Sunday, December 14, 2008

Switzerland – An Overview

Sarah and I are now back in the UK, after returning here from Zürich on Friday evening. Our sincere thanks and gratitude is once again extended to Tom and Gillian for their generous hospitality, which was often punctuated with delightful and thought-provoking conversations across the dining table.

Snow had swept across much of Switzerland during the final three days of our visit, providing a very traditional wintery picture postcard look to the Swiss landscape and beaming smiles to anyone who may possess a pair of skis or a snowboard. While plenty was seen through the camera viewfinder and captured on memory cards, much more was observed by the naked eye and indelibly imprinted upon the grey matter resting within the recesses of my cranium.

Switzerland is a textbook study in contrasts; the very contrasts that truly make life interesting and made our 10-day working holiday all that more enlightening and enjoyable. Natural and architectural beauty abounded everywhere we looked, from the pristine snow-capped peaks of the Alps towering above the Bernese Oberland to the cathedrals and fresco-covered public buildings found in Bern, Luzern, Basel, and the many other towns that we visited. In a country that has long taken pride in order and cleanliness and invests a large percentage of its public tax monies towards that end, too many buildings were not adorned with ornate carvings and colourful storytelling facades, but defaced instead with graffiti left behind by self-proclaimed anarchists preaching a twisted homily advocating societal disorder. In one of the most highly educated and sophisticated countries in all of Europe, tobacco smoking is very prevalent regardless of age group and is permitted in restaurants and other public places; very reminiscent of how Paris and the rest of France used to be until just a couple of years ago, and with no indications of any changes occurring in the immediate future.

Street merchants sell their wares ranging from hats, scarves, and traditional folk art to paper bags filled with warm, sweet-tasting roasted chestnuts all along the same Bahnhofstrasse which also provides a home to Prada, Gucci, Cartier, Salvatore Ferragamo, and the offices of Zürich’s many private bankers. Standing alongside these temples of opulent consumption is a McDonalds where a Big Mac can be purchased for 12CHF (Swiss Franc), which is the equivalent of $10.15 (U.S. Dollar) or £6.80 (British Pound). The venerable banking institution Credit Suisse has not found itself immune to the current global financial crisis which does not recognise national borders, all while the fur coat-attired matronly women of Zürich’s cafe society promenade along the street below and meet for lunch in an oblivious existence reminiscent of the Phoney War period (called the Twilight War by Winston Churchill) during the opening months of World War II. Is this wrong? Am I making value judgements through my red, white, and blue-tinted glasses? Not necessarily. Call it Que Sera Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be), Life Goes On, or simply an attitude of Don’t Worry, Be Happy. Maybe the Swiss actually recognise and know something that the rest of us don’t (or refuse to).

No comments: