When we first moved to Switzerland, Alastair and I treated ourselves to a celebration dinner at a classy restaurant close to our apartment. We even dressed up. It was the type of posh restaurant that plays classical music and where you feel obliged to whisper.
So, I was very surprised when, halfway through my côtelettes d’agneau, I heard a dog bark. Not outside in the street but close by, in the room. Al and I looked around and, sure enough, we saw a customer reprimanding the French-speaking dog at her feet.
Usually if I saw an animal near food, I would huff and puff and summon management to complain about how unhygienic it is. I don’t kick up a fuss in Switzerland because a dog in a restaurant is our new normal.
Lap dogs (or doggies as I call them) are very popular here. These are the dogs that go to restaurants and they are not hyperactive pavement specials that dribble slime and pant out hot, smelly breath. Every second Swiss person has a doggie that is disciplined, clean and cootchy cute. They are the rage and the Swiss take their doggies everywhere with them. Dogs are common in shopping centres, libraries, hardware stores, furniture shops, restaurants, cafes and supermarkets. If I were the size of a shoebox, I couldn’t think of anything worse than traipsing through the crowds at Ikea on a Saturday morning.
When I was commuting into Geneva for my French course, I saw a doggie in a handbag at least three times a week. I would sit opposite someone who held a large bag on their lap and, at some stage during the 20-minute journey, a shining black nose popped out to sniff the air. Often the dog rested its head over the edge of the bag and surveyed the carriage with its pink, wet tongue hanging out and swinging from side to side. I itched to lean over and rub its tennis ball-sized head and say, ‘Cootchy coo, you little nunu poo’.
Some Swiss lapdogs are unusually cute and it is difficult to assess at a glance what type they are. I must investigate further because I suspect the Swiss buy them on some sort of on-line catalogue where you can select the features you desire. I am guessing buyers can choose ears of a King Charles, tail of a Maltese, eyes like a Chihuahua and the coat of a Yorkshire Terrier. As I say, I must ask around but I suspect some company/person in the dog business is running a rip-roaring trade.
Most European hotels allow their customers to bring dogs for a small fee. Our neighbours’ dogs have lived it up in posh hotels in Italy, France, Germany and Switzerland. When I researched accommodation for our trip to Stresa in Italy in June, I wanted a dog-free hotel. I couldn’t find one but the pet-friendly place I settled with was actually fine in the end. There was no dog hair in the bed and the room did not smell like a kennel, as I had feared.
Doggies here are obedient and very … what’s the word … Swiss. They don’t always veer away and pull against the leash so they can sniff and explore. An owner does not need to drag their dog as it hops on three legs and frantically lifts its fourth one against anything vertical. Swiss lapdogs trot close to the heel. They have to because the Swiss authorities take a no-nonsense approach towards pets. They do not tolerate misbehaviour.
Doggies know that, for the privilege of accompanying their owners on Saturday morning chores, they must tow the line. If the dog is not safely inside a handbag, the owner should walk it on a leash in public areas. They must pick up all poops and the government supplies red plastic bags for this purpose. There are poop-bag dispensers all over our neighbourhood.
One of my new expat friends, Christa, recently had a personal crisis that led to intense anxiety and many sleepless nights. She received a summons from the Swiss state. She had to appear in Court to represent her dog, who was prosecuted because it bit a wild deer during the winter. Christa was petrified and had visions they would lock up her, her dog or both of them. The Court date was some time in May and Christa psyched herself up to plead her dog’s temporary insanity. To her relief, the Court let them off with a reprimand and a fine of CHF600. The dog also got a criminal record.
All dogs in Switzerland are registered with the local authorities. This is a thorny topic for our South African neighbours because their two little terriers, Nougat and Praline, have Swiss passports and they don’t. Owners Mike and Anne must live here for at least 12 years before the government will even contemplate citizenship yet their two South African pavement specials got passports without a fuss. Mike says it irks him when he crosses a border and presents two worthless, green South African passports for him and his wife and two prized, red Swiss ones for the dogs.
I am at the stage in my life where people ask me when I am going to have babies. I look at the young children around me and they don’t inspire me to reproduce. These days, most children seem hyperactive, cheeky, overconfident and borderline feral. They put me off. I am leaning towards a dog. A Swiss one, of course. From a catalogue.