Why Americans Don’t Trust Each Other (and Northern Europeans Do)

With the big news that vaccinated Americans can go maskless in most situations, I’ve noticed a trend: deep societal distrust. People in my social circles (who are mostly vaccinated, or will be soon) are wringing their hands and raising alarms that some Americans will remove their masks even if they’re not vaccinated. The new CDC policy is predicated on trusting both the efficacy of the vaccines (which is well-founded) and the “honor system” approach to unmasking only when vaccinated. The challenge is that the Venn diagram overlap of “anti-vaxxers” and “anti-maskers” is, one imagines, very nearly a solid circle. But there’s a bigger, underlying problem: We Americans don’t trust each other.

“Social trust” is a complicated sociological construct, with many ramifications. But it boils down to a simple question: Do you believe that most people can be trusted?

It’s staggering to reflect upon what a huge blow American social trust has taken over the last year. Of course, there’s the pandemic: When called upon to change our behavior to protect ourselves and our most vulnerable neighbors, many Americans simply refused — throwing temper tantrums in supermarkets and politicizing public health guidance as a matter of “personal freedom.” And even some people who’ve been saying “Trust the science!” for all this time are now, suddenly…not trusting the science.

But there have been many other reminders, too, of how little Americans trust each other. The murder of George Floyd, and so many others, demonstrated why Black Americans have very good reason not to trust the police (or, really, society at large). And on January 6, a mob of furious insurrectionists who didn’t trust the results of a legitimate election stormed the US Capitol building.

All of this is not just to recap a grisly year in American history, but to illustrate how little trust Americans have for each other. (Not to mention, how little the rest of the world trusts the US.) And that’s very much at odds with the way much of Europe operates. In fact, Northern European countries have the highest social trust of anyone.

I’m not pretending to be a social scientist. But I am an avid traveler. And especially in Northern Europe, I see signs of social trust permeating everyday life, in a way that makes me jealous…if not tempted to move abroad.

Strolling the canals of Amsterdam, you find yourself peeking in big, open windows that face out to the street. It’s as if people have chosen to live their personal lives in public. That’s because they have: Dutch people sacrifice some degree of privacy for the peace of mind that comes with knowing that your neighbors are looking out for you. They want to be seen, because if their neighbor walks by one day and notices they’re not sitting at the table drinking their morning coffee, the neighbor will investigate and, if necessary, send for help. For the Dutch, spying on each other doesn’t breed paranoia. It provides comfort.

I have changed planes dozens of times at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport. When you’re lying there on a hard bench in a jeg-lag stupor, you hear the same announcement again and again: “Immediate boarding, please. Delta flight 143 to Seattle. Please report to the gate. You are delaying the flight.” It’s telling how the Dutch try to motivate wayward passengers: Not with the consequences to yourself (that would be “You will miss your flight”) — but with the inconvenience you are causing others. Letting someone else down, to the Dutch, is the ultimate embarrassment. (To many Americans, it’s a point of pride.)

Walking through small-town Denmark, you may come across a strange sight: a baby stroller — with the baby inside! — just sitting there on the sidewalk. This seems shocking, until you realize that the stroller is parked at the window of a café, where Mom is catching up with friends while keeping an eye on her kiddo. This would never fly in most parts of the US; we’d call Child Protective Services without hesitation. But the Danes trust each other: Mom knows that nobody will snatch her dozing baby, and passersby know that she’s just a few steps away if needed. (And even if she weren’t, they’d step in to help.)

On a visit to Oslo, a Norwegian friend told me he’s very aware — and appreciative — of the trust he feels within his society. He is comforted that everyone looks out for each other, and that individual achievement doesn’t supersede a more widespread prosperity. Norwegians believe there’s always enough to go around.

He said that you also find this ethic in Scandinavian emigre communities in North America. A prime example is the “Minnesota slice” phenomenon at an Upper Midwest potluck: Nobody wants to take the last slice of pie, so instead, they keep cutting it in half, then in half again, carving off infinitesimally smaller slivers. At some point, once a wedge can’t be divided any further, what’s left sits on a plate until the table is cleared. The Minnesota slice is a tangible symbol of “just in case you need it, my friend…”

Anecdotally, it seems to me that many Americans are pretty depressed right now, even in spite of our euphoria that the pandemic appears to be in its final stages. We’re wiped out from the false starts and the hurry-up/wait that has characterized life for the last 14 months. We’re exhausted from a year-plus of quarantine, we’ve grown accustomed to isolation, and we’re anxious about changing our entire lifestyle yet again. I believe this transition is made harder because we’ve lost any faith we once had in our fellow Americans. Scary times are scarier when you don’t feel like the person next to you has your back.

