Tuesday, September 1, 2015

SΩ11 - Welcome to Alpland

This is where it all began (for me)! The place some might call the ‘land of Alps and perfection’: Switzerland. Although, I’m a purebred Swiss the reality is mentally I’m Swiss-American. For this reason I have a mixed perspective on my homeland. Thus, I decided to find someone with a contrasting viewpoint.

To properly introduce this post's co-writer we go back to 2011. I was back in Switzerland and starting my first proper job. Fortunately, I was not alone and met a diverse group of Canadian interns. They introduced me to the joy of traveling. In particular, I met one whimsical intern with Indo-Canadian roots: Parth. Our travels thus far range from the Fjords in Norway to the cobblestone streets of Firenze, Italy. Like myself, Parth has a unique perspective on life and society. We recently reconnected after he discovered my blog. And now we’ve agreed to co-write this post.

Without further ado, let’s discuss Switzerland! This will be a Q&A style post where both Parth and I give our insights. Have any more burning questions about Switzerland?  We’ll gladly answer them in the comment section below.

How was your experience with Swiss people?
Parth Mario
When I first moved to Switzerland, I felt a bit like a hatchling leaving his nest for his first big adventure. It was both exciting and intimidating at the same time. Making friends was key to surviving and maintaining my sanity.

Luckily, there were other students in the same boat. However, for someone who is the infamous “Sheldon Cooper” of the group, it was quite difficult making new friends. Surprisingly enough, it didn’t take me long to bond with the locals as they quickly accepted me and my shenanigans.

The Swiss in their prime seem to be far more sociable and welcoming to friendship than in other countries or those in other age groups - not sure why that is. Also, I often prefer to confide in my Swiss friends than my Canadian friends. This is mainly because when I ask them for advice they provide direct and efficient advice as is the local culture. In my experience, the Swiss and even long term expats offer a refreshingly unique perspective to my queries and problems.

Suffice to say, I made many friends during my stay in Switzerland and still remain in touch with several of them. I can count on them to be there in my time of need.
“Grüezi!” The sound of Swiss German rings right to my core. My gut reaction is to connect to whoever is speaking, but at the last moment I hold my tongue. This bizarre phenomenon shows my mixed feelings towards Swiss.

At my core I believe in a few Swiss ideologies. Swiss seem connected to nature and humanity. Many Swiss enjoy both nature and take care of the Swiss environment. Also, the Swiss believe in peace. War isn't a reasonable solution to any problem. In terms of national politics, it’s great that the top parties must share the executive power.

Oddly enough, mingling with Swiss isn’t my cup of tea. While living in Switzerland I tried to connect to Swiss both at the various running clubs I went to and at university. However, many Swiss have a tight circle of childhood friends and few seemed interested in new friends.

With the Swiss willing to talk there is often an utter disconnect. The topics and humor are rather flat. Also, Swiss reactions seem predicable, like they’ve all been programmed with the ‘Swiss Life Rules’. Finally, the Swiss wealth has placed them on pedestal and few Swiss seem open minded to the outside world.

Yet there are always exceptions. Parth seemed to have quite the opposite experience. There’s also a rumor that Swiss friends are honest and loyal.

Why is the cost of living so high in Switzerland?
Parth Mario
I really think the cost of living in Switzerland is high to discourage immigration; the Swiss have a very pretty country, and want to keep it that way. In many ways, even though I am an outsider, I agree with them and their methods.

Why pollute what you already have with an influx of people, and not have anything to show in the future? If you discourage immigration - the benefits are 2-fold; keeps foreigners from taking jobs away from locals, and it also encourages tourism. This is essentially a double-win for the Swiss government as it improves the GDP by reducing the exports (keeping jobs local), and also generating income via the various sectors funded by tourism.
Did you know until the 19th century most Swiss were poor farmers? There are a few factors that led to Swiss prosperity. My father, always full of stories, was kind enough to share his historical wisdom on this topic. Along with some further research, I explain the Swiss prosperity.

Being a landlocked nation with limited resources the Swiss missed the chance to lucrative colonies. However, the industrial revolution presented the train to Switzerland. In the 1850s Alfred Escher founded Credit Suisse to finance his railroad company. The railroad system also brought tourists closer to the Alps. The first tourists were Brits obsessed with Alpine peaks. In the 1890s the Norwegian sport of skiing brought even more tourists.

