Yesterday evening I had another meeting of the building committee to discuss the new design of our neighbourhood. As you might have noticed, trees have been a central point of discussion so far, with me vehemently defending them and many others vehemently highlighting the “dirt” they produce (also known as leaves, fruits and pollen). Generally, leaves don’t seem to be too welcome here in Switzerland, as I experienced at the beginning of the week. I still don’t really understand how a country in which almost every Swiss person escapes to the mountains and the outdoors every weekend, how such a country can be so obsessed with leaves on the ground (and English lawn in generally…seriously, even in England the English lawn isn’t as perfect as in a Swiss town!)
To make matters worse, certain stereotypes seem to be correct and there appears to be a fundamental difference regarding the way how Swiss and German people communicate. Swiss people are often known for there distinguished and convoluted way of saying things, whereas Germans apparently prefer to just say what they think. And while I am not a big friend of such stereotypes, I find it very hard indeed to sit and listen to endless discussions that could be ticked off within 5 minutes.
Those two things – the trees and the communication – make the committee meetings both interesting and nerve-wracking for me. Yesterday was no exception. Here are a few highlights from the evening:
The discussion about the new parking lot in front of the building. The pavement will be renewed which raises the fundamental problem whether the parking spots should be arranged straight or slightly angular. If you are not sure what people could possibly discuss about it: with straight parking spots you might need one maneuver more than with slightly angular spots. Which might disturb the tenants if cars are coming back late at night (we are talking about approximately 5 parking spots). But with angular spots the parking area will be decreased by 1.5 meters. The discussion lasted half an hour! After 15 minutes I started drawing. The conclusion made me sit up again: we shall all drive to a large, neutral space, draw both straight and angular parking spots on the ground and test if you really need more maneuvers with straight spots! I spontaneously offered to document the whole process with my camera so we can include it in our annual report.
The trees. Again! Last time we agreed to consider Japanese flowering cherries for the playground. All other trees had been excluded already because they either produce too much pollen or too many small leaves or they grow too big. This time, the flowering cherries were excluded too. Because they flower in spring (unbelievable, I know) and that means thousands of petals on the ground. Gnnnnnagh!! This was the point I decided to enter the discussion. What I wanted to say in my German bluntness was “What’s the freaking problem of petals on the grass???”. What I was actually saying was something like “Please, could you be so kind and elaborate the consequences of petals on the grass so we know what to deal with?” (it’s called diplomacy. I am still working on it). I also mentioned very politely that we already have something called playground duty which means that the playground is cleaned and swept every week by one of the families with children. Finally, I asked about how many weeks of flower petals we are talking. Turns out, we are talking about 3-4 days each year when the cherries lose their petals. And there are no dreadful consequences of petals on grass. But they might create stains on the playground toys!
Despite my very diplomatic input, Japanese flowering cherries were excluded from the project. The final solution was pragmatic and simple. Since all possible trees had been excluded, the committee decided to plant big trees anyway (maple trees are considered) and if they grow to big after 30 or 40 years, we will simply cut them off again. There you go!
My absolute highlight of the evening though was the small talk with which I was greeted at the beginning of the meeting. I am still giggling at the thought of it.
Person: “And, are you enjoying autumn?”
Me: “Yes, I do, thank you!”
Person (with a deep sigh): “Mmmh. But there are quite a lot of leaves, aren’t there?”
Me (with a trustful smile): “Yes, it’s great, isn’t it?”
Person: “And the earthworms are so active at this time of the year! Every time you walk over a meadow your shoes get smudgy!”
…the earthworms. Oh boy! Whole new perspectives on autumn suddenly opened up!