I have been attending international conferences and exhibitions since 1978. I find that they provide a valuable insight into not only market and product trends but also, and probably more significantly, differences in international attitudes. In 1978, I attended exhibitions in Tokyo and Chicago within a fortnight of each other and the national differences were dramatic. My most vivid recollection of the contrast was the attitude of taxi drivers to tipping at that time: a Japanese taxi driver jumped out of his car and came running after us to hand back our tip (he would have been offended by it). In Chicago, one cabbie waited with his hand open until we had proffered a tip of suitable value!
My other recollection of differing national attitudes was my first experience of karaoke in Tokyo. In those days, there would be a jukebox in the corner of a bar with a microphone attached. Anyone could simply pick up the microphone and sing along to the record playing. I remember thinking that there could be no circumstances in which such a concept would ever catch on in the UK. A few years later, popular karaoke bars started to appear with computerised machines showing “bouncing ball” lyrics on-screen and using specifically recorded instrumental soundtracks!
In the world of workplace ergonomics, I have learned that the U.S. approach to office workstations is significantly different from Europe. Apart from the most obvious manifestation (abundant keyboard trays in North America and hardly any in any other country), the lack of legislative imperative in the U.S. ensures that “workers comp” (insurance compensation for injured workers) is a primary driver, whereas various E.U. directives drive European interpretations.
Even across Europe, the level and nature of ergonomics activity in the workplace varies dramatically. Whether you compare France to Germany, Sweden to Benelux or Denmark to Ireland, the principles may be similar but the outcomes can vary quite significantly. In particular, ergonomics activity in the European countries around the Mediterranean is far less significant than in Northern Europe. Perhaps plenty of sunshine and a long lunch break is the most effective ergonomics intervention!