In fact, scientists have found that social trust is correlated with happiness (repeatedly, including in the United States). It’s also correlated with economic development (again, repeatedly). In the USA, we prize individuality. We tell ourselves that the only way to be happy is to be a free agent, to follow our own compass. This has only increased over the last year. But the research tells a different story; it suggests that “maximum personal freedom” is a recipe for existential misery.

I don’t know how we begin to re-establish social trust in the United States. Maybe it’s a lost cause. (Though I imagine a first step would be to embrace objective reality in the form of, let’s say, election results, police body-cam footage, and scientific inquiry — even when these don’t support our deeply held beliefs.) But it’s clear that trusting each other is the only viable path forward, if we hope to emerge from COVID stronger and happier than before.

I am aware this is naively optimistic, but I like to dream that somehow, this will change with the post-pandemic “new normal” in America. Perhaps we’ll realize that we’ve hit rock bottom and will now turn toward a more Northern European model of trusting our neighbors, earning their trust in return, and remembering that we’re all in this together. After all, it’s right there in our national motto: “Out of many, one.” Somewhere along the way we clung to only the first part and jettisoned the last.

Either way…I’ll save a slice of pie for you. Just in case.

68 Replies to “Why Americans Don’t Trust Each Other (and Northern Europeans Do)”

  1. Thank you for your interesting observations & excellent commentary (as well as the photos of the Vigeland Installation at Frogner Park).

  2. Amazing article. And it only makes me want to be in Denmark and Norway even more (masked idiots allowing).

  3. I so wish Americans could embrace some of these ideas. I do think we were more like that in the past. Unfortunately, I don’t see a return to social trust any time soon.

  4. This is spot on and written from your heart. I, too, wish America would be trusting folk, but we got beaten down with so many lies for so long, I believe trust has become only five letter word.

  5. Most people I trust. Most politicians, regardless of party, I don’t trust, & for good reason. Truthfulness, without personal agenda, is a quality I admire & respect. Trust must be earned, in my opinion. And that may be at the root of people delaying or choosing not to get vaccinated. I find it curious that it had come down to bribery & lottery games to try to get more people vaccinated, instead of just being honest from the beginning.

    1. I trust people pretty well one on one. But there’s many people now who care about and will help people one-on-one, but are happy to destroy those same people as a group. For some reason there is a disconnect with the fact that groups are made up of individual people. That’s the part I don’t get. They hate a group of people of a certain demographic, except for those they happen to know personally.

      I believe there are many things contributing to this, but the biggest is a that some powerful people/ companies/ governments are pushing people toward hatred of others for their own personal gain.

    2. Completely agree. I always tell my kids trust is a thing to be earned, not given. Our politicians on both sides have created this distrust. I am more disappointed in those on the side that I lean than the other side. When people leans so hard to one side or the other and never vary their opinions, that is a sign that they have been completely bought and no longer seek or see the truth through their own eyes. I’m not sure how to change that but I can start with myself and try to stray from whatever divides and try to treat others how I want to be treated, which hopefully will bring trust and unity.

  6. I don’t know if America is great again, or ever was great, but I do. Know that when I aminEurope and spending time with my German and Austrian friends, life seems a lot more rational and understandable.

  7. When we were struck by the national tragedy of 9/11, we closed ranks, were united and looked after each other. Today, the mistrust stems from internal agents of lies and deceit to maintain power and wealth, with no consequences. The global pandemic should have unified us but it was politicized with dire consequences … and here we are. How do we rise together again in unity?

