Switzerland for the most part fits the delivered stereotype. Its pretty, orderly, Alpine and everything seems to function purposefully. Its hard to put your finger on the Swiss, but everywhere there is evidence of a purposefulness and order. The streets, the flowerpots, the service in the shops and supermarkets. The affable soldiers travelling on trains with their assault rifles. The Helicopter gunships that have hovered near my campus have a purpose, but it presumably has nothing to do with us. The bus that takes me down or up the mountain to Campus runs on time to the precise minute. The F16 jet Fighter may be the same one I see most visits. I feel for the pilot. He takes off, kicks it into some acceleration module then must slow down and turn the plane around for another north south or south north sprint across the length of Suisse. He must count off the years before he can go off and work for Swissair. Or perhaps he is already flying for them, and its his 4 weeks of military service.
A friend of mine, says of Suisse, its Germany, with class. I go further, its Germany with guns.
This is my 5th visit to Switzerland in 9 years. Things are changing. The young gangs of African refugees looking like American rappers are new. The number of aimless unemployed is more noticeable. The trains are still spotless, but the railway station sidings have graffiti now. The quarries chiseling into the beautiful countryside are expanding between Aigle and Lausanne as are the factories that pump out something or other that can drift across into the French Alps if the wind blows south. Why they built a hideous factory on the side of the Alpine mountain is any bodies guess.
When I first visited a decade ago, I would get off the train from France at Berne or Genève. There was no customs or police checks. There was a wooden box where you had to fill in a card about your stay and purpose. I remember not being able to find any paperwork on one occasion and on another I was catching a connecting train to Lausanne and just didn’t bother. Now its more stringent. Customs with black pistols and computer pads get on the trains and request your passport. Like all officials with pads and especially pistols, they canseem to like their job a little too much.
Unlike the Germans, where it is best not to mention the war, with the Swiss, it is best not to mention neutrality. Neutrality meant that while everyone beat the living daylights out of everyone else the Swiss were able, for some 500 years, to make the best of geopolitics around them, stay in their geographic fortress and make the most of neighboring chaos and mayhem. To be perfectly blunt it was a choice of manufacturing and finance or join in the brutality. They chose the former. Now of course their national conscience is up for dissection as some Swiss ponder if too much gain was made at the cost of playing the neutral observer. The Swiss, from my observation, are also reexamining themselves in a global context rather than the safety of historical isolation. The national change appears to be imposed on them externally and with a haste that is somehow not their conventional transition speed.