petite anglaise

March 19, 2007


Filed under: on the road — petiteanglaiseparis @ 9:44 pm

Geneva looks deceptively French. The signs are in French. Many of the chain stores are familiar. The pâtisserie fare looks decidedly French, with not a German style gâteau in sight and the bread is baguette-shaped. If it wasn’t for the excessive cleanliness of every inch of the city, which almost feels too pristine to be real, I wouldn’t even suspect that my train had crossed over the border into Switzerland.

Until the people start to give it away, that is. The Swiss don’t behave anything like the Parisians to whom I’ve grown so accustomed. Not the Swiss I meet anyway, who are basically waiters, waitresses, shopkeepers and café owners. Because all I seem to do while in Geneva is eat fondue or cake or brunch and drink café renversé after café renversé. There’s only so long you can spend admiring the jet d’eau or the snow white swans on the incredibly limpid lake before the desire to head for a café sets in. Not because the lung-squeakingly pure air is giving you an increased appetite or making you thirsty, you understand. Just because there doesn’t seem to be a great deal else to do.

On Friday afternoon, while my friend and hostess is finishing up at work, I saunter into the city centre. First, I buy a chocolate cow for Tadpole as a little treat, and this is the occasion of my first unsettling retail experience.

I have only just managed to withdraw cash, after several hours of tramping around the city centre in increasingly weary circles. You’d be forgiven for thinking that finding money in a Swiss town known for its financial services – where every second person you pass is a suit barking something urgent-sounding about due diligence into his blackberry – should be child’s play. But the words “private bank” make me too nervous to cross the thresholds of the places I pass. Is that private as in “keep out”? Are they offices? Or actual banks with cash points for the use of normal people without Swiss bank accounts? I peer in, but can’t see beyond the first set of smoked-glass doors. Once inside, is there some sort of private handshake I ought to know about? A dress code, perhaps? I’m so used to living in a city where a clearly labelled bank machine can be found every hundred metres or so on the outside of every bank that I am completely thrown.

Finally I find a bank with a reassuringly non-intimidating name (co-op) and when I make my way inside I’m pathetically relieved to see a normal-looking cash point lurking behind a potted plant. I draw out a nice fat sum of money in case it’s my last opportunity all weekend. The machine spits out a single note.

Which is why in the chocolate shop I pull a 100 franc note from my purse with an extremely apologetic face when I pay for Tadpole’s cow (6 CHF), bracing myself for the torrent of tutting and muttered abuse which must surely follow.

“I’m really sorry, I don’t have anything less, I’ve just arrived in town,” I say in an anxious voice. I half expect to be told that I’ll have to come back later when I’ve got smaller denominations.

Imagine my amazement when the shopkeeper smiles sweetly and reassures me that this is no problem at all. And proceeds to wrap the cow delicately in many layers of tissue paper so that I can transport it back to France without mishap. Then smiles again and wishes me a good afternoon and a pleasant stay in Geneva. Wow, I think to myself. Either she was nice, or she is used to bankers wives paying with one thousand franc notes or asking her to put their purchases on their American Express black card.

The sun is shining and I decide to rest my weary feet, finding a pleasant-looking café with outdoor tables opposite the Palais de Justice. I decide to try a café renversé (literally: knocked over coffee), hoping that it is what the lady at the next table is drinking, a kind of latte in a glass with a small seam of froth perched on top.

The waitress approaches. “Qu’est ce qui vous ferait plaisir?” she asks pleasantly.

I almost drop my menu in astonishment. What would make me happy? What would give me pleasure? Is this for real, or have I wandered onto a film set? Seconds later my coffee arrives and a navy-blue blanket is provided to warm my legs when the sun slips behind a cloud.

“I could get use to all this niceness,” I say to my friend, setting down my book when she joins me at the café a couple of hours later.

* * * * * *

Barely two days later and I’m hankering for dirty, gritty, surly, grubby, smoky Paris. All that niceness is starting to set my teeth on edge. The immaculately groomed city is too bland, too aseptisé, too soulless. There’s not a cockroach, not a crotte in sight. No-one has been rude to me all weekend. I’m feeling homesick.

* * * * * *

Un pain au chocolat, s’il vous plaît,” I say to the greasy-aproned baker’s assistant on the rue de Belleville.

