Expat Diaries: Den Den reports from Heidiland, Part 2

Posted on November 22, 2010


2) Unemployment Blog, from September 2009

Just to recapitulate.
I booked a one way ticket to Zurich, Switzerland. I quit a job I was starting to hate. I made a pathetic attempt at packing all my life into a couple of suitcases, only to realise that it was an impossible feat. I took that plane and left everything behind. I visited a few places in and around Zurich, shrugged a bit at the fact that German was all around me and my English was of little use. I wished I had studied it instead of French at secondary school. I visited supermarkets, make my first attempts at cooking and cleaning after a long, long break. In other words, I started my new life and felt great about it.


Now what?
The truth is that it’s Monday, and I am home cleaning the floor and washing clothes. Why, do you ask? Because I’ve just started looking for a job, and it turns out that without some basic German, that will be quite a difficult task. So here I am on a Monday afternoon, with the washing machine’s familiar and comforting noise in the background and with the freshly-washed floor drying slowly, writing the first of my unemployment blogs, which will not be about unemployment at all. The title just sounds nice, that’s all.
As a matter of fact this first blog of many which I will write out of boredom as I try to fill the days and weeks of my unemployed period is going to be about Heidiland. I have always referred to Switzerland by this affectionate name but, funnily enough, on a trip to the Zoo on my birthday, I discovered that Heidiland does indeed exist, but it is not, after all, Switzerland itself, but simply a holiday region somewhere in this country, presumably the birthplace of Heidi and Peter. Yes, somewhere in this crazy country there is a place with such a name, perpetuating the cult of ‘the most famous of Swiss girls’.
For any of you who are interested in exploring this matter further, here is the link to its official website. I must add that I shuddered when I clicked on this address, confirmed the existence of this mythical place, and wondered who on earth could still have such a passion for the Heidi story after years and years and years and years (do you get me?) of watching it in film, cartoon and book form.

http://www.heidiland.com/en/navpage-HeidiMagazinHL.html (There is also a Heidi magazine if you’re interested)

What is so special about this Heidi anyway? Why keep her story alive for so long, when it is clear that if Heidi existed she must be around a hundred and ten years old and crumbling to pieces? (unless of course, the Swiss government decided to invest in the Heidi cult and subject her to a number of plastic surgery operations to preserve her for posterity)
Here is what my guess is. Heidi is so important because the element of Heidiness is in all this country and in all its people, that spirit of innocence and goodness which we marvel at when we watch that movie now as adults, and observe a little girl running around in the mountains.
What do you I mean?
Let me give you a few examples.
The first time I took the escalator down to the train platform at the main station in zurich, I thought nothing of the fact that there were no barriers to surpass by punching or passing tickets through. But when my partner simply directed me to step on a bus and just take a seat without validating our pre-bought ticket, I was confused. When I asked him whether this was normal, and whether checks were run to see if people actually had valid tickets he said that it did happen, but not very often. So I asked him how the government could stop people from simply not buying tickets and using public transport. He said that the government didn’t need to, because the percentage of people doing this was insignificant.
Toilet experiences in Switzerland also have a flavour of Heidiness. I am sure that in no (or maybe, very few) other country/ies in the world will you ever go to a public toilet and find several rolls of toilet paper stacked nearby in case you run out, without them being somehow chained to the wall, because I am sure that in any country those rolls would disappear and be taken home within the first half an hour of having been placed there.
And the bus drivers who tell you ‘welcome aboard’ and ‘have a nice weekend’ as you step off (but they are not robots, they are real people, I checked), and the passengers who, despite being at the very back of the bus, wave and shout at the bus driver ‘thank you and goodbye.’
Heidiness is all around me. I keep discovering it in the strangest places and I don’t know what I should think of it. Is this the effect you get when you force a population to pay tax on absolutely everything? Or is it the result of the rolling mountains, fresh air and almost iridescent green? I haven’t been here long enough to answer this question, but I will keep you posted. For now, I am off for a walk in the forest, where people I don’t know will smile at me and tell me ‘hello’, then keep going quietly on their way.

 -Text and Photography by Denise Pulis @ www.travelwithdenden.wordpress.com