necessary information. The Stakeholder analysis shows that consumers should be considered the most important stakeholders in any business, and maintains that marketing plays an important role in that matter. Marketing communications is one area that has the power to build relationships of exchange, to understand needs, and generate fair communicational strategies. From the utilitarian perspective, consumer behavior based on an egotistic ethical approach to production and consumption might be unethical since the decisions made based on short-term outcomes can harm the environment and be socially irresponsible.

It is important that companies are aware of the conventions and laws that have evolved over time to protect consumers and the environment and that they adjust their business practices accordingly. Moreover, the development of green marketing and other alternatives of ethical consumption might assist consumers in making better informed decisions to choose more sustainable products and services. To embrace this challenge it is essential to educate the public about the social and environmental impact of consumption while considering cultural differences in the delivery and acquisition of knowledge.

The full report recommends that businesses consider new innovative modalities of collaborative trading and that they should endeavour to learn more about consumer needs and desires, and consider how the consumer organically participates in patterns of exchange. The rapid development of new technologies and consumer dynamics makes this recommendation possible and cost effective for businesses. Moreover, companies should consider new value systems in trading and consumption for the development of more sustainable businesses and products; considering for example the durability, exchange, cooperation, recycling and the evolving life of products.