By Mandolyna Theodoracopulos
After a few idyllic days in Gstaad, strolling down a New York City street feels like being on an alien planet. A busy city feels jarring, frightening even, because people often look crazy.
Hurried creatures with bulging eyes and gruff attitudes—life forms that are afar cry from those here in Saanenland—populate the streets.
At least passing strangers in Gstaad nod or offer up a “Grüezi” along the Wanderweg. In New York, if you dare say hello to a passerby or look them in the eye, you are likely to be ignored if not called a weirdo or flipped off.
What is it about big towns that cause people to be so tough and gruff? Perhaps it is because cities are an assault on the senses. Maybe someone had New York in mind when they coined the term “sensory overload.” With all the stimuli in a bustling city, it is no wonder people appear defensive. So much visual and auditory aggression would make any normal person fearful. I find it difficult to manage the number of people encroaching on my personal space, which makes me more likely to look and act cold or angry.
But a city’s anonymity can also be a relief from small-town life, where everyone knows everyone else’s business. Sometimes it’s nice to walk among strangers who don’t know or care what you get up to late at night. But the same anonymity can be isolating. Feeling lonely in a place packed with people is arguably the worst kind of solitude.
Between the sensory assault and the anonymity, it is a surprise that so many people live in cities. Choosing between the country and the city is not easy for many people. Cities offer so much more than rural areas in the way of work, culture, and inspiration, but they provide none of the countryside’s peace and natural beauty.
How can one possibly have the best of both? How can one preserve village life’s pleasantries while still drawing in the dynamism the world has to offer? Gstaad is at a critical moment with regard to this question. Drawing a balance between its expansion and preservation will mean everything for the region’s future.
I would hate to see Gstaad turn into St. Moritz or Verbier. Granted, the quality of the skiing is vastly different and so the region’s expansion will be limited in this respect. But the real danger is greed. Too many new hotels, community resources, and luxury shops will eventually destroy our adopted alpine village’s idyllic charm.
Growth may be necessary, but it is not always paramount. Since there are so many cities and glamorous resorts offering high-end luxury, why not cultivate a little diversity here in Gstaad? Do we really need another designer dress shop or hotel? Are more vulgar rich people who throw garish parties and drive around in obnoxious cars really the demographic this town seeks? I hope not.
Gstaad has always been the alternative to St. Moritz—the smaller, quieter, and more demure sister to the glitzier, grander Engadine town. I want it to stay this way. I don’t object to a little decadence, but when people start flying in exotic shellfish by private jet and throwing lavish parties for no particular reason, I begin to wonder what has happened to Gstaad. When I see more women in head-to-toe fur and suitcase-sized crocodile Birkin bags at the Eagle Club than actual skiers, I wonder if I am the only one who actually enjoys Gstaad for the view and fresh mountain air.
Surely a balance can be reached where the need for growth and the desire for comfort and luxury can be met without turning Gstaad into Beverly Hills. Rich foreigners as well as Swiss property developers and business owners might consider what drew people here in the first place before they shut down another local business to open one that will bring in the big bucks and more ghastly people driving Porsche Cayennes.
We come here to get away from the highfalutin city life. Is that so hard to understand?
There. I’ve said what I have to say, and now I will go down to Les Trois Pommes and buy myself a new Prada dress!