Lunchtime art in Switzerland

May 24, 2011, 6 Comments

Lunch boxes as art. These days anything is possible but this photo is real, and it says so much about Swiss life. Or at least daily life in Bern or almost any town in the German-speaking part. I took it at about five past one, after the main lunchtime rush. At that time in Britain most people are just sitting down to eat, not heading back to work. In Switzerland lunch begins at 12 noon. As the church bells strike 12, most of the country stops. Offices close, as do shops and banks outside the city centres, children leave school, building sites fall silent, almost everything grinds to a halt, except public transport. Go into a Swiss restaurant at 12.15 and you’ll think you’ve won the lottery if you get a table; go in at 1.45, and it’ll be empty but then so will the kitchen.

Not everyone wants, or can afford, to eat out in a restaurant every day but it always surprises me how many Swiss still want something approaching a real meal at lunchtime. No quick sandwich at the desk. I think it’s a hangover from not having had school lunches. Most Swiss schoolchildren have to go home for lunch, which creates havoc for working mothers; then again, perhaps it’s a way to make sure Swiss women stay at home and in the kitchen. I know some men who still go home for lunch, knowing that it will be on the table waiting for them. Sandwiches do exist, of course, but you don’t see many sandwich bars like the ones that inhabit almost every street in London. There are now eight branches of Subway in Switzerland and the supermarkets recently expanded their selection of sandwiches to about ten types, but it’s all a long way from the massed ranks you see in Britain. So takeaway meals, such as pasta or Thai curry, are very popular and they all seem to be served in those white polystyrene boxes.

What I love most is that the cartons are so neatly stacked. The bins were too full but almost none of the workers wanted to leave their rubbish on the ground, so an impromptu piece of street art started to form. I sat there waiting to see how high it would grow, but of course it didn’t last long. Within five minutes the bin men came and took it all away. They know that the best time to empty the bins is around quarter past one. Any earlier and they would miss most of the rubbish; any later and there would be piles lying around half the afternoon. And that wouldn’t be acceptable to anyone, so they are as punctual as the people eating lunch.

Lunchtime in Bern: Swiss life in a snapshot.

6 Comments on "Lunchtime art in Switzerland"

  1. Fergus Miller Tuesday May 24th, 2011 at 11:46 PM · Reply

    Bin men don’t work every day in my Swiss town, Take a photo at 5 past one every day and then tell the story! I am sure this is a one off.

    & please stop generalising about “Most Swiss schoolchildren have to go home for lunch, which creates havoc for working mothers”!!!!!!!! That is why we have block times now in most schools much to Christoph Blocher’s disgust! & mothers don’t have to work unlike Britain! its their call.

    I am a stay at home father who has a wife who has a sandwich most days in the office!

    “So takeaway meals, such as pasta or Thai curry, are very popular and they all seem to be served in those white polystyrene boxes.”

    Do they use different boxes in Britain? we are there next week and I will take some photo’s of rubbish to send to you Diccon…….I also have British nationality and my father is from England!

    God save the Queen excuse the pun!

  2. Zach Dyke Thursday May 26th, 2011 at 12:39 AM · Reply

    Mr Miller needs to chill.
    You’re awesome Diccon!

    • Fergus Miller Thursday May 26th, 2011 at 11:16 AM · Reply

      Just keeping things in perspective!

      This is a blog which allows comments and I respect Diccon for that & I don’t hide behind some pseudo name either, not implicating people who comment on this blog do of course.

      I love Switzerland & I like Diccon for the record, he is a man with a sense of humor & he knows how to write a good book about Switzerland! Looking forward to his next work.

      Mr Dyke…..another pun there me thinks! Where do you come from Holland or SA?

      • Zach Dyke Friday May 27th, 2011 at 03:26 AM · Reply

        I respect your opinion but I strongly disregard your agressive tone and like to remind you that the world wide web is not automatically a free pass for bad behavior.
        I lived in Switzerland for 2 years myself and I really think Mr Bewes is totally right with his.
        I appreciate that you think my name’s funny but I actually am from OR.
        It was probably very shocking for you that there are still people out there without a facebook profile so you assumed my name had to be fake.

  3. Rahel Thursday May 26th, 2011 at 02:29 PM · Reply

    I am one of those kids who went home very day to eat my mother’s home made lunch and so did my father (that was his choice- to ride the bike home half an hour and to return to the office after lunch- another half hour ride). I still prefer a home cooked meal at lunch time.

  4. Jeanine Monday September 12th, 2011 at 09:05 PM · Reply

    Hahaha, i looove that picture! great snapshot and so true!
    btw: i’m was one of those kids as well, up to 9th grade when i went to college (too far away from home to go home for lunch every day).

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