Thursday, 15 December 2011

Taxi in Zurich? - some warnings

After previously praising Zurich's treatment of traffic and cyclists, it is with unfortunate irony that on this same day I received some rather rude treatment on my bike in Zurich, and got beeped at twice by Taxi drivers.

From what I have personally experienced and been advised taxi drivers here are:

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Cycling in Zurich

While cycling in most other large cities is usually a mixture of teeth gritting and bell ringing frustration, Zurich seems to be a much more calm counterpoint to the usual fist shaking and shouting.

Politeness seems to be the key factor involved in getting around the City, whether that is by public transport, car, bicycle or foot.
I am consistently surprised at how polite car drivers are in Zurich, for example; very few pedestrian crossings actually have pedestrian lights. So how does it work then? Well the method is surprisingly simple, the pedestrian had automatic priority and all cars stop at zebra crossings at the slightest hint that someone might intend crossing. The result is that people crossing the road only hesitate a quick glance at oncoming traffic before marching straight out  in front of politely waiting cars.

While you would think this system would be the bane of most car drivers in Zurich it is not, the result is surprisingly stress free flowing traffic, probably because the cars don't spend their time waiting in front of red lights at pedestrian crossings where no one is crossing.

Indeed even the cars don't need lights at Zurich's most busy junction - central and use this polite waiting system to alternate between who has priority. Only at peak traffic times will you see a semi-formal traffic stopping system in place and this literally takes the form of a human Traffic Warden being stationed in what looks like an over-sized bin right in the centre of the junction.

This traffic version of an orange Oscar the Grouch is an efficient version of traffic lights as they are more accurately able to judge the needs of the waiting traffic, and appropriately assign priority.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Schmutzli - the Swiss Bad Santa

Every country has its traditions and rituals and one of the more quirky and oddly satisfying of the Swiss Christmas season is Schmutzli.

2 Schmutzli are seen here on either side of SamiChlaus

Just like Venom to Spiderman, Dr. Moriarty to Sherlock Holmes and Magneto to Dr. Xavier, Schmutzli is a more sinister counter point to the good that Santa represents.

The answer to how this tradition came about is once again representative of another classic battle between Christianity and paganism. Originally it was a pagan ritual called Perchten which involved good spirits driving out the bad old spirits. With Samichlaus taking the Christian "good" role Schmutzli some how managed to evolve into the dark figure.

Samichlaus is not Santa Claus however and the celebration of "St Nicolas Day"is on the 6th of December, while both Christmas and St Nicolas Day both have the same origins they take on different forms, with the latter having much more in common with its original tradition of paganism than its commercialised American brother.

What is personally appealing about this tradition is the fact that it actually give children something to fear at Christmas. No longer is the classic taunt "Santas' watching" applicable, the phrase "Schmutzli is watching" has far more fear behind it, and only rightly so, the black faced nemesis is associated with stealing children, carries a broom of sticks with which to hit misbehaving children and is even called  Père Fouettard or Father 'Whip' in the French speaking part of Switzerland.
Local teenagers have even been known to dress up as groups of Schmutzli's and go around implementing their own style of vigilante Christmas justice on younger children.

All Christmas songs now have a new tune

You better watch out
You better not cry
Better not pout
I'm telling you why
Schmutzli is coming to town

He’s got a stick, And he'll whip you twice;
It doesn't matter if you're naughty or nice
Schmutzli is coming to town

He'll steal when you’re sleeping, He'll whip you when you’re awake
He knows if you’ve been bad or good, So run for goodness sake!
O! You better watch out! You better not cry
Better not pout, I’m telling you why
Schmutzli is coming to town

Sounds like excellent incentive for good behaviour from children to me and hey its a lot less scary than the German equivalent "Krampus" who looks like the very incarnation of Satan himself.


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