This trio (trains, tourists, & banks) was the key that led to quality products and services. The majority of those tourists were wealthy and excepted ‘the best’. The trains and banks supported this high quality market.

Shortly after in the 20th century Switzerland became the safe haven of Europe. The Swiss neutrality brought all those with treasures to hide. I presume around this point Swiss businesses took full advantage of this ‘Quality & Security’ label. After all the wealthy tend to go for the highest price tag!

If you had to recommend a place in Switzerland, where would it be?
Parth Mario
I like the atmosphere in Montreux. The humidity of the lakeside coupled with the vivid splashes of green foliage and the plentiful flowers along the shore provide for a very picturesque and relaxing facade that hides a city filled to the brim with culture. It is a small city by any standard, but the people are very friendly and seem to encourage large social gatherings, most famously in the form of the Jazz Festival. This is something I really look forward to when visiting a new city as a tourist or to ponder on whether it is a worthy place to settle down if forced to do so in the future. I’ve always had a deep connection with the Alps. I’d say this ‘Alp love’ is one of the few Swiss qualities I have. Actually, all my life I’ve enjoyed exploring mountains, including the Rockies (US), Pyrenees (Andorra) and Middle Atlas (Morocco). However, visiting the Swiss Alps always puts me in a heavenly bliss!

I find Luzern to be the true gateway to the Alps. Stepping off the train you’re instantly greeted by a medieval city center on your left and a picturesque lake on your right with the Alps as a backdrop. You can also jump on a boat tour of the  ‘Vierwaldstättersee’. The boat tour takes you to gondola access points to visit various peaks like the Rigi and Pilatus.

Which transit system do you prefer: Swiss or Japanese?
Parth Mario
As an outsider, the Swiss public transit system was one of the best in the world. Everything just made sense, and the system really seemed to be designed to optimize public transport and minimize travel time. This is unlike in other countries, where the transport system seems more a means of milking money from you in additional to taxes.

The real standout feature of the Swiss system, apart from the automated announcer lady voice in the trains which always puts a smile on my face, is the sheer number of connections between places. You want to go from Zurich to Geneva, but want to stop of at Basel for some odd reason - No problem, there’s a train connection for you. Every train station has a teller too so you can buy tickets if you don’t speak the local language or are illiterate. The ticket machines also have an option to top off your cell phone credits - I did not know I wanted this feature until I used it!

On the flip side, Japan’s transit system is more efficient, but it is less tourist-friendly. This is in part due to the language barrier, and in part the geography of Japan itself. Even with the bullet-train, it still takes over 3 hours to get from Kyoto to Tokyo, and the aforementioned extra services offered in Switzerland, are a bit more difficult to find in Japan.
Both transit systems are top notch, yet I'm going with the Japanese transit system. However, there are a few distinctions to make. There is the city transit system (ie Zurich or Tokyo) and the national transit system.

For me the Tokyo metro system and bullet trains (Shinkansen) are likely in the top in the world in both convenience and in terms of time. However, the regional service (JR) and metro are fairly complicated. For me the punctuality of the Japanese system is superb (The average annual delay of the Shinkansen is under a minute).

The national transit system in Switzerland is fairly convenient and easy, but city systems rely on bus/tram systems which are fairly slow.

Your most and least favorite aspects of Switzerland?
Parth Mario
I liked the efficiency the most in Switzerland. I even picked up a few tricks to be more efficient with my time a well. For instance, I learned how to prioritize my assignments on the fly. This efficiency is apparently being noticed by those around me and they either compliment me, envy me, or drop their jaws in horror at the amount of workload I am capable of handling without going into a meltdown.

The prices of basic commodities in Switzerland were my least favorite. Basic goods are very expensive such as bread or cheese or even a cab ride to the airport. However luxury goods like a high-level mountain bike are peanuts compared to other countries and this was flabbergasting. One really has to be more conscious with their money and rations here than in other countries.
Let me make this short and sweet. The Swiss Alps are truly breathtaking, which also provide the milk that's used to make delicious chocolates.

Now on the sour side, I find Swiss are obsessed with rules and could be more open minded. Perhaps the wealth has blinded Swiss to the wonders of life.

Hopefully, you now know more about Switzerland. Once again, we'll be more than happy to answer any further questions!

1 comment :

  1. I agree with Parth, Swiss over Jap railway system any day!!
    Do enjoy the voiceover lady in Switzerland apologising for a one or two minute delay!