Swiss stereotypes


The contrast between French Switzerland and German Switzerland is amazing. When you start in the south west and head north east it’s like going through a different country. In the French part they speak, surprise surprise, French. All the signs are in French and the cities are not as well kept as what you’d expect from a German. To me Geneva could have been a French city.

On the ride north the change happened somewhere in between two little towns. I passed a whole lot of French signs and then just like that everything was German. I suddenly realised that I really don’t speak any German at all. Sad one.

The day after I arrived in Geneva I went to the UN headquarters. It rained the whole day but it was OK, I was inside the place exploring where the UN makes all the decisions. The offices in New York are bigger and the Security Council actually meets there, but Geneva is the official headquarters.

Right outside the building is a giant chair with one leg half gone. I wondered if it got so cold in Geneva that someone stole a leg for firewood. Or a better explanation I heard someone mention is that the UN does so much talking that they can talk the hind leg off a chair. I read it was actually a remembrance for mine victims.

Later in the day I took a sort of taxi boat ride across the lake. The very gruff looking driver said something about me standing too far out on the wharf when the boat docked but I couldn’t understand all of it. I didn’t know how they do things here. I’m used to just jumping on when it’s close enough, or if you’re with someone else having a competition to see who can jump on when the boat is furtherest out. But hey she spent the entire trip talking on her cell phone which I’m sure is far more dangerous.

A short ride later, during which it decided to rain very heavily, and I was in Zurich. What a ride! I didn’t go over the Swiss alps but it was so beautiful, except for the rain at the end which stung my face. I also stopped in Bern for a while. Crazy, the city is built on a ridge between two canyon like rivers, it’s spectacular.

Zurich was a lot bigger than I imagined, of course I rode in through the suburbs, but the old town is a bit smaller and quieter. I went to a couchsurfing meeting the night I arrived and met a lot of Swiss and expats in Zurich. Awesome, except for the fact everyone kept asking which part of Australia I was from.

I was staying with my host Antoinette in an apartment block and I managed to manoeuvre my bike up some stairs, around a winding pathway, and between some poles to store it underneath the apartments. Another note left, this time in English. Oh well, they all think I’m Dutch because of the number plate so rest assured, there’s no blemish on the NZ name. I took the note, put it in my diary, paid no attention to it, and left the bike there anyway. I just hoped I wouldn’t find my bike defaced but I think the Swiss are a pretty peaceful lot.

Zurich wasn’t half as stereotypical as I thought though. I didn’t notice too many banks or bankers for that matter. Maybe they dress differently than the NZ bankers. Of course there was a lot of chocolate though, including some with absinthe (which I had to try) and another with specs of gold. Rest assured I didn’t try that one as I could have financed another six months of travelling for that price.

The young crowd tended to be a lot hipper that I imagined, and very sociable. Kind of a weird taste in hang out areas though; a bar that looked like someone’s old garage, and a burger place that looked like the skate park down the road in Auckland. I think the young people here like things that are new and not well established which sort of goes against everything you imagined Zurich to be.