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Journal Entry

Tuesday, July 24, 2007


Many things that Americans do privately and as amateurs, the Swiss professionalize and communalize.

Thus, in the suburbs of Falls Church, many yards were adorned with treehouses, rope swings, tire swings and the like; in Switzerland, we have the Robinson-Spielplatz.

This is, in American terms, like a Parks & Recreation program where kids are given hammers, saws, screwdrivers, wood, tires, and pipes and get to build their own playground. Which, over the years and generations, grows... and grows... and grows...

As Wikipedia has it, "Oft entstehen dabei ganze Hüttendörfer, die einem ständigen Veränderungsprozess unterworfen sind. (Often the result is an entire village of huts subject to continual tinkering)"

Indeed:  1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14

This is around the corner from our house.

Posted by benrosen at July 24, 2007 06:05 AM | Up to blog


Wow, it's beautiful (10 and 13) and terrifying (7 and 8).

I want one :)


Posted by: Matt Hulan at July 24, 2007 08:54 AM

Does anyone monitor what the kids build and demand that it be "safe"? They've replaced a lot of the cool playgrounds near me (and near my aunt and uncle's house in DC) with horrible, boring, "safe" plastic ones that offer precious little to do and really just aren't conducive to Make Believe at all. Not that you couldn't play Make Believe if you tried hard enough, but they used to lend themselves to such things and now they really don't. There's only one I can think of that's still fun and interesting and, alas, I'm mostly too big for it now (and I am not an especially big person). Even that one had the tire constructions taken out, limiting the number of ways one can travel from one part of the playground to the other without touching the ground.

Posted by: Em Tersoff at July 24, 2007 11:15 AM

Check out the pictures (particularly, as Matt says, 7 and 8). Do those look like rounded-plastic American-liability-craziness playgrounds to you?

No. They do not. :-)

Switzerland generally assumes -- and enforces -- a higher level of personal responsibility. And tort law interpretation must be different, too? In any event, you don't see the same level of insurance-premium-driven craziness you do in the US. (This makes, for instance, a hospital birth a totally different experience!)

Posted by: Benjamin Rosenbaum at July 24, 2007 11:57 AM

I am interested in your assertion that a hospital birth in Switzerland is a different experience than in the US. I believe it, but I find it hard to imagine how. Can you elucidate?

Or, perhaps better, will you elucidate?


Posted by: Matt Hulan at July 24, 2007 01:04 PM

Incidentally, Ben, I'm sure you remember "log city" at Tuckahoe Park. I grew up in Austin, TX, after living in Arlington for a few short years in my early childhood. While there, I had a fuzzy memory of this sprawling construction of a playground in my mind, with logs and climby stones and a tunnel! A TUNNEL!

When I returned to Arlington, years later, I was astonished to find that the memory was of a real place. It nearly broke my heart when it was replaced.


Posted by: Matt Hulan at July 24, 2007 01:07 PM

*grins* Yes, but the one playground I know of that's still fun and interesting doesn't look like one either--they managed to update it, take out some things like the tire constructions, without totally wrecking the place. Looking again, though, that does still look more exciting than the playground I'm thinking of here.

I remember discussing with a friend at school the sad state of American playgrounds and how awesome many of them used to be. He suggested that the old, fun playgrounds were built on the idea of survival of the fittest. :P (Then again, he jokingly offered to stab me with a fork at lunch one day so I wouldn't have to go to class, but when I informed him that if my life ever depended on it he should go ahead and stab me, he got rather upset. Silly boy.)

Also, Switzerland sounds really cool. I need to learn more languages and get over my extreme dislike of traveling. (I'm fine once I get to a place. It's the getting there that's the problem.)

Posted by: Em Tersoff at July 24, 2007 04:23 PM


Posted by: Haddayr at July 24, 2007 09:10 PM

They dug our Robinson Spielplatz up to make a traffic tunnel into Bern :o(

We had a lot of fun there, though; there was an old discarded boat... But there was an article in the paper that they have made one of the enormous piles of dirt and rocks that they have dug out for the tunnel public, and kids can go and dig and play and whatever. I guess piles of dirt are like big cardboard boxes.

