I have recently ventured into the most expensive, organised, safe and prosperous country in the world (well not the most prosperous but a close 11th). I experienced the real Swiss watch that ticks with unprecedented accuracy across the entire country and all transport systems. I gained new insight into the meaning of ‘extortion’, as I reluctantly handed over AU$5.25 for a can of lentils. And of course, I learned the word ‘Dudelsack’, which is the German version of the Scottish Bagpipes. In hindsight, learning the phrases How do I operate this parking metre? Or, where is the nearest petrol station? Would have been of greater assistance.
Most extraordinarily, I discovered some unusual social norms and unparalleled medical tenets implemented into Swiss society. These are my top three takes:
1. Switzerland has legalised heroin
Don’t get too excited; no one is putting up ‘Big H 4 sale’ signs on roadside apple carts. It is not available on the open market. Rather, doctors can prescribe heroin to those who are already addicted to it. It is a crazy concept, although Switzerland has one of the lowest use rates of heroin in the world. Primarily, the only heroin addicts in Switzerland happen to be the ones who deal it.
Due to Switzerland being one of the most expensive countries in the world, it makes sense that users would sell to pay for their habit. Doctors prescribing heroin to users subsequently removes dealers from the streets and simultaneously into a rehabilitation facility. Users are no longer having to deal because they are getting their free fix from doctors. Since legalising heroin (in a very limited way), the number of new users has subsequently decreased, and the illegal drug supply of heroin is about as alive as road kill. Government subsidised heroin, who would have thought?
Somewhat disappointedly, despite the fact I was sleeping on air mattresses in car parks, I did not come across any heroin addicts come dealers to question further. They must not meander around rural Swiss-French villages with 13th-century churches.
2. Fraudulent Homelessness is rife
Switzerland has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the world. So much so, that appearing down and out has become cultist amongst youth. For some time now, teenagers hang around the city streets dressed like a gipsy druggie or depending on who you ask, in the latest normcore trends. These fashionistas hobos do a spot of begging on the street corner, perhaps make a cardboard sign and if they’re far-reaching and don’t own a Poodle, they’ll bring along their dog.
After a few hours of sitting in a dirty jacket smoking on the streets of Zurich, opposite iconic landmarks and outside of high-end designer stores, they jump back on the train to mum and dad’s lakeside villa and resume life as normal. Strange how the absence of any real struggle has resulted into a part-time lifestyle of pretending poverty. Perhaps it’s the thrill of experiencing temporary hardship that leads to a higher appreciation of one’s fortune and financial advantage? We can only hope.
3. Bus drivers control traffic lights
This is not a conspiracy theory about the unsuspecting folk controlling society with Jedi mind tricks. The Swiss seem abnormally meticulous about keeping time. Bus drivers can control and change traffic lights to ensure they stay green for the entire journey to ensure transport runs to schedule. Catching a train at 10.13am? It is on the platform at 10.13.00am. It has departed at 10.13.48am.
The transport system is so confident with their time keeping, that if an act of God or unforeseen circumstance occurs and renders your bus or train late, the transport department will happily write to your employer. They will readily admit fault for your delayed arrival to work on the 14 March 2017. Marvellous, the only downside to this is your boss will never buy any ‘blame it on the train’ excuse.
The phrase time is money is taken quite literally in Switzerland. If Australia, New Zealand or England were to have such an efficient system, after the shock and dismay from the general population, I could only imagine an outcry. No one wants to be on time or early to work when they can play hooky being late.
After my little intrepid journey, I did ponder whether such concepts would work in the societies I am familiar with: Australia, New Zealand and the UK. I have definitively concluded no, never, nein, not on your nelly, negative. Legalising heroin in any other state, even in a controlled manner, could only set society into a spiralling mess and disarray. When poverty and homelessness are real, it’s a miserable existence. It is not a leisurely part-time pursuit people would dabble.
And of course, if there’s no tardy transport to complain about, we’d eliminate a classic small talk topic. Swiss norms are just that, Swiss. It would not or could not work in any other context or backdrop, although intriguing to watch in practice.