She catches sight of my twenty euro note before I even have time to begin my apology.

Oh là là! Comment je vais faire… C’est pas possible, ça…” She rolls her eyes at the people queuing behind, shrugs her shoulders, and finally slams a huge pile of change on the counter with an accusing clatter. She’s offloaded her entire centime collection onto me as a punishment. I sweep the coins into my purse with a flourish and walk out of the shop with my best poker face in place.

Wherever I may wander, there’s no place like home.


  1. I must agree…cleanliness looks good! but give me the grit and grim of my breton cafes any day of the week!

    Comment by Cornishfrog — March 19, 2007 @ 9:57 pm

  2. Ah, they are priceless the French! Their driving is a joy to behold as I take the children to school each day. And the rudeness…try being vegetarian and trying to eat anywhere other than a pizza place..Quoi? vegetarienne? Et alors?

    Comment by Pig in the kitchen — March 19, 2007 @ 10:01 pm

  3. hahaha, love it!!

    Comment by rhino75 — March 19, 2007 @ 10:16 pm

  4. This was such a Fab post. First of all, we are thinking of moving to Geneva and Jon does not believe that I find it boring. I had him read this – ha! However, the swiss people do take large bills quite well, but no one here is friendly like that. or maybe just not to me, compared to what i had in the midwest of america. and yes, french people were over the top rude to me, but here they just ignore me. uup, c’est la vie. great writing :)

    Comment by jessica — March 19, 2007 @ 10:36 pm

  5. Hear hear! The Swiss are amazingly good at being nice and boring… But a quick trip for the chocolate is cool all the same.
    I shall be very sad to be leaving Paris in a month’s time.
    Glad to have you back and writing in the meantime though…

    Comment by Greenmantle — March 19, 2007 @ 10:39 pm

  6. Petite, you must have visited Geneva on an extremely good day, or wandered only in the very shiniest bit. Unless you meant Geneva, Ohio. The crotte count here in Geneva, Switzerland is no better than in Paris, there are zillions of cockroaches, there are black and brown rats all around the lake area, and at the Chinese restaurant off the rue du Mont Blanc I once met a mouse in the dining room. The city’s general filthiness is regularly debated by the local press. Clean air? You should see the smog here in summer. We ended up moving back over the border into France to escape it, which means I now have a daily cross-border commute.

    Comment by Claire — March 19, 2007 @ 10:42 pm

  7. I suppose these things are always relative. And I didn’t really skim the surface in my three day stay. (My friend hasn’t been there all that long either, she’s not a native).

    Which only makes me wonder what the rest of Switzerland can possibly be like…

    Comment by petite — March 19, 2007 @ 10:58 pm

  8. “Qu’est ce qui vous ferait plaisir?” does sound wonderful, but I do have to agree that it’d get old very fast…

    Do the Swiss tip? If so, is it all an elaborate ruse to lure innocent non-Swiss into exorbitant gratuities?

    Comment by electric_abacus — March 19, 2007 @ 11:01 pm

  9. Oh, Petite. We’d heard how rude the French were, especially to (gasp!) Americans. When we went we only found rude people in two places: Laduree, and Printemps.

    Everyone else was surprisingly warm and welcoming. Did we miss the real Parisian experience?

    Comment by Tammi — March 19, 2007 @ 11:10 pm

  10. Petite,
    This post reminded me of my (long ago) days of backpacking around South East Asia. Arriving in Bangkok was an assault on all senses; taking a poo in the wildnerness of the jungle above Chiang Mai dangerous, paryting on Koh Samui insane and then I took a 24 hour bus journey to Singapore and voila the cleanliness, fresh fruit smoothies and Raffles tea was even more weird and crazy given the flith and, how I’d so quickly become easily accostomed to it. The tube train was surreal – a pristine platform, with immaculate glass doors in front of you. I coudln;t understand where the trian was going to come from until the glass doors opened Moses like to reveal a shiny clean train. I was thrilled to arrive in Bali the next day and poo once more, hovering over a pit. This was in 1988 – no doubt things have changed – but I can understand your ambivalence to Geneva!

    Comment by Welsh Cake — March 19, 2007 @ 11:12 pm

  11. better the devil you know…

    Comment by claire — March 19, 2007 @ 11:25 pm

  12. I would love to go somewhere where they are ALWAYS nice!!! every holiday i’ve ever been on the people have been ignorant and rude and sometimes racist!!! Kindness would be refreshing!

    Comment by Rachel — March 19, 2007 @ 11:37 pm

  13. I love it how people keep justifying the rude service in Paris by claiming to miss the familiarity of it ;)

    Comment by Kirsty — March 19, 2007 @ 11:40 pm

  14. “Qu’est ce qui vous ferait plaisir?”

    Ugh, a line like that would make me feel like I’m at a whorehouse. Either that, or an Applebees.

    Comment by amy — March 19, 2007 @ 11:43 pm

  15. I enjoyed your post. Sounds like Geneva is to Paris as Dublin is to Luxembourg. I grew up in Lux and it was very beautiful and very clean, not unlike a museum. Then I moved to Dublin at age 18, which was like a slighly grimy but incredibly fun fairground. Like you said, there’s no place like (your spiritual) home!

    Comment by hellojed — March 20, 2007 @ 12:15 am

  16. That is why I like to go in Switzerland where my brother lives. As soon as I met my first swiss, so quiet and so peaceful and patient, I am on holidays. Not a bad vibe. Very relaxing. More efficient than a spa ! But I could not stay too long. I would not feel really alive. Limbs must be like that !

    Comment by marie-hélène — March 20, 2007 @ 12:32 am

  17. Has your daughter appreciated the swiss chocolate ?

    Comment by marie-hélène — March 20, 2007 @ 12:35 am

  18. The nearest thing I’ve got to Switzerland in twenty years are Swissair hostesses. Stepford Wives comes to mind.
    Give me France any day. In their private capacity I’ve always found enormous politeness. And when encountering lowlifes, well, one can always seek exculpation in national stereotypes.

    Comment by andrew — March 20, 2007 @ 1:33 am

  19. Waaw “cafe renverse”!! The last time i had some was in Boncourt! Oh la la la.. everything reminds me of a lovely time i Spent in Switzerland lol!Good memories, anyway!

    Comment by Patron90 — March 20, 2007 @ 1:36 am

  20. There is a good chance that the people that served you were not Swiss. If you have children, there is no better city in the world. For a single person – yes it is going to seem boring. Come again with tadpole in the summer, you’ll love it. I moved across the border to France but only because house prices were too expensive.

    Comment by Sher — March 20, 2007 @ 6:39 am

  21. I found Switzerland to be the same-very Disney like, too clean. My husband told me that Switzerland was boring, except for the good skiing. I am always amazed at paying for things in Paris. They are forever asking for exact change. Even at the Louvre with 6 million visitors a year, they act like they won’t be able to change your 20 Euro note, like they weren’t given enough money to serve people. Same in the metro. Drives me nuts and I’ve stopped trying to be helpful and come up with the coins they want. Of course, working behind a counter in the States, I did, occasionally, run out of the change I needed. I guess it is the atitude of the French that gets me. It is stimulating however.

    Comment by Linda — March 20, 2007 @ 7:52 am

  22. #14. I can wholeheartedly recommend the Rub n’Tug combo special at Applebees.

    Comment by Conrad — March 20, 2007 @ 8:41 am

  23. …and Paris is delightfully filthier for having you back.

    it’s so true what you say about missing the snottiness. kansas shopkeepers all seem like stepford wives to me now!

    Comment by Meg — March 20, 2007 @ 9:06 am

  24. Like any city, there are polite and impolite people everywhere. My lasting memory of Paris is having both sides of the spectrum. One bar we went to every night was so helpful and the waiters were good fun, probably to do with the fact that we were drinking litre glasses of the beer … they actually applauded when we finished the first and looked shocked as we downed the 2nd and 3rd.

    Trying to explore any city to “live how the natives live” is difficult first time. But at least I’m trying to appreciate a city and it’s culture.

    Still waiting for my postcard. Didn’t get one from Morrocco and now there is a dearth of scenic cards from the land of the Swiss. Great post again Petite.

    Comment by Jez — March 20, 2007 @ 9:36 am

  25. I have to ask did you notice the way the Swiss stare? The afternoon you described seems to have happenned in a different Geneva to the one I know where you can’t get someone to make eye contact in a parking garage!