(Didn't a Robinsonplatz in Basel catch fire when that plane crashed, Ben? I still think it's amazing luck that there were not more injuries...)

Posted by: susan at July 25, 2007 03:11 AM

Yup, in addition to the other risks associated with Robinsonspielplatzes, sometimes planes fall on them.

Posted by: Benjamin Rosenbaum at July 25, 2007 03:50 AM

Holy c(ha)ow, Matt, they got rid of the log city at Tuckahoe? That bites! Arg, I think you're right!

Now my essay on hospital birth differences and liabiltiy-driven medicine.

Basically, in Switzerland they feel like a birth is a natural event which, you know, sometimes runs into trouble, so you might want to have a doctor around just in case. So they pretty much leave you to the midwives, and let you do whatever you want, and come check on you occasionally. The emphasis is on your being comfortable.

In America, they basically think that birth is a medical emergency, managed by a doctor. In order to compete in the market, they may have to grudgingly allow frills like midwives, doulas, or not strapping you down to the bed, but all that frippery is going to fall away the minute the presiding doctor feels it's getting in the way of her getting the baby out as she sees fit.

Illustrative scenes:

  • Aviva's birth in Frauenspital Basel: after about ten hours of labor, Esther's contractions gradually subside. They are now coming at about one every ten minutes, which means the baby is not progressing. Esther sits up and says, "actually, I'm kind of hungry."
  • So, they bring her dinner. She eats, and then takes a nap (or rather an hour-long series of ten-minute catnaps). After a few hours, a doctor comes around and says that, you know, if we want to hurry things along, they could put her on a Petocin drip. We say we'd rather try all the non-drug techniques we've read about.

    The doctor is cool with that, so we spend quite a few hours walking up and down stairs, bouncing on balls, etc., before we reluctantly conclude we'll go with the Petocin. (And, after they do put her on Petocin, and contractions speed up to one a minute, which is way to fast to handle with the Bradley method and autohypnosis, we ask them to take her off the drip, and they do. At which point the contractions settle down to a manageable one every three minutes, and sometime thereafter Aviva is born, underwater).

  • Noah's birth, Arlington Hospital: first, you do not eat -- you get ice. Why? Because, if some complication required surgery under general anaesthesia, and you vomit and aspirate, you might die and they'd get sued. But, you ask, isn't this vanishingly rare? And what about any other emergency surgery under general anaesthesia? Might the same thing not happen then? Um, I don't think you heard me: THEY'D GET SUED.
  • Second, if the baby is not progressing, you are going on Petocin, and you are not going off it. The input of laypeople on medical procedures, such as the administration of Petocin, is barely tolerated, for marketing reasons, with thinly concealed disgust.

  • Aviva's birth, Frauenspital Basel: Once the baby is born, she gets wiped off briefly, plunked into mom's arms to nurse, then Dad's arms while they sew mom up, then the family gets put in a family room, where they hang out for five days.
  • Again, if you want expertise on how to diaper, etc., a nurse comes around and helps out, otherwise, they pretty much feel like you can handle it.

    Around day two, a nurse comes by and is like, hey, maybe we should show you how to bathe your baby. And they do.

  • Noah's birth, Arlington hospital: after the medically indicated nursing-on-the-off-chance-you-can-handle-it, the baby is whisked away to the nursery to be washed, weighed, swaddled, and have antibiotic goo smeared in its eyes.
  • Why the goo? Syphillis. Because, you know, of the plague of syphillis in Arlington, and the inability to, say, test the mother to see if she HAS syphillis.

    Why the washing? I actually asked the nurse doing the washing, what is the purpose of removing the waxy protective natural covering on my baby? Does that, I said (putting on my best friendly-and-naive voice) help the baby?

