Wednesday, November 29, 2006

So Clean...And Safe!

I recently read this article in the easyJet in-flight magazine. In the article, the rather bland, Swiss tennis pro - Martina Hingis - rambles on about various things that I find pretty darned uninteresting (Hey...I was on a plane, and I was bored!). However, one sentence caught my eye. It was:

"I've lived near Zurich since I was eight and I love it: it's so clean and safe."

Ask any Swiss person (or most people, for that matter) to describe Switzerland, and chances are that the words "clean and safe" will pop up somewhere during the sentence. Whenever I hear or read this description, I add (in my head, of course) "...and boring!" But hey, that's just me, and I'm entitled to my opinion. Don't get me wrong. Saftey is important, and cleanliness is next to godliness (as "they" say), but I'm thinking that a few more adjectives could be thrown into the mix and peacefully coexist with the big, Swiss "C" & "S".

To me, the best thing about living in Basel is...that a lot of really interesting (less clean and more dangerous) places are only a short flight or train ride away. Basel itself? It's OK, but it's not exactly the most exciting city in the world. Again...just my opinion. But, I digress (Wow! That's the first time I've ever used those words in my blog!).

Once, at O'Hare Airport in Chicago, I somehow ended up talking with a Welsh man in the British Airways lounge (long story), and he probably summed it up better than anybody else. He said:
"Yeah...Switzerland is nice. I've been there several times. It's clean and safe [See? I told ya!] and all that, but soul!"

I think he's absolutely right. To name one thing, Switzerland (well, at least the Basel area) does not exactly have what I'd describe as a thriving music or art scene. Name a world famous Swiss artist, musician, actor, writer, comedian (I've heard the Swiss described as "famously unfunny")... You can't do it without Googling it, can you? I once asked a Swiss person to name the most world famous Swiss "rock star" they could think of, and she came up with Andreas Vollenweider. Who???? I guess a lot of Swiss just don't value pursuing careers in things like the arts that, in my opinion, are the spice of life. No! Instead, the Swiss seem to value...following rules, being on time, peace and quiet, conserving energy, etc.

What do people outside of Switzerland think of when they think of Switzerland? Let's see...chocolate, banking, mountains, cheese, fondue, Ricola, engineering, neutrality, Roger Federer - clean and safe (...and boring)!

So, sometime last week, there was a shooting close to the Basel train station. Two days ago, I read an article in Swiss Info about "...a series of brutal acts in recent weeks..." in Zurich. Today, on the tram, I saw signs warning women about pickpockets. The signs (translated) read: Keep your purses closed and your eyes open!

Danger and crime in Switzerland? Is Switzerland becoming a bit more...dangerous?

Well, at least it's still clean.


Anonymous said...

Paul Klee! What do I win?

He was one of the most spectacularly anal-retentive visual artists in history, meticulously hand-numbering and cataloging every doodle he ever produced. (surely just a coincidence, nothing to do with being Swiss....). Also, I hear he could play a mean classical violin.

But as every Paul Klee exhibit in CH will remind you, he technically died a German. (I would suggest Jean Tinguely as an alternate world-famous Swiss artist I didn't have to google, but in order to spell his name right, I'd have to google.)

Ms Mac said...

One of my favourite tv quotes is from Green Wing:

Guy: Martin, what do you think of when I say the word, "Switzerland," to you?
Martin: I don’t know, you’ve never said it to me before.
Guy: I’m saying it now. And don’t say Phil Collins lives there.
Martin: Does he?
Guy: Shut your eyes, think of Switzerland – what do you see?
Martin: Nothing.
Guy: You must see something!
Martin: I don’t have a visual memory, sorry.
Mac: I see something. I see a chocolate Phil Collins coming out of a clock every hour, to tidy up his Nazi gold.

Of course, it's even funnier when you live here.

Err... but for famous Swiss, I can really only think of Johanna Spyri and her book, Heidi, which I loved as a child. So that's something. Oh, and Renee Zellweger is half Swiss or something. I wonder if she's related to my dentist....

The Big Finn said...

Jul - I thought of Paul Klee, and I even read about him on Wikipedia because I thought he was German...but I wasn't sure. Then, I saw that he was German (even though he was born in Switzerland), and it just caused me to get angry at the ass-backward Swiss citizenship rules. So, credit for Paul Klee. The Swiss can't deny him Swiss birthright citizenship, and then claim him as Swiss. No...not happening on my watch.
However, I will give you semi,quasi credit for Jean Tinguely. I wouldn't exactly label him as world famous. I mean, I'd never heard of him before I moved to Basel (not that that really means anything). I'd probably say he's the MOST famous Swiss artist, but I'd definitely put him in the second or third tier of world famousness (is that a word?).
Prize? Hmmmm.... I'll have to think about that one.

