The Sound of Music

There is an interesting debate over at Labour Home, of all places, on "Would you rather live in Britain or Switzerland?" I alluded to this on a blog that mysteriously disappeared recently, but the answer for me is definitely Switzerland.

Two contributors, Fred Pitt and Cassius, said more or less what I would have, my experience being very similar to theirs, so I publish them in full, with thanks to them and for their insights:

First, Fred Pitt
I'm 71 years old, and Switzerland is my favourite of all the countries I have visited. So much so, that my wife and I have had more than 20 holidays there. If we didn't have our two daughters and six grandchildren living no more than 10 miles away from us, we'd probably go and live there.

Britain is a great country, with some lovely scenery, a wonderful tradition of tolerance and decency, a history of great innovators, and a fluid and flexible language. However, Switzerland has even more beautiful scenery, is cleaner, is more efficient and seems (from what I can judge as a visitor) to be more "at ease with itself" (to revive an old John Major wish for this country!).

Switzerland is like three countries in one - three languages (four if you include Romansch), three quite distinct areas with different climates and traditions. Dangerous to generalise, but I've found the Swiss for the most part to be friendly but not as demonstrative as many Italians or Greeks. I've never been short-changed in a shop or restaurant, the people seem to be very honest. My wife decided to buy some earrings which she saw in the window of a jewellery shop in Interlaken; when we went inside, the shopkeeper said we could pay less because the price of gold had fallen recently!

So how can a lifelong Old Labour man such as myself be so in love with a country like Switzerland? Firstly, I never feel that I am exploiting anyone when I stay in a Swiss hotel or eat in a Swiss restaurant, whereas I would feel uncomfortable in parts of Africa and Asia, especially where people have been moved off their land to make way for tourists wanting cheap holidays. I approve of the Swiss policy not to fight any wars except in self-defence. I approve of the fact that Switzerland doesn't have the undemocratic and anachronistic institution of monarchy. I approve of the lack of `personality politics'; despite all my visits, I couldn't name one Swiss politician from recent years. I approve of the fact that if you collect enough signatures (possibly 50,000) you can have a national referendum on an issue. I loathe indirect taxation and approve of Switzerland's low VAT rate of 7.6%, comparable to the 8% under Labour before Thatcher was let loose on us.

I approve of Switzerland's very low crime rate, and I feel safe when walking around Swiss cities at night, something which the Swiss have managed to achieve without the harsh measures used in Singapore to get a similar result. I approve of Switzerland's clean and ultra-punctual transport system, a state-run national rail network fed into by private companies operating on branch lines, mountains and lake steamers, all co-ordinated and with interchangeable tickets. There are some parochial people in the less populated valleys, but on the whole, there isn't much sign of the equivalent of a `Little Englander' mentality in that land-locked country where many people speak their own three languages plus English.

The nicest hotel I've ever stayed in, and will be visiting again in July this year, is the Hotel Belvedere in Grindelwald, at the foot of the Eiger. Some Scottish girls who worked told me that they were treated with great respect and paid good wages. The hotel has recently paid for a three-week trip to Australia for a couple who have worked there for 20 years. That's the way to treat your employees, and it's another reason why I like what I've seen of Switzerland.

And now, Cassius:

In the village where I live my children - who are both under 10 - are free to roam about and please themselves more or less unsupervised. They are recognised by the shop keepers and the locals, all of whom greet them politely whenever they encounter them (greetings which they have learned to return). If they misbehave, they expect to receive a telling-off (and, for the boys at least, the risk of a gentle slap). Taxation is applied locally, and when too much tax is collected (because more wealthy people have arrived, for example) the tax rate is lowered within DAYS. The government does not maintain stores of our money or decide how to spend it on our behalf. On the other hand public services are excellent (roads cleared of snow & even washed by 7am each morning, fantastic police, fire, rescue & world class medical facilities). If the local village needs money (for a bypass, a swimming pool, a school whatever) - it just asks the taxpayers. Almost without exception they contribute, and whatever the project is it gets built in an efficient and cost-effective manner, inevitably by local craftmen and contractors. There are NO cctv cameras, even in shops, despite the ultra high value goods for sale - instead there is a tremendous sense of community across the various nationalities and age groups. Why would I want to live in the UK?

Let's put it this way, whenever one goes abroad, if things go according to plan, one generally gives a good report of the country concerned. If things go wrong, you tend to see a country as it really is, not how it comes across in the glossy brochures. Spain comes to mind, particularly, as an example of the paper - thin attractiveness.

No. If I am to be in a country where things go wrong, and of course they sometimes do, Switzerland would be top of the list. They are fair and scrupulously honest and they don't operate one rule for the residents and another for the tourists.

And as someone else pointed out, Swiss Wine is better than English wine. In fact it is shitloads better than most of the cat pee we get in supermarkets here. The reason you never see it is because they don't make enough to export and the better informed tourists make a bee0line for it while they are there.

I have my own little bit of Switzerland (pictured above with an unusually indulgent Mrs Weasel, posing as Julie Andrews - click on the pic for a larger image). I love it, for everything. For the people, for the air, scented with warm grass and flowers, for the echo of cowbells, the trains that you can rely on, and the friendships and the food.

Weasel's tip for eating in Geneva - nothing grand or clever or sophisticated and as solid as the Swiss Franc; try the Cafe de Paris , a stone's throw from the Station. They only serve steak and chips, but it's being going since 1930, doing exactly the same thing with their special secret sauce.


subrosa said...

It is a delightful country, I worked there in the early 70s and have visited many times since. Where I live in Scotland is a beautiful part of the world too but the difference in the government of both countries is vast. I have to admit not so many people, of my acquaintance, speak the three languages. Try to find a French speaking civil servant in Basle - nearly impossible. Then again it would be impossible to find one in Scotland I'm sure, at least one fluent enough.

I considered buying a small house there around 20 years ago but the red tape was horrendous and I found I would be required to deposit most of my savings in one of their banks. That didn't suit my situation at the time so it never happened. Not to worry, most hotels are just fine.

Wrinkled Weasel said...

Thanks Rosa (another night owl, by the looks of it.)

Interesting you should mention the 70s - that was went I first visited. I stayed in a room over a cow shed, over looking the Dents du Midi. The smell was incredible! Does my Honourable friend agree with me that the Swiss have become a lot more visitor friendly in the intervening years?

Great Big Billygoat Gruff said...

I'll be in Geneva on onday and may take you up on the Café de Paris.

Wrinkled Weasel said...

I wrote this last night at nearly one in the morning. When I wrote "I have my own bit of Switzerland", I meant "in my mind". That is, there is a place I have returned to over the years, since the 70s that is special to me. Perhaps one day, I shall have a place to live there, but until then, I dream.

As Subrosa implies (and I have looked into it) buying a house appears to be a process of attrition. Not only that, nobody local - the older folks - seem to be in a hurry over it - usually they put a ridiculous price tag on places in the hope it will put people off, like the one we stayed next to recently. Where I go, nobody wants to leave, and many that travel the world find their way back. That kind of speaks for itself.

The Brits over there seem to integrate seamlessly. The Americans do not. The only jarring accent in Vaud is an American one, loudly demanding the impossible, whilst being utterly confused by the simplest menu; "Hey, what's Roasty? Can I have fries with it?"