  8. Travel does give us a broader perspective outside our comfort zones. However, the author is comparing orange to apple, since the population of each of the the country mentioned, is minuscule compared to US, besides higher and equal VAT are paid by their constituents across the board that support much of the freebies that they themselves enjoy. The US’ societal honor system in the past will never be regained back in the US because it is too huge to control and very diverse. It is better to compare Norway, say, to a sliver of a wealthy district in the US like Mill Valley or a small State somewhere in New England, where most of the residents know each other and truly care for their community and have more homogeneous constituents. Big cities like LA or NYC have heterogenous constituents, more diverse, racially divided, polarized, and litigious. A good foundation starts one block at at time and it only becomes strong when a weak point is immediately addressed and not allow to fester, which is a real challenge in US…look at our history – Civil war, Americans vs Americans, even to this day, Americans killing Americans, Americans stealing from Americans. Sad… But, we each must continue to do our part to do the right thing for the common good of the human race, not just here in our home turf, but also internationally, for however small our contribution today, small or big, good or bad, somehow the ripple effect will affect the world we live in.

    1. Excellent response and observation of the article. Too many times small Scandinavian countries are compared to the US. It is like comparing a small town anywhere in America or Europe with a large city like NYC, Chicago or London. People all over the world don’t trust general society because if they did crime would be non-existence. The grass is always greener on the other side of the Atlantic!

  9. As a born-and-raised (by Dutch parents) American, I am continually dismayed by the lack of trust and neighborliness of Americans. I blame our emphasis on sports and winning (too often at all costs) to our lack of trust. There’s an aspect, also, of respect for one another that I see in Europeans that is lacking in Americans. If I were younger, I’d leave this country.

    1. I share your sentiments. My sister and I talk wistfully about leaving the US. We were raised as Army brats and know that there are many parts of the world equally prosperous, but safer and kinder. As retirees, though, a move like that is overwhelming now.

    2. I feel the same way. Many Americans only know how to compete, not to be friends. Everything is a competition here.

  10. Absolutely loved this article. Mr. Hewitt I also have dreams of an American society built on trust. Where to start? Not sure. But I believe we can start by tackling social injustices like not having a subsidy for healthcare – access to healthcare is a human right. Perhaps a healthier population can lead to a happier more trusting and trustworthy population.

    1. I agree, the lack of accessible healthcare in a country as rich as yours is depressing. If the citizens of a nation don’t feel safe or cared for by their nation then it’s no surprise that an ‘everyone for themselves’ culture perpetuates. Wealth and the race to grab more seems to be the main ethos of the US. I am sorry for you folks.

      1. . We do have accessible healthcare, we spend billions on free medical for illegal migrants coming across the border, let Europe or Canada do that and see what happens. While our healthcare has issues and needs some major changes, the majority of us in America, with the exception of the far left, have no desire for European socialized medicine where the government controls your healthcare . Thousands of Canadians come to our country to avoid long waits, so don’t feel sorry for us.

  11. How to establish social trust in America? Like with most things, start with yourself. Live your life in a positive and trusting way. When you are with your family and friends, share those interactions and conversations you have had with people that you meet. Ask the question of why things are the way they are and then work on solutions. Anyone can make a laundry list of the ills that trouble our society. Have those difficult and uncomfortable conversations. Be the example of a good parent, grandparent, friend, neighbor—and by good I mean a realist, an optimist, and a leader to promote what is positive in the world. We are “one”. Live that way!

  12. Excellent. So true. And disappointing in the extreme. If I had the financial ability I would be seeking to live in Europe STAT. But I don’t, and my 3 grown children are here so that keeps me staying. But my country is a sorely inadequate place for the well-being of individuals except the very wealthy. A lot of suffering here that could be mitigated with a shift in consciousness, values and behavior. But will that happen? I despair of it.

  13. I am late to this reading/discussion, but am glad I came across it. Thank you, Cameron Hewitt and all, for food for thought! I grew up in southern Minnesota, was raised by ‘Minnesota Slice’ (aka ‘Minnesota Nice’) via rural Norwegian Lutheran culture. I also lived in inner city Minneapolis, in a neighborhood dotted with ‘nice’ little Norwegian (ELCA) Lutheran Churches, but also very near 38th and Chicago, ‘George Floyd Square’. There is now a lot of reckoning going on as to ‘Minnesota Nice’. I now live in Atlanta, Ga, where there is also reckoning with ‘Southern Hospitality’.
    I recall on a trip to Norway, seeing a baby in a carriage, all alone outside a cafe. Yes…trust! In America…nope! Not even in nice Minnesota. This idea of trust is so worth looking at, thinking about, reckoning with, and ultimately, engaging in whatever can move us forward to build it. We gotta acknowledge that we (U.S. Americans) never did establish a foundation on which to build trust.
    I love my Minnesota-Danish-Norwegian-Swedish heritage, yet I must acknowledge that most Scandinavian Minnesotans have more or less been complacent, not comfortable with engaging in the messiness of reckoning with what our ‘nice’ mono-culture hath wrought. I certainly need to work on that! On my reading list: Nordic Whiteness and Migration to the USA (multiple editors).

