Reflections of a traveler

I am sitting on a plane on the way to Norway. Underneath clouds like velvet is covering Europe below. It is all grey, dull and cold. It is February and I am to work in Norway for a month.  My flight will take me to Oslo via The Dominican republic and Germany. A long trip, but an interesting one. The culture differences are striking. From relaxed Antigua in British West Indies to the Spanish islands and then mainland Europe.

Landing in the Dominican republic we where met by men in uniforms with machineguns. Black boots and mustaches complete the picture. It is all very macho and very Hispanic. The voices on the loud speakers clatter away like rounds as air port security search your bags. The uniformed men look at you in a threatening and intimidating way. I am not very comfortable but recognize the atmosphere from Venezuela.

In masculine societies the women are always very feminine and so it is in Dominica. The girls here are all beautiful and dressed in a fashion that you would never find in Antigua. They are very feminine, very dolled up.

Arriving in Germany the vast difference in culture and way of living between Europe and the Caribbean was evident. Here all is well organized and crowded. People hurrying about everywhere. Last time I saw anyone move that fast was a European deckhand going for a run in the early morning in Antigua.

The lady in front of me in the line at the security check barks her orders into the phone. She is in her late 50's, her silver hair done up, her fur coat laying across her arm. The mobile phone is like glued to her ears. The thing that struck me though is her eyes. She has that look I have seen in too many. Her eyes look tired and dull and pained. As if she is tired of life itself and pained by the stresses of he life she leads.

 It seems like everyone here at the airport is locked into some conversation in cyberspace. Conversations that don't seem to bring love or happiness into their life's. It puzzles me that they then do all these calls. Is it angst of not managing to keep up with what is happening? Is it angst of being alone? If so why not talk to the person next to them? Is that too difficult and personal while the phone makes it possible to control the conversation and keep the distance?

In Antigua you don't see anyone stuck to the mobile like this. But you see many people in conversation with each other. Someone they know or someone they just met. Often touching and holding hands. Do they to feel this angst?

 I just love observing people. As a psychologist I guess it is part of the call. One interesting thing in this context is to hear what people actually talk about. In the  mobile phones at the airport I hear only conversations about plans, schedules, business, and one or two quick calls home. In the Antiguan dialogues the content is quite different. It is about feelings, emotions, relationships, children, someone's health. The important things.

It seems like Antiguans have a different angle to communication. They seem to tell you how it is without too much of an agenda. It is not unusual for someone to provide direct feedback on someone's behavior there and then. Like in the bakery this other day. A young man comes in while I am being served and asks for a loaf of bread. The lady behind the counter turns to him and says " Listen you must stop this. You must wait your turn. I don't think you are aware of this but you should listen to me and do something about it".  The young man is not defensive as others also join in the conversation. It is like the best of feedback sessions on one of my leadership development programs. And they are all happy. No one is angry or hurt.

It is not all black and white of cause. The people I compare are very different. They are also not representative for their own kind. The Europeans I have observed are business travelers. They have many responsibilities and is living under a lot of pressure. Most of the Antiguans I meet do not have much apart from sun, sea and space. They are not always nice to each other, by far. And we northern Europeans are not always cold and distant. But the overall picture is maybe not so far off? The question is if we can learn something that can enrich our lives.

I think one of the greatest problems in modern organisations is a sort of attention deficit disorder. Everyone is trying to do too many things at the same time. To process too much information at the same time. The result is that no one is present in the moment, in the here and now. Many a bad decision is made this way.

There are some biological limits to how much information we can take at any one time and make sense of. For too many of us this limit has been reached. Information becomes noise. It overwhelms and disturbs our thought processes. Why do we get stuck in this pattern? Maybe an ingrown misconception that quantity equals quality? 

Oslo airport Gardermoen greets me sporting a white blanket of snow. It is minus 10 degrees outside. As I go through customs and towards my Avis rental I breath the fresh cold air. Everyone around me are hurrying to catch busses, trains or the next meeting. I start walking faster. A feeling is slowly creeping up on me;  I have to hurry up!

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