Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Swiss have a rule for it

I followed this link from a comment made on Think of England. If you have never been to Switzerland, you might think the account of the hygiene inspector a wild exaggeration but you would be mistaken.

A friend's sister married a Swiss engineer and they invited us to spend the summer of 1965 with them in their apartment overlooking Lake Zurich. Being students, we travelled as cheaply as possible and arrived, after 36 hours on buses, ferry and very basic trains, looking extremely scruffy. S bundled us into her car and told us to duck out of sight as we drove through the pristine streets, up the mountain road between manicured meadows filled with super-groomed cows, to her home in a shiny apartment block.

The next day she took us for a walk in the park. Families, resembling the von Trapps before the the curtains were cut up, walked along the paths in orderly fashion. No-one played, not a dog, no mess and no litter could be seen anywhere. It was very neat and very clean but so dull! In the evening S's husband, H, drove us to an inn high up the mountain for dinner. I'm not sure that all four wheels of the car were ever on the track at the same time as he speeded around bends, skimmed the wings of cars coming in the opposite direction and took us sickeningly close to sheer drops. I heard that the lights from the villages around the lake made a spectacular sight on the drive back in the dark, but my eyes were firmly closed. As the weeks went by, I realised that driving like maniacs on the mountain tracks was the only form of excitement for young people in Switzerland.

I don't know if it is still as it was in 1965, but then every aspect of life was ordered and regulated. It was illegal to make a noise after 9.30 pm, so we had either to speak quietly and not play any music, or have all the windows closed. It was not unusual for neighbours to report one another for making a noise. One day we decided to go to Interlaken so took the 6.30 am train, expecting to have it to ourselves. But, those quiet nights send everyone to bed early and consequently the day starts early too. The 6.30 train was the commuter train, packed with business men and neatly-uniformed (and uniform) children heading for their neat offices and regimented schools. S had already told us that the schools were strictly regulated so that all children in Kindergarten would be sewing samplers at 10.45 on May 6th, while the 8 year-olds were reading page 29 of the red primer and the 11 year-olds were practising long multiplication. She had found the state school system unbearable and took a job in the American school in Zurich instead.

H was unusual, in that he had studied abroad. The Swiss have a strange form of conscripted military service, where all men between 18 and 30 have to spend part of every year on army training or assignment. Any weeks missed because of travel or studies have to be made up. That explains why there are so few Swiss sightseers in London! When H found the restricted life in Zurich intolerable and left for Canada, he paid a heavy penalty. He couldn't return without facing a prison sentence and he was not allowed to inherit his family property.

I hope things have changed, but the article on the hygiene inspectors suggests that it is still a country of rules. Of course that accounts for the precision engineering, the obsession with clocks and the perfectly regulated financial institutions. Driving on mountain tracks and eating chocolate are the only risky activities available.

1 comment:

  1. If there really is a god, then that's where he'll send me when I die.


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