La Vie Fait du Bruit!
“La vie fait du bruit!” I like to say. Simply put, life makes noise.
Recently, a woman was arrested and fined several thousand francs for singing James Brown’s “I Feel Good” at a Lausanne, Switzerland metro station. She was charged with disorderly conduct in public and disturbing the peace, despite eyewitness accounts that her singing wasn’t bothering anyone. This rigid expectation of silence at all times boggles the minds of non-Swiss.
Silence is respect, or so one young Swiss woman recently chastised me on an early train. To make sure those who prefer peace and quiet are happy, most trains here feature a silent wagon. Here, all form of sound is forbidden. That includes talking, telephoning, and listening to loud music via headphones. Now don’t get me wrong, if you’re on an early commute and didn’t get much sleep the night before, the silent wagon is a great place to catch a few quick ZZZ’s. But when this young woman piped up with her disapproval, we weren’t sitting in the silent car. It was about 7:30 am and I had just boarded the train with my two very excited children for the airport.
“Mom, I’m so happy,” shouted Elektra, five years old, in a fit of giggles, “Vacation is going to be so much fun!”
Her younger sister Calypso, aged three, was now cackling with laughter. We were, after all, officially en route to London for a week of family fun with their aunt and grandmother. But fun in Switzerland is often short-lived, and today was no exception. Mid-laugh, we were interrupted by a woman who appeared no older than a college student, who leaned across the aisle and asked, in English, if I could keep my children quiet because she was trying to sleep.
“No, this is not the silent car,” I responded calmly. Now I could have argued that it was okay for children to get excited, and what kind of sick person is disturbed by the sound of happy children, but I knew already after a decade in the country that that wasn’t a viable argument for the Swiss. The old adage that children should be seen and not heard was probably invented here. So rather than ignore the woman, we got into a heated discussion about noise on trains, which quickly escalated into a shouting match. She argued that everyone on the train was tired and was on their way to work in Geneva. Out of respect, she claimed, we should not speak loudly so they could get their rest.
“Out of respect?” I cried, and threw out my favorite retort, “La vie fait du bruit!” Literally, life makes noise.
“Silence is respect!” she bellowed again, eyes searching for the mutual approval of the other passengers. As is expected in Switzerland, other passengers remained totally stone-faced but agreed with their eyes, while only some English speakers smirked, bemusedly following this rare example of public outburst.
“Really, silence is respect?” I queried, voice rising. “Is that what you tell your boyfriend when you’re having an orgasm?”
Dead silence filled the car. Well, except the sound of two happy girls, still giggling.
Score: Alexis—1. Annoying Swiss woman—0.