By Alexandra de Scheel
I have recently found myself spending far too much of my time defending Gstaad. The peculiar thing is that I only find myself forced to make the case for this region while I am here.
Which automatically raises the question, why do people come here if it is such a dreadfulplace? This blatant hypocrisy is not, however, the crux of my argument, nor is it the problem I have with the perception these nay-sayers have. Like the majority of part-time residents here, I spend my time between many countries, have grown up everywhere and do not have a single nationality. I do consider Gstaad home, or at the very least, a base. It may not be perfect - utopias do not exist - but I would not continue to return if I didn’t find it a pleasurable place to live. There are, however, some who seem to come back again and again, despite their obvious and vocal disdain for the region. Putting aside the transparent duplicity in this, I will do what I can to address the issues they claim to have.
There are many complaints. The most common, however, seem to be that Gstaad is a bubble, people can do whatever they please, the people are not “real”, and that gossip and falsity run amuck. Yes, Gstaad is a bubble. It is one of the few places where you can get away with almost anything. I don’t see this as a negative trait. It is a place where you have to think for yourself; majority opinion will not think for you. You cannot hide behind laws, doctrine, convention, taboos or moral codes. The insurmountable diversity of people here renders any such common consensus impossible. So what happens when anything and everything is available to you, and you have nothing guiding you/binding you/making your decisions for you? Every aspect of your life is left up to you. If you have a weakness it will be exposed. If you have strength it will be put to use. If you have a passion it will be encouraged. I cannot argue with the fact that crimes in the region (and the country) are not punished as harshly as they are in other developed countries, such as America. I do not believe this is a problem. Serious and violent crimes are not met with vengeance and hatred, there is no death penalty and offenders are often released to live the majority of their lives. Yet, Switzerland almost acts as a case study, exposing the irrationality of the outdated concept of punishment as deterrence. After all, how many murders do you read about in your daily Swiss paper?
Other vocal anti-Gstaad activists ignore these crimes and go for drugs as their primary reason to dislike the area. Drugs are illegal. The police may not chose to ruin a 16 year-old’s life via a decade long incarceration for smoking a joint – as they readily would in America. They may even turn the occasional blind eye to more obvious or serious drug use. But if drug use is such a problem here then why is the drug-related crime rate virtually non-existent? How do the large majority of residents and tourists go about their daily business unscathed? People can get whatever they want here. People can get whatever they want anywhere. In Gstaad, it may appear easier, but it’s just more honest. Either way, it just means that your decisions are yours. The law, social consensus, moral majority will not guide you. You need to think for yourself. Take responsibility for your own actions. If you cannot do that then you have far bigger problems than locale.
The complaint which exasperates me more than any other, however, is criticism concerning the residents. Where else in the world could you be exposed to such a variety of unique individuals with life-stories rivaling the concocted tales found in any blockbuster or best-seller? Age is ignored. Nationality unimportant. Eccentricities embraced. Do not judge people in Gstaad for being in Gstaad. I love to listen to people’s stories and philosophies. There is nothing more important in life than to truly listen to other people’s opinions. Talking will get you nowhere. You already know what you think and know. Listen and learn. There is no better place to learn than in Gstaad. If you write people off because you have pegged them as flaky, spoilt, fake, wild, crazy, playboys/girls etc. then you are missing out. Everyone has weaknesses. Here, they are out in the open. If you look past them, you will hear experiences and learn life lessons that will strengthen you. Being around the people here and not taking advantage of all they have to offer is almost criminal.
And then there is the ever-popular objection to the abundance of Gstaad gossip. I challenge anyone to find any place – especially a small town – without gossip. This is not a phenomenon unique to Gstaad. Gossip is human. People are naturally curious or concerned. Some need to measure their lives against others. Some find it an acceptable hobby. But most are just bored. If you are not living a life which fulfills your need for excitement and intrigue, then living vicariously through others may be your only option. I see no need to deprive people of their desire to gossip if it makes them happy. As long as people don’t come to me with any sentence which begins with the words: “Did you hear what he/she/they said/did?” because it will be a waste of a conversation. I won’t absorb it, I won’t be interested, and I won’t remember it. Go talk to someone who is naïve enough to believe such whispers. Still, while I have no particular affinity for gossip, I do not quite understand the strong abhorrence some have towards it. If you don’t want to be the topic of gossip then go and hide under a rock. Gossip follows the visible, the attractive, the envied, the unique and the different. Gstaad just happens to be a small town with an abundance of exactly those kinds of people. And thank god for that. The only truly deplorable personality traits are those of being normal, usual, ordinary, mediocre or boring.
Another puzzling complaint I hear is that Gstaad is a place where people’s potential and talents are wasted. What other tiny town has so many opportunities for everyone, from artists to writers to businesspeople? If you want advice from the best, if you want contacts for the future, if you need help getting started…there is nowhere better to go. Those in the process of deciding the direction their life should take cannot find a better place to reflect. You will be hard-pressed not to find someone who has taken any path you are considering. All you have to do is be open and discover your future through the pasts of others.
Gstaad is a bubble. Gstaad is unlike anywhere else. Gstaad is extremely open and frank. If you stay here long enough you will have to deal with your true self, because nothing will stand in your way. If this is a freedom you cannot handle then that’s your problem. And the solution is simple. If you hate Gstaad, my advice to you would be to stop coming every season. Stay in the safe, boring, uninspired town from whence you came. Spare yourself the burden of judgment and temptation, and us the burden of be subjected to your hypocritical grousing. Don’t complain about the town and then buy a new chalet. Don’t complain about the people and then hang onto their every word. Don’t condemn the nightlife and then take up permanent residence in GreenGo. Don’t say Gstaad has nothing good to offer and then avoid the mountains, spas, sports, culture and events like the plague. Just don’t come.