Switzerland is great, but…

5 11 2010

When my company transferred me to Zurich in 2004, I was ecstatic. I thought I had hit the jackpot – Switzerland had the reputation of a being clean, safe, neutral little corner of paradise. Year after year, Zurich consistently ranks high up in Mercer’s annual “Quality of Living” Survey as one of the top three “most livable cities in the world”.

At the time, I told a work colleague I had purchased the “Rough Guide to Switzerland” in anticipation of my move. He answered sardonically, “Evelynn, there is nothing rough about Switzerland.”

And he was right for the most part. I eased into society with a few little boo-boos along the way, but really, I couldn’t complain too loudly. The Swiss have perfected the art of, well, being perfect.

Is this not...just... perfect?

But over the course of six years, the perfect Swiss have lost a teeny bit of their luster. And I have discovered that while I really do enjoy a very high quality of life here, there are a couple of things that really piss me off. Of course there are many, many worse places on this earth to be. But still.

Here are just five things I really dislike about the Swiss (in no particular order):

1) Schwiizertüütsch – If you thought German sounded bad to the untrained ear, well Swiss German is a further bastardization of language. Fortunately, I learned (high) German at home, and was spared the torture of being force-fed “that awful language” (Mark Twain) in a classroom. But when I arrived here, it took me a full year to figure out what people were saying to me. Swiss German sounds like it stepped right out of the middle ages. And the most frustrating thing about it (for a foreigner) is that there is no ONE Swiss German. Every village has its own distinct dialect (i.e. Züritüütsch, Bärntüütsch, Baseltüütsch…). Any Swiss person can determine the origin of any other Swiss person’s dialect within an instant of them uttering their first word. After six years here I’m just happy I can follow a conversation.

2) Exaggerated honesty – There is a wonderful salad bar at our canteen, you load up your plate and pay for it according to weight. Standing in the checkout line one day, I absentmindedly began to nibble on a crouton. A gentleman tapped me on the shoulder and said, “You can’t do that! That’s stealing!”

3) A love of firearms – At last count, there were 218,000 semi-automatic military assault rifles lying around in attics and closets across this pristine and seemingly peaceful country. After being conscripted into basic training, most young Swiss men must serve in the reserves for several years. His (legal, state-sanctioned) weapon becomes his best friend. In public, on public transportation and at home. And after every accident, suicide or homicide involving a military weapon, there are isolated calls that this insanity must stop. Since the beginning of 2010, reservists have been granted permission to store their weapons at an armory rather than at home for their kids to play with. So far, only 452 individuals (or 0.2 percent) have taken up this offer.

Great toy, if it wasn't so lethal.

4) Fondue –  Instructions: Spear diced cube of stale bread with a long two-pronged fork, drown in hot, stinky liquid cheese, attempt to swallow, chase with cherry schnapps (Kirsch). As one American friend says: “It’s not really a meal. All it does is occupy space.”

5) “HANDS OFF MY BANK SECRECY LAWS!” – Ah yes, those gnomes of Zurich, still driving the rest of the world crazy after all these years.

Otherwise, it’s a great country. It has to be or else I wouldn’t still live here and I wouldn’t have married one of them. I’ll write about the good stuff some other time.