Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The "Escalade" in Geneva

The Escalade in Geneva is a commemoration of the victory, in 1602, over the Savoy army that tried to attack Geneva.  For more info, check out this website.  What happens now is that on one of the first weekends in December, there's a lot of commemorative events in the Old Town, where people dress up in period costumes, they sell lots of typical foods (like the hot vegetable soup that was poured over the attackers) and mulled wine.  The Passage de Monestier (I believe it follows the old city walls) is opened, and the towers of the Cathedral are opened, for free.  Little kids also dressed in period costumes walk around selling commemorative ribbons for 5 CHF to raise money,

At the kids school, the Escalade is a big deal.  They learn songs, dress up in a costume and have a parade, have vegetable soup, and very importantly, smash one of these chocolate soup tureens filled with marzipan vegetables, while chanting, "Thus perish the enemies of the republic".  Then they all share the chocolate.  The picture below is from the Escalade breakfast that I had at work, at which we had our own soup tureen.  The little yellow and red candies were very cool—there's a big jelly candy inside PLUS a tiny little firecracker that you pull apart with a bang!

There was also a celebration at the school at night.  Featured was a lot of vegetable soup, and a little talent show - the best show was a kid doing a Michael Jackson imitation.  One thing that was interesting was that lots of the kids came with costumes that included a toy gun— pretty realistic looking ones.  In the US, that would be enough to get you expelled, or at least suspended for a while.

Just goes to show, there's more than one way of doing things, and sensible, decent people in other countries have laws, rules, and policies that are very different from ours.  And they can do just fine with them.

Random notes - friendliness and sales clerks

The Swiss are apparently well known for being a humorless bunch.  I frankly don't know enough non-expats here to make a good judgement as to whether or not they're really humorless.  However, I can say that they are certainly very polite - quite a bit more so than in Seattle, I'd say.  For instance, in a public elevator, the person who leaves will usually say something like, "Bonne journée" ("Have a good day").   I get caught off guard at moments like these, and usually what pops out of my mouth is something inappropriate like, "You're welcome".  Or nothing, if I'm stuck for words.  I'm sure I give a less than friendly impression.  Hand shaking is big here.  For instance, when I drop Peter off at school, and stop in to see the teacher, you definitely shake hands, and maybe even again when you leave.

Another thing that people do is, for instance, when going into a room such as a waiting room at a doctor's office, they'll say a general "good day" to everyone in the room.   Also, when people have just bought something and paid the clerk, instead of the clerk being the one to smile and say thank you, etc, frequently it's the customer that will say a whole string of courtesies, like, "Thank you, good bye, have a good day".  Not so much the clerk.  Weird!

Actually, sales clerks in general are exception to the general friendliness and politeness. They're usually unfriendly and unhelpful.  Where in the US, maybe 1 out of 5 sales clerks couldn't care lesshere it's about 4 out of 5.  I was just looking for some jeans for Kenny at the H & M store, which is about the equivalent of Target or Old Navy.  I went back a couple times because there was one pair on sale for 14.99 CHF, compared to the others that were 29.99, that looked almost identical, which they had in all sizes except Kenny's.  I got one clerk who was helpful.  But the rest just pointed sullenly in the general direction of the jeans, and that was it. I hear that H & M is opening up some stores in the US—I hope they have better customer service training. I often think to myself that if a store from the US like, for instance, Target, were able to open up here, they would make out like gangbusters because the general level of service and selection and value here currently is just so low.