Friday, June 22, 2018

All the appliances are neurotic. But that's not really so bad.

In the spirit of keeping it light, I've observed that the appliances here are neurotic.

We had a rental car that had six different sensors placed around its bumpers to warn you of proximity to and possible collisions with nearby objects. Fair enough, but when you're maneuvering into a tight parking spot, every one of those sensors will eventually be close to something, and each sensor has its own nervous little song, so parking or doing a multipoint turn is a small symphony of alarms.

At our AirBnB—whose owner is exceedingly tidy—the refrigerator starts beeping at you if you have the door open more than a few seconds (annoying when doing inventory for shopping); the electric range beeps at you if you have placed something near it while it's heating up, and also if you haven't placed something near it (i.e. a pot) while it's heating up.

I've decided that Switzerland is a bit neurotic, but the neuroses are evenly distributed, so you don't see any obvious crazies but everyone is a little neurotic (or its more affable companion, obsessive-compulsive).

Case in point: The student pub on campus stops serving beer at 8:30. (Yes, you read that right. The student pub stops serving beer at 8:30.)  I was denied a beer at 8:33. Désolé, c'est le règle. There are a lot of rules here. Don't get me wrong: as an engineer, I appreciate rules. Without them, you have chaos. With them, you have order, predictability, unambiguity. Everything here works as it's supposed to: things that should be clean are clean (except the public restrooms, which are unspeakable), things that should be quaint are quaint, and things that should be modern and sleek are modern and sleek. And it is delightful that (e.g.) the public transportation here, even the buses, is highly predictable; if you have to make a 2-minute connection, you will very likely make it. Only here and in Japan would I risk such a thing. Having rules that people respect means that drinking in public is fine, because almost nobody will overdo it and become a jerk. I do wonder, though, if sometimes the rules could be bent just a little.

Yesterday, for example, I tried showing up for a haircut without an appointment. The place wasn't busy, and at least a couple of stylists didn't seem to be otherwise engaged. But I didn't have an appointment. So they asked me to come back in about an hour, and made me an appointment.

At any rate, it's not necessarily a bad tradeoff. Everything works very well here and it makes it easy to get around. In a future post I'll compare my perceptions of student life at EPFL with UC Berkeley.

À bientôt…

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