Robert Crampton opines in The Times that Zurich “scores top marks for utter bone-breaking tedium”. I guess he’s writing this stuff as a warning to wannabe tax exiles. So allow me to give them some informed insight into elite and popular lifestyles in Zurich.
Crampton says that man does not live by scrubbed pavements alone, and he’s right. In Zurich city as night falls, across the road from the opera house, along the beautiful lakeside promenade near Bellevue, you’ll find hundreds of teenagers loitering. At their feet will be crates of cheap supermarket-bought booze. It’s binge-drinking and joint-smoking time. They create a right mess, which they leave behind for others to clean. But what’s weird to us Brits is that there’s no police in sight and there’s no public stink about it.
When the kids are suitably tanked up they head for the city’s night clubs to take harder drugs and dance. Again, they are left alone to get on with it. Of course, like the underage drinking, cannabis and hard drugs are illegal, but the young have little to fear from the law on Friday and Saturday nights as they openly flout it.
There’s a freedom at play in Zurich that you won’t find in London anymore. But if a fight starts the police suddenly appear on the scene in force. They go in hard because young people sometimes carry knives (Swiss law regarding weapons is relaxed until you try to use one on somebody else). However the courts – unlike the police – are likely to treat the kids gently, which amazes the Germans whose laws are much tougher.
In so-called Swiss-style, Zurich’s left-wing and Green authorities recently ruled that bars showing the World Cup in South Africa on TV must turn the sound off. This decision struck most people as silly in a small city that allows 500 bars and clubs to open after midnight. The authorities heard the protest and allowed the sound.
Noise is a major issue in Switzerland. In my village on Zurich’s Gold Coast the one thing you must not do is make a racket. There is a pervading calmness and church-like silence, which the odd laugh, bark, kid or lawnmower pierces. There’s hardly anybody on the streets. In such places you feel the numbness of Switzerland’s inward-looking family-orientated village life.
As I see it, Zurich city is a sanity-saving zone. It provides easy-going relief from the close-knit, sometimes stultifying, small towns and villages in which most of Switzerland’s population live.
Bunburying Gnomes: How the elite plays away
The Gnomes of Zurich are practicised masters of Bunburying between the city and their local communities. Unlike in the UK, they’ve never had to worry about being exposed by the tabloid press. There’s little appetite among the Swiss public for knowing what people get up to away from home. Well, so long as they don’t do what one billionaire did when he took underage girls back to his suite at the super-elite Dolder Hotel at 3 a.m. and ended up in prison.
Gnomes cannot rock ‘n’ roll in their garden, outside their house, in the village square, or be seen the worse for wear by their neighbours, except at Zurich’s Street Parade or the local Chilbi. But if they head for Zurich centre they can sample freely almost any bohemian flavour they fancy. Yes, Swiss Germans are wonderfully contradictory.
One of the great attractions of Zurich, besides contemporary art collections, cinemas, circuses, modern cuisine, museums, trams and trains, is the skiing nearby. And what’s striking is how in winter the partying moves partly from Zurich city to places like Davos and St. Moritz. Posh they might be, but both ski resorts are buzzing with all night romping, some drug-taking, loads of boozing and the boisterousness you once found in Brighton and Blackpool, before New Labour outlawed a good night out. But that’s the fun that British university students and the British upper-middle-classes still outrageously pursue after pretending to ski on the piste.
Yet middle-aged families (I’m talking about mine here) can safely take their kids out at night in a ski resort or in Zurich city. That is so long as they don’t slip on the icy streets, and so long as they know which streets to avoid at 3 a.m.. What’s more, there’s plenty to do in both places for people of all ages and lifestyles.
So here comes some advice to Mr. Crampton from a British PR based in Zurich. Next time you spend a couple of days in a city, I suggest that you do more than walk the streets on a quiet Sunday morning before you traduce it in The Times.