The Big Finn said...

ms mac - I've heard of 'Heidi', but I wouldn't have been able to come up with the name Johanna Spyri (sure sounds Swiss!). Yes, and I have heard of the half-Swiss Zellweger thing. I can definitely see the Swissy in that puckered-up face of hers.
The Phil Collins reference brings up an interesting thing. Don't you just love how Swiss radio stations play Phil Collins and Shania Twain all the time just because they live in Switzerland? It's almost as if the Swiss have adopted them as being Swiss. Of course...they'd have to apply for citizenship first. But, since they have a lot of money, I'm sure it would be no problem...

CanadianSwiss said...

Ok. I agree on the rock star bit. But how about the first Bond girl, Ursula Andres? And don't forget H.R. Giger who created the monsters in Alien (don't tell me you've never heard of the movie) and Henry Dunant, founder of the Red Cross.

Anonymous said...

but TBF, someone (Welles) already beat you to this rant. Cue the ferris wheel scene from "The Third Man":

in Italy, for thirty years under
the Borgias, they had warfare,
terror, murder, bloodshed, but they
produced Michaelangelo - Leonardo
Da Vinci, and the Renaissance...In
Switzerland, they had brotherly
love. They had five hundred years
of democracy and peace, and what did
that produce?...The cuckoo clock.
So long, Holly.

The Big Finn said...

CS - I'll give you Ursula Andress...barely. That makes ONE world famous, Swiss movie star.
H.R. Giger? I never heard his name in my life until you mentioned it...but I have seen the movie. Well known to a certain genre, but NOT world famous, in my opinion.
Red Cross? World famous. Henry Dunont - NOT world!

Sara - Ahhhh, yes. The cuckoo clock. I forgot about that one. Also safe...and clean. our cuckoo clock clean? I'd better go dust it.

The DP said...

Nobody gonna mention Roger Federer? And he's from Basel...

CanadianSwiss said...

Hey, wait a minute! Just because your interests are different, doesn't mean that these people are not world famous. Giger's little monsters are not my kind of stuff either, but the critters ARE well known. Ha! And the fact that you didn't know who Henry Dunant was is what I call a simple "hole" in your education. I even learned that in primary school in Canada.

Maybe I can think of more that might be more in your "league".

Anonymous said...

As a native local I say: ... you're right. It IS a boring country. more or less at least. but there are some "world famous" people:

Le Corbusier (architect)
Mario Botta (architect)
Herzog & de Meuron (architects)
Francesco Borromini (architect of St. Peters Basilica)
Jean Tinguely (sculptor)

Bruno Ganz (Hitler in "The Downfall")

Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Max Frisch
Friedrich Dürrenmatt
Hermann Hesse
Paul Nizon
Carl Gustav Jung
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross
Karl Barth
Albert Einstein (Ok, thats a scientist...)

Anonymous said...

And Rorschach of the inkblots. Surely a name on everyones lips - no?

The Big Finn said...

CS - Perhaps you're right, but I will say that these two people do not give Switzerland "soul".

Peter - I guess what I'm actually saying is people whose names are "household words" around the world. For example, I know of "Le Corbusier" because I saw an exhibit in Geneva earlier this year. Is he "world famous"? Yes, amongst architecture/art buffs. Is he a household name around the world like Jagger, Bocelli, Robbie Williams, Picasso, Van Gogh, Mariah Carey (...for me)? No.
Also...I know a lot of people are going to disagree with me about this, but I don't think architecture is art. It's science. Art = soul. Architecture (and I'm a fan) does not = soul.
Out of your list of 15 people, I recognize 8 names. Out of those 8 names, I would have had no idea who 6 of them were before moving to Switzerland.

CanadianSwiss said...

TBF- All I'm saying, is that it depends on your interests. If your interests are good ol' rock, then you won't find world fame here.

I think the Swiss have "soul", only it's very different from what we understand under "soul". They are very shy and conservative about it. It took me a long time to see it and not all can express it, or are open to let it out to us "loud North Americans".

Hope this was helpful. :-)

The Big Finn said...

CS - Maybe I'll find it someday - hopefully soon. I don't think I'll end up being here for over 20 years like you.

Mark said...

I must admit, Switzerland is "clean & safe". Being born and raised in Amsterdam (of all places), coming to Switzerland is like coming into dreamland. If you would ask me to mention famous Swiss citizens, I would probably go like: "uhh, aaahhh, and you know", but let's face it, Switzerland is a clean and safe place to be. Personally I like this safety and cleanliness but this country just has too many rules and habits. Try moving from one canton tothe other. It's like a f"@^ing immigration. Prety narrow minded if you ask me.But then again, who am I to judge this? Anyway, the most famour Swiss I can come with are Federer and Hingis. Sorry, that will just have to do...