  14. How true are your words. I appreciate the sentiment of this article. As an American who grew up in Europe I too am frustrated by the US right now. But my one caveat about Northern Europe is that they trust each other but not necessarily the new wave of immigrants who now live in these countries. I know first hand the prejudice and better than you attitude white Europeans can point towards outsiders. It is unfortunately difficult to unite a diverse country.

  15. Another “America stinks” whine on the Rick Steves website — big surprise! The only thing he seems to like about Americans is our money.

    1. That’s interesting, somebody with your name, unable to question the reasoning behind American behaviour…The US is built on genocide, slavery and greed and until it’s citizens can honestly look at their own history truthfully (if you can get to grips with that word) there are always going to be open wounds. The UK is beginning to relook at it’s values and our awful colonial past- and it’s interesting that it took the BLM movement in your country to shift us…

      1. You do not know what you are talking about. EVERY country was built on conquest and bad behavior and Americans are well aware of the bad parts of the past, that’s all we ever here about.

  16. Hmmm…why is there “social trust” in Scandinavian countries? Could it be because they have near zero diversity? You can’t compare a large and diverse country like the U.S. with these tiny homogenous nations.

    1. Sweden never shut down (except their universities). Their scientific expert said masks don’t work and people were encouraged to keep up their immunity. He believed in herd immunity.

    2. Exactly. This article is very naïve. A lot of left leaning Americans look at Europe with rose colored glasses. I’ve heard Europeans complain bitterly about taxes, the government,
      immigration, racial tensions, healthcare , rising crime and a whole host of other problems. Truth is everywhere has its’ major problems. There is no rosy paradise, just like American streets were never paved with gold, Europe is and has always had more than its’ share of flaws too.

  17. I disagree heartily. This is a huge country and can’t be compared to countries that are the size of states. There are places in this country where neighbors look out for one another like you say they do in European countries. But you may have to get off the beaten path and visit small cities and towns instead of big, busy cities. Many of us in the medical field are very concerned about the media’s misinformation about masks and vaccines that has led people to judge others by outward signs of compliance. Just like you point out a baby carriage commonly seen outside a Scandinavian cafe, a few years ago Americans completely freaked out when a woman did that here and called the police. Talk about judging! And your whole article is rife with judgment about Americans. Maybe we should start by not being so judgmental! And then the kindness will flow. I have traveled the world and found both kindness and rudeness all over but I did not judge an entire country by the worst of my experiences.

    1. You said it very nicely, Stacy. The media’s attention focuses on judging other people and encouraging people to feel like victims. That is not constructive and does no good in promoting trust.

  18. A beautiful cry from the heart article. I’ve traveled to several European countries and found the caring and looking out for one another prevalent compared to the personal freedom culture we have in present day America. It wasn’t always that way. It changed about 60 years ago and just got self centered on the individual. It’s part of the relativism thats the new culture of America. I too want to move abroad to my grandparents homeland.

  19. I would be interested in an experiment where suddenly these very consistent DNA pools in Scandinavia had to tolerate the introduction of Middle East, African, and Asian gene pools into their midst. How would this affect their unity and sense of identity plus public behavior and trust?

    1. I don’t know about the gene pool, but there are many people from those countries in these northern countries. I have to imagine there is intermixing but I haven’t seen any statistics on that.

  20. To paraphrase…I would be interested in an experiment where suddenly these very consistent DNA pools in the Republican Congressmen had to tolerate the introduction of Middle East, African, and Asian gene pools and women into their party. How would this affect their unity and sense of entitlement plus public behavior and judgment?

