You know, sometimes I think the big cultural difference in the world is really city people vs. country people, not any of this different nations business. People in cities are remarkably similar worldwide. Until recently I didn’t even identify myself as a city person, but I guess I am. I’ve lived in Chicago, Boston, and NYC for the bulk of my adult life, and now Zurich for the past 3 years. I actually think of Zurich as a cosmopolitan small city, really. It’s half a million in the actual city, and something around a million when you consider the burbs (or what Switzerland considers the burbs, which is a whole other topic).
Lately, though, thanks to Benno New(ish) BF, I’ve been hanging out a lot in the countryside of Switzerland. And I realized that to them, Zurich is a MAJOR CITY. I also realized that, just like in the US, every region of Switzerland has a very distinct culture. Zurich culture is sort of like Switzerland Lite. Sure, they eat a lot more fondue than the average world citizen and they have their own dialect, but oh man does Swiss countryside culture go a lot farther than that. I almost feel like I’m going through a whole new form of culture shock- city mouse meets the countryside.
Friday, for example, was one of those days when I felt myself in a totally different world. Benno has been part of a rifle distance shooting club in his home village since he was a young teen. He is quite good, even qualifying for the kantonal semifinals (sort of like US states). But more than anything it’s an important tradition, and interesting for a foreigner to watch, even if at first I was a bit fearful. After all, we have our own gun traditions in the US.
Back to Friday. The club has a big season ending award ceremony + dinner + massive lotto, all in a big traditional old chalet-style restaurant. The shooters bring partners so I came along to cheer on Benno. We sat at a big table with many of his childhood friends, chatted with Swiss locals ranging in age from early teens to 70s, drank tons of beer, ate lots of sausage, won some grill implements, listened to lots of accordion music from “Fritz and Heinri,” and then stumbled home to Benno’s parents’ house under the shadow of the medieval monastery in his home town. I still find magic in these things that are so foreign and so far from the suburbs of Chicago where I grew up. I have always had wandering feet, but recently I find them wandering more and more away from big cities and towards these small moments.