Anonymous said...

15 comments and no one has mentioned DJ Bobo yet?

His work is a million times scarier than Giger's.

The Big Finn said...

Jul - DJ BOBO!!!!!!! How could I forget? Soul?

Anonymous said...


If that's not soul, I don't know what is.

Anonymous said...

Have you tried Luzern? Especially for the Blues Fest? Luzern used to be the world capital for blues and now it's trying to come back. I went, about two weeks ago. Okay, the blues bands were from your neck of the woods (and mine, as I grew up in South Bend and most friends are from chi-town) but I got to spend an evening with the bands chit-chatting, and the drummer told me "I love coming over here because people still appreciate the music. Americans have lost it." Those are his words - the Swiss may not bring the soul, but I know they feel it. I was surrounded by hundreds of Swiss Germans going "now datz zaa blues!" I'll post some photos next week and a post on the experience i think.

Anonymous said...


I knew Albert Einstein would come up at some stage. Can he really be claimed as swiss, as he often is?!

Born March 14, 1879
Ulm, Württemberg, Germany
Died April 18, 1955
Princeton, New Jersey
Residence Germany, Italy, Switzerland, USA
Nationality German (1879-96, 1914-33)
Swiss (1901-55)
American (1940-55)

You gotta get out more to the hip happening paces TBF

Sal DeTraglia said...

What about the Swiss Family Robinson? Boy, they had soul!

And...what about that Swiss Miss cocoa girl? She had a lovely singing voice. Sure, she is known more for her yodelling; but few people are aware of her early punk days. She was, in fact, the spiritual Godmother of both Patti Smith and Nina Hagen.

Then, there's the famous country music singer, Toby Lerone.

And the adult film star, Matt Erhorn.

SpongeBob Squarepants looks more like Swiss cheese than a sponge. So I think he should count, also.

Well...I think that I've more than taught you a lesson today. Go hang your head in shame.


Unknown said...

wow - what a comments section. I snooze a few days and look what happens...

I'd admit that nightlife in Switzerland is quite boring. But actually it's equal to North Vancouver and better at times.

The reasons why I like Switzerland is because it is Clean and it is Safe! I also like that transportation is great, people are very environmental, many people bike and walk, most people's idea of spending Sunday is going hiking, spending time with family and not being a consumer...

I also think you've missed what parts Switzerland is known most for, it's beauty!! As well, I can bike across Switzerland mostly on all bike paths...

I guess these are many things that I enjoy which I find very hard to get here in Vancouver...

Music is different in switzerland but I like that people acknowledge music for what it's worth and not what is popular...

I guess you see these things once you don't have them anymore and want them again...

Not to mention healthier eating and less fast food! Should I go on?

Being close to all things Europe in your travels. Old buildings, culture and history which North America lacks..

But maybe it's always like "the grass being greener on the other side of the fence/pond/hill" or whatever else you might add to it.

The Big Finn said...

Thank you everybody for your comments. See? I told you I had the seven-year itch.

The Big Finn said...

Jessica -
I haven't been able to get your comment out of my head, and I have to say someting...
"Luzern used to be the world capital for blues..."????? I have a hard time believing that. I even did a little research, and I found no mention of Luzern and the blues at all. Swiss capital for blues? Most likely. European capital for the blues? Maybe. World capital? No way.
I've probably been to Luzern ten times. I would say that Luzern possibly has the LEAST soul of any city I've been to in Swtizerland. Don't get me's beautiful, I like it, but...NO SOUL! The ULTIMATE in clean and safe!

Anonymous said...

good point- my words are surely exaggeration (typically texan trait of mine) and also, they are coming from a conversation with one of the commissioners of the Blues Fest there, who spoke to me with the thickest of Swiss German accents. Perhaps he was saying BECOMING. I see that you are skeptical that it could ever hold that sort of grandeur, when there's places like KCMO, St Louis, Chicago etc but, if you'd like:
"The American Blues Foundation – the most important organization in the Blues business - has given recognition that the Lucerne Blues Festival is one of the best and most important Blues music events in the world."

and if you'd like to read more of that and check out the site for next year's dates.

In your defense, when I left the venue I walked out onto an empty, clean and boring street. It was like BOOM - Switzerland, and I walked a good 20 minutes still in shock that I needn't be worried about my safety. But the venue is in Luzern, and it is world-wide recognized. So maybe we just need to get off those clean streets to find the tiny bit of soul floating around.

The Big Finn said...

Jessica -
Thanks for the info. I think I need to make it a point to get to either the Luzern Blues Festival or the Blue Balls Festival in Luzern this summer...just for the name alone!

Anonymous said...