swiss missed

If you’ve ever read The Giver, you’ll have been to Switzerland. Bucolic, idyllic, engineered, manicured, monitored, safe…sterile. These are all good words to describe the place. Having cooled down a little since the initial let down, I think I have a better way to present our time in this country. Whenever you travel, you bring lots with you. Besides the very real overly packed panniers, we brought cultural understandings, misunderstandings and expectations. We knew the Swiss had a penchant for order and organizing. We just did not realize it was to the extent it was. Construction…road or otherwise was around every turn. We had made the first mistake here. To assume that this very wealthy and very modern country would actually let time stand still. Industry is everywhere…and especially in Switzerland. Development is everywhere…even in the tiny little mountain town of Zermatt. We let expectations exceed gratitude. The number one mistake.

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People tend to be fairly flat lined emotionally here. I hate to generalize across a very  linguistically and culturally diverse country, but it is something we all do. In every culture and in every country. It’s part of the human need to construct meaning. At least, that’s my excuse. They don’t seem mad or sad or even happy. They don’t smile and they don’t exactly frown. Even when you attempt to make eye contact and nod or get really bold and greet them with words. There are exceptions to all these stereotypes, I know. They have a good thing going, it seems and they are perhaps a bit xenophobic because of it.

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The stars just did not align for us in Switzerland. People were generally short and brusque in our brief interactions and refused to move.  We tried bell ringing, because it seemed the Swiss liked their bells. We tried greeting people as we came up beside them, tried letting the hub be our warning…no cigar.

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It is a place we felt we did not belong. It was a let down as this was a place we have both wanted to visit. I won’t embarrass myself too much by divulging orthodontic details, but I even wrote a whole fictional piece based around the place in middle school. So, we obliged and made the most honest attempt to get out of the country, but the route had other ideas. It became a bit like a reoccurring and very expensive dream (nightmare?). On our last leg in the country, we sat down for a very quick lunch. We were being stared at. Again. Only this time we were not being stared at as if we were stark naked and ripping the head off a puppy. A couple who was backpacking struck up conversation with us asking us where we were going, how far we had come, the whole bit. They were Swiss and they were lovely. They were fellow bike travelers and had gone all over the world by bike and by foot. They shared some wisdom and wine suggestions to use on the road ahead of us. This is when I realized that this is why we move…this is why we travel.

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We are already kindred spirits with people we have yet to meet, we become empathetic when someone looks lost, we ask questions and give offers of help and respite. Good travel breaks down inhibitions and makes comfort zones obsolete. Patterns and habits are no longer excuses and we grow. If you never get out and feel wholly uncomfortable and out of place (like a gangly pre-teen in head gear on the cross country team), you would have little reason to reach out. So, in an effort to mend our little fence with Switzerland, I think the proper tribute to the most organized country in the world is a list:

PROS

Wood fired ovens in every backyard

Mason bee houses everywhere

CHEESE

Chocolate

Animals

All the damn hills

4 possible languages

Their own currency

Green

The frickin Matterhorn

Amazing keepers of the time

Sheep bells

Goat bells

And even more cow bell

Wine they don’t share with other countries

Those nut roll things

The shocking cleanliness

Safety

Wondrous wood stacks

Chris and Veronica

That amazing cafe in Ilanz and the owner of it who was the first person to smile and let us attempt to use one of their languages…slaughter one of their languages. But I got a nut roll thing. So it all worked out.

CONS

All the damn hills

4 possible languages

Their own currency

Expensive

Church bells all the time BECAUSE of their aforementioned remarkable punctuality

Wine they don’t share with other countries

Bread and pastries other than those nut roll things

The shocking cleanliness

Safety

Maybe a bit stifling as far as imagination goes

No smiling

No anger

Flat tires

Maybe we’ll get it right next time. If you’ll let us back in…we promise we won’t overstay.

Prost, salut, something else in a different language that I don’t have time to Google, and cheers to Switzerland.

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