55: The Importance of Being in a Crosswalk

Swiss woman makes power play over transit authority.

When a mother pushing a stroller challenges a bus on a Swiss street, you have to wonder if she’s hit the nadir of a post-partum-induced depression, because street-crossing in Switzerland has rigidly observed rules, one of which is, don’t mess with bus drivers. They see a pedestrian on the pavement as a challenge to their might and will push down on the pedal to make their point.

Nonetheless, the mother won, because just as rock crushes scissors, mother-and-baby beats buses. Street-crossing is, in my view, a sociological and psychological indicator of many things. Every time you cross the street, you are saying something about yourself, your culture and your country.

For example, a former work colleague hailing from Canada’s easterly region routinely plunged into downtown traffic as though she were made of impermeable titanium, not squishy skin-sheathed fluids. At first, I assumed this was part of her eastern provincial culture.

Then I observed she was very much the same off the road, plunging into rants that shredded her colleagues into confetti, not giving a thought for the reputations she raked over. Once, a colleague challenged her and she delivered a soliloquy so far removed from the truth that it can be said that she regarded people the same way she regarded cars – mere objects that were destined to get out of her way.

This is not to say that street-crossing methodology is an indication of sociopathic tendencies, but maybe it is a warning sign.

We see many people with crutches, canes and casts on Swiss streets, including young adults with twisted limbs and hobbled gaits. Other foreigners have observed the same thing, yet when we ask the Swiss about the multitude of injured on the streets, they don’t see anything unusual. We don’t know whether these are the ski or street-crossing wounded, but we sure wonder.

In Canada, jaywalkers crossing the street at any point might peeve a few, but overall society takes a benign view of the practice and  drivers will veer away should a pedestrian stride inside their trajectory. Still, something seethes under the surface: When city police in Victoria, British Columbia hold a ticketing-binge on jaywalkers it attracts heated and furious debate in the local media. But a ticket and maybe a tongue-scalding is the worst a Canadian will get for taking a shortcut.

No such luck in Australia. There, street-crossing can be suicidal, because the streets belong to bus-drivers who slingshot their multi-tonne vehicles as though they are warheads. Death could very quickly follow every time one crosses the curb. This is why Aussies drink so much. They know every hour could be their last.

I cannot speak for the dangers of street-crossing the world over, but I know that Spanish crosswalks are not to be trusted. While the Swiss abide by the rules, Spanish drivers are a hurried and opportunistic bunch, possibly because they are probably on their way home for a siesta, which might explain their current economic woes. I wish I was joking about this. Many a time at a Madrid crosswalk, I’ve seen the first car stop only to see cars two, three and even four pull up behind the first car, then pop out into the opposing lane and speed through the crosswalk. The first time I saw this, I nearly got hit. Having seen an x-ray of some Spanish orthopedic bone-mending with what looked like twist-ties, I vowed to never trust the Spanish medical establishment with my life, so I learned to never cross a crosswalk until all cars had passed.

Here in Switzerland, street-crossing is a sign of social order. Crosswalks are everywhere, and even though Swiss drivers could likely outpace those Australian bus-drivers, they show a lot of respect for people inside the crosswalk, but not so much for jaywalkers who venture beyond the yellow-striped lines.

More than once, I’ve seen vehicles speed up at the sight of a pedestrian attempting to strike out against the state-sanctioned road-crossings. Last week, a very swank looking gentleman driving a very expensive vehicle almost tapped a young man who dared cross the street against the light, and the motorist did not look one bit worried about grinding the man under his treads. The Swiss are ardent capitalists when it comes to money, but where street-crossing is concerned, they will push individualistic expression under the water every time.

As is the case in almost all areas of life, the exception to all rules across the board belongs to females between the ages of 16 to 30. These  stiletto-heeled women in their tight jeans, leather jackets and flowing manes do not even look before crossing the street. They just go without a hiccup in their pace because they know the world will stop for them. It looks like a wonderful world to be in, except for the day of reckoning that will occur sometime after they turn 30 when their toe the curb, and a car whips past without a glance at the gal. Then she will know she has passed her apex and is staring down into the nadir of middle-age. True, that is still a long ways off, but having to look before crossing a street is a sign that it will come.

 

 

 

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Maid in Switzerland, or Jennifer Lopez makes it look all sparkly, but really it is not. And, our weird worries about maid-theft.

I sit here wrapped in a silk leopard print wrap, a stained white tank top, over-sized fleece shorts, a black guard on my overworked right wrist, and floor debris on the bottoms of my bare feet. My hair, strapped into a ponytail last night, has evolved into a tropical island assemblage complete with the dreaded ‘palm tree’ up top.