    "Oh no," said the nurse, busily scrubbing Noah, "it's not for the baby. It's for the hospital workers, because of the risk of contamination. See, if we don't wash your baby, and then we have to handle it, we could get infected."

    And then we might sue.

    Posted by: Benjamin Rosenbaum at July 25, 2007 04:12 AM

    I love the contrast in picture #6" between the formal and informal bridges.

    Posted by: David Moles at July 25, 2007 08:41 AM

    It could be on the cover of some software engineering book (probably by Addison-Wesley)...

    Posted by: Benjamin Rosenbaum at July 25, 2007 08:51 AM

    Indeed, they got rid of log city. They put up this metal construction that was faintly cool, relative to other sanitized American play structures, but it was no log city. This was more than a decade ago, I think.

    Luke's birth was relatively benign, medical-emergency-treatment-wise, but yeah, I see your point. The nurse in charge of washing, weighing, etc. was pretty laid back, and I managed to convince her after she had done the record-keeping "necessities" to let me take him back to the room, and we were basically able to chill after that.

    Nancy had a doula, and she was teh roxx0r.


    Posted by: Matt Hulan at July 25, 2007 10:15 AM

    Is that a turkey in the last pic?

    ...so the difference between American and Swiss playgrounds, as well as between American and Swiss births, basically boils down to: "in America, we have lots of lawyers, and we like to use 'em as often as possible,"?

    ("Robinson"-Spielplatz? Because of Der Schweizerische Robinson?)

    Posted by: Jackie M. at July 26, 2007 10:32 AM

    That's three for three for Jackie!

    Turkeys, and Swiss Family Robinson, very popular here. Lawyers, I guess, less so. Or perhaps just more carefully employed.

    There are also cows across from the rugby pitch down the street from my house. We can hear the bells tinkling as we play.

    Posted by: Benjamin Rosenbaum at July 26, 2007 10:54 AM

    Then I demand cow pictures as well.

    Posted by: Jackie M. at July 26, 2007 01:07 PM

    Turkeys are popular in Switzerland? How odd. I thought they were native to the Americas. Of course, Toblerone is faintly popular, here, so I suppose we're even.

    Actually, I'd rather have turkeys, but maybe that's just me.

    An amusing turkey-and-child story: we were camping at a farm last October, and the farm had two turkeys, as well as several dogs and goats. Luke, however, was fascinated by the turkeys, for they were Very Large Birds. We learned that their names were Thanksgiving and Christmas, which led to some Life's Lessons for Luke, which fortunately he received with good grace.

    However, at one point, we were walking past a tent where some class was going on (this was an SCA event), and the instructor asked me to chase off the turkey, which had wandered in and was disturbing them. Fortunately, I've worked with large birds before (swans and geese, notably - swans are evil, geese are merely vile), and I understand their psychology, so I was able to escort the thing out of the tent with only mild conflict, by which process Luke was fascinated.

    My friend, Amy, on the other hand, learned the hard way that turkeys prefer not to have their snoods molested by strangers.

    And wouldn't you?


    Posted by: Matt Hulan at July 26, 2007 02:38 PM

    It looks like a guineafowl, not a turkey, enjoying the playground in picture 14 there.

    Guineafowl are African relatives of turkeys and pheasants. (They're also quite tasty, if you're into that kind of thing.)

    Thankfully, domestic fowl in Switzerland are seldom litigious and therefore unlikely to sue for defamation.

    Posted by: Jake Miller at July 29, 2007 12:28 PM

    Hi Ben & Matt-

    I was trying to describe the Tuckahoe Log City to my kids and was at such a loss since they have seen nothing like it.

    Much to my amusement, when I googled it, I came across the two of your comments.

    Going to the YHS87 reunion?


    Posted by: Megan McMorrow at August 14, 2007 01:05 AM

    Hi Megan!

    I am, and I think Matt is too.

    Posted by: Benjamin Rosenbaum at August 14, 2007 09:52 AM
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