Upon entering a shop in Reykjavik, Iceland—my spring break destination—one is likely to encounter a sign similar to this one at tourist shops. More likely than not, the shopkeeper is not present, but is somewhere in the back, if not further off. In less-touristy shops, the shopkeeper is also not present, but rather than a friendly admonition against stealing, a sign directs the shopper to a phone number (s)he can call if (s)he wants to buy something. I never tried it, but presumably the shopkeeper would show up and make the sale.
Another common scene: passing by restaurants and stores, baby carriages, with babies, left outside, unlocked and unattended. Maybe one could go a lot closer than Iceland to find a similar society (and please let me know so I can move there), but I’m a native New York City-ite, and as a result places where people don’t lock their doors seem about as realistic to me as mermaids, Santa Claus, and the Tooth Fairy.
The obvious question that comes here is: why aren’t people stealing? Why aren’t people taking the babies? I suppose they don’t have the sign up for no reason whatsoever, but if it was really a problem, most likely someone would show up to watch over the merchandise. Furthermore—the sign seems to be geared a foreigners who might realize that the first person to break this tender balance could really clean up, as the more “Icelandic” shops don’t appear to have such signs.
These observations are backed up by some facts on Iceland’s crime rates, which are very low, as are punishments.
Reyjavik is a city of about 200,000, so although a good number of people do know each other, it’s too big for the whole explanation to be the small-town phenomenon that everyone knows everyone and if you mess up someone will tell. Part of the explanation may just be that people are acting due to moral motivations, as Barry Schwartz or Tom Tyler and Lindsay Rankin may suggest.
And now, two fun facts about Iceland:
Fun fact 1: Vigdís Finnbogaadóttir, Iceland’s former president and first female president, was elected president of Iceland for four consecutive terms (sixteen years). After a couple terms in office, she found that young boys would ask her if they too could become president, as they had only ever seen a woman in office. The country’s current prime minister, Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, is an openly lesbian woman as well as the first openly-LGBT PM. Iceland has supported civil unions with full rights of marriage since 1996.
Fun fact 2: the animals seem to have unique motivations as well. Above is the chicken enclosure at the Reykavik zoo: you’ll notice that there are chickens both inside and outside their enclosure, which is left open. Below is the bunny house, with an open door to the outside world in case the bunnies want to leave, which they don’t (the bunnies also have doors connecting their individual enclosures in case they want to hang out with each other, which they do).