This is normally a private moment in my day when I take in my required caffeine dose (a quart before 10 a.m.) and align my cranial synapses, however, five minutes ago a woman tapped on my door. I am not normally in the habit of opening my door this early in the morning, but it is a hotel and I’ve heard the cleaning staff puttering down the hallway for the last 30 minutes. I was pretty sure if it was some freakoid, the maids would make short work of him.

It was not a freak at all, but a maid, speaking Spanish and French, which is a lot better than a maid speaking German and Italian. This way I have a 20 per cent chance of communicating, as opposed to the .03% chance with the latter. Armed with towels, she said something about the bathroom.

Housekeeping and maintenance is constant in the hotel – they change vent filters, tinker with the plumbing, install new smoke detectors,  upgrade the phones, and so forth. They’re busy people, and so I loathe to send them away. I let the woman in thinking she was going to replace the towels in the bathroom.

I was wrong about that. As I sit here like the Queen of Sheba, she is engaged in all-out housecleaning, scouring the bathrooms, doing the floors, the sheets and so forth.

I don’t speak enough French/German/Spanish/Italian to tell her we get maid service once a week on Saturdays, not daily, and to send her away might distress her, so I tidied up the kitchen in an effort to stay out of her way while giving the appearance that I am a contributing member of society. Now I am out of things to do, so I just sit here and tap away on my keyboard.

I am always a little uncomfortable with maid service. It is because I expect them to be something like the first maid all of us know: Our mothers. Maybe I am waiting for the scolding about leaving the sink full of soapy water soaking socks or failing to pick up after myself.

We have employed maids twice in our lives. In Spain, we hired a Filipino maid who spoke not a word of English, except to state her hourly rate, which was quite steep. We had a yellow labrador at the time who shed buckets in the Madrid heat (no air conditioning) and I could not keep pace, so we tried out the hired help route. It turned out that maid was worth every penny. I have never seen, or even aspired to the standards that she set.

Google the word "maids" and up will come a lot of images of sexy short-skirted women, but the truth is most maids look like this. We have a friend who for a time worked full-time as a maid, and she had muscle definition that would make Jillian Michaels' jaw drop. It's physical work.

She also gave me the weirdest and most delightful moment I have ever had in my housekeeping career – when she came in the house, I only had to point at something and she would set on it like a doberman on a rabbit. I had spent more than 18 years trying to get my own children to do house chores on command, so it was a singular experience to assign a task without having to apply a tremendous amount of argumentation, pressure and browbeating. I don’t even remember that woman’s name, but I adored her and recommended her widely to all.

We hired our second maid in Victoria when the boys were in university and Dave and I  both worked full-time at demanding careers. She had a house key and came during the day when we were away. That felt odd to us, but it was that or perish in a bacterial stew of our own making.

Then one of our sons came home early to find the maid’s five-year-old daughter and teenaged son hanging around while she worked. That did not feel good to me, although I could certainly understand the pressures a working mother feels. I wished she had asked me first. The five-year-old made me nervous because I have never trusted a child to not swallow bleach, or pull things down from the counter onto their heads with dreaded effect. Having heard emergency doctors exclaim, “Hi Jo, what’s he done now?” more than once, my apprehensions are valid. My house at the time was not childproof.

Jennifer Lopez, all starched and pretty, but if she saw what our hotel maids saw this morning, namely me in my sleepwear, she would have looked for other work.

The teenager made me nervous because who isn’t nervous around teenagers? What is to say he wouldn’t scope out the place and then return some night with his friends and a pick-up truck. I’m not saying all teenagers would do this, but I would like to have eyeballed the kid first to make my own appraisal.

We tolerated this for a while, but then some DVDs went missing. Too mortified to make accusations, we discharged the maid on the grounds that we just felt weird having a maid. She was very gracious and went on her way. She was a fabulous maid. We had two labrador retrievers at the time, so our house’s shed-fur content had reached factory-rated levels.

We fumed about the suspected theft, until some weeks later we found all the missing DVDs in a laptop bag. Our guess is that the five-year-old fiddled about while her mother worked, and just put them there, probably to be helpful. We were very glad we had kept our suspicions to ourselves.

The hotel maid is now done. Someone will probably tell her she did the room for nothing. I haven’t seen her before, so she must be new. I know all the maids here – they school me in French and Italian every time they catch me in the hall. It is a lot like having a dozen mothers, waiting to correct me, improve me and appraise me every time I leave my room. They are adorable, and they work hard. We should respect them, just like we should respect our mothers.

Post-note: The Head Housekeeper is now in my room. She has discovered the new maid’s mistake and is rattling on in French that curiously I understand. My mother is French. I’ve heard this tone many times before. She is put out that the new maid goofed. The Head Housekeeper, Isabella, runs this hotel with an efficiency that NASA administrators could appreciate.  Amid profuse apologies over the mistake, she has explained that the room will not be cleaned tomorrow.  Just as when my brothers were in trouble with my Mom, I am glad that I am not the one under fire.