Sundials, Sandclocks and Swatches

Written in


It all starts when the Swiss Air flight attendant holds out a bowl of Lindt Chocolate and says “Danke Schoen”. While I would have loved to grab as many of those with both my hands, I had a faint feeling that that might not quite be the right thing to do. So I only took 3.

Update ps: A quick guide to speaking Swiss German (Schweizer Deutsch). I thought I could manage with my 15 year old memories of Max Mueller Bhavan Grundstufe Eins German but I was sadly mistaken. The Swiss accent of German is about as different from Deutschland German (High German) as Chennai Tamil is from Tirunelveli Tamil. For once, Ich (I) is pronounced Eeekkkhhhh (sounds of clearing throat mandatory) and the R’s must be rolled, no, rumbled at Richter scale 8. Further, a few of the vowels must be pronounced like French and the overall tone must sound slightly Italian.

Switzerland, it turns out, didn’t quite evolve like other countries. They figured out that staying out of wars, for instance, was common sense. Keeping their mouths shut, especially about numbered Bank accounts also apparently encourages people around the world to save all their gold and cash in this landlocked country.

Legend has it that the Swiss (called Helveticans in those times) decided that they would get out of the Sundial business because our planet was not quite upto Swiss precision standards. A few minutes/seconds variation in the rotation/revolution period was simply unacceptable. So they shifted to Sandclocks, which were OK as long as the particles of sand did not undergo enough erosion to cause the clocks to go a little faster. That was when the Swiss started making watches.

And I just made that story up.

So what did I see in Zürich?

I saw Bahnhofstrasse, which is kind of like Station road next to Mambalam Railway Station, but slightly less crowded and moderately more clean.

I saw Grossmünster and Fraumünster , 2 of the most famous churches in Zürich because I could then type that in my blog. I like typing words with umlauts (ü).

I ate Indian vegetarian food in a restaurant called Hiltl where the dishes are priced by weight. I had 0.537 kgs of Desi food. And this place is run by the Swiss, and not by The “Pnjaabi All-you-can-eat $9.99 Buffet Association of Yooshtun”.

I found out that Zurich was originally a Roman settlement, dating from 90 AD. Today, the only remnant of that distant past is a milestone whose Latin inscription reads, and I translate, “Please vote for Marcvs Vmlblcvs Cordvs of the Plebian Party”. Apparently, desi political parties were not the first to stick messages and hide useful public signs.

I drank Swiss Hot Chocolate. (extremely satisfied “aaaah” of pleasure)

I visited the place where Albert Einstein is said to have written “I vill not use relativity as an excuse for not doing my homeverk” a 100 times on the classroom blackboard as punishment. The famous ETH Zurich.

I ate authentic Italian Pizza at Ristorante Moline. Not deep dish or Pan or thin crust. Not panneer tikka or Lebanese Chicken. Not Veggie lovers or Veggie Supreme. The real deal.

I saw a St Bernard. It was pulling its owner along. In a direction of its choice. The owner was complying. I am not sure she had a choice.

I realized that Switzerland was designed by professional photographers. They took their best postcards, and then arranged the country to look like them. Which explains why every part of the country is photogenic. Cows, Sheep, Villas, Mountains, lakes and rivers were arranged to maximize airline, hotel and the camera industries’ profits.

I also ate Falafel in Zurich. And I was reminded of my grandmother who once asked me why the Arabs would eat jackfruit. I had said “uh?”. She said “so what is this palaapal that I read about in a Tamil magazine today?”.

I ate 7 different varieties of Cheese. Emmentaler, Gruyere, Tilsiter, Appenzeller, Berner Alpkaese and Vacherin Mont d’Or. I tried very hard to find the elusive Budeeheimusstmusst but I couldn’t.

I also ate, no, experienced, the real Tiramisu. (extremely satisfied “aaaah” of pleasure)

And oh, what did I go there for? Yeah. Some work with a client. We bored them with some “Ab SOA jao bacche” ppt treatment for a full day. All you IT-guys and girls, please explain that reference to the non-IT types.

And I got chocolates for everybody. Not the run of the mill Toblerone or Lindt that is available in Potti kadais in Chennai. Specialty chocolate from a confectionary.

