If we were having coffee ... I’d show you a snapshot I took in an airport gift shop. I apologize upfront. It’s an imperfect shot with half the signage missing but I had to rush because the shop attendant had me in her sights and was hurrying over.
As an aside I’ll say it’s a unique Chinese-Asian retailing technique, to employ shop attendants to tout passersby. They hook you in with clever signage then reel you in with friendly calls to look-look and try.
In another store there was a display of the latest in restorative skin care – Crocodile Oil. Intrigued, I’d stopped to read the packaging. The shop attendant rushed over to give me her spiel. She said that the product was excellent for softer, smoother skin and promised to deliver wrinkle and scar free complexions. Having never admired crocodile skin myself, I expressed doubt in the claim. She assured me “It is 100% ORGANIC. Pure and Natural! You Should TRY!”
But back to the picture that I snapped. Posted above a shelf with over-priced cookies was a sign that said Singaporeans were the fastest walkers on the planet. Surely not this planet, I thought.
The average Singaporean does not walk fast. This is not a denigration. When it’s 33 degrees and 100% humidity, it is foolhardy to walk fast. However, Singaporeans have an additional inhibitor – their mobile phones. Cheap rates and unlimited data plans make mobiles perilous to foot commuters. With eyes firmly affixed to their screens, pedestrians decelerate traffic on walkways, escalators and travelators. Westerners from countries of overpriced wireless plans, milder temperatures and lower humidity are often frustrated by our slow moving crowds.
Westerners like Anthony Bourdain. There’s a TV episode where he’s shown trapped on a travelator, in one of Singapore’s busiest subway stations. In typical New York fashion he was itching to move but was hemmed in by people standing stationary on the moving walkway. Under his breath (and into his microphone) he muttered “This is to help you move faster, not move for you.”
I laughed out loud because he reminded me of my similarly impatient hubby. Even after five years, Hubby has not adjusted to the local pace. Faced with a crowd he’ll bob and weave through people, seeking out gaps in foot traffic and swerving around suddenly stationary phone readers. His frustrated mutter is “Move any slower and we’d be going backwards.”
So from where did this implausible claim originate? My trusty Google search uncovered this CNN article outlining the results of a study by British psychologist Professor Richard Wiseman. In it, researchers found a busy street with a wide pavement that was flat, free from obstacles and sufficiently uncrowded to allow people to walk at their maximum speed. They then measured people’s walking rates and compared the results for thirty cities. Singaporeans were the fastest, clocking in at 3.9 miles per hour, which was 15 percent faster than New Yorkers.
But here’s the rub: Researchers monitored only adults who were on their own and ignored those on their mobile phones or struggling with shopping bags.
Allow me to point out that Singapore has a 150% penetration of the mobile market. For every Singaporean who has a phone, the one beside him has two. Additionally, Singapore’s #1 recreational sport is Shopping. When they are not eating, they are shopping. Whether or not they are eating or shopping, they are always on their phone.
So exactly how many Singaporeans did these researchers monitor?
My guess is two. They clocked Anthony Bourdain and Hubby making a run for a gap in the crowd.
Singapore. June 2016