Sunday, 3 April 2011

Where am I? Wonderland

There’s someone living on your street. We all know the type. Their property is in perpetually immaculate condition. There are no greasy smudges, splattered bird droppings or rain stains on the windows of their house. Hedges, grass and flower beds are maintained to the point of perfection. Weeds pulled out of the driveway by hand. The adjacent public pavement brushed free of detritus. A shining car parked every day within millimetres of the same spot.
Solicitors make a steady living out of such easily provoked people, sending warning letters on their behalf to neighbours whenever an encroachment upon the rules of excellence is perceived. The cat’s paw marks repeatedly appearing on the bonnet of my car have been traced to your pet. A consistently lackadaisical approach to maintenance of your side of the fence has been noted. Such accusations are accompanied by photographic evidence and a historical log of the misdemeanours.
When we observe such people, an initial feeling of inferiority creeps up our brain stem. Then common sense begins to question where they find the time and energy to live in that picture postcard fashion. The third, and irresistible, stage is ridicule. Let us thank the gods that we, our partner and family do not resemble these compulsive individuals in any way. Further, we flaunt our individuality and freedom, if we can find an easy way. Such as allowing the front garden to grow wild, which is handy as it saves mowing the lawn. Letting our car bodywork and its number plate gradually disappear under a coat of filth, thereby saving on water consumption. No, Mr Perfect and your Stepford wife, we reject your way of life for we are too busy to address the minutiae of perfection that obsess you. We are otherwise productively engaged – watching Iceland’s Got Talent, America’s Latest Model, Total Wipeout, Come Dine with Me, anything really rather than pull those weeds from dog urine soaked cracks in the public pavement.
Now, one day, you wake early and step out into the wild flowers and waving grasses of your water meadow, looking for the cat. Adjusting your hairy dressing gown for modesty, you scratch at a weekend’s growth of leg beard and wonder when your husband will be sober enough to emerge from bedclothes that probably needed changing last week. A gentle smile plays across your sagging features, framed as they are by a few grey hairs that will take you back to the hairdresser sometime during the next few months.
Across the way Mrs. Perfect is out in her garden, using some special device to make the roses look plumper. Mr. Perfect is extracting a resistant micro-organism from the pavement with a two fingernail technique, perfected during several weeks at horticultural evening classes. All this on a Monday morning before work.
You chuckle, without malice, turn back towards the beckoning warmth of the teapot and then freeze. Something has changed in the street. Every house, except yours, mirrors that of the Perfects. The inhabitants are all out in the fresh morning air, plumping their roses and using the footpath micro-organism extraction technique. Your movement alerts them to your presence. In a Mexican wave of disdain their heads turn towards you and they sneer as one. For the first time in your life that favourite dressing gown feels shabby. A breeze blows the grey wisps of hair across your face and they catch on the sprouting strands of a chin mole that you were unaware of. Rodents scurry in the undergrowth of what is no longer a water meadow but a garden jungle. Mortification overtakes your morning glory. Nineteen perfectly trimmed and coiffed heads look down their aquiline noses at you and so do their wives. You, at house number 20, are a low life. A foreigner. Welcome. You just arrived in Switzerland.


I wrote this piece a year or two after spending seven years in the land of chocolate and watches. The Swiss are very appreciative of deprecatory humour and an old favourite that my Swiss friends pointed out to me is a very funny little book named Malice in Wonderland by Eugene Epstein.

On a more serious note here's another post about Switzerland.


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  1. Cruel and heartless. And oh so accurate!

    Seven years? That explains so much... Not least the shirt and tie!

    BTW, never could see the point of chocolate watches.

  2. I never did get the critique from John the MacK on this piece because something in it reminded him of someone and he had a fit of giggles throughout the reading.
    The Swiss would read it and say yes, Ruby, that is you with the hairy dressing gown.
    (By the way Reto, Gerard and Lorella, Pino, Dagmar and Jurgen, see you in the summer) x