Why Switzerland?

October 24th, 2011
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The fortuitous invitation of friends sometimes makes it possible to visit places that you would otherwise not be drawn to. This was the case last week when we took a diversion through Switzerland. The personal visit was very pleasant but the touristic part reinforced the question of why one would ever visit the country.

First, last and likely middle as well, there’s the cost. If one uses the handy central European schnitzel test then eastern Switzerland rings in about three to four times more expensive than Munich. We were told that, should one (inadvisedly) want to eat at McDonald’s, one would have to produce evidence of a numbered bank account.

That raises the immediate cost benefit analysis. What are you getting for the money? Well, there is a lot of scenery, but other places (notably Canada) have scenery.

As Switzerland has been essentially a neutral backwater since Napoleonic times, and more or less since 1648, it falls fairly low on the scale of cultural interest. One is immediately reminded of Orson Welles’ iconic line in The Third Man where he compares the vibrant and violent legacy of Renaissance Italy with that of Switzerland which, he observed, had taken several hundred years to perfect the cuckoo clock. As horrendous as the Italian bloodshed might have been at the time it makes for a much more satisfying touristic experience 500 years later.

There is, however, chocolate and cheese. But is it that much better than the facsimile produced in Germany, Austria and the rest of the region? Mr.K has been quick to point out that again, in terms of value for money, experience, etc., the skiing in competing countries is better. I’ll forego repeating his pointed observations about the cloudy aspect of the Swiss-alpine personality…

Then there is the challenge of having to listen to continuous banter in the local patois, which sounds like high school German enunciation with a large bread roll stuck in each cheek. Admittedly rapid-fire, staccato Italian is soothing by comparison.

There is an election campaign going on in Switzerland right now. Evidence for this is limited to large placards depicting  well-scrubbed, well-fed burghers competing for votes. The mini-scandal de jour is that the “rightist” party that wants to limit immigration is polling around 30%, which is very high for this multi-party system.

It’s hard to determine how obnoxious this party is, although its posters – showing large black boots trampling a map of the country – are certainly graphic. Critics have repeatedly pointed out that the boots are black.

Whatever one makes of this, it is perhaps worth noting that; given a choice of living in poor, politically “exciting” parts of the world, many people still eschew the “excitement” and vote with their feet. As expensive as it is, and whatever else one wants to say about it, they still prefer the cuckoo clock.

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By John Weissenberger