“I suppose you have to admire the Swiss. Here, after all, is a county that is small. mountainous, has virtually no natural resources and yet has managed to become the richest nation on earth” – Bill Bryson, ‘Neither here, Nor there’
In April 2007 we visited Alpine Switzerland and driving through the meadows and hills on our way to Liechtenstein we stopped at a delightful little place for lunch.
It was a perfectly lovely setting and we sat in the sun and enjoyed our food but the best was yet to come because when we decided to use the washrooms before resuming our journey we were amused to find what simply has to be the best loo in the world with a mechanical cleaning process that included a 360º scrubbing and automatic disinfection of the toilet seat.
This was really impressive but I was a little concerned about health and safety risks associated with it beginning in advance of the occupier leaving the seat, which could have been especially painful for a man if he was to get his valuables caught up in the procedure.
Switzerland it has to be said is not the most exciting country in the World so this started us thinking and we tried to agree on five things that make it famous. We were going to do ten but this seemed absurdly ambitious!
Our final choice might have included cowbells, yodelling, fondue sets or emmental cheese, maybe Roger Federer or Ursula Andress but in the end we agreed upon, in reverse order…
5. Swiss watches of course – that was rather obvious. I have never owned a Swiss watch and never will because I really fail to see the point of spending hundreds or even thousands of pounds on a wrist watch when a simple Casio will do the same job for just a few pence. I once bought one in a petrol station for £1.99 and it lasted for several years.
4. Cuckoo clocks, because even though they are strictly speaking from Germany the Swiss were important for the ‘chalet’ style that they introduced at the end of nineteenth century and is the sort of cuckoo clock where it is common to have a music box somewhere in the mechanism with tunes like ‘Edelweiss’ and ‘The Happy Wanderer’.
I once had a problem with a cuckoo clock in Germany – Trouble With a Cuckoo Clock
3. Breakfast cereal Muesli, which was introduced around 1900 by the Swiss doctor and nutritionist Maximilian Bircher-Benner for patients in his hospital in Zurich. I imagine that this solved the problem of bed-blocking!
I am not a big fan of Muesli, I always think it looks like something that I should put out on the bird feeding table…
2. Toblerone, the Swiss chocolate bar found in every airport duty-free shop that was invented by Theodore Tobler in 1908 in his factory in Bern with a design supposed to represent the Matterhorn Mountain in the Swiss Alps.
I confess that I rather like Toblerone but then I am rather fond of almonds.
but most of all we had to agree upon on…
1. The Swiss Army knife.
Various models of Swiss Army knives exist, with different tool combinations for specific tasks. The most common tools featured are, in addition to the main blade, a smaller second blade, tweezers, toothpick, corkscrew, can opener, corkscrew, slotted screwdriver, flat-head screwdriver, phillips-head screwdriver, nail file, scissors, saw, file, hook, magnifying glass, ballpoint pen, fish scaler, hex wrench w/bits, pliers and key chain. Recent technological features include USB flash drives, digital clock, digital altimeter, LED light, laser pointer, and MP3 player.
That is a startling collection of potential weapons in one utensil but I can’t help thinking that it was a good job Switzerland didn’t go to war with Germany in 1939 because I can’t imagine Hitler’s crack Panzer division being turned back by an army wielding nail files and toothpicks.
Manufacturers today supply over fifty thousand a year to the Swiss Army which works out at a new knife for every soldier just about every three years or so.
Have I missed anything?