    Hope you had a good time in the land of the form though.


    Comment by Stepfordswiss — March 20, 2007 @ 9:45 am

  26. Hehe yes, it does take a while to get used to being able to break large notes like that, but it’s true, they don’t seem to mind. I’ve also learned to stop looking at prices, it is a fruitless exercise. Everything is expensive here, but there’s no way around it.

    Private banks scare me too (and are for people with far more money than I). It took long enough to persuade an ordinary bank to let me open an account (and even then they wouldn’t give me a useful card to go with it for another several months).

    The best thing though (apart from the crottes, and yes, there are fewer here) is that cars actually stop for you at zebra crossings, rather than trying to run you over (or go around you) like they do in Paris.

    Did you enjoy the fondue? The cheese is a big plus. Although the cheese hangover isn’t quite so fun.

    Given the choice, I think I’d still pick Paris overall, though.

    Comment by FB — March 20, 2007 @ 10:10 am

  27. Mais Petite, t’es folle ou quoi?! You must have been here too long if you can miss the rudeness of Parisians. Mind you, it’s only been been 6 months since I moved to Paris with my own Mr Frog and I’m still shocked on a daily basis by what passes for customer service here. And if anyone could please point me in the direction of a good book on French manners, I’d appreciate it; I can’t get used to being constantly interrupted, talked over, patronised, bawled out (and even shoved over by one employee of the bakery “Paul” at Auber train station) then being looked at as though I am a mad woman when I take issue with this. It seems that my definition of what constitutes good manners doesn’t apply here…
    Oh how I long for a bit of politesse!

    Comment by Nix — March 20, 2007 @ 11:58 am

  28. Oh, what a hilarious post! I laughed out loud several times. One of my friends has recently moved to Geneva, from Paris – I’m sure she’ll agree with you! And yes, do tell us: Did Tadpole enjoy her chocolate cow?

    Comment by Presquanglaise — March 20, 2007 @ 12:36 pm

  29. My guyfriend says this is particularly Parisian behavior…I wonder if this is true?

    He said where he lives (in the South of France), he would find this odd or at least expect the worker to be yelled at if they did not take the money. (Money is money…you don’t reject it if you want to grow your business).

    I’m beginning to think that in France, the attitude seems to be the company is not here to provide goods or services to the customer. The company is here to employ ME.

    This really irritates the crap out of me. No wonder their economy…nevermind.

    Comment by Mlle Smith — March 20, 2007 @ 1:09 pm

  30. Again a most absorbing post,thank you.
    I remember the squeaky clean feel of Switzerland but I found the few people I met(many years ago) to be rather arrogant. For example, a border policeman (?) told me in his own language – not French, German or Italian but a kind of Germanic patois – that we had to buy a disc for motorway travel and indicated in the rough general direction of the office. Fortunately the guy selling the said discs spoke French but took great delight in relieving us of the equivalent of about £30 (quite a large sum in those days)just for the few hours it took to drive through their country. It rather put me off going back.

    Comment by sablonneuse — March 20, 2007 @ 1:28 pm

  31. Aw… what a lovely picture postcard from Switzerland! However I would herewith like to dispel the myth that Switzerland is boring – not in the slightest and certainly not Geneva! The Swiss know how to party but you have to know where to go. I lived and worked there for a year and I didn’t sober up all the time I was in the Swiss French part of the country. Plus you have a big crowd of expats too. As for the niceness, I fell in love with it, and with the accent. I miss it. Funny how the French are by far the rudest of all Francophones. Vive la Suisse! (Et la Belgique! Et le Quebec – au top de mon palmares personnel pour l’accent absolument adorable!)

    Comment by Ariel — March 20, 2007 @ 3:16 pm

  32. I like nice and clean and boring. . . and that blanket over your legs? Sounds like you were flying first class, rather than in a coffee-shop!

    Comment by OntheCusp — March 20, 2007 @ 4:19 pm

  33. Friend of mine hangs out in Geneva quite often – but then he does work as a vintage car restorer, specialising in Aston Martins.

    He would think you were lucky to find a doot-doot that had 100s – always claimed they only had 1000s in.


