Jan 25 2010

The Cheese and the Bread

by at 3:23 pm

Everyone knows that Swiss people don’t know what real sandwiches (or real cookies) are.  Usually, a sandwich (especially a vegetarian one) here means huge chunk of bread, thin layer of cheese, thin layer of butter, maybe a grape (yes, one!) or a cornichon pickle (that’s right, one), or a sliced egg.  They are always premade; one can never choose the ingredients and then watch skilled sandwich makers assembling it all.  Anyway, they’re good for a few days or in times of great need, and then I get really disappointed, so usually Seth makes us sandwiches.  I miss Darwin’s amazing sandwiches (see “Hubbard Park”).  For more information on the oddness that is the Swiss sandwich, see here.

What is perhaps even stranger than the Swiss sandwich is the Swiss custom of bringing along sandwich parts.  Whenever people pack their own lunch (never in a lunchbox, mind you), which is a rare enough occasion in itself, they call it a picnic.  Yesterday, CJL had choir rehearsal all day in preparation for Bach’s Passion of St Matthew which we’ll be singing right before Easter (during Passover).  Six of us, rather than going out for lunch during our lunch break in search of an open food-place on a Sunday, brought our “picnics” and ate them in the rehearsal room on a spare table.  One of the women, a German taking a gap year between high school and college, asked the others, “Is it a Swiss thing—or a French thing—to bring things separately for lunch instead of a sandwich?”  Three out of the four Swiss people looked down at their spreads of chunks of cheese, bread, endives, and meat, all in their own wrappings and containers.  They were pulling these various chunks apart and putting them in their mouths together.  (Sidenote: It is particularly awesome to watch how much cheese these people can consume at one meal).  “No…” one answered.  “We just grab whatever is in our fridge because we don’t have the time to make a sandwich.”

So, this was code for, “Yes, it is a Swiss thing.”  While eating cheese and eating bread is a very Swiss thing, not eating them in sandwich form, unless purchased from a bakery, is also a Swiss thing. And why is that?  My theory goes:

  • People don’t pack their lunches often enough to know how to pack them.
  • Instead, they (or restaurants) cook for lunch and thus washing machines don’t work during lunch hours. (note: laundry machine idea is still just a theory.)  Sometimes if they’re in a rush, they buy bad sandwiches.
  • There are no incentives to make lunch (other than cost, of course).  Lack of incentives include the nonexistence of:
  • sliced bread (know that slogan, “the greatest thing since sliced bread”?  Switzerland has yet to discover that first greatest thing.  Also bakeries don’t want to provide sliced bread because then they wouldn’t be able to sell bad sandwiches to people.)
  • sliced cheese (it is hard to cut wedges of hard cheese into sandwich-sized pieces, especially when the bread is not sandwich sized.  And what point is it for dairy shops to have cheese slicers on hand if no one has sliced bread around anyway?)
  • lunchboxes
  • workplaces outfitted with places to eat a packed lunch (this, my friends, is why I always eat lunch at school in the library foyer at a coffee table, with no microwave or hot water heater or fridge in sight.)

10 responses so far

10 Responses to “The Cheese and the Bread”

  1. Lizon 26 Jan 2010 at 2:39 am

    You live in the worst country ever. No sandwiches??? Get out while you still can, my friends.

  2. Mary Ellen Stebbinson 26 Jan 2010 at 1:23 pm

    i concur. must have sandwiches.

  3. Jackieon 26 Jan 2010 at 1:36 pm

    Well there ARE sandwiches. They’re just not very good when purchased from a bakery. But they have the potential to be tasty if home-made, as good cheese, mustard, bread, greens, etc are in good supply. It is just that there are rather a lot of obstacles to making them at home.

  4. Utpalon 27 Jan 2010 at 9:55 pm

    I miss the Hubbard Park!!!! I’ve been recreating it at home, with some reasonable degree of success.

  5. Jackieon 28 Jan 2010 at 9:42 pm

    Yeah. I’ve tried to recreate it too. It’s hard to have all those ingredients handy all at the same time! It’s good, but never quite the same.

  6. Utpalon 30 Jan 2010 at 6:19 am

    Finding just the right green apple was the key for my family… (That, and a good cheddar.)

  7. Kevinon 01 Feb 2010 at 8:26 pm

    I just read your older lunchbox post also. The global lack of consensus on how to pack lunch is really quite shocking.

    The Chinese seem to have a knack for carrying huge portions of chow mien and other liquidy lunch items in reused thin plastic shopping bags. Cheap restaurants and street carts will do this for take-out too. Somehow they manage not to rip the bags – I’m always amazed that people don’t wind up with soy sauce dripping all over their laps.

    And have you heard about the dabbawalla home-cooked-meal delivery system in India? http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/29/business/worldbusiness/29lunch.html

  8. Jackieon 02 Feb 2010 at 12:03 am

    I’ve heard of the system in India, yes. But not in China! I’d very afraid of soy sauce leaking all over me. It’s also too bad that they use so many disposable plastic bags…

  9. Kevinon 02 Feb 2010 at 12:11 am

    It is too bad about the bags – though at least they are sometimes reusing bags from the drug store as lunch bags. And actually, Beijing has been somewhat of a leader by requiring all stores to charge for plastic bags. It’s only a few cents, but it makes people think about whether they need a bag and if so, how many.

    Don’t get me wrong though, that one glimmer of good policy aside, their treatment of the environment is horrendous.

  10. SwissWatching » What I Ate This Weekon 06 Feb 2010 at 12:07 am

    […] I go into a bakery and buy my Swiss food of last resort: a tuna-fish sandwich. (See Jackie’s extensive run-down of Swiss sandwichery.) […]

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