Cracking preconceptions – a tough little nut

Roger Federer and Heidi's grandfather - promoting all things Swiss!

Roger Federer and Heidi’s grandfather – promoting all things Swiss! 

ignorance |noun| lack of knowledge or information

This may sound like a non-topic rather than an actual topic, but this blog post is all about what I don’t know. I’m writing about ignorance, the absence of veritable knowledge, those free spaces in our brains where dust tends to accumulate unless otherwise engaged. This is why ignorance is sometimes associated with sneezing fits. Ah-choo!

Truth is, when you scratch beneath the surface, I know very little about Switzerland. I am, however, full of preconceptions – just like everybody else. All of us have preconceptions. We just do different things with them. Maybe we can think about these little devils as a stepping-stone between curiosity and knowledge. In the end, preconceptions are a natural stage of our learning dynamic. The danger is only when we go no further than that stepping stone.  But who wants to be stuck mid-river anyway – stuck in a precarious balance atop a stone meant to be a boost, not a dwelling? I don’t know – maybe you’re the kind of person that likes getting your socks wet. No judgment.

If I had to create an image to represent my own Swiss preconception, it would look something like this: Roger Federer poses for another Credit Suisse or Rolex ad, while walking a massive Saint Bernard… who’s carrying a Toblerone around it’s neck… which matches the Matterhorn in the background… atop which is a sun (actually a massive Gruyère cheese)… and the little flowers at Roger’s feet match the delicately embroidered ones on his Lederhosen. The animated iPad version of this ad comes with the added treat of hearing Federer yodeling “we pay really low taxes and have a great public transport system – bitches!”

Whenever you settle into a new place, there are always high initial costs. In Switzerland, you can add a big fat zero to those costs. Today, for example, I was faced with the questionable and yet highly entertaining Botox Tax: a 120 CHF (about 99 EUR, 84 GBP) doozy to register my bad-ass little friend with the Swiss police (a compulsory bureaucracy that even comes with some doggie bling – a little medallion for his collar.)

As my conversation with the very nice Swiss policewoman progressed, this is what was going through my head: “My stay in Switzerland is temporary. I have provided evidence that I am financially sound. And there are no discernable negative side effects to my pet-owning (assuming I pick-up after my dog and pay for all his needs out of my own pocket, both of which I do). So, exactly what undesirable side effects of my pet-owning are the Swiss being compensated for? What am I not getting here? Hmm, methinks the arguments behind this tax are as holey as the cheese in our fridge.”

And yet what did I say to the nice Swiss policelady?: “Bien sûr, madame. May I pay in cash?”

And what was the stepping stone between these two poles? Elementary. Clearly, my lawyerly habits had caught up with me. If I abandon the premise that rules should be proportional and logical, I feel so much more at peace, so much more able to enjoy the beautiful Swiss mountains. If I forget the general principle of natural law whereby rules should serve man and not the other way around, the splendid Neuchâtel Lake shines so much brighter. And I’d much rather spend my time and energy here hiking and writing, than trying to change that which I cannot change. (Wait, isn’t that the Serenity Prayer? Great, one week in Switzerland and I’m already saying the AA mantra!) Be that as it may, this is my strategy and I’m sticking to it. Who knows, maybe on one of my ambles I’ll even run into Roger walking Toblerone St. Bernard – for us Switzerland will be one massive canine country club. I’ve paid my dues. I hope Toblerone St. Bernard has paid his.

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