Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Real Standard of Living in Zurich

You can tell a lot about a country by riding public transportation. The other day, I was sitting on a very crowded tram, boxed in by people sitting on one side of me and standing on another. Then a very old woman gets on. She must have been in her 80s. I waited for someone near her to give up their seat but no one did. Unfortunately, she wouldn’t have been able to get back to where I was sitting with all the people blocking the way, but I just thought, man, what a country. Yes, it’s clean and safe—an old woman will never have her purse snatched. But she will have her seat taken. Sometimes I wonder, what’s worse?

I was out with some expats last night and a friend that had a baby four months ago was telling me similar stories. She’ll be struggling to exit a store a Zurich, juggling bags and a stroller, and the shopkeepers will just chat with each other and watch. Last week, she waited over ten minutes until someone was nice enough to hold the door so she could get into Starbucks. I mean please, how can a place like Zurich be rated consistently as one of the best places in the world to live, yet treat people in such a fashion?

The worst part is that I have had to train myself to deal with the rudeness just to survive. So I'll push at people to get on trains. I'll dress is black. I'll not smile (very hard for an American).

When I visit other countries I will still be in my Swiss manners mode until I realize I am being a jerk because no one else is acting like that.

In London, I pushed into people with my luggage so I would be able to get off the underground before people rushed on and didn't let me out. But the English gave me dirty looks as I crawled across them before the tube stopped. Then, I was surprised to discover that people waiting to get on stood out of the way, letting others off and it was no big deal for me to rush and act like a lunatic. I was embarrassed. I never would have done this two years ago. But this is what happens after living in a highly rated city for two years. And as I rode the escalator and emerged into the London streets, I just thought, give me a dirty sidewalk any day. As long as it comes with a smile and some old fashioned manners.

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