This is the King of Norway on a train in 1973, that guy in a cap on the right. This is equality, and I think the queueing system in Norway is all about equality. First come, first served is about equality, and it’s the ability to dig under the surface and find out what the underlying values are. That’s how you know how to communicate with people, and this thing with equality is really important in Norway. It’s the reason we’re so laid back with each other, we don’t bother with titles, we dress casually, it makes a fantastic business environment actually, doesn’t it?
But sometimes, this can take you a bit by surprise, and in those situations where you feel uncomfortable or irritated, we have a tendency to jump to the negative conclusions rather than the positive conclusions. I mean I travel all over the world — and this is not an advertisement for the airlines — but it is Scandinavian Airlines, and it’s Lufthansa, and it’s Singapore Airlines, and everybody knows Singapore Airlines has the best service; why? Because they have a whole lot more hierarchy in their societies. Therefore, when they serve you, they serve you, and the Singapore Airlines staff – I don’t know if you’ve ever been on a Singapore Airlines flight — but from the moment they welcome you, they look like they’re going to serve you. I mean, it’s just the body language, it’s like, “Anything for you, sir.”
Now, if a Scandinavian Airlines person did this when you came on, yeah, exactly, you would get suspicious, wouldn’t you? What is going on? Because it is not accepted or familiar, that’s it, you know. This is what it’s all about. So this is how we do it. And look at the space. Space is important, nobody is touching. If you go to somewhere like Finland, that space becomes even more, can you see? It’s fantastic.
And look at the way they queue in France. There is nothing like the way I’m used to queueing, and it’s different every day, it’s never the same. And in some cultures, you need a bit more motivation to stand in line. This is my favorite one, this is fantastic, look at this. Isn’t that great? They’re all different. We are all doing the same thing in slightly different ways.
Now, how do you get across borders? How do you navigate through this? Because you can’t learn all the codes, it’s impossible. Here is a tip. This is what I’m really passionate about: Curiosity. I am, have been, always will be a curious person. Curiosity gets you through a lot of things. I believe you can ask any question to anybody just about anything, provided you do it with curiosity. That’s it.
Curiosity is a great thing. Now, I’ve got three kids. Kids are the most curious creatures on the planet. A recent survey — I can’t believe this, but I have to quote it — apparently, 4-year-olds will ask up to 390 questions per day. 82% of those questions will be to mothers rather than fathers. You know why? Because when the kid goes to the father, what does the father say? Go and ask your mother. Curiosity is so important.
And I remember the time — one of the most difficult situations I had — I was having a meal in Helsinki, in Finland, and I was sitting there, and the thing is, Italians, when we talk, we have to talk actually. We eat and we talk, we eat and we talk. We’re not alone on that actually, there are many cultures that do that. Finns, on the other hand, don’t have to talk. They can talk, but they don’t have to.
So, I’m sitting next to this Finn, and I’m trying to be curious and create a conversation, and I thought, “OK, small talk.” The rules of engagement of small talk.
Rule number 1: ask a simple question. Curious, simple question. Rule number 2: listen to the answer, pick out a word, follow up that word. It’s really simple actually. So, I was there, this quiet Finn was sitting next to me. And I turned to him, and I said, “So, have you lived in Helsinki all your life?” And he looked at me a little strange, and he said, “Not yet.” Moments like this – you know, which word do I follow up: ‘not’ or ‘yet’? – they really challenge your curiosity, but you’ve got to be curious, and it’s really simple.
Do you know what it is about the Nordic cultures? It’s all about economy of language. Italians use loads and loads of words to say very, very little actually. In the Nordic countries, it’s different, it’s the opposite; it’s minimum words, maximum message.
So, where I was raised, in the UK – the UK, it’s also lots of words, by the way — look at this, “Excuse me, may I just interrupt you for a second?” That is 10 words. That is way too many words. The Norwegians manage to do this in one word, that’s what I call economy of language. What is the word? Look at this. Yeah. “You?” That’s it.