Before embarking on this walk, I wondered how it would benefit me. I had already been to the main part of town several times and figured that I had a relatively good handle on my surroundings. However, after taking this walk with an individual native to the community and truly observing my surroundings I began to see things in an entirely different light.
Ariane is a partner of mine from one of my classes so I inquired if she wouldn’t mind showing me around the city for a bit. Taking a guide on this walk gave me a new perspective and taught me about several of the simple nuances of the area.
We began our walk at campus and made our way into the center of town. The walk to town and some time spent observing people in the town gave me a good idea of interactions here. From what I observed and have experienced so far, the Swiss people are reserved. They are friendly, but are not boisterous or loud in any sense. The population as a whole is on the older side. In our first week here we learned that quiet hours for the town begin at 22:00 and are strictly enforced. After that time it is illegal to be making excessive noise and all members of the community follow these guidelines. Being respectful and considerate of those around you is an important part of Swiss culture.
Despite being in the center of town I felt as though I was in no danger. I have not felt unsafe at any point in my time in Switzerland. Of course, it is important to take precautions, but crime does not seem to be prevalent in this area and I have never felt in danger of being pickpocketed or in the way of physical harm. A factor contributing to this could be that there is no shortage of money in Switzerland.
One aspect of Switzerland that is noticeable without even looking at price tags is that it is expensive. The downtown area is dripping with shops like Prada, Rolex, Versace, and numerous expensive boutiques. The streets are crawling with Porsches and Ferraris; it is not uncommon to see at least 10 on my short walk back from class. Lugano is an affluent, but truly lovely area. On our walk we found a McDonald’s and stopped in to see how it would differ from its U.S. counterpart. I felt as though I had stepped into a restaurant rather than a fast food chain. There were chandeliers hanging from the ceiling and large bay windows opening up to views of the water. It was far more expensive that the States but also much nicer.
My favorite part about this walk was learning about all the small things unique to a culture that can be easily overlooked. During the walk we passed a dog and when it came close to me I was about to pet it. Ariane informed me that it is considered rude to pet someone’s dog in Switzerland. Dogs are trained to be very tame and approaching them in a public setting is considered inappropriate.
This walk did serves as a teacher, but in a different way than I anticipated. . Slimbach states “To become familiar with the spaces that people occupy is to learn something important about their lives even before meeting them personally” (p. 184). There was far more to this exercise than finding your way around or exchanging local currency, this exercise was about people. By taking the time to observe the small things you get an understanding of what makes the people tick. You began to see how we are all unique, but connected by the common thread of humanity.
The travel novel I choose to read, The White Spider, was the harrowing tale of the first climbers to ascend the north face of Eiger, one of Switzerland’s most treacherous mountains. The novel took you through the trails and tribulations throughout the climb, but what stood out to me in this book, much like on my walk was the people. I started the book thinking it was about Heinrich Harrer’s great accomplishment but ended it respecting the effort of the group and the bonds that they formed on their journey.
This sense of communitas is prevalent in all walks of life. I initially came into this program thinking that I was studying abroad, but it has quickly turned into we are studying abroad. You grow close to the people around you that share the same journeys and the memories you make together are what is truly special about this experience. I am sure when I look
back on last weekend I will remember
the gondola ride through Venice and the tiny back streets that we found, but I will look back more fondly on the three hour dinner we had just talking and getting to know each other after a long day of exploring.