    Drew Mishmash

    Comment by Drew Mishmash — March 20, 2007 @ 4:28 pm

  34. According to last Sunday nights French TV programme Capital Swiss salaries for restaurant staff are apparently 2/3 times higher than in France and the French waitress shown said she was more attentive to customers as the Swiss tipped well.There are so many Frontaliers crossing daily from France to Geneva to work thatFrench border towns find it difficult to keep restaurant staff
    . Most French waiting staff are paid the minimum wage because the French government impose mind boggling high social security payments on Les patrons(my husband and I being amongst the latter until last year).All that hard slog for little gain can certainly cause the occasional sense of humour failure.If you pay someone peanuts—

    Comment by Carol — March 20, 2007 @ 4:31 pm

  35. Haven’t had a chance to visit Switzerland myself, aside from the airports in Zurich and Geneva. But I can imagine how pristine things must be on the whole.

    I love how you share your experience in this post… Well written, as always!

    Comment by Alice — March 20, 2007 @ 4:35 pm

  36. I am a new poster but longtime lurker. First, I love your blog. This post made me quite homesick. I was a juene fille au-pair in Mies just north of Geneva for a year. I must say you described Switzerland to a tea. We used to joke that even the weather was nuetral and polite in Switzerland!

    Comment by Emily — March 20, 2007 @ 5:01 pm

  37. What a great post Petite

    Yes, Geneva IS boring….if you found it difficult for 3 days just imagine living here!

    I have found that they keep the touristy parts of the city very clean, but where I live crotte dodging is something of an art.I must also add that while the French Swiss appear to be very friendly, for the most part they are just as surly as their French counterparts.

    It is true; you will be greeted by an enthusistic ‘bonjour madame’ upon entering a shop or patisserie. However, this forced politeness soon gives way to shrugging, tutting and Oh là là-ing if you mispronounce a word in French or ask the staff for assistance while they are discussing their weekend plans.

    I cannot speak for the whole country, but here in Geneva it’s the appearance of things that matters most. If you scratch the surface a little the façade crumbles leaving a reality that just doesn’t measure up.

    Thanks for this post and for sharing your observations of Geneva. I’m a long time reader but this is the first time I’ve had the courage to comment.

    Comment by T — March 20, 2007 @ 5:34 pm

  38. So basically what you are saying is…

    You walk round Geneva with a huge wad of notes

    and Paris with a huge quantity of coins.

    OK I think I’ve got the difference.

    Comment by Yellow — March 20, 2007 @ 6:27 pm

  39. Geneva always seemed to have a slightly gritty edge to me after years living in squeaky-clean Bern. My Professor boss used to say that the whole of la suisse romande was going to the dogs, bringing the country down, buried under shameful piles of litter, etc. etc..

    Fortunately that perspective disappeared with time. And whilst I didn’t ever get my permanent residence permit, I escaped without having my sense of humour surgically removed, as well.

    At least I think so …

    Comment by Roads — March 20, 2007 @ 7:15 pm

  40. And a belated thanks for the post on Essaouira, too, Petite.

    Your account made me grateful at least that all those storks in Marrakech weren’t as aggressive as the gulls along the coast. Because if they had been, that could have been really dreadful …

    Comment by Roads — March 20, 2007 @ 7:22 pm

  41. Give them that poker face! Alas, it comes naturally with time ;-)

    Comment by fjl — March 20, 2007 @ 7:37 pm

  42. Petite, you have put your finger on the reason why I decided to live in Amsterdam not Paris. Now I realise I’m saying something less than complimentary about the city you love, don’t get me wrong. I was brought up more or less bilingually (Grenoble!), so I know France and the French as well as anyone “here” I think. My impression of Paris, when I had to go there, was always of the heat, the dirt, the smell and the rudeness (especially when you go with friends and speak Dutch to each other, and they think you’re German). This impression was however once magically transformed when I spent 2 weeks in Paris in 1971(dates me) with a bunch of delightful French hippies, saw it in quite another way then, and that has also changed my opinion since. From my Grenoble time I also know Geneva (we’re talking 1964 now!) and remember the experience exactly as you describe it.

    Not wanting to live in the UK, all in all I find Amsterdam, while not perfect, the best of all worlds as far as Europe is concerned.

