10 Things Basel Is Trying To Tell Me

I took a work trip to Basel Switzerland back in March 2020 before the world turned upside down. While riding the tram daily to my place of work, I would take down notes for a blog I had every intention of writing and releasing before I made my way back home to the USA. However, my trip was cut short due to a frantic scramble to obtain passage back to the states before the borders were closed. Securing my flights along the way (I could only get one flight at a time to another country with no guarantee I could even find a connection to the next stop or ultimately to the US) was nothing short of an epic adventure in itself so by the time I buckled my seat belt on my final flight to America, my frazzled mind understandably put the blog on a back burner. I am just now remembering I still have those notes. So rather than rework the tense to reflect the past, let me go ahead and release it as it was originally intended – in the present tense while still strolling around the beautiful and welcoming city of Basel, Switzerland.

Basel Cuckoo Colleen Ann Guest
The cuckoo clock is actually not from Switzerland – most of them are from the Black Forest region in Southern Germany – -not far across the border from Basel.

10 things Basel is trying to tell me:

1. I need hair service. Badly. There are multiple coiffure shops in every block. Literally every block! Yet no one here appears to look like they’ve had their tresses tended to. I would expect to see some spectacularly crafted hairstyles everywhere I look, but people on the street look just as mundane and bedraggled as people on American streets. What the heck are they getting done to their hair? What unseen service is being performed? But thank you(?) for reminding me on every corner that I must dash in for it.

Basel Colleen Ann Guest
A hair salon on every corner…. just why?

2. I need to know what time it is. It is Switzerland after all so this is not entirely unexpected. Time is serious business to the Swiss.  But like coiffure shops, the watch shops are in extreme overabundance. How many time pieces do people buy here? Do they lose watches at an astronomical rate? How do all these competing watch shops stay in business?

Basel Time Colleen Ann Guest
“Swiss time is running out…” Not in Basel it’s not….

3. I do NOT need another knife. (Well, ok that may be true but…) The Swiss are also renowned for their knives but there is an eerie lack of knife shops in Basel – as in almost NONE at all. Really, I hunted for a whole day and only found one teeny tiny cobbler’s shop which also cut keys and had a less than arousing selection of plain old Victornox knives. I guess having something (still not sure what) done to your hair and stacking wrist watches up to your elbows are way higher priorities than carrying one quality, unique pocketknife.

Basel Swiss Army Knife Colleen Ann Guest
Near the end of my trip I found two more fancy shops which sell the same knives more or less that I found in the rinky dink shop. But the cutlery at the fancy schmancy shops was least 10 CHF more! Score one for my accidental thrifty find!

4. I’m in great need of something gold. As in real gold. Right now! The number of jewelry stores hawking GOLD is only rivaled by the coiffure industry trying to intimate that hair service is immediately and often required. Surely the Swiss are not this vain. Are they? They don’t look like they dress extravagantly (or colorfully) or put on showy displays of any sort. No one appears to be dripping in gold chains, rings, and bracelets. Where do they put all those golden trinkets? Who is buying all this jewelry?

Basel Gold Colleen Ann Guest
Who is wearing all this gold jewelry I see for sale?

5. Surely, I need something from the drugstore and grocery. As plentiful as the hair salons, jewelry stores, and watch shops, are the bazillion apothecary shops and little grocery stores. I appreciate continual access to the grocery with their fresh produce and quality foods, really, I do, but this is extreme overkill.  And the drug stores! How often do people need to purchase drug store type stuff? Is there some secret item I’m missing from my toiletries? Am I less than civilized for not knowing?

Basel Drugstore Colleen Ann Guest
Don’t worry if you run out of shaving cream or produce – Basel’s got your six… and your 1-12 in general

6. I need more exercise and fresh air. (Again, this may be true but….) Even if you don’t ride a bicycle (seems like everyone does) and you mostly ride the public transportation, you get lots of good walking in. Cars are in the vast minority and there’s hardly a place to park them or get gas if you had one. Everyone is trim and healthy looking. They eat at the outdoor seating at cafes no matter how cold or rainy. No one seems to spend any time indoors for very long. It’s a very physically active and outdoorsy society.

Basel Bicycle Colleen Ann Guest
The bicycle is the main mode of transportation!

7. I only need American taste in music. Clearly not true, but I swear to God the soundtrack to Swiss life is rock and roll, Americana, jazz, big band, or country, with a little pop music occasionally – all in English. And music is EVERYWHERE (indoors and out). Even the busker at the train station was playing old Amercan pop songs on his accordion – ACCORDION!! I’m smack dab in the middle the land of polka and world class yodeling and is it too much to ask for a little waltzy tempo on that squeezebox and a yodeleeho sprinkled in here or there?? Come ON! However, I found a fun channel on the TV called FOLX. And THEY play the greatest (and kookiest) folk, polka and yodeling videos. I’m in heaven. Neel would hate me right now if he had to be in the room with me. I pretty much leave the TV on that channel whenever I’m in my hotel room.

