Etiquette: How to Deal with Neighbors Who Destroy Your Balcony and, also, Swiss Parks in the Summertime
I have had my first opportunity to really lay into somebody in French and, I must say, it has all been rather satisfying. Here’s the situation: it is now summer in Central and Northern Europe and that means two things.
1) Construction season has begun. We have a very short opportunity to construct things here and when it happens, it happens with authority.
2) Simultaneously, people with blindingly white bodies start popping up everywhere in limited clothing.
Concerning the first, everything is under construction. I mean everything. The roads, new housing, small renovation projects, everything. It’s all out from under the snow and ready to be dug up and changed in some form or another.
There’s an empty lot directly in front of our chalet that has had a building permit on it since last summer so, we knew, that at some point this year, a construction crew was going to arrive and everything was going to go to Hell in a handbasket. Which it did, rather quickly. The man on the very large backhoe who was digging the foundation for our new neighbors kept nibbling and nibbling and nibbling away until, eventually, he compromised the necessary EARTH that was holding up our deck and we had a Jack and Jill moment.
(For those of you whose langue maternelle is not English and who will not understand that reference, our terrace fell down the hill.) Not only did he destroy our deck, he also broke our main sewer drain and, consequently, all of our poop and our pee and our shower water commenced to rain down directly into his big dirt pit. Yaaay, poop! You go, poop!
The owners of the property, from Alsace, ( a region in France), arrived one weekend last month to check on their investment and to assess the progress and they were, of course, appalled that their backhoe guy had destroyed our terrace. I swear to God, they walked up our driveway to introduce themselves looking like they were headed to their own execution.
Me: Bonjour, (the rest of this was all in French, but I will write it here in English), how’s it going?
Them: Hello, um, not too badly. How are you?
Me: Not so good, actually. As you can plainly see, your worker has destroyed my terrace. By the way, my name is Trailing Spouse and that man glowering at you in the corner is my husband, Mr. Big. Mr. Big doesn’t speak any French so he will just continue to glower and grunt from a distance, if that is okay with y’all.
Them: Oh, dear God.
Me: So, what is the plan, boys, to fix my deck?
The Older Man of the Group: Well, I have vacationed here in this village for 20 years and I had heard through the grapevine that you were American and that you were really nice and friendly and, uh, also, that you didn’t speak French. Your French, by the way, is very good!
Me: Surprise, suckah!
Needless to say, they fixed the plumbing issue and they are building a new retaining wall and a new deck. Whatever money my husband has had to spend on my French classes has now paid for itself ten times over. Also, I now have a really good cocktail party story.
The new neighbors have been to visit every weekend since then and they always bring us a nice bottle of white wine from Alsace, so I am trying to be very nice to them whilst maintaining a position of authority and indignation. It’s a slippery slope, no pun intended. But, the wine has been great.
Meanwhile, and, more importantly to those Swiss ex-pats who are counting on me for my nuggets of info, here are the rules for visiting Swiss public parks. Please keep in mind that I only know the mid-day rules because I’ve never been before noon and also that these rules apply to the part of the park that is furthest away from the playground. I have no idea what the rules of etiquette are for playgrounds, (although I can imagine that if the playgrounds are full of Swiss children, they will be the quietest playgrounds in the world).
Between Noon and 13:30
1. Leave work, or in my case, the apartment, walk to park, bring bagged lunch and towel or blanket.
2. Find lovely spot on grass IN FULL SHADE.
3. Spread blanket, unpack lunch, uncork wine, take off shoes and socks, roll up pant legs, skin off every layer that you can and still be decent. (This is not because you are trying to get a tan, this is because you are trying not to sweat too much in your work clothes.
4. This IS NOT the time for sunbathing. This is lunch time. Ergo, between 12 and 1:30, if you were in a helicopter looking down on a municipal park in Switzerland, it would appear as if it were empty because everyone is hiding under the trees.
5. Keep track of the movement of the sun. As the sun moves, so should your blanket as to
6. If you spy someone during these hours in just a bikini bottom in full sun with a little white poodle WHO HAS ITS’ OWN TOWEL and said towel is in the shade so as not to cook the dog, that person is French and none of these rules apply. I swear, the machinations that this woman went through to keep her towel in the sun and the dog’s towel in the shade kept me entertained for an hour and a half.
1. The coast is now clear for sunbathers.
2. You must be female.
3. You must be skinny.
4. You must wear a string bikini.
5. Everyone else must remain semi-clothed and under the trees.
And, should you happen to stroll through this same park in the evening, in spite of the fact that there were hundreds of people there that afternoon, you will not see one piece of trash, one cigarette butt, one dog turd or one homeless person passed out on a bench. After a few years you will become accustomed to this cleanliness and orderliness and everywhere else in the world looks shockingly dirty and “unSwiss”.
*The pictures of the parks in Lausanne that you see here are not mine; I found them on the internet. It would be beyond gauche to sit in the park and take photos of people trying to eat or sunbathe. The pictures of my sad, sad terrace are, however, all mine.