  21. We’re going to guess that Rick’s audience leans a bit left, as he does, so when the political “message” sneaks in, we just giggle and think “oh that Rick, there he goes again”. We’re saying Rick because this is all on his site and under his name.

    If some of you really believe “the grass is greener”, we suggest you subscribe to a local publication in order to find out what the problems, battles and changes will truly be in your new “Heaven”. Don’t base your decision only on a travel holiday or two week tour. And be sure to rent for a year before you buy. We’ve given this same advice to our children when they have moved in the US. This is not meant to be sarcastic. If you find that special place and love it, all the best to you.

    We have met many European friends from our travels (both on the left and right) who aren’t always thrilled with their countries taxes, politics and immigration policies. Sound familiar? And many times they convey their admiration and love of many things American. So maybe we can all tone down the constant comparison of Europe to the US. Let’s turn off our NSNBC and FOX, and just agree “vive la difference”.

    As long as Rick continues with 98% travel and 2% politics he will have us as loyal users of his great advice and products. We love you Rick, and you too Cameron, (politics and all). So when that 2% sneaks in, we’ll just giggle and think “that Rick, there he goes again”.

    1. Very good point and very well said. You have made the point without “lumping” and calling others “deeply held beliefs” into question. I have many family members that grew up in the US but have moved all over the globe for work or love or politics but no matter where they go, they find there are problems once they live there for any significant amount of time. They may or may not feel like these problems are cause for a discontent severe enough to move to another place. But I have yet to meet anyone that has lived anywhere for a length of time (including those countries mentioned) that doesn’t have concerns about that country. It would be naive to live somewhere and not be observant and aware of what is good and bad about the the people and culture around you. To the author of this comment, I appreciated your well thought out response to someone who gets a platform to share “their” opinion. I am glad you took the opportunity to type out your perspective as well. It does much to balance the article and is not balance exactly what is needed?

      To the author of the article, I have traveled a lot as well and value the privilege as I do think it has helped me retain a more open mind than living in the same way or place day in and day out. (Some of the most empathetic people I know that truly live out the concepts referred to in the above article day to day have not traveled at all so obviously that’s not a requirement.) I also grew up in a place in the United States where someone could expect that if they looked away from their baby no one would take it. They might even entertain it or make it more comfortable if needed. Others already addressed this form of “trust” in a comments above so I won’t belabor the issue but I’ve been stuck in Chicago’s O’Hare airport overnight more than once with large diverse groups of people in a stressful situation and watched people from all over the world and many Americans care for each other’s belongs and children with the same care they would extend to their own. The author would do well to look for trust and not for the lack of it, and certainly not to take only the past 14 months as committing “us” Americans to a certain doom. How much traveling in the US have you done over your life and looked at your own country for “successes?” I read so many “world travelers” touting the positives of travel because it opens their eyes and am in agreement. It also opened my eyes in the same way to the VERY diversity of our own county and the good and bad. To everyone, please travel as much in the US from state to state and stop judging the US by the news. My experience of world travel lead me to travel more in the US and discover all the same “eye opening” ideas that most world travelers get about valuing diversity. We are a huge country. This article comparing the US the any one area of Europe seems as pointless as comparing Vermont to Louisiana. Where does that get us? Finger pointing as to who is better? As if all the residents in either state are the same or completely different. They both contain human beings.

      But as with most opinion articles I see from all “sides” these days, the author has done the exact thing being asked not to do. Maybe we don’t appear trust each other to the author because they themselves do not trust. Any article, etc that asks us not to lump groups and to “question (someone else’s) deeply held beliefs” is doing exactly that. They are separating us not bring us together. I agree that we do best to take each individual person as they come. I am sorry to see that the author is making “groups” and the judging them – exactly what causes all of this on the first place. When you start discussing Venn diagraming any group of people you have failed the point of your article. I only bothered to type this because I think the author of the article must be a person open to discussion and willing to process different opinions if they are going to throw out an open complaint about such a diverse group as “Americans”. In an article that seems to be asking to build trust within that group you have specified, please do not lump us all together and say we “don’t trust” as if you know even half of us. As with all media (yes this is media), someone gets to toss out one opinion and then move on to the next sound bite. In the next article perhaps the author could encourage people to go out and meet people as people and NOT as a Venn diagram with all the “anti-masker/vaccinator” language. It’s English 101 that that type of language triggers people and the author knows it. (Don’t misunderstand me, I do think people should do the things that are for the good of the group. But the choice of language is NOT trust building and should be considered as much as the theme.) Discussion of how certain people or groups have and show trust can illustrate a way forward to change but I think this fails to do so because the article’s author has not just shed light on differences but unfortunately also makes accusations against too big of a group. Accusations do not build trust. I fear articles like this add to the mistrust and do not work to lessen it. By all means point out the positives of a place so that we can see those things but it is not necessary to negate an entire country to point out the good parts of another.

