Davos: Day 3 “Nothing is Broken in Switzerland”

2 minutes

A few more lighthearted cultural observations on Day 3 at Davos.  

My Davos roomie was standing at a ski lift when there was a momentary pause in the efficient whisking of people, poles and skiis up the mountain.  My friend observed to his son, “Maybe it’s broken.”  A Swiss gentleman next in line politely corrected him matter-of-factly without any hint of irony:  “Nothing is broken in Switzerland.”  And he was right. The lift started up again promptly.

It is a tremendous point of pride in Switzerland that people and things are well cared for, with precision, accuracy, and a minimum of fuss. I spent a whole Sunday afternoon at the Landesmuseum in Zurich — a vast collection of artifacts and exhibits spanning Swiss history and culture. In the very beginning stands a 10-ton granite reproduction of the Gotthard Massif, the vast central mountain range of the Alps and mother of three of Europe’s great rivers. The audio tour mostly centers on the three incredible tunnels underneath the massif — each one a miracle of engineering in the century in which it was painstakingly carved. The most recent is the “Base Tunnel” opened in 2016 as the only flat route through the Alps. At 57 km is it the longest tunnel in the world. The audio narrator proclaims the Base Tunnel a testament to “the Swiss values of accuracy, precision and hard work.” There’s a reason these folks make the world’s finest timepieces. 

At the airport I couldn’t resist a picture of this attendant caressing the baggage check-in kiosk as he cleaned it with exquisite care. Turns out one of Walter’s colleagues tipped him off and he raced to track me down at security to ask why I had taken his photo — and (catching his breath) which he had a duty to inform me was against European privacy laws. As I explained that I wanted to show his careful work on this blog, he literally glowed with pride:  “Yes, I do this work with great love. I bring my creativity, care, and full attention to each part of my work. I believe that doing each task with love and with my full self brings honor to the work. I am so pleased that your eye was able to see this.” We shook hands and exchanged many blessings. Before resuming his post he was careful to give me full permission to use the picture lest I violate Swiss law. 

I took 26 trains this week. Every one was on time to the minute. The ones in the Alps are whisper quiet, smoother than snow, clean and cozy. The views of the snow clad evergreens and towering peaks reaching into the clouds are literally breathtaking. At the “stops on request” people literally ski up to the tracks and board in full gear. The conductors are professional, polite and very firm about making sure everyone is in the correct class of service. In the airport tunnel photo below, note the clock showing the next tram arriving in 0:44 seconds. The doors opened exactly as it went to zero. The overall effect is that travel around the country is as relaxing as it is reliable. 

Of course things do break in Switzerland. The country is not immune to the law of entropy. But when things break or get dirty or worn, they get cared for efficiently, promptly and (usually) cheerfully. One loud and disorganized American visitor got locked out of his apartment late one night on a snowy hilltop in the medieval village of Klosters. Fearing freezing to death in the accumulating snow, he rang all the buzzers in the building (multiple times) and began hollering up at the darkened windows. Eventually a very grumpy Swiss stumbled down the stairs and mercifully let him in. But not before a administering a lecture about ringing multiple buzzers, an inquisition about carelessness, and a stern admonition to “get your act together if you’re going to live here.”

Well, the next morning I got him a nice bottle of Champagne and wrote a heartfelt note of apology and deep gratitude for saving me from curling up in the snow drifts. I left the package on the stairs as I departed for home. By evening I had a lovely email back from my grumpy neighbor explaining about his kids’ being difficult sleepers and inviting me to lunch next time i’m in town. 

It turns out that the values a culture celebrates and puts at its center really do matter in everyday life — when scrubbing a tub or cleaning a kiosk or repairing a cable car that traverses a thousand meter deep ravine. But make no mistake — Walter knows that any society that wishes to hold fast to those values must nourish and live into them with “love, creativity, care, and full attention.”

A few more lighthearted cultural observations on Day 3 at Davos.  

My Davos roomie was standing at a ski lift when there was a momentary pause in the efficient whisking of people, poles and skiis up the mountain.  My friend observed to his son, “Maybe it’s broken.”  A Swiss gentleman next in line politely corrected him matter-of-factly without any hint of irony:  “Nothing is broken in Switzerland.”  And he was right. The lift started up again promptly.

It is a tremendous point of pride in Switzerland that people and things are well cared for, with precision, accuracy, and a minimum of fuss. I spent a whole Sunday afternoon at the Landesmuseum in Zurich — a vast collection of artifacts and exhibits spanning Swiss history and culture. In the very beginning stands a 10-ton granite reproduction of the Gotthard Massif, the vast central mountain range of the Alps and mother of three of Europe’s great rivers. The audio tour mostly centers on the three incredible tunnels underneath the massif — each one a miracle of engineering in the century in which it was painstakingly carved. The most recent is the “Base Tunnel” opened in 2016 as the only flat route through the Alps. At 57 km is it the longest tunnel in the world. The audio narrator proclaims the Base Tunnel a testament to “the Swiss values of accuracy, precision and hard work.” There’s a reason these folks make the world’s finest timepieces. 

At the airport I couldn’t resist a picture of this attendant caressing the baggage check-in kiosk as he cleaned it with exquisite care. Turns out one of Walter’s colleagues tipped him off and he raced to track me down at security to ask why I had taken his photo — and (catching his breath) which he had a duty to inform me was against European privacy laws. As I explained that I wanted to show his careful work on this blog, he literally glowed with pride:  “Yes, I do this work with great love. I bring my creativity, care, and full attention to each part of my work. I believe that doing each task with love and with my full self brings honor to the work. I am so pleased that your eye was able to see this.” We shook hands and exchanged many blessings. Before resuming his post he was careful to give me full permission to use the picture lest I violate Swiss law. 

I took 26 trains this week. Every one was on time to the minute. The ones in the Alps are whisper quiet, smoother than snow, clean and cozy. The views of the snow clad evergreens and towering peaks reaching into the clouds are literally breathtaking. At the “stops on request” people literally ski up to the tracks and board in full gear. The conductors are professional, polite and very firm about making sure everyone is in the correct class of service. In the airport tunnel photo below, note the clock showing the next tram arriving in 0:44 seconds. The doors opened exactly as it went to zero. The overall effect is that travel around the country is as relaxing as it is reliable. 

Of course things do break in Switzerland. The country is not immune to the law of entropy. But when things break or get dirty or worn, they get cared for efficiently, promptly and (usually) cheerfully. One loud and disorganized American visitor got locked out of his apartment late one night on a snowy hilltop in the medieval village of Klosters. Fearing freezing to death in the accumulating snow, he rang all the buzzers in the building (multiple times) and began hollering up at the darkened windows. Eventually a very grumpy Swiss stumbled down the stairs and mercifully let him in. But not before a administering a lecture about ringing multiple buzzers, an inquisition about carelessness, and a stern admonition to “get your act together if you’re going to live here.”

Well, the next morning I got him a nice bottle of Champagne and wrote a heartfelt note of apology and deep gratitude for saving me from curling up in the snow drifts. I left the package on the stairs as I departed for home. By evening I had a lovely email back from my grumpy neighbor explaining about his kids’ being difficult sleepers and inviting me to lunch next time i’m in town. 

It turns out that the values a culture celebrates and puts at its center really do matter in everyday life — when scrubbing a tub or cleaning a kiosk or repairing a cable car that traverses a thousand meter deep ravine. But make no mistake — Walter knows that any society that wishes to hold fast to those values must nourish and live into them with “love, creativity, care, and full attention.”


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