Student Paper Two Worlds Apart The Geography of Bliss

Student Paper
Two Worlds Apart
The Geography of Bliss
The Swiss maintain a high standard of excellence which helps them connect to their half frozen
mountain habitat. In chapter two of The Geography of Bliss, Eric Weiner discovered the Swiss people are
content with conformity. This society has an unparalleled standard that they have chosen to apply to
their fellow countrymen. While I was conducting my “here and now” experiment, I noticed some of the
trends of Switzerland being mimicked, and others being neglected. Here in America, we have our own
individual standards of excellence rather than those of a society that can be found in Switzerland. The
Swiss connection to their environment and faith in an orderly, dependable society attribute to the overall happiness of their civilization. In America, this faith in our civilization is replaced by the fires of
industry and greed of people looking out for themselves and their interest.
Switzerland is a land of cleanliness and environmentally conscious people. From roads, trains,
cities, and even the Alps, Weiner was able to attribute these to the happiness of Switzerland. Upon one
of his first interactions with Swiss citizens while at a meeting arranged by his friend Susan, he asked this
group of people “What is the source of Swiss happiness”(30)? One person Weiner spoke with, a Swiss
doctor by the name of Dieter pointed out the cleanliness found in Switzerland, stating “Have you seen
our public toilets? They are very clean”(30). Weiner observed this to be true as he found that “Not only
are the toilets clean in Switzerland, everything else is too”(31). Weiner must have taken Dieters
recommendations and observations seriously, since he based much of his experiences off of them.
When Dieter was asked about the bliss in Switzerland, he replied “We Swiss have a very deep
connection with nature”(34). This observation leads Weiner and his friend Susan to travel to the town of
Zermatt, an alpine town located in the Alps, which has a ban on any non-electric cars. This law is widely
favored by the Swiss, “an environmental regulation that the Swiss gladly accept to protect their beloved
Alps”(34).Not to suggest that toilets are a source of happiness, but rather the standard of cleanliness in
all aspects of society. If a restaurant has an unsanitary restroom, a customer can ask themselves how
clean the kitchen or the food they are eating is. This provides a negative environment for the customer
and the employees who work there. This can be applied to everything from roads, to public
transportation, even the air itself. In recent years, America has been pushing for a cleaner environment,
and to preserve nature so we do not cause any further irreversible damage. It can be said that we
Americans are following the trends of Switzerland, or that our connection to nature is a true source of
bliss. We Americans lack the current economic power and willingness to create any major transitions in
the interests ofa more in touch with nature environment and a cleaner society. It’s not to say we don’t
care about our society, we simply find happiness from a much wider variety of sources.
Swiss people are always watching each other, to ensure their standards are always being kept.
There is an Old Russian saying “trust but verify”. This mentality is not unusual to find in an orderly, selfpolicing society such as Switzerland. While author Weiner was on his expedition to Switzerland he met a
British woman who told him of a time she was up late having drinks with friends in her apartment. The
next morning, she found a note attached to her door saying “No laughing after midnight” (33). This
woman was not confronted directly by the complainant, but was instead contacted in a polite courteous
way. Through Weiners experiment in Switzerland, he came across this self-policing life style frequently,
mentioning, “Leave your car dirty in Switzerland and someone will pin a note to it” (33). It’s safe to say
the people in Switzerland don’t like living in a dirty society. While Weiner was traveling to a hill top
overlooking the city of Zurich, he witnessed a gentleman being confronted by an undercover warden.
After Weiner observed this event, he wrote about this trust but verify mentality in chapter two,
“Zurich’s public transportation works on the honor system, except that undercover wardens travel the
train, too” (42). He wrote about the embarrassment of being caught as the main deterrent. The Swiss do
not trust one another to maintain a standard of orderly living. Instead they practice a series of safety
nets implemented by their government, and nosy neighbors. In Switzerland, it is embarrassing to be
caught violating the trust their society places on themselves of maintaining a higher standard. It’s not
the threat of a fine, but rather the feeling that they let their society down. Although legal punishment
can be applied to any offenders of this greener, cleaner life style, the main deterrent is shame.
While conducting my “here and now” experiment, I sat on a bench at Sue Biermen Park in the
heart of San Francisco, with my back to the city skyline, and my front to the open park. I pondered on
how we compare to Switzerland. The Swiss take care of their environment, “So appealing is the image of
Switzerland as an affluent, clean, well-run society” (31). Even in a society of perfection and pride in their
environment, not everything works perfectly. Weiner came to this conclusion in chapter two, saying
“Sometimes, though, even the real deal falls short of its own expectations” (31). As I looked around the
park I couldn’t help but notice it had been well kept. The grass was freshly cut and the fallen leaves were
being gathered by a grounds keeper. The sidewalks were clean and free from stains. Traffic was
congested and electric trollies moved throughout The Embarcadero of San Francisco. Vehicles were
small with a high concentration of environmentally friendly cars. Homeless gentlemen were lying
sporadically throughout the park. This put a taint on what would have otherwise been a good urban
park. One could only wonder where they came from, how they got there, what was their story of failure
that led them to make this small slice of nature their home. In a society where we place so much
emphasis on a cleaner environment, it would appear that we have forgotten about those of us whom
haven’t been as fortunate to be able to make cleaner life style decisions. I cannot connect people
wanting to improve their connection to nature with homelessness, but how often would I run into a
homeless person if I were in Switzerland? From personal experience I can say that while I was in
Romania and Bulgaria I did not see one single homeless person. I saw plenty of lower income individuals,
and families, but no homeless people. These second world nations can provide a safety net for their
citizens, but as one of the top world superpowers, we cannot. I must ask myself what we doing
differently from Switzerland, Romania, Bulgaria, or other nations throughout the world that have
eliminated the lowest form of poverty.
America is the land of the self-made man. Millions of people from all across the world come to
America to make a successful living. Weiner was able to experience the revelation of differences in
culture between America and Switzerland, as he states “how very un-Swiss I am” (43). Where Americans
have a fast and now mentality, Swiss can sit around and enjoy the day. As Weiner found on a blog that a
friend helped him create, one particular comment stood out to him, “Maybe happiness is this: not
feeling like you should be else-where, doing something else, being someone else” (43). From over-night
shipping to fast food, Americans are impatient, not wanting anything to hold us back from our next task.
The Swiss, however, are patient. They can sit around and wait for the right opportunity to make the best
possible decision for success. Assuming success leads to happiness, the difference of American success is
one of many micro achievements, where Swiss have few larger achievements. In a view of capitalism
verses socialism, capitalism promotes individual success as well as company success. Socialism is
intended to promote success for everyone in the country. These are just a few examples on the
difference between Swiss and American cultural pursuits of happiness.
To conclude the differences in Swiss and American life styles of happiness, Switzerland is a green
friendly nation; however, Americans are beginning to catch up with this environmentally friendly life
style. The Swiss life style is a nosy one, where they are constantly policing each other to ensure their
standards are met. Americans enjoy their privacy and independence, but it comes at a cost to the less
fortunate. Weather collectively or independently, both cultures are opportunities of success in the
world, leading to the potential for happiness. In the age of globalization, communication, and
information, Switzerland will continue to achieve happiness through standards of excellence.