  22. Here we go with another “Bash America” article. I love this country. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than anywhere else on earth. If you don’t like it… either fix it, accept it or leave. I live in the South. We help our neighbors, we take food to our friends when there is a death in the family. When a hurricane or flood hits a community, the “Bubba’s” are there with pick-ups and chainsaws. When I had knee replacement surgery, my friends brought more food for me and my husband than we could eat. I trust the people in my community. I’m not afraid to walk in my neighborhood. If you don’t trust American’s, maybe you are the problem. Put on an optimistic smile and Love your neighbor.

    1. Well said! I totally agree. America is the greatest country on earth, yet so many Americans seem to love bashing our country. I just wish Rick and his fellow writers would just stick to travel without letting their personal biases influence their writing.

    2. Janet, you are fortunate to live in a place where people still are considerate of one another and care for each other, as they did in my small town near Chicago, when I was growing up. However, in the big cities, things are different. I witness road rage frequently because people are so impatient and rude; the crime rate has shot up, thereby definitively diminishing my trust in others. After being a victim of crime, it is hard to place a blanket trust in other people. The attitude nowadays is more “everyone out for himself” than thinking of the community and what would be best for others, not just a Me First attitude. And THAT is why I am moving back to a small town. I hope it is as nice as yours!

  23. It’s such a pleasure to read comments that are mostly respectful, thoughtful, and even charitable as various perspectives are shared.

    I think, being a large and very diverse country creates unique challenges for the US. That diversity brings a massive confluence of contrary beliefs, traditions, and values. We also have discovered a large rift in political and social ideology fanned to a great extend by a media that competes for attention. Also, the US has been the vilified by other nations even as they accept or demand our support. It’s no surprise that this brings mistrust in fellow man. It’s the lesson learned from all these experiences that shape our natural distrust.

    I know that Rick and his staff leans left. I don’t think it necessarily shapes his narrative in this article but some of the presumptions do shade the narrative. I agree with the with Phil Giaquinto. The path to greater trust in fellow man is to be trustworthy yourself. I trust this article was intended to be a charitable comparison of societies. It wasn’t perfect, nor were some of the responses, but the sincere dialogue is where the progress is made.

    And for those that felt the need to retrench into “us-them” accusations, you are contributing to the culture of mistrust. Frankly, by those very actions, you create the behaviors in other that engender mistrust.

    I’m not advocating blind faith in your fellow man. I do think a small step towards charitable reactions will turn down the temperature and might even open the door to a similar response in return.

  24. Thank you for this piece. Very thoughtfully put together. Sending it on to everyone I know.
    Wish we were hearing more of this nationally, as it’s something everyone needs to think about. It seems we are continually grieving for what a civil society in America might have been.

  25. I live in Minneapolis and I can tell you that pieces of gifted gooey chocolate in the work break room CAN be cut into multiple pieces! Taking an entire piece leaves one with a guilty feeling.
    I enjoyed your article and especially the idea of community and trust. We sorely need that healing in Minneapolis so that our community can reunite and begin to trust one another again…perhaps over a cup of black Minnesotan coffee or a fancy cappuccino.

  26. A fine article, and wonderful examples.
    I do wonder about this: “In the USA, we prize individuality.”
    I am white but close to some Latino families. They prize family, though they also prize individual achievement. Such achievement is shared.
    I remember a Jeep ad from some years ago, where a young woman sort of “breaks free” and ends up gloriously alone on a mountain top.
    When Latinas were polled about the ad, a common response was: “That’s so sad, she is all alone.”
    I suppose even individuality can have a cultural nuance.