Some photos of my trip available here


22 responses to “Sundials, Sandclocks and Swatches”

  1. Karthik Krish Avatar
    Karthik Krish

    lol…..Ennada hairstyle athu.

  2. CW Avatar

    I love the ‘photographers designed the country’ description! Lucky, lucky you!

  3. Kiran Avatar

    As I count the varieties (and probably to go with it the quantities) of food eaten over the past three days was it…hooo hummmm!!! should say stuffing food is a bad habit 😀 and Falafel at Zurich..have the Arabs got there too!!! 🙂

    Blogrolled you btw…hope it isn’t an issue!

    Absolutely not. It’s an honour

  4. mahendrap Avatar

    //“I vill not use relativity as an excuse for not doing my homeverk”//
    Ha ha!!

    //They took their best postcards, and then arranged the country to look like them.//
    Ha ha!! You make me laugh!

    I’m glad you freaked out on the cheese.

    Nice photographs too. How could anyone hold a ‘conference’ with such a beautiful view outside?!

    The large chess set reminded me of the much larger set at the terrace of Cognizant Pune’s office…:-)

  5. Soundar Avatar

    it’s all coming back!!

    Zurich was of course one of the many cities where Ludlum’s The Bourne Identity was set. It was the reference to bahnhofstrasse that slid the last piece in place!

    Ever since I read that book back in the dark ages, the word Bahnhofstrasse always conjured up chimerae of careening cold and cobbled (laboured alliteration alert!) streets with Bourne running for his life.

    It was only after I realised that every street outside stations in Germany and (some of) Suisse is called so (literally means railway stn street) did the scales fall and the image die.

    Apropos which, when I first visited Germany I was amazed at how many signs there were on the autobahnen to this place called Ausfahrt.

    Strange that I had never heard of this place.

    Again, it was much later that I learnt that this stood for ‘exit’!

  6. Bikerdude Avatar

    What a lovely I say. Please eat that lovely stuffed potato national dish thing which is supposed to be awesome. Also fondue, fondue fondue- of which I am very fondue.

    And hello, lovely as the pizza and tiramisu might have been- little bit wrong country no?
    🙂 Yes, you are right, but the Swiss are partly German, partly French and partly Italian too. So they atleast have better credentials than the Americans 😉

  7. Ramsu Avatar

    The word Bahnhoffstrasse is used much like the word agraharam in our part of the world, I guess.

    Which makes me wonder: why doesn’t somebody write a Tamil version of the Ludlum series? Maybe call the first book Yaar indha Barani? and have high-speed chases in an agraharam in Kumbakonam.

  8. Revathi Avatar

    there is a joke about the swiss weather

    why is it called wetter?

    Because it only gets wetter..

    Weather apart, I love Switzerland- great locations for bollywood films.

  9. Vasoo Avatar


    were u in the german part of swiggerland? the names sound like modernized madras tamil!!!!!


    yes – “The bourne identity” will be

    1. “swizgerland veeran” (if the movie was taken 60 years back)
    2. “Sabash Barani” (30 years back)
    “Nil gavani sudu” or “sudura sudu” (movies of the CID jayshankar type)
    3. “Swizgerland Raja” in tamizh(20 years back)
    “switzerlandlo abbayi” in telugu
    “switzerland ravugal” in malayalam (hehehe)
    “Tick tick tick” if bharatiraja made the movie

    Someone can advise (!!!!!) me what the latest naming trend will be

  10. Soundar Avatar

    “Tick tick tick” if bharatiraja made the movie

    And of course he’d begin it with ‘En iniya Swiss makkaLe’ and the movie would have a ‘seer thirutthum nokkam (social change agenda)’.

    For instance how the Swiss protagonist eschews his country’s model of punctuality, accuracy etc and becomes a punch dialog Panchapakesan, wears a HMT watch and follows Indian standard time.

  11. Marc Avatar

    Best place to be in a World War!

  12. Ramsu Avatar

    Vasoo: Nil gavani sudu was rombaovertoomuch. Brilliant!

