Friday, May 21, 2010

Comfort Zones

Click your heels together and repeat three times...'There's no place like home'. True story Dorothy.

Having just returned from a three week trip to visit daughter Stacie and her husband Hanspeter in Zurich, I'm happy to be back in my own space, returning to my own rhythm, my comfort zone.

Usually when Ken and I travel our pace is our own, which can be described as glacial. Most people wouldn't want to do museums with us because we have a tendency to actually look at and read about the exhibits. We took our sailboat L'Attitude from Florida to the Potomac River one year just so we could spend the entire summer in Washington, D.C. and explore the museums everday to our hearts content.

Zurich, on the other hand, seemed to us to have one speed...manic. Everyone there seems to be in a rush and it's because they have ALOT to do everyday. Being Swiss is not for pussies. They have made industriousness a way of life and they're very, very good at it. People born in Switzerland are lucky if they have OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) I don't have an OCD bone in my body, so you can imagine how far out of my comfort zone I was. Stacie, on the other hand, fits right in and can actually out Swiss the Swiss. I have no idea how she wound up being so focused, organized and able to juggle all the things going on in her life and do it extremely well and still remain happy and sane. It would drive me crazy.

In Switzerland there are LOTS of rules and everyone follows them...amazing. For example; in most apartment buildings there are rules concerning when you'll do your laundry. You're assigned a day of the week and that's your laundry day. If your laundry day is on Monday, you'd better not miss it or you're out of luck until the following Monday. So, I'm thinking...well, what if I'm sick or a friend calls and invites me to meet her for lunch? "I'm sorry, but today is my laundry day and it's just NOT possible". Stacie lived the first three years she was in Switzerland with the assigned 'laundry day' and finally bought a washing machine for the apartment so she could do laundry when it was convenient and worked with her schedule. American sensibility won out. Women in Switzerland take their laundry very seriously and have whole rooms in their homes devoted to all things laundry, including some kickass ironing machines...the kind that have the water resevoirs and can put a crease in a shirt sleeve that is sharp enough to cut a chunk of Emmentaler. These ironing machines can cost somewhere in the neighborhood of what I paid for my first car 40 years ago. I didn't understand why ironing is even necessary. Whenever I need to get the wrinkles out of my clothes, I just turn on the dryer for a few minutes. Silly me. Stacie says that Swiss women don't dry their clothes; only things like sheets, towels and jeans are dried in the dryer. The rest are hung to dry and then they're ironed. I asked her why? She said they think that drying clothes in dryer wears them out...seriously. I said, "Well what about the fact that the washing machine has a cycle that is an hour and a half long? That can't be good for clothing longevity." She said, "It's a Swiss thing".

I could go on about other uniquely Swiss ways of doing things, but I'll save those for another time. Trust me; there are so many that I'll have to do them in installments.

Lest anyone get the wrong impression, I have to say that I truly admire the Swiss people and find them to be very impressive in their ability to run such an orderly society. I just have to wonder if they're having any fun. I noticed that they don't smile much. Whenever I make eye contact with someone, I smile. It's just my way of acknowledging their presense and showing respect. Whenever I would smile at a Swiss person, nine times out of ten they would give me a blank look. After awhile I decided to make it into a game of sorts and keep score. The Swiss won, but I kept on smiling...damnit! I decided it wasn't because they're not a friendly people, because they are. It was because it was outside their comfort zone. It's really interesting to me how people react to something as simple and non-threatening as a smile. I think it has something to do with the degree of openess and freedom one experiences in their daily lives.

All I know for sure is that everytime I travel somewhere in the world I feel so grateful to have been born and raised as an American. We as a people have a unique way of living and looking at life. We may not be perfect, but I think that we try and have a goodness of heart that is open and giving.

Keep on smiling y'all.


  1. Hello Linda! The Gods have smiled on me to be the first to officially welcome you back, with your smile to a blog named after the concept.

    I noticed years ago that in New York City, my habit of smiling at people often met with a look of what I would call...caution. Someone explained to me later that if you smile at someone in "the city" they won't trust you.

    The pace of the city and the stress of that lifestyle does put people in a kind of urgency. For the most part, forget the smile, just the eye contact part is a challenge. That was explained to me too--don't make eye contact--look down. It is a defensive thing. All very sad to me.

    I'm glad you kept score Lindi-loo. I do it all the time. I simply can not, nor do I want to, pass someone walking without our eyes meeting and it seems to me that even if I'm sad, it is my duty to give the person a smile. I owe them that. I call it humanity...which basically means to smile with your heart at your fellow man.

    Heureux/Content de te/vous revoir!

  2. Wow. Of course the Swiss would be rule-bound. I got that after reading your post ... though ... I would never have imagined it going so far. Laundry day. Hmmm.

    can put a crease in a shirt sleeve that is sharp enough to cut a chunk of Emmentaler.

    That is hilarious.

    Just this morning, reading about Pakistan and their sanctions against youtube I thought, no matter how much I worry about the state of our empire, I am so so glad to be an American.

    Great post! Glad you're home.

    So ... first love? Will you write about it? Puh-leaaaase??

  3. Linda I loved this! Have you read Jerome k. Jerome (pre WWI)? He talks about Germany the same way in those times. He wrote that there were signs that children could not sit on a park bench (another sample chapter of his humor online 3 Men in a Bummel), and surprisingly, they OBEYED. He said if this were posted in England, the kids would be lined up taking turns sitting.
    I think it would be hard to live in a place with those rules, def. makes us appreciate the freedoms we hold....and keep fighting for.

  4. Hi Linda! It's such fun to see Switzerland through your eyes. I'm trying to imagine my daughter's apartment complex in Portland assigning a laundry day for everyone...what a hoot! They can't even get people to park in their assigned spots!

    It sounds as if the Swiss may be as tightly wound as their perfect timepieces!

    I guess everyone has their own accepted way of doing things, but I'm kind of hoping that Stacie can help her husband to slow down a little, and sometimes 'stop and smell the roses.'

    Dubby, I'm happy to report that when Andrea spent four summers in NYC training with American Ballet Theatre and the Radio City Rockettes, the atmospere had changed dramatically from what you describe. I stayed in the city with her for two of those summers, and the people couldn't have been more pleasant, helpful, and friendly. Interestingly enough, we thought that 9/11 would cause New Yorkers to act more suspicious and brooding, but it seems to have had the opposite effect.

    I <3 NYC.

  5. The Swiss cheese does rock. Just don't confuse what we call Swiss cheese, the kind with the holes in it, with the real thing. The first time Hampi saw it in the States he said, "What to Hell is this you call Swiss cheese?"
    Nancy, I'll have to pick up that book; sounds hilarious.
    Hampi isn't your typical Swiss as he's very well traveled and adventureous, plus he's been hanging out with Stacie for 6 years so he's learned to roll with it.
    Dubby, I like the Lindi-Loo! I'm going to make that my new nomme de plume.
    Reya, I can see that I'm going to have to break down and give in to your are relentless! Love you all...

  6. Don't mean to be relentless ... though ... if it works, GREAT!!

    I go to NYC on a regular basis (have good blog friends I stay with there). Since 9/11 the city is so much more relaxed and friendly than before. I LOVE NYC.


Your visit makes my heart smile. Thank you.