Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Nice Things About Switzerland #6: They're a Lot Like Dwarves

Nice Things About Switzerland

If I asked you to describe the main characteristics of a dwarf - and I wouldn't, because I'm dating one so I'm a frikkin expert - I hope you'd say something like: "Dwarves like digging tunnels, they store gold in secret dens, make high-quality armaments, love mountains, are superior engineers, and even the women have beards."

All of which describes the Swiss, too. (Did Tolkein live here at one point? Sadly, there's no way to ever know.)

The main difference between dwarven engineers and Swiss ones is that dwarfs build traps and robots that try to kill me while the Swiss do things that make my life easier and better.

A mean robot that tries to kill you in Skyrim

The first piece of Swiss engineering that blew my mind was when I read that all bus stops in Switzerland cost a million pounds each, because they all used anti-puddle technology so that people waiting for the bus wouldn't get splashed.

Even more interesting has been watching a new train line being built from my local station to the city centre. There are already two lines but they're making it bigger regardless of the obstacles.

Obstacles such as the huge, historic building that was in the way.

Engineering Astonishment Case Study: They Slid a Building

They... what?

Instead of tearing down the building, or rebuilding it brick by brick, they just slid it down the road. It wasn't even snowing! 

The following pictures show the plan:

Those are kind of train tracks there, at the level of the building's foundation.
They had some pushy equipment to push it along. One millimetre per hour or something like that.

And that's where it is now.

I had no idea you could just slide buildings around, but apparently it's quite normal here. I'm told that Wollerau, a small town renowned for having the lowest taxes in Europe, was built on a giant hover-cushion and can be floated to another county within 48 hours of any change in the tax regime.

Also Impressive: How They Build Those Thingies

I nearly didn't write this bit because I don't know any of the words needed to describe any of the things and it was hard to find a good photo.

But look at this and I'll try to explain what's what.

That's a giant BUILDER THING and once it has been installed, you see it for a while and then suddenly there's all concrete inside! In the shape of a train line! Then they move the BUILDER THING to the front and repeat... 

...and thus it crawls across Zurich like a snail, but instead of leaving goo in its wake it leaves INFRASTRUCTURE.

Other Stuff

I should also write about the Gotthard Base Tunnel and the general build quality of flats and offices. And some other stuff. But I should be writing my book, so I'm going to go do that now. (Read about the Base Tunnel if you like that sort of thing - it's very impressive.)

More Nice Things About Switzerland here


Friday, November 08, 2013


Having a long-term (i.e. more than a month) girlfriend has changed me in many ways. Example: I spend much more time trying to appear comfortable in health food shops, and much less time dribbling ice cream into my belly button.

The lucky girl is called Jen, and thus the process of her changing me for better or for worse, accidentally or on purpose, is called Jentrification.

As an English teacher, I'm interested in how this process of change leads to change in my vocabulary. I've been recording any new words that I've created, and publish them here for the purpose of possible future patent applications.

Jentrification - a Dictionary

to jen (verb)
The act of looking the wrong way when crossing the road.

"God! That car nearly hit you! Why were you looking the wrong way?"
"Because I'm speaking English! Last time I spoke English I was in New Zealand and they drive on the left."

How Jen sees roads

Jenuary (noun) 
The month of Jen's birth.

"When's Jen's birthday?"
"I know that one! Jenuary. Easy."
"Which date?"
"Come on! You can't expect me to remember that. She's only had one birthday since I met her."

jentilation (noun) 
The act of letting minor annoyances build up over time so that they can be 'vented' in an explosive fury, normally while on holiday.

"Did you hear that woman raging at that guy last night?"
"Yeah, we're in the room next to them. Apparently he uses the fridge light to light the kitchen, holds the cheese grater the wrong way round, and recounts his bowel movements with linguistic relish not heard since Finnegan's Wake."
"Mother of god! He had it coming."

to see Jen Malkovich (verb
The process or ailment of thinking all male actors might be John Malkovich.

"Is that-?"

jeneration gap (noun
The age difference between Jen and her boyfriend, as calculated by Jen. 

"I was born in January. You were born in June. So I'm only two months older than you."
to jenstruate (verb)  
The act of turning into Annie Wilkes for seven days a lunar month.

What do you mean, there's no more chocolate?

"I'm your biggest fan." (Ten minutes later) "I don't CARE if you're about to complete Skyrim: I want you to tell me a STORY."

jenshamen (noun) 
Similar to the German word fremdsch√§men (meaning 'feeling ashamed on someone else's behalf') but the person you're ashamed for is your boyfriend. 

"Andrew, please don't introduce me to your friends as 'the chick I bang'."

jenocide (noun) 
The act of murdering your boyfriend after reading his latest blog.