Having been educated all my life, up till last September, in England, means I was always instilled with an acute critical function. The English education system, especially from A-level onwards, encourages constant, objective questioning and analysis as opposed to blind learning of “facts”, or that which is presented as such. Teachers (in my experience at least) generally like it when you criticise or raise questions, especially unanswerable ones, as it shows you are thinking the right way. Every view, comment and argument expressed must be explained, backed up, then challenged with conflicting ones.
Why am I blathering on about this? Because it is this ingrained way of thinking which commands me to always look at the other sides of things; to never just accept things, to never take anything at face value, even if something seems obvious, even if I want to. While I write many lovely things about Switzerland, and sincerely too, I realise that I practically never write anything negative, and the well-nurtured critic in me stirs uneasily. So, here are some, gulp, detached critiques of this country I so love…
Switzerland is an odd little place, and in many ways probably the closest one can get to a “perfect” country. It is wealthy, and peaceful – no threat of war here. The people are on the whole relaxed and contented; even the chavs are non-aggressive. Things are ordered and always of high quality; it’s so advanced that even crossing the border to holiday in France is jokingly (sort of) considered as going to a “third world country”. Switzerland is breathtakingly beautiful, and the standard of living is superior.
Yet, Switzerland is not perfect. Idyllic though life seems in many ways, racism is rampant, crime is on the rise and living costs are just ridiculous for someone not earning a Swiss salary. It’s also kinda, well…boring. Don’t get me wrong, I am not bored of being here by any means, but it is fairly placid as a country, nothing really happens here. Having just spent a few weeks in London, the contrast is all the more evident. Switzerland is not very exciting. It’s good for banks and watches, not so good for art or eccentricity. On the plus side there is very little drama (Riots? Not here! Too messy), but if you’re searching for thrills and quirkiness, cutting-edge culture, artistic innovation and high energy, I wouldn’t come here.
Everything closes SO. EARLY. Supermarkets: closed by 7pm. Don’t even think about doing anything on a Sunday because nothing is going to be open. It feels like life grinds to a halt at 8pm. Naturally there are clubs and bars, which actually stay open later than their English equivalents, but of course you need to pay a bomb to enjoy them.
Then there’s food; we all know how important that is to me. Restaurants, being largely extortionate, are not frequently an option for me; even McDonald’s is a bit of an extravagant treat. I don’t doubt there is a wonderful Swiss food culture, but if you’re not living with a Swiss family, you don’t get to see much of it because most people cook at home and eat with the family. This is actually a wonderful thing, but dude, sometimes you just want something quick, cheap and satisfying (get your minds out the gutter!).
The Swiss are very pleasant, polite and humble, my favourite thing about them. No matter how wealthy, they consider themselves paysans (farmers) at heart. The focus is on the individual, not on their familial or social background; the class snobbery so entrenched in British culture is not to be found here. On the flipside, the Swiss can also be reserved and distant, serious and even a little stiff. They are not exactly closed-minded but neither are they hugely open; fairly sheltered in their untroubled petite Suisse, there is a definite wish to stay in their comfort zone. A relatively privileged, contented lifestyle for the majority of the population is hardly a bad thing, but it can detract somewhat from one’s curiosity, adventurousness and spontaneity.
I feel vaguely like I have committed high treason in writing the above. My head tells me to see these things but my heart is still in love with this place, and I am ever grateful to have the chance to live here. As I look out of my window at the lightly snow-dusted landscape, with its trees and pretty buildings and not a skyscraper in sight, I can’t help feeling, despite myself, a highly Swiss sense of contentment.