Wednesday 9 March 2011

The Perfect Panic

A couple of weeks ago, I went to Switzerland for a long weekend. To escape London for three whole days was fabulous: fresh air, mountains, Swiss cheese, Argentine wine (were staying with one of Martín's friends), fondues, chocolate, thermal pools and a whole lot of fun.

I had passed through Switzerland before in a sleepy daze having arrived at some obscene hour to be transported from a Swiss airport to a French ski resort. I remember stopping at a very beautiful lake (I have no idea which one), getting off the bus into a gale force wind, getting straight back on again and marvelling at the mountainous backdrop before the eyelids sunk once again.

So, this was my first real Swiss experience. For Swiss fans, we were staying in Basel, right on the border with France and Germany (the airport, in Switzerland, is French. Following all three European flags is quite confusing on landing). It was also excellent to have a Swiss girl as one of our hosts - the other being Argentine, which obviously doesn't count. That way, we could understand a bit about the Swiss folks' psyche, their culture. For example, nobody really talks about politics as there are representatives in the government from all parties, it's all so charmingly democratic; owning all types of fondue devices is a prerequisite for being Swiss and the German Swiss language is only spoken, even they don't know how to write the words they use.

The three days were well spent, driving around in our hosts' motor home, through green fields and sloping hills to crystal lakes surrounded by snow-capped peaks. Magical. We took the train to a spa near Basel. Heaven. The roads were clearly signposted, everything ran smoothly. The speed limit was adhered to. The trains left on the dot and arrived on the dot (the Swiss think those damn Germans are always so late) People could all speak at least three languages. Everything was in its place (apart from those two Argies)

Cuckoo. Cuckoo. Tick tock. Tick tock.

It struck me as a wonderful thing at first. Peace, tranquility, no need for chaos or disruption. Would the Swiss ever protest or march on parliament? There was a puzzled frown in reponse. Of course not. Are there traffic jams? Do people rage about the economy? Is the gonverment full of idiots? A shake of the head. Of course not. Has your Granny had to wait ten months for a new hip? Is the cheese bill sky-high? Need a loan to fill up your car? An ironic laugh. Of course not. Switzerland is quietly perfect, neutrally still, modestly unobtrusive.

But then, I thought, what if something does go wrong? The bus is late. The bike was moved. The rubbish collection failed to pick up the plastics bag. The train breaks down. A delivery of cheese doesn't get through customs. The chocolate workers want more money. There is no de-icer.

The smallest diversions from perfection and chaos can ensue. I don't mean that the country grinds to a halt because someone left the car light on and there is no battery in the morning, but rather the psychological consequences play out. Panic, tension, stress. All those things that people the world over, in less than perfect places, are used to. Our hosts admitted that when there is a break from the norm, it is unsettling for the Swiss. It also has one of the highest suicide rates in Europe; they don't even see it as a necessarily bad thing, the suicide reports on the radio. It's part of the normal ebb and flow.

This in itself is enough to make me want to get on a plane and head back into the regular beauty of Buenos Aires chaos. Can you imagine Basel transported to India? It would have 30 million people living there in a week, looking for some peace and quiet from madness of Mumbai. Who then wouldn't get the point.

So, perfection and clockwork isn't all it is cracked up to be. Your mobile running out of battery on the way to work; the pile of dog crap you step into on the way to the wedding; the long queues at the supermarket; the insane hours on the phone to any call centre; time being a flexible friend which weaves through the ifs, buts and nearlys of life. It's crazy to think that these, which are now facts of life, would drive us mad. I'll take random and I'll take mistakes and their frustrations, because the perfect alternative is just a little cuckoo...


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