For me, it is the little things that define a country.
During my stay here in France, I have been keeping my eyes open, not for the things that holidaymakers generally seek, but for the day to day minutiae that make a country what it is.
There some quite astounding differences when you look beneath the surface.
First and foremost, my overwhelming impression is the feeling that I am being treated like an adult and not some wayward child who has to be watched at every turn.
It’s the little things. For example there is the fact that I can walk into a pharmacy and buy a box of 48 Neurophen. Not only that, but I can buy any number of boxes of 48 tablets, should I so wish. In Ireland, they are prohibited from selling more than 24 at a time. Why? There can be only one reason – that I am not to be trusted with such an apparently lethal drug?
I read an excellent article in a blog during the week [and my apologies to the author, but I can’t remember where] about the introduction of that bicycle scheme in Dublin. He quite rightly berated the organisers for demanding a €150 deposit before using the “free” bikes. He went on to discuss the lack of trust that is prevalent in Ireland. This is so true. Here, I can wander into a cafe or bar and order the drink of my choice. I then sit outside while it is delivered to me. Is there any mention of money? Does the barman or cafe owner stand over me like a grizzly bear waiting for payment? No. I am trusted to be an upright member of society, and they know I will pay in full before I leave. Frequently I have wandered into shops and have browsed to my heat’s content with no sign of the shop owner. He or she is probably across the road having a chat with someone, knowing that I am to be trusted.
Rubbish collection here is remarkably different too. There is no such thing as ‘bin day’. Or if there is, I haven’t noticed it. Household rubbish is collected in the home and then is dumped in communal waste bins. Again the householder is trusted to sort out the various types of waste into the various bins. In Ireland, of course each wheelie bin is bar coded and the council keeps a very careful eye out for the disposal habits of the individual.
I have been here for nearly three weeks now, and I can honestly say that I don’t remember seeing any litter anywhere on any of my travels. What’s more, I haven’t seen any threatening signs about litter wardens or the massive fines that will be imposed if I transgress. I am trusted to keep the place clean as a responsible citizen and they don’t need to threaten me. Come to think of it, apart from the odd ‘no right turn’ or ‘no entry’ sign I have seen very little, if any signs telling me what to do or what not to do. I am trusted.
I mentioned the fireworks that I found on sale. They were quite openly displayed as if they were racks of cabbages or newspapers. There were no signs about age limits or the fact that they were dangerous. If it weren’t for the small additional ‘no smoking’ sign, I might have taken them to be theatrical props. Again, the purchaser is trusted to know the consequences and to behave responsibly.
All this begs the simple question – why are the Irish not trusted?
In my book there can be only one answer. Treat people with trust and respect and they will behave like adults.
Treat people with like they are delinquent children, and they will rebel and act like delinquents.