Monday, 8 February 2010

swiss hit and miss

So here we are in beautiful downtown Geneva, where the keyboard looks a bit different and my typing speed suffers (and it was in a fair amount of pain to begin with). I have seen the Mont Blanc. I have eaten fondue. I have wandered the streets of the old town, where John Calvin himself frowned and shook his head at things back in the 16th century. And I have hung out with a bunch of thoughtful and interested anglos (American, British, Australian and yes Canadian) who live in or near here. And I have yet to find anyone who can tell me much about the Swiss national character. What are the stereotypes? Chocolate, cuckoo clocks, banking, neutrality, Heidi. My daughter told me to bring her back a watch or an army knife. Add these up and it all sounds kind of charming.

Then I heard about the Swiss noise rules. If you live in an apartment block you can't flush a toilet late at night. Forbidden. Too noisy. And by late at night I am talking 10: 30. You can't even pee standing up. An American who has lived in the same building for ten years got her mail service interrupted when her name plate fell off her mailbox. A week went by and she asked her letter carrier what was going on. His reply: Your name is not on your mailbox.
But you know me! she said. You see me all the time.
He shrugged. But your name is not on the box.
So I get a sense of an uptight rule-ridden people.

Then I spoke to another ex-pat who informed me that that noise rule is all hokum -- something they like to fool tourists with. Apparently Switzerland has relaxed laws on euthanasia and drug use, and some sections of Zurich are very reminiscent of Amsterdam. And just today I was told by a native that the Mont Blanc I have been admiring is not the right mountain. Mont Blanc has been behind cloud all week. We tell Americans that that one is Mont Blanc so they can go home happy, she said, pointing at something that did not look like the picture here.
So now I am trying to reconcile the gemutlich Swiss stereotype with the repressive one, and adding a streak of mischievious deception. This tourist will go home confused.


Anonymous said...

Do they have chocolate army knives? Cuckoo watches?


Marilyn said...

Keep exploring and find out the truth.
Are you teaching an adult writing class?

Richard Scrimger said...

The chocolate is every bit as good as you think. The writing classes are very adult indeed -- lots of swearing. I like to shake up the Swiss

sw said...

We spent a week in Berne about 16 years ago and there were rules all over the pensione. Luckily they didn't kick us out despite my nosy questions and our then 11 and five year old not being quiet-- all the time.
How long are you away? Lucky you!
Happy trails!