Wednesday, April 22, 2015

A Lesson in Swiss Culture

Monday, April 13, at approximately 12:15 pm, I decided to do some horn practicing. I'd played about 10 minutes when the doorbell rang and I went to see who was there. There is a camera by the front door and a screen in the apartment - I can see who rang the bell. I recognized one of the other tenants and not being able to hear her well or understand what she was saying, I thought she locked herself out. I buzzed her in. That was not what she wanted. "No. No music. 12 to 13. And weekends. Thank you." She left the camera view.

Whoa! I was stunned. She could have walked up the stairs inside, knocked on my door inside the building and spoke to me face to face. Instead she chose to speak through the security camera. I was immediately incensed. It's not as though I just moved here or that this was the first time I'd practiced in the apartment. She is not a little old lady or new to the apartment herself. She was here before we came and I'd guess her age to be mid-40's. I always play with the windows closed and the door to the room I'm using also closed. I fumed for a while and returned to play about 1:10pm. 

I did post a rant on Facebook because I needed to vent a bit and I'll share some of the creative responses I received:

I say play as loud as you can at 13:01.

Here's an idea. Do you have the sheet music for "Let it Go"... OR "Shake it off"... Play that! It will make you feel better and maybe your neighbor will get the musical hint! Good luck!

Play between 0:00 and 1:00; she'll forget all about the 12:00 - 13:00 thing.

Drop off a box of earplugs in her mailbox and play loud as you want as of 13:01  

The next day, there was a note in our mailbox from Nathalie, our cranky neighbor. She accused me of "always" playing an instrument. Ha! Music teachers of days gone by would say how inadequate my practice time was, but from her perspective it was too much.  She went on to further instruct me not to play on weekdays between 12 and 2 and not at all on weekends. She asked for my immediate cooperation. There was nothing friendly about the note that ended with "friendly greetings". The tone was definitely snide. 

The timing was perfect for me to take her note along to a ZIWA (Zurich International Women's Association) event where others could read it and comment. Plenty of eyes rolled when I relayed the experience. The Swiss have a reputation for having rules for everything and the sacred lunch hour was all too familiar to some others.

I had originally planned to just ignore the note, but Tom and I decided a written response was better. First we had to get details of what the rules are and then decide what to tell Nathalie.

When we took over the apartment, we were given an English translation of the "Hausordnung" or house rules. Interestingly enough, the hours listed for making music were not the same in both versions! The German version of the house rules are posted in the lobby, but the date is 2013. Maybe they've been updated since we arrived in 2012. Who knows? Tom also researched Horgen's local ordinances. The results are that she was right, but very rude in how she communicated it to me.

Our response was not apologetic, but I did agree to respect the rules. I am allowed to play during the hours of 9am-12 and 2pm-7pm on weekdays.  We did point out that on Saturday music is allowed between 9am-12 and 2pm-5pm. (Sadly, Sunday is a music-free day.) I told her I was a member of a brass choir in a neighboring town and invited her to come hear us play!  A German friend translated our response to make sure we had the grammar correct. The letter was placed in Nathalie's mailbox and also sent to the building's management company. They should be aware of the situation although we believe no further action is required.

What Nathalie doesn't know is that I have a silencer mute for both instruments. I used them when I first arrived, but I didn't like using them exclusively. They make the instrument much harder to play and the trombone is much heavier to hold up. If I have a particular need (solo coming up, maybe) to practice outside of the allowed hours, I'll use the silencer mute and have Tom go into the other areas to make sure nothing can be heard. 

The whole situation has stirred up many feelings in me:
It has taken away some of the joy of playing, but I think it will return with time.
I get angry whenever I walk past Nathalie's door or car.
I think of amusing ways to retaliate - all within the rules, of course.  (maybe some outside the rules) 
I am facetiously tempted to buy a cheap violin and scratch at it during the allowed times. (maybe saxophone, drums or accordion - so many choices)

The crazy part is that Nathalie lives on the ground floor and we are on the top. There is a level between us! I can't believe my playing is really that loud where she is. (I could play much louder!) We have spoken to the people on the middle level and they like my playing!! They also have a daughter who is about 18 months old - sometimes she cries and we can hear it. There will be another baby in June and much more crying. Nathalie will not be able to do anything about that. It makes me smile inside.

The complaint has also made me very aware of noise in and around the apartment. For instance, yesterday the landscape firm had men mowing and weed whacking between 1pm and 2pm! Horrors!

Reading through the complete house rules also pointed out to us some other rules of the building that are routinely ignored:
No storing of anything in the common area. We need to remove the winter tires around this time of year, but where do we store them? Some people (us) pay to keep them at the car dealer. Others store them in the area outside the elevator on the basement level. Maybe they are Nathalie's!

No trees or plants in the stairwell or common area. Some plants can't survive in pots  outside over the winter and spend the winter months inside. We saw others doing it and joined them. The marks on the floor clearly indicate the former tenants had done so as well.

We are not supposed to run any machines (washing machine, dryer or dishwasher) between the hours of 10pm-7am. I can admit to not choosing to do laundry then, but we routinely start the dishwasher before going to bed. From our perspective, the building is well insulated against sound. We do not plan to change any of our actions other than the music. 

I mentioned the complaint to the director of my brass group. He acted a little embarrassed, but acknowledged that the lunch hour is off limits. He added "you are absolutely allowed to play one hour every day!" Really? One hour? Do they have any professional musicians here? How can they possibly become proficient with that little amount of time allowed. So few people live in free standing houses - most people rent apartments.

One of my tennis friends is a private piano teacher with the students coming to her. I asked her how she got away with that because that is explicitly forbidden in our rules. She lives in a free standing house. Earlier, she lived in an apartment, but her landlady was deaf so she had no problem. However, her son played the trumpet and as he finished his high school studies had no time to practice except on Sunday. A neighbor from another building came over, shook her finger at them and said "no trumpet on Sunday." That was the end of his trumpet playing. 

I spoke to another woman who is Swiss, but has lived in many other countries before coming back here. She is also a lawyer. I relayed the story and she agreed that there is nothing else to be done. I asked whether she thought the real problem was my neighbor not liking my music or that I broke the rule. "Oh, it is absolutely all about the rule."

There you have it. The Swiss are known to like the rules nearly above all else and now I have experienced it first hand. 

I truly believe that any place worth living in is hard to leave. (For instance, I cried on my way to Belgium having no idea what to expect and I cried when we left knowing exactly what I was losing.) The "rule culture" will make it a bit easier to leave when the time comes.