  27. Consider your own thoughts of action when a homeless person or a person of different ethnicity approaches you and when you combine the constant droning of shootings and killings employed as enforcement or as instant gratification emotional release actions along with the massive dislocations in income and economic independence, you realize how great the challenge is to reverse the deterioration of trust in people and subsequently government.

  28. Well said Steve! Although we have never met in person, given my experience of you via your books, shows, apps, and blogs, I feel I could easily travel with you with no regrets! Whenever I travel, my approach is there are no strangers only friends whom I have yet to meet. We will be back in Europe this October looking for new friends. Perhaps one day our paths will cross and we can split a piece of pie.

  29. I do agree that a deep foundational issue is trust however it was a growing issue long before the pandemic. Dr. John Gottman writes about the science of trust (yes, science) and there are very tangible ways to fix it. There is hope but it’ll come from more patience and kindness and not in putting down or name calling.

  30. You are so right. Most people don’t even get to know their neighbors anymore. When I was a kid we all knew everyone on the block. Our mothers got together and had coffee together when the kids were in school. If needed we would watch their kids or take them to school . We did trust each other. Now like I said before we don’t really know our neighbors. Sad but true.

  31. This is extremely well written and yet overly superficial. All over Amsterdam and northern Europe you will find the communities where minorities are the dominant population where no such trust exists. The examples you quote would be comparable to a small town vibe in USA where maybe to this day doors are left unlocked.

  32. As some have noted earlier, a very large, very diverse country such as the United States (in which we emphasize and celebrate our diversity!) is not going to have social trust levels similar to the small, homogenous countries of Northern Europe. That’s just not how human nature works.

    Each of the countries mentioned in the blog has a smaller population than the New York City metropolitan area, and the populations of those countries are about 80% ethnic Dutch, Dane, and Norwegian, respectively. Meanwhile, the population of the New York City metropolitan area is 45% White, 25% Hispanic, 16% Black, and 11% Asian.

    Then consider that much of the social pressure in the United States today is in the direction of identifying with our ethnic and other identities, rather than with the country as a whole, and you have a recipe for social fragmentation, anomie, and distrust of others.

    I heartily agree with Dave’s post on June 3 in which he recommends we subscribe to a local publication in the country which we think we might prefer. Things are not always as tolerant and trusting in those countries as you might think.

    For example, just yesterday in Le Monde is an opinion piece noting that the Danes are not so trusting when it comes to immigrants: https://www.lemonde.fr/idees/article/2021/06/04/le-danemark-brade-le-droit-d-asile_6082848_3232.html (If you can’t read French, try Google Translate.)

    Then consider the history of the Germans, French and British over the last number of centuries — not a lot of trust there when they were dealing with people outside their own tribe (WW 2, the Holocaust, and WW 1 in the Twentieth Century alone).

  33. When traveling in Sweden I missed getting a train ticket but was already taking the ride. I got off at my destination a couple of hours later after the station had closed down. As an American I was thinking I had just saved $40. My Swedish friends said there were no worries as we could go back and pay in the AM. There is a trust of each other but also an appreciation for services, like transportation, that are provided by the government.

  34. I left a bag containing 2 cameras, 3 lenses and an iPad on a crowded tram in Helsinki. Three days later I picked it up at the city Lost and Found booth below a shopping center. I doubt that would have happened in Manhattan, or even a Helsinki-sized U.S. city.

  35. The distrust starts with our partisan political system. It’s not about the people, it’s about power.
    Trust the Science?
    Have you noticed that the experts making many recommendations are frequently wrong.

    Locking down was a disaster for many. The efficacy of masks to control a respiratory virus has not been demonstrated.

    The experts on diet told us for decades we needed to eat processed food and carbs, now we have a crisis of poor health. It is certainly related to poor immune function and poor Covid outcomes.

    The vaccines approved as emergency use are endorsed as safe and effective without long term data.

    It would be nice to read a travel blog without the political spin.

