07 February 2007


Today they are conducting the annual test of the alarm system in Switzerland. We were warned of this by our landlady so we would not panic and run to the Bomb Shelter* in the basement.

The alarms started to go off at 1:30 pm. Even though I was prepared, I was still quite startled. Because I was expecting Alarms with a Capital "A."

In the Midwest of the United States, tornado alarms are tested on the 1st Wednesday of every month during tornado season. They are extremely loud blasts of sound that make your heart race and your adrenaline levels rise even when you know to expect them. In short, they are alarms that are indeed quite alarming.

Here in Switzerland, the alarms sounded vaguely like an out of tune musical instrument playing an abbreviated version of a scale. Indeed, not dissimilar from listening to a band full of 13-year olds tuning their instruments before the Spring Concert that only family and a few friends attend because they must.

All things considered, not terribly alarming. Unless you happen to be the parent of a 13-year old budding musician. Then it would just bring back a bad memory.

Note: By law, all buildings in Switzerland must be built with a bomb shelter. Since the end of the Cold War, they have been mostly turned into storage rooms. However, the law remains. For a country committed to neutrality that hasn't been involved in a war for centuries, the Swiss are more prepared for war than any other country I've ever seen.

Another example - all Swiss men between the ages of 20 and 42 (52 in the case of officers) are required to be in the Swiss Army. They keep their equipment such as guns and uniforms at their home so they can quickly be ready if ever called upon to defend their nation from an attack. I would assume they also have their Swiss Army knives, but I have no confirmation of this.


CanadianSwiss said...

LOL. Very good descritption of the Swiss alarms.

BTW, your assumption about the Swiss men and Swiss army knives is correct.

Swiss Army Soldier said...

FYI: the knife that they give to the soldiers is different from the ones that you can buy in stores. and it has unfortunately no wine opener...

Global Librarian said...

I want one!

Do you have to be in the Swiss Army to get a genuine Swiss Army knife? 'Cause I'm not sure it's worth it.

Although, if you are going to be in an army, the Swiss Army is probably the safest army to be in!

Expat Traveler said...

Yes I loved those alarms, so different..

I think the general age for the swiss army is 18 to 36, younger rather than older. And the guns and ammo are kept separate...

In canton Schwyz (not too far over the hill), you go to schwyz the city and you will find the victornox plant/store... It's fun for shopping too..

I'd highly recommend going that way one time. You can go from Zurich to zug then arth-goldau then schwyz. Bus up from there..

There's also a great Tierpark in Arth-Goldau walk 5 mins from train station. Tierpark=outdoor zoo/animal park.

The Big Finn said...

The sirens here by our apartment sounded pretty much like I remember the ones in the Chicago suburbs.
Also, we don't have a bomb shelter in our building, but the building next door to us has one that's big enough for the residents of all three buildings in our little complex.

I guess I'm having a little bomb shelter envy!

Impossible Jane said...

My boyfriend got to keep his knife from 15 years ago but has since abandoned it and upgraded to a larger one. Everytime he uses it he has to brag about how wonderful the Swiss are!

My boyfriend is the most anti-military person I know and speaks highly of his time in the Swiss army.

swissmiss said...

It is actually fairly easy to get out of the military requirement - just this year a full 40% of the new recruit age cohort was excepted from duty for "health reasons" which are rediculously easy to come up with. The Army is no longer interested in having people who aren't interested, so they let a lot of people slide. And curiously, top flight athletes like Federer, Cuche, Zubringen et.al. never seem to serve...

There is also a Zivildienst (social service) option for conscientious objectors.