Sunday, 30 October 2011

Stereotyping in Switzerland



The train from Zürich's terminal E plays a medley of Swiss sounds as you shoot through its concrete tunnel. The chirrup of a summer meadow, yodelling, Alpine horns and the sedate clank of cowbells on a sunny day.

Two days later I'm standing on the South side of the Bürgenstock, trying to see where they've hidden the speakers, as the same sounds drift across crisp clear autumn air. In front sits a classic panorama of the Alps, autumn colours mixed with dark pines, thinning as they rise, before giving way to white streaks and then sharp peaks of snow.

The trams stops in Zürich are heavy with Swiss Airlines' posters advertising "The only airline as upset by being late as you are"; proudly playing up to the their reputation of punctuality and precision. The Swiss know their own stereotypes and are proud of them.

If you've got positive stereotypes, then it's easy to be proud of them, and I suspect they start to become self fulfilling. You feel you should not be late, that is what is expected, so you try harder to be punctual.
Blissfully free of war damage, Zürich's old town and building's carry few scars of poured concrete common in most European cities. Wandering the old town reveals many tiny design studios and shops selling modern furniture, boutique clothes, jewellery and the more predictable. You almost believe that there's a legal limit on how many steps a tourist is allowed to take before seeing a chocolate or watch shop.

The trams run everywhere, crossing each other, leapfrogging via other routes and creating a constant background rumbling to the city, a blue and white blood flowing through the streets. While pedestrians are respectful to crossings for other traffic, they think nothing of leaping between trams, stepping out from behind or using them as shelter from cars.


The easiest taste of the Alps is a trip to Lucern, taking the ferry from the medieval town across Lake Lucern lets you get close to some local peaks, dominated by Mount Pilatus. In October returning in the early evening allows you to see the sun set behind it. On a hazy day with the sun streaming from behind, it gives the sharp blue-grey sky an orange fan tail.


On the way back through the airport I glance the ghostly vertebrae of a Toblerone on the X-ray of my bag. Wasn't that a predictable use of my last 7 francs?