  36. It’s an interesting commentary some of which I agree with. However, northern European societies are unicultural uniracial small and not diverse at all. It’s not just my opinion but I’ve read a number of pieces by statisticians who have suggested this kind of comparison really isn’t appropriate vis a vie the United States. I can tell you that these countries all go to Great lengths to hide uncomfortable truths and to paint a certain picture for their population to accept. Just one of many examples I could offer is the entry for Sweden and world war II for Wikipedia. Now even swedish historians can see that the swedes were de facto Nazi allies whose neutrality was simply an obvious charade. On several occasions I’ve tried to change this entry and within 5 minutes it’s changed back to the original entry that mentions none of this but only paid to false picture of what Sweden did in the second world war with I will add no footnotes supporting.
    The other thing I would point out beside the diversity issue and the painting a nice picture issue is the fact that the US is the first through the mill in terms of what the information age is doing to societies. Maybe these countries will deal with it better than us and maybe worse I really don’t know but it needs mentioning.
    In any event it’s certainly an interesting commentary on differing viewpoints.

  37. Thanks for the work you do, Rick.
    I have noticed some of what you saw, both here and in the US, more in smaller areas than in big cities. I found out that the largest city in Scandenavia is 1.5 million persons. That is Stockholm with Copenhagen not far behind. Then comes Oslo at almost a million. After that 0.5 million, 3 more .3 to .2 million and down from there. Here is the link I used for the information. https://www.lifeinnorway.net/scandinavian-cities/

    We are diverse yes but Sweden is racially diverse, culturally accepting. We Separate our diversity in pools of “We don’t date them.” and redlining to keep neighborhoods apart, and in the past after WW2, college scholarships for white only men mostly. No wonder that advantage resounds through generations.

    When I lived in The Netherlands, there were public service ads on cable tv about tolerance and inclusivity. I thought, Nice.

    We are constantly looking for ways to improve.

    Even a staunch American may find ways to look at other countries and be inspired by their examples. I can recommend the Michael Moore film, “Where to Invade Next.” I can forgive his strange title. The film is neither about military invasion nor politics but about (largely) American ” good ideas” that he found in other countries. It is a film of social positivity.

  38. This blog entry and many views expressed by the staff and Rick are a reason why I wouldn’t travel on another Rick Steves guided tour…but it probably appeals highly to preconceptions held by many that do.

    Where can I find this Venn diagram that is purported to show overlap of “anti-vaxxers” and “anti-maskers” ?

    Not sure how many see the full spectrum of American political views – but the extremes on both the left and right actually share more in common than those in the middle – this is known as the Political Horseshoe Theory – better explained elsewhere but worth looking into.

    I know many on the far-left of the political spectrum that consider themselves “anti-vaxxers” and yet wear masks – they oppose vaccination for various reasons,
    some are strict vegans that avoid anything they don’t trust –
    some think vaccinations are a “big pharma” conspiracy to make bigger profits –
    a bit crazy crazy since a good vaccine candidate, you lose the customer after one dose – more money in treatment than cures so they say. Neither of these reasons suggest they wouldn’t wear masks to avoid transmission.

    The science behind the benefits of vaccinations is clear but trying to make statements comparing “anti-vaxxers” and “anti-maskers” is not clear – show me the raw data as to how the this conclusion was made.

    And yes fully vaccinated people should, once they attain immunity, be able to go maskless – mask shaming isn’t the point, preventing the spread of the disease was and should have always been the point and the vaccine has been proven to be effective – stop it already.

    Please leave the politics and your biases out of travel news Rick Steves & staff.

  39. This article is ridiculous, it’s like comparing apples and oranges. Scandinavian countries are tiny and homogeneous, which is why social trust and capital is high and when everyone is the same race, you’re obviously not going to have racial tensions are you? The USA is huge and diverse and takes in tons of poor people from other countries and has different demographics so the type of social welfare system in Scandinavia would bankrupt the USA. Now that Scandinavian countries are getting more immigrants, the Scandinavians and immigrants don’t like or trust each other and racial tensions are rising. There is no comparison between the two.

  40. Cameron,
    Thanks for this article and all you do! Great article & very well thought out analysis. Strange that in none of the 66 responses preceding mine the authors did not mention the root cause of our lack of trust and divisiveness in the USA = our elected Federal politicians, all of them, the entire swamp. I was also struck by the responses = no trust, very opinionated, and divisive = good examples to support your point!
    Keep up the good work, my friend! You are appreciated!

Leave a Reply to Tim Niebergall Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *