Friday, December 13, 2013

Fixing What Isn't Broken

In many countries, a state of disrepair is the necessary prerequisite for the commencement of repairs.  Not so in Switzerland, where labourers of all descriptions frequently occupy themselves with work that, to the non-Anthropologist, seems totally unnecessary.  Why? 

First, the Swiss love work. It is labour itself that is virtuous, not necessarily the finished product; brow sweat is a Calvinist harbinger of heavenly rewards, so tearing up and re-paving a walking trail is always a good idea (because of the tearing up and re-paving, not because of the trail) that hardly needs further justification.

Second, though, the Swiss enjoy being masters of their own fates.  Not for them the Gallic shrug or Mediterranean sigh (despite rather a large part of the population being French- and Italian-speaking); the Swiss seek to steer the course of affairs with a zeal that may be surprising from a small, land-locked, neutral country.  The tension between this half of their personality and the Romantic half is a dynamic that explains much in Switzerland, and certainly gets played out on its lawns every summer.

Waiting until a pavement is cracked or a railway tie worn out entails a degree of idleness and passivity that the Swiss cannot tolerate; fixing what isn't broken therefore asserts a satisfying dominion over the forces of entropy, and presents a valuable opportunity to do hard work.  


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