Exploring privilege Who's privileged?

For Karen, an American living in Switzerland, two differences in living conditions here and back home stand out: few people own their own houses and the public transport system is terrific.

Trotting home from the railway station, I mused on the fact that the only the wealthy here can cut oneself off from contact with the great majority of humankind. The better-off drive everywhere in their cars, air-conditioned and therefore sealed away from the odors and noises of summer. They have a pool in the yard, so do not mix with the crowd at the beach. They sail their own boats rather than taking the scheduled ships on the lake, and take exercise at a gym rather than walking home from the grocery store. They own their own houses, so do not rub elbows with neighbors who live in the same building.

This is quite different from isolation, as one can be in close contact with workmates, friends and members of one's interest groups.

What is missing is the casual chat with an acquaintance on the bus, the examination of the young sportsmen transporting their bikes or their snowboards on the train, the experience of sharing an apartment house with people much older or younger, with different lifestyles.

Their contact with nature is also different. It is planned and controlled; their own gardens, the mountain hike, the walk in the woods. They are not knowledgeable about the blackberries growing next to the train tracks, the buttercups in the field on the way home from the station, the sight of American chestnut trees in bloom next to the church; invisible from the road but bordering one's homeward path. They miss feasting their eyes on the allotments, one of which in my town has the most gorgeous tulips and forget-me-nots in spring and peonies later.

Neither way of life is necessarily superior.

It does seem to me that the more integrated lives of those of us not in the privileged classes are more spontaneous. I would love a picking garden full of tulips in the spring and delphiniums later, but it's more fun to bring home the wild buttercups and red clover. A regular dip in my own pool would be quite heavenly, but I would miss the swim from buoy to buoy out in the lake, glorying in the sight of the Alps and bobbing in the wash from the old paddlewheel ships. An own grill would be delightful, but so is the experience of eating a Bratwurst at the public beach while sitting on the rocks at lakeside, watching the sailboats compete in the weekend regatta.

One owns less privately, but the public offerings are staggering. Enjoy them!

Author: Karen Rudin

Avid balcony gardener Karen Rudin has also enjoyed hiking and cross-country skiing in Switzerland. She was a chemistry teacher and is now a translator, while her passionate interest in the environment has found expression in many articles and presentations. Cooking, writing skits and painting are further enthusiasms.

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