Tuesday, 21 August 2007

Some Thoughts on the Swiss National Day 1st August

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1st August is Switzerland’s birthday, meaning the national day. Every country has such a day and although a journey by train takes only 7-8 hours from West to East and 4-5 hours from North to South there are still enough Swiss (about 7,000,000) ready to celebrate the day. After many years of complaints the Government eventually decided that we were all entitled to the day off from work on that day. Well nearly all of us, an office colleague is holding the fort tomorrow to cope with orders coming in from other countries and transport is working on Sunday services.

So what do the Swiss do on their national day. All I know is that on the day before they crowd into the supermarket and buy all sorts of meat for a bar-b-q. I had to wait at least half an hour today until I was at the front of the queue in the butchers section and was served. I got strange looks from a few as I didn’t ask for chicken legs or wings, no mixed meats on a skewer or any meat delicacies soaked in a marinade of spices, mustard and oil, all to be put on the flames to be grilled on the evening of 1st August. When I got to the salad section I realised that nearly everyone had decided to serve a mixed salad with their grilled meat as what was left resembled more grass than actually a nice head of green leafy salad. However I eventually settled for two small portions of mixed salad in a plastic bag, already cut and ready for the sauce.

Hubby and I are just not bar-b-q people. When we moved into our home we had the ideal organisation for a grill evening. A porch with electric socket and covered, in case it came on to rain, but open to the garden. The grillman’s delight. Of course, it also needs a man who is totally convinced that grilling is a man’s thing. In our family it is actually neither a man’s thing or a woman’s thing. We eventually settled for a small electric grill. During the first year we ceremoniously grilled our sausages, chicken and food pulled out of the marinade at least once a week. Hubby decided he was in the way so I got on with it, although he turned the meat from time to time. Basically we enjoyed the food, but not so enjoyable was cleaning the burnt fat off of the grill afterwards and the smell of the grilled meat which penetrated into the last corner of the home. Eventually we put the grill in a corner of the porch, bringing it out when the children were on a visit. The next step was down the stairs to the cellar where it now rests in a corner waiting for a revival (which will probably not be the case) or for one of the kids to decide it would come in handy and pick it up.

When I see the grill machines that my neighbours have I would probably be too ashamed to take out my little electric grill these days. It seems that the first step is to get a gas canister, very big and very heavy. When they are empty of gas, you can take them to the local depot and exchange it for a new one. The grill is naturally not just a grill but has at least 2-3 side attachments for putting the food to be roasted on before and after grilling. Also indispensable are the instruments to be used. A special two pronged fork, a sharp knife and tongs to pick up the meat. In the case of a king sized gas grill, the man takes over. Whilst the women are busy with laying the table and decorating with small candles for when the evening darkens, the man of the house finds his way into the world of meat. Each pork chop, steak, sausage and chicken wing is grilled on both sides evenly and moved around on the grill automatically to ensure it obtains the right colour. Of course, there is also the grill with a lid. I never did understand what the advantage is but it seems that the grill with the lid are the best and most professional. This seems to be popular amongst those who enjoy a complete chicken or roast.

That would now be the thing that most Swiss do in the evening of 1st August, usually inviting family and friends to enjoy the grill party. I am sure where we live that the air will be full of grill odours tomorrow evening. So why bother, I can enjoy everyone else’s grill evening.

Getting back to the subject of 1st August in Switzerland, apart from grilling we do other things as well. The children are not forgotton. The parents buy their kids paper lanterns with a candle inside. During the evening there is a speech held by a local government person telling everyone how proud we are to be Swiss and what a wonderful country we are. The parents and children go into town (i.e. those that are not grilling) and the children form a procession with their lanterns as it gets darker. The main thing in the evening are the fireworks. This is the part where I have 3 cats who suddenly run at top speed home and dive under the beds until life gets quieter outside. During the evening every village and town has its own firework display. I am not a firework fan, but watched from a safe distance they are very pretty. Some years ago we had a flat looking onto the River Aare in town. The balcony had a full view of the river and the fireworks were then put onto barges on the river and the firework display took place on the river. We naturally had a front seat on our balcony. My parents used to stay with us during the summer for two weeks and they were very impressed. Once hubby and I spent the evening of 1st August, before we had the cats, on the steps of our local castle. This is on a hill and we had the displays from all the surrounding villages.

Of course, I would mention that our President will also say a few words on the television with a carefully prepared speech telling us all how good we are and what we should do to make it even better.

Today we just stay at home and take it easy. We are a bit too far from the town to see the fireworks and our village just has local explosions. I suppose it is just a nice way of burning Swiss Francs as fireworks are not exactly cheap.

That would be my view of the Swiss National Day. I will just take it easy, read a book and sit outside on the porch enjoying a day off work.

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