    My guesses for current names:

    1. Marandhuvittan thozhi, in the manner of a gazillion Tamil movies named after old song lyrics. The movie is likely to end with Barani finally remembering everything, including the girl he left behind (to be played by a teary-eyed Sneha). Nyaabagam varudhe is another possibility.

    2. Switzerland 600028

    3. Vettri Vizha – The chase begins

    4. Ottam, written in italics, with the silhouette of a running man near the title. Or did they do that already in Run?

    Of course, the movie has to have Vadivelu. Given his current weight, maybe he could play one of the Swiss Alps. Mont Blanc, for instance. Or a swiss cheese eating masochist named Avalanche Arumugam.

  13. Arunk Avatar

    welcome back. Looks like you had the ideal business trip where food and fun were the highlights. I hope to make to Switzerland one of these days (on my list).

    The title of the blog is sort of misleading: it perhaps could have been: Cheese, Chocolates and Churches 🙂

  14. Voracious Blog Reader Avatar
    Voracious Blog Reader

    Hey KA,

    Great snaps. Looks like it was real fun.

    By the way,

    1. Did the flight attendant say “Danke schoen” when he offered you the chocolates or did he say “Bitte schoen”?

    “Danke” is to thank. “Bitte schoen” is used when offering something. Or did the flight attendant say Thanks because you were late in saying so?

    VBR, he did say “Danke” thanking us for choosing Swiss Air 🙂

    2. Berner Alpkaese and not Alpkase
    Yep. Corrected. I was too lazy to look up the charmap for “a” umlaut.

    3. As for “Budeeheimusstmusst “, were you referring to the type of cheese that when loosely translated in English means “Monk’s head”? Monks are follower of Buddhism and the word “Budeeheimusstmusst” sounds like starting with the word Buddhism. Probably, you could have tried asking for “Moenchskopf”.

    Voracious Blog Reader

    hehe. caught you. It’s just a corny take on Cheese Budee hei masst masst, a popular 90s Akshay Kumar/Raveena number

  15. oemar Avatar

    Your trip sounds fun… I ve put Switzerland on the agenda called Life…

  16. krishashok Avatar

    Ramsu, Vasoo
    Engiyooo Poiteenga 🙂 Brilliant.

  17. Voracious Blog Reader Avatar
    Voracious Blog Reader


    Haw haw. The “Cheez badi hai mast mast” was awesome.

    The Swiss accent of German is about as different from Deutschland German (High German)

    It seems that Poper German (Not High German. High German is a loose transalation of Hochdeutsch) is spoken only in certain regions of Germany. The Austrians and the Bavarians share the same dialect. Holds good for Swiss too.

    By the way, I would recommend the original version of “cheez badi hai…” by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Its called “Dam mast qalandar”. Its a wonderful one. Try out the youtube link:

    Original Version by Nusrat:

    A bit re-mixed version by Nusrat:

    Voracious Blog Reader

  18. Puppy Manohar and Baby Vaijayanti Avatar

    Dear KrishAshok,

    I am very much enjoying your blog. Thanx 4 the humour. Please keep it up.


    Mr. G. Gunasekaran

  19. Srinivasa Avatar

    Beautiful write-up. I myself would have compared Swiss German to Malayalam, not Tirunelveli Tamil. It seems you’re a closet halwa fan, so that’s fine.

    Couple points not covered: did you visit the Niederdorf , i.e., on the other side of the river Limmat? All the streets are cobbled, the best bars and music are to be found there. That *is* the medieval Zurich.

    It was also the ancient Zurich, it seems, for a Roman Bath was excavated there recently in 1983. It can be seen today – it’s called the Thermengasse. Niederdorf is the nearest equivalent of our own Triplicane. Did you know that Triplicane was the site of a shola forest (like the kind you find now only in Nilgiris)?

    Anyway TCS’ers rarely ever went to the Niederdorf in my time either.

    Great stuff, keep it up.

  20. krishashok Avatar

    Thank you 🙂 We just had a day to roam around. I will try the places you mention the next time around.

  21. Vasoo Avatar

    Danks ramsu, krish
    ramsu-too mucha irrukkudu

  22. […] September 23rd, 2007 · No Comments The title is borrowed from Vasoo’s brilliant comment here. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: