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It has rapidly become clear to me that in Switzerland, punctuality is next only to cleanliness in the list of essential virtues. The rule is simple - if you make an appointment for 6pm, then you are there at 6pm unless the world has unexpectedly ended (and even that will probably only buy you an excuse for about 15 minutes delay). "7:30 for 8" is a largely unknown and suspiciously foreign concept. If you're inviting someone for dinner, "7:30 for 8" will just confuse - should they be there at 7:30, or at 8? Most people, I suspect (not that I've thrown any glittering dinner parties of my own as we won't have an apartment of our own until February 1st) will read that as "be there at 7:30", or simply decide that they aren't sure that they want to associate with such vague and unpunctual people anyway.

Of course, I'm dealing entirely with stereotype here. What I can definitely confirm, however, is that after a few weeks of dealing with public transport which either runs startlingly on time or (disaster scenarios excepted) at the most a couple of minutes late you begin to adjust to it. Take the commute to work from where I'm currently staying as an example. There's a short bus ride followed by a train journey. Knowing in advance that the bus will leave at xx minutes past the hour and the train it connects into will leave at yy, you know that you'll arrive at the other end at zz. From there, you now know, it's, say, 7 minutes walk to the office. So you leave to walk to the bus stop at, say, xx-4 minutes. It's pretty certain that the bus will be there on time, and that the connecting train will be on time, and you'll get to the office within a couple of minutes of the time the timetable tells you you will.

This is infectious. Before you know it you're planning all your trips with military precision - after all, you're living in a country where if a tram is 2 minutes late relative to the timetable posted at the stop people start shuffling their feet and looking at their watches and wondering if they should call VBZ to ask what the big problem is. The timetable tells you when you're going to arrive to within a few minutes and it's highly probable that things will be running to time, so why not say "I'll be there at about 19:23" rather than "Sometime before half past seven"?

Fortunately, I'm a detail-obsessed nerd, so this doesn't throw me that much - in fact, I find it slightly satisfying to arrive precisely on time. I've spent enough time living with First Great Western and their habit of waiting until you've been sitting on a non-moving train for 25 minutes to tell you that actually, they don't have a driver anyway so you might as well get off the train and get onto the next one, which is six platforms away, leaves in 45 seconds and is already packed that it's actually quite pleasant to use a transport network that's run with slightly frighteningly military precision.

I'm sure I'll get used to it.

In other news, an entertaining entry from the Zurich cantonal police's online log. It's currently burglary season here:

Gemeindepolizisten von Thalwil hatten am 15.10.2008 in Gattikon (Gemeinde Thalwil) einen verdächtigen Ausländer einer Personenkontrolle unterzogen. Da er sich nicht ausweisen konnte und in seinem Rucksack Einbruchswerkzeuge mitführte, wurde er arretiert und der Kantonspolizei Zürich zugeführt. In den Befragungen zeigte sich der 45-Jährige wenig kooperativ. Dennoch konnten ihm aufgrund von DNA-Hits und Schuhspuren sechs Einbruchdiebstähle in Ein- und Mehrfamilienhäuser nachgewiesen werden.

The executive of summary is that "Police in Thalwil noticed a suspicious foreigner. They stopped him, and as he couldn't produce ID and upon being searched had tools for breaking into properties he was arrested. Footprints and DNA evidence tied him to six burglaries."

I love this because it's so impressively Famous Five. The Five, as anyone who ever read Enid Blyton knows, would always be able to spot the bad guys because old Enid would drop in helpful descriptive notes like "swarthy" and "foreign". As soon as they spotted the suspicious foreigner, off to the police they'd go, and the police would come and arrest them for being, well, swarthy and foreign. In immediate post-war England suspicious foreigners, especially swarthy ones, were clearly criminals, and it seems that this policing technique is used in Switzerland to this day. I do hope that the arresting officers (and their dog) were treated to a slap-up tea with lashings of splendid ginger pop.

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Curious. In Brazil you British are also famous for being punctual.

Whenever something is on time, we say it has "pontualidade britânica".

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