Zurich, Switzerland

Cultural stereotypes and a trip to Zurich.

In June 2013, I went to Zurich, Switzerland, for a work conference. Some snippets:

  1. “You’re going to Switzerland? Lovely country, pity it’s full of Swiss people,” said an Italian acquaintaince, who cheerfully conformed to stereotypes about how northern Italians view the Swiss.
  2. I bought tickets to arrive in Zurich around 9pm. It was summer so it would still be light, and it was still in plenty of time to grab some dinner. Erm, in Italy it would be in plenty of time to grab dinner. I arrived and met a colleague who was also going to the conference. “I’ve had a look around,” he said. “The only place still open near here is a kebab shop, and it closes in half an hour.”
  3. And then the next morning everyone was up and about at 7am. I hadn’t really lived in Italy long enough at that point to have a right to be aghast at this, but I was.
  4. Zurich isn’t known for being a beautiful city, but the view over the city and lake is impressive:

    The awkwardly-positioned incinerator tower kind of detracts from the view through to the lake.

    The awkwardly-positioned incinerator tower kind of detracts from the view through to the lake.

  5. And while I wouldn’t want to live in Zurich, it was a pleasant place for a few days in summer. Especially since non-Italian food was available, which was an exciting novelty for me after a few months in Turin.
  6. You know why I tend to travel alone? Because my sense of direction stops working when I’m with other people. By myself, I navigate like a champ. Before I bought a smart phone 3 years ago, I’d have a look at a map before travelling to a city, then jump on a city bus from the airport and get off near my hotel based on “these streets look about right”, and it would work. With a travel partner, I confidently navigate us to completely the wrong part of town, forget the name of the street I’m looking for, and hop on buses going the wrong way.
  7. (I did all of those things in Zurich.)
  8. The conference was great fun, intellectually stimulating, and very tiring. I was well and truly ready to spend a weekend sleeping by the time we were on a train heading back to Italy. Which is probably why I was in tears with laughter when my Italian colleague conformed to stereotypes of Italian views of the French, and told this joke: The French were working on windscreens for the TGV train, and they wanted to make sure they would withstand impact from birds. So they build a wind tunnel and a device to catapult objects at a test windscreen, and head down to the local supermarket and buy a trolley full of chickens for testing. They run some tests, the windscreens all fail. So they go back and make thicker windscreens. They fail. They try changing the type of glass, it doesn’t work either. Eventually they have a windscreen so thick it’s too heavy for the train. “Why does zis not work?” say the French engineers. (For full effect, you have to imagine that in an Italian imitation of a French accent.) So they get a team from Boeing to come out and consult. Under the supervision of the Boeing engineers, they turn on the wind tunnel and start launching chickens. “Well?” say the French. The Boeing consultants reply: “Have you tried defrosting the chickens?”

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