Last winter, I holidayed in Zurich, which is largely German-speaking. Like most self-respecting Germans, the Swiss are disciplined to unimaginably robotic levels. They have rules & rules for everything, which are ruthlessly enforced. One foreigner was fined for washing his car on a Sunday (he didn’t know that as per Swiss Law, he was disturbing the citizens’ peace on a holiday); another was fined for travelling on a tram with a ticket that was outside the validity period by just 5 minutes! They have different rules for disposal of green-colour bottles and brown-colour bottles; rules for washing-machines, and even dogs (more of that in my post: Switzerland on a wheelchair). In every street you can see citizens walking with a grim sense of determination. If you see a bloke shuffling around, why, he must be a tourist! Surely, they only produce the strong silent types here?
ACTUALLY, NO! The Swiss express fun in subtle ways. And here are some:
My first experience was in a grocery shop, accompanying Sarah. Unlike India, there was no queue at the billing counters. Because, the person manning the counter was a work-station. It was connected to a bar-code reader, a weighing balance and a quasi-ATM. It was the ultimate self-service idea! I had never seen anything like this before and so I took a picture of Sarah operating this wonderful Automaton.
Sarah & the Automaton
Suddenly, 2 burly whites approached me menacingly and said something sternly guttural . Oops, what rule had I violated?
I said: “Sorry, I don’t understand German”. The heftier man spoke English:”Are you planning to rob the cash in this machine?” Whaaa? Seeing my consternation, the Incredible Hulks burst out laughing: “In Macedonia, if you did this, we could’ve been sure that you were preparing to rob it”. It turned out that they were Macedonians who had settled in Switzerland and couldn’t resist a dig at their past! Phew, it was a joke! May be it was a Macedonian joke, not a Swiss joke. Surely, the Swiss are serious people?
WRONG AGAIN! They express their sense of fun, in quiet ways. I was walking in Zurich’s old-town, which has quaint houses, probably a couple of centuries old. Many houses sport their Family Crest or family identity. This House had a funny way of showing its identity:
Family Crest: The House of the Gossiping Women?
Clearly this joke was invented a good 200 years ago, with no Macedonian help. A good old Swiss Joke, without a doubt!
When it comes to Cows, the Swiss love portraying them in funny ways. Like:
Hotel Adler: Where the Cow is mischievously jumping over the fence
The happy bicyclist Cow riding the tram
The Swiss love games of any kind. And chess is a seriously fun sport — even if you have lost your reading glasses! How else would you explain the extra-large chess pieces floating in every street corner?
Street Chess for the myopic
In the Walking Tour of Zurich, I got this story about the statue of Alfred Escher. Escher was the father of modern Zurich and a pioneer of the Swiss Railways. His Gotthard Railway project faced many challenges, especially when digging the tunnel through the Alps. Some conservatives even predicted that demons would be released from the tunnels. The Gotthard project finally succeeded and Escher put the demons to rest! The Swiss decided to honour Escher with a statue at Bahnhofstrasse, and commissioned Richard Kissling to sculpt. Kissling did it in the classic-heroic style, with gargoyles at the base. It is thought that the gargoyles represent the demons that were supposed to come out the Gotthard Tunnel. How did he represent a demon that no one has ever seen? My Swiss Guide gave an interesting theory: the demon was modelled on Escher’s dog with bat’s wings and lizards tail suitably attached. Now, who had a greater sense of humour —my Guide or Richard Kissling? Have a look and decide for yourself:
Inset: Kissling’s Gargoyle– Escher’s Dog or Tunnel Demon?
AND FINALLY…..When it comes to having real fun, the Swiss are no prudes. There are legitimate cinema houses which screen only soft porn. Look at the theatre signage: you cannot miss the unabashed glee on their faces— especially the woman’s!
Erotic Cinema Hall @ Oerlikon