    Welsh Cake: in Singapore they imprison you for possessing chewing gum, and execute you for possessing a small amount of drugs, as several Europeans have found out at the cost of their lives. I am also getting to know Thailand better now. I haven’t found anything there really any more dangerous than anywhere else, and I love the country and its ways. So I suppose in that regard like Petite, I’m labelling the negative aspects as part of the charm of being there.
    (Footnote for young travellers: don’t misunderstand, in Thailand a small amount of cannabis can land you a long stretch in a Thai gaol, and that is no joke, but they don’t usually execute you – though you may wish they had.)

    Comment by Penny in Amsterdam — March 20, 2007 @ 8:09 pm

  43. PS remember what Orson Welles said about the Swiss!

    Comment by Penny in Amsterdam — March 20, 2007 @ 8:10 pm

  44. bloody hell! geneve sounds far scarier than marrakech, a sa facon.

    Comment by rivergirlie — March 20, 2007 @ 8:37 pm

  45. I remember my first trip to Zurich – within a few hours I walked into a police drugs raid in the university district!! After that my trips to Zurich were quiet! I do remember the look on a colleague’s face when he learnt the price for a small glass of Guinness, suffice to say it was the only one he brought all week.

    The Swiss are very nice people – a bit boring at times, but very nice, and superb hosts.

    Comment by Nigel — March 20, 2007 @ 8:58 pm

  46. Geneva is the city for bankers, but a few kilometers to the southeast, you will find the jewel of the Swiss Rivera, Lausanne. It’s clean, yes. There are private banks, yes. But there is LOTS to do. Especially in the summer. The polytechnical school and the internal language institute is located there, so it’s got more of “cool” vibe. Please give us a second chance!

    BTW – I grew up in Lausanne (20 years ago), the banker my father used for the last 50 years (yes, at a private bank) came to my wedding last summer. Niceness, closeness, these are not such bad things to have in the millieu of “big” city.

    Comment by Estelle — March 20, 2007 @ 9:59 pm

  47. “My friend hasn’t been there all that long either, she’s not a native”

    Lived in Geneva for 8 months all told, only met 2 native Genevans and only 2 people who lived there longer than me – its the most bizarre city in the world, like a outdoor airport terminal with people coming and going. But fun – fêtes de Genève in the summer or L’escalade in the winter and fondue in the Bains de Paquis. And definately did my shopping en France.

    Then again I’ve lived in Paris far longer than in Geneva, so I guess I made a choice somewhere along the way….

    Comment by sas — March 20, 2007 @ 11:03 pm

  48. I love the Swiss- they’re all mad as hatters. As for Geneva- well, it is very quiet. But there is stuff going on- after all, what other cities do you know have state-sponsored squats with cinemas, bars, and dance floors? (

    What other city do you greet whoever is out walking their dog in the other direction- whether you’ve ever seen them before or not? And get called Madame by 16 year old hoodies hanging around outside your building? (I’m 32)

    Where else do you see mink-coated women on the tram, next to a white rasta with a dog on a bit of string? (OK, admittedly his dad’s probably a banker and he’s doing his rebellious phase)

    In the morning, from my balcony, I can watch the 4-5 year olds walk off to school by themselves. There’s only one road to cross, but it is about 800 metres. Or they get the Pedibus. Does walking to school unaccompanied still happen elsewhere?

    However, it is incredibly difficult to make friends. And as for going out- you should know, the Swiss prefer to go to each other’s homes rather than going out.

    Heh- I’ve seen women in the Migros pay for a 2.20 chf loaf with a 500 note. And then at the bank when I go for GBP, they try and give me 50 notes, and don’t understand when I say I can’t use them!

    Come back some time soon, and bring Tadpole. You can take her to the Bain des Paquis, and watch her splash around, whilst you sit drinking a renversé (or a citron presse, depending on the heat), and just by breathing deeply the heavily weed-laden air, you can relax… and start smiling!

    Clean, tidy, boring, polite- and one of the biggest consumptions of cannabis in Europe.