Basel Music Colleen Ann Guest
I scribbled down my notes about American music while riding the tram. I was still thinking about it when I walked into a shop which was playing big band swing, followed by John Denver’s “Rocky Mountain High”, followed by 70s disco as if to prove my point. And to put an exclamation point on it, upon turning a corner after exiting said shop I was confronted with a giant mural collage depicting a wide array of iconic American and British rock legends. I kid you not!!!!

8. I need to smoke a lot more cigarettes. As in ANY because I don’t smoke. But seriously these Swiss can suck down some cancer sticks on an epic scale!! As I was climbing the hillside steps from my work (like Heidi ascending the Alps), I was inhaling the fresh air and dared to muse that even the air is better in Basel because everything is so clean here. And shortly after reaching the street — as if on cue — I was abruptly assaulted with a nasty, nicotine, drenched cloud. How can such eco and health conscious people think this is a good habit??

Basel Smoking Colleen Ann Guest
Note the gigantic ashtrays on every table!

9. I need to smile less. And be less friendly, and not make jokes, and stop attempting to make small talk. People on the street in Basel are superbly stoic and distant. No emotion is the name of the game if you want to fit in here. Forget all my efforts to dress in the distinctly bland-colored, scarfed, skinny panted, euro uniform. Or as I call it, the “I’m-not-American-camouflage”. My friendly “smile and nod” gives me away as a dopey American every time. The more I try to keep a straight face in public the harder I find it to keep from busting out laughing from the effort. Note to self. . . Never play poker with the Swiss!

Basel Distance Colleen Ann Guest
Basel has been social distancing before it was cool.

10. I need to carry a backpack. OK this one is true… at least while in Basel. Because most people rely on public transit, walking, or cycling, having a quality backpack to put all your shopping, stash your layers as you peel them off, or carry your bazillion watches and apothecary supplies is a must! There is literally NO ONE unadorned by a wearable bag of some description. So when in Rome…. Yep I got one:

Basel Backpack Colleen Ann Guest
My personal souvenir was this elegant Victorinox Swiss Army backpack!

In case I’ve given you the mistaken impression that I was less than enamored with my stay in Basel, let me set the record straight. I LOVED each and every minute there. I could easily pick up stakes and happily relocate to Basel. In A HEARTBEAT!! It’s a beautiful, welcoming, safe, temperate, and historic city with lots of things to see and do.

But the evidence staring me down from shiny store fronts with brightly colored signs and eye-catching window displays tells me I’m apparently an American hick, ignorant of the social graces required to exist in such Euro sophistication. I’m doing my best to pretend I fit in, but who am I fooling?

Life back in the US will surely find me:

  • with my hair unsuspectingly uncoiffed and uncolored
  • curled up in my comfy chair indoors (no matter how nice the weather)
  • running out of toiletries and eating stale crumbs from the cupboard because I’m too lazy to take my ginormous, full-size, gas-guzzling, truck 2 long miles to the nearest stores
  • oblivious of the passing of time
  • indifferent to my lack of gold trinkets
  • wildly waving, smiling and calling out to my neighbors and strangers on the street
  • and gazing lovingly at my vast, shiny knife collection . . .
  • . . . all while listening to the Bill Flynn Polka Show and wishing I could yodel like my dad!

Watch the video below for a slideshow of my adventure set to the super hot yodeling vocals of Melanie Oesch:

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5 Comments:
neel guest says:

Outstanding,… Loved this!!!

Hi Colleen,

Your impressions of Basel are so funny to me, as I spent my first six weeks with SKAN AG in Basel in 2010. I think I have about 5 or 6 of these same impressions.

I will find the book “Swiss Watching” for you to read. It’s a great take on the people and quirky personalities of the Swiss.

And you are right, as soon as you smile and make eye contact to show you are open to friendship and communication to most in Basel, the Swiss reaction is typically “just another American in Basel” 🙂

Colleen Ann Guest says:

So glad you liked it! I would love to read that book.

Dear Colleen –

Thanks so much for sharing your Basel adventure. I see that you stayed at the Hotel Victoria, one of my personal favorites and traditional spots…hyper convenient too!

I think this somehow needs to be converted into our “required training” ti grasp the culture of Basel before anyone goes. Great job putting this together…I know it took a lot of work!

Les

Colleen Ann Guest says:

Hahaha “required viewing” … . Thanks for the positive feedback. It really wasn’t much to slap this together because I took notes every day on my tram ride. I just lost track of posting it because of the Covid life disruption. I hope I can continue to entertain you with my adventures.

Top! © 2017 Colleen Ann Guest
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