Switzerland: Just like clockwork

In hindsight, Switzerland was actually a rather appropriate setting in which to conduct a course in Bayesian statistics. Bayesian statistics requires orderly thinking, thorough attention to detail, perfect craftsmanship (of your code), an even temperament and a very healthy amount of patience; none of which I excel at, I found out last week. However, all these attributes do quite accurately describe Switzerland and its people.

Switzerland Zurich

Pretty, clean, organised and orderly to a fault, the Swiss have certainly carved for themselves one highly functional, if slightly expensive, society. In fact, at the risk of sounding cliché, things really do run like clockwork in Switzerland.

Trains, buses, boats, cable cars, everything runs exactly to schedule (so much so that if you ask about schedules and times you will get told things like “we will get there at 6:22 pm” or “it leaves in 11 minutes”). So too did my Bayesian statistics course, which was a very different experience to the delightful post-lunch tardiness that transpired during my previous statistics course in France. And speaking of clockwork, every single one of the 20+ public clocks I saw in the three cities I visited during the week showed the correct time (which is really quite a remarkable achievement considering how few of them tell the right time in other countries).

Switzerland Clock face

Want some other examples of Swiss civility, functionality, efficiency?

All Swiss public transport is completely integrated in terms of ticketing and scheduling. For example, if you wander into the tourist information at Luzern at 11am on a Saturday morning, you can, within 90 minutes, be at the top of a 2000m mountain having gotten there via three different forms of transport!

Work places have purpose-built little cupboards and shoe racks, where people remove their ‘outside’ stuff (wet shoes and bulky jackets) and then proceed to wander around the exceedingly well-heated offices in shirts and socks and sandals (true).

Also, when discharged from their compulsory army service, Swiss men are issued with a personal weapon and a single sealed box of ammunition, which is inspected regularly to ensure that no unauthorized use takes place. Why? In case Switzerland is invaded. As a testament to the orderly disciplined nature of the country, while this policy means that Switzerland tops the world in gun ownership rates, gun crime rate is so low that statistics are not even kept.

Finally, for one last example of the civility and meticulous attention to detail of the Swiss people: The official name of the country is specifically written in Latin (Confoederatio Helvetica) so as not to favour or disenchant any of the four official language groups that reside within Switzerland.

In fact, the only incongruous aspect to all this order is the scenery.

Swiss Alps

The Swiss Alps with their multitude of messy, uneven, jagged, snow-capped peaks rising above the clouds are neither orderly, nor precise, but they certainly are beautiful. And boy did I get a magical blue-sky day in which to savour their breath-taking beauty. I played in the snow, soaked up the sunshine, took loads of photos and inhaled tons of fresh mountain air, until my belly was grumbling. At which point I headed to the first food hut I could find for some venison sausages with bread and mustard, washed down with Swiss beer.

Then as the sun began to dip behind the craggy peaks, I hastily half-shuffled, half-slid back down the icy paths, just in time to catch the last cable car down the mountain, the last funicular to the lake, and the last boat to Luzern.

Just like clockwork.

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