    Comment by little_bounce — March 21, 2007 @ 8:49 am

  49. Oh, I loved that… you really summed it up perfectly! So you wonder about the rest of Switzerland? Well, same difference. James Joyce reckoned the Bahnhofstrasse in Zurich was so clean you could eat off it, and that certainly hasn’t changed since his day. But get this: during the Zurich street riots (yes!) of the early 80s, shop windows were smashed in what must surely be the most obscenely wealthy street in Europe and …. errmm… nobody looted them (I guess you only need one rolex)

    Comment by kitikat — March 21, 2007 @ 10:27 am

  50. I haven’t visited my brother in Geneva yet. We did visit him in Berne – imagine the contrast between Berne and grotty old London. He showed us attractions like the bear pit, the national treasury, his flat, and then we had coffee. In fact, we spent most of the time just hanging about at a sunny table outside a coffee shop. I think that’s what you do in Switzerland.

    Oh, well we did do a fabulous train trip through Tunn to Interlaken, so there were castles and boats and things, but really they were just something to occupy us between visits to cafes and restaurants.

    Switzerland, it’s so damn relaxing.

    Comment by Damian — March 21, 2007 @ 11:21 am

  51. When having a bad day the best medecine is a quick read of your blog.
    Works for me every time.
    Merci infiniment!

    Comment by Hel — March 21, 2007 @ 11:36 am

  52. Any pictures Petite???

    Comment by TH — March 21, 2007 @ 2:14 pm

  53. Who would thunk? that we actually might one day end up missing the rudeness….

    Comment by magillicuddy — March 21, 2007 @ 3:02 pm

  54. uhhh… who woulda thunk… méa culpa…

    Comment by magillicuddy — March 21, 2007 @ 3:03 pm

  55. Penny in Amsterdam: Singapore is a very strict country but no you will not be thrown in jail for possessing chewing gum… you will however get slapped with a fine for trying to sell it. Singapore is a ‘fine’ country as we like to say ;)

    Comment by petit_litchi — March 21, 2007 @ 3:40 pm

  56. I can’t say I can relate…as I doubt such a blatant show of kindness and cleanliness would send me running back to MY country! :)

    Comment by La Cubana Gringa — March 21, 2007 @ 3:52 pm

  57. I have friends travelling through Switzerland by train at the moment so will be interested to hear how they found it after the above experiences. One thing that does puzzle me are these references to rudeness; I’m fairly well travelled and only ever come across very polite people. In fact I’ve racked my brains and cannot think of a single instance when someone has been rude to me on my travels in fact I struggle to think of the last time anyone was rude to me in my own country which is England, perhaps I’m just lucky.

    Comment by Jenny — March 21, 2007 @ 4:02 pm

  58. Switzerland, a mon avis, is overrated. And yes, not all Swiss people are nice/polite.

    I’d go to France anytime, despite the rudeness. It has more ‘soul.’

    Comment by A — March 21, 2007 @ 4:10 pm

  59. Thanks for the memories! I spent three years in Switzerland, and not ONCE did I catch a Swiss man “checking me out”. How I longed for a whistle, a libidinous glance… Anything that would assure me that these men had warm blood coursing through their veins!!

    Comment by girl and dog — March 21, 2007 @ 6:38 pm

  60. Petite, What happened today then (21 March?) it was your day in court?


    Comment by Wendy in Herault — March 21, 2007 @ 8:19 pm

  61. Dear Petite,
    Paris is dirty in our area, XIXe and XX Arrondissements, simply because they are “forgotten” places, not VIIe.
    I’m working for one month in Beirut: they are sweeping every meter of pavement every day, even in spots along ruins.

    By the way, anything about today’s Prud’hommes session?

    Comment by Saluki — March 21, 2007 @ 8:25 pm

  62. I have been reading this blog ever since the CNN story, but I never commented before. Anyway I’m a future Genevoise.
    I’m American (of Mexican decent) and my fiance is all Vaudois Swiss living in Geneva. I always like seeing people’s description of the city. I for one like clean cities. (I grew up in Los Angeles) Great writing Petite, I’m a fan.

    Comment by Minerva — March 21, 2007 @ 8:26 pm

  63. I spent 2 days in Geneva and I would never stay in that place again, man it was dirty and boring, real boring. No really boring.

    Comment by eshop600 — March 21, 2007 @ 8:32 pm

  64. Geneva is only good for getting to France.

    Comment by eshop600 — March 21, 2007 @ 8:33 pm

  65. It happened, but it’s impossible to know what the outcome will be. The decision should be made public next Thursday. More tomorrow. Right now I need a stiff drink and I’m going out!

