Thursday, July 31, 2014

Not Swimming in Circles

Many people assume that Switzerland is everywhere and always perfectly organized, and that this is a country in which there is a place for everything (and everything is in its place).  They are surprised to learn that amidst the scrubbed sidewalks and manicured pastures there exist pockets of irrationality, small places where, hidden from the world, the locals indulge in a degree disorderliness that can only be called un-Swiss.  Nowhere is this more obvious than at the swimming pool.  Like buying a coffee machine, trying to fit in a thousand meters of freestyle during lunch break can be an existentially terrifying experience for the casual observer of Swissness.

Why do the Swiss swim this way?

In most parts of the world, pools are divided into lanes, within which swimmers agree to proceed in a clockwise pattern (and follow a few other rules of etiquette).  Abiding by this small rule allows far more people to use any given lane, and would seem the sort of thing that Helvetians would embrace with zeal.  And yet, Swiss natatoriums are instead perplexing tanks of entropy.

Not swimming in circles makes more sense when you consider the relationship that the Swiss have with their lakes.  The country's countless and beautiful Badis are wildly popular in summer, and have a fascinatingly unique status as public-private spaces. 

Clearly, Switzerland is a densely-populated and landlocked country.  Most citizens live in rented flats rather than sprawling suburban ranches, so the Swiss manage their public spaces carefully. 

In the Badi, you are out in the open, in social or public but not necessarily civic space: you stake our your square meters as expansively as you like, and set up your blanket and grill accordingly, leaving everyone else to find a different patch of grass.

It seems that this attitude has carried from the gorgeous alpine reservoirs into the chlorine-bleached boxes of tile to which the masochistically meritorious so rigorously subject themselves; the pool is a relief from the confines of apartment life, a small patch of nature to call one's own for a brief hour, with personal boundaries marked out by a towel and a blank stare.

There are no swimming pools in Switzerland.  Only very small lakes.


No comments:

Post a Comment