    But let’s just say that the word “twunt” did feature…

    Comment by petite — March 21, 2007 @ 8:42 pm

  66. Hey, just want to say I love your blog. Been reading for a while now. Your recent posts about going places coupled with my heaps of school work is making me itch all over to travel (I am going to India soon I hope:)!!

    Last January I went to Paris expecting a clean, beautiful, romantic city with happy people. HAHA, so boy was I shocked when certain people we encountered were a bit rude, when my brother’s girlfriend and I nearly got knocked down by a speeding driver, and when the dirtiness of the city reminded me of home-Malaysia. Having said that, though, I still think I love Paris and am constantly dreaming of revisiting it, if not live there! I’m dying for Summer break to come so I can start going for French lessons… Ah how I wish I was European too…

    Re Penny in Amsterdam: Yes, Singapore is really really uptight. I have been here for the past four years. The strict regulations makes it a really safe place, but it’s also one stressed up city to settle in.

    Comment by zoeshync — March 22, 2007 @ 2:10 am

  67. Suspicious silence on the vache a chocolat front…methinks a cownapping went down and perhaps what Tadpole got was a prettily wrapped imposter?

    Comment by Belle — March 22, 2007 @ 12:09 pm

  68. It always amazes me how a Parisian shop assistant can say “Madame”, surely a word denoting respect, in a way that communicates the exact opposite.

    Comment by Beta Mum — March 22, 2007 @ 12:21 pm

  69. 20 years ago I spent a week in Davos on the German-speaking side of Switzerland. I was bowled over by how nice ALL the shopkeepers were: you could go into any shop, be pleasantly greeted on your entry, browse for an hour, ask them to pull things down off shelves so you can see them better, buy NOTHING after all that… and they will still wish you a pleasant day and thank you for coming as you leave the store. They may secretly be thinking rude things after you leave but they sure set a new high standard for great customer service.

    If you go back, get out into the mountains or travel around to some other towns. Maybe it’s just Geneva?

    Comment by The Bold Soul — March 22, 2007 @ 5:38 pm

  70. Petite, as always I really enjoyed reading your post, especially as it shows me my country through “neutral eyes”…

    It’s quite funny how almost all foreigners feel like they’re in Disneyland when they’re in Switzerland! It is a kind of bubble, with many advantages but also some disadvantages.

    I just wanted to say a few things that are important to me in reaction to some comments:

    1) Geneva is not really Switzerland, all swiss people will tell you that (I’m a vaudoise from Lausanne…). Not only because of cross-cantons rivalry and because it’s way too close to France but also because 54% of people living there hold a foreign passport, and only 33% are originally from there. Switzerland on the whole is a patchwork of different cultures and identities, from different cantons or other countries and we love it that way.

    2) Switzerland is only boring if you don’t know the right places and haven’t done your research! It has too many concerts and expos to see in a whole life, a great clubbing scene, amazing museums, you can do virtually every sports you can imagine, there are hundreds of very different-looking landscape, and I could list on for ages.

    3) Finally, yes, in our more than 700 years of “brotherly love, democracy and peace” we only managed to produce chocolate (Sorry Orson, cuckoo clocks come from the Black Forest in Germany!), but what chocolate!!!

    I’m finished with my rant now ;). Wow, I didn’t know I was such a patriot!

    Comment by a swiss girl — March 23, 2007 @ 1:57 pm

  71. I had the good fortune of visiting the underbelly of Geneva: my group of Swiss friends were squatters, and I think all the cockroaches in Geneva were in their squat! It was a fun, cool, interesting look at a city, which is on the whole soulessly sanitary.

    Comment by clarissa — March 25, 2007 @ 4:16 pm

  72. I agree with a swiss girl. Geneva is not the real Switzerland – just one facet. I have friends in Valais and also in Zurich and Fribourg – all fantastic places. I’m looking forward to reading about a place you visit that you really like, Petite!

    Comment by london gal — March 25, 2007 @ 4:18 pm

  73. Geneva is Switzerland in more ways than one. If you take the wrong fork on the highway into Geneva from the general direction of Zurich, you end up in France. And how can you tell? There is a smell, hanging all over France.. a malodour, not something rosy.

    Comment by Like-CH-Not-So-Much-FR — March 27, 2007 @ 9:48 pm

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