Swiss Proverbs

Happy Swiss National Day everyone!  Over the past year, we have fallen in love with Switzerland, its people and its character.  I thought an examination of Swiss proverbs might show something about the Swiss character.  Proverbs contain truths about how we think. Not surprisingly, the values expressed by the traditional Swiss proverbs seem pretty much in line with the Swiss national character.

  • “Think first, start later.”   Yep.  They’re deliberate.
  • “A clean house is a clean mind.”   Our streets and sidewalks are cleaned every morning (except Sunday).
  • “It is easier to criticize than to do better.”  They are also pretty good at minding their own business.
  • “Words are dwarfs, deeds are giants.”  In our experience, they don’t want to hear about what you are going to do, but what you have done.  Oh yeah, and it better be quantifiable.
  • “When in doubt who will win, be neutral.”  As the worlds longest running democracy, they’ve gotten rich by staying out of wars.
  • “The devil hides himself in details.”  They do seem to be very detail oriented.  Everything is planned to the n-th degree so that it will run like clockwork (preferably a Swiss timepiece), and it usually does.
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The Golem

When we were in Prague’s Jewish Quarter, we saw the Old-New Synagogue.  I got very excited and started yammering on about the Golem of Prague. Someone asked, “wasn’t he in Lord of the Rings?”
Nope, that’s Gollum, although Tolkien may have been making an allusion to the Golem (which becomes dangerous and makes bad decisions when it gets a soul). I realized not everyone knows about the Golem, so here it goes.
The Golem is a character in Jewish folklore that is artificially created and endowed with life.  Huh?  In other words, it is an animated anthropomorphic being created entirely from inanimate matter.  Say what?
You know how Frosty the Snowman came to life one day.  It’s like that.
In the late 16th century, to protect Prague’s Jews from anti-semitic attacks, Rabbi Loew of Prague created The Golem.  He took clay from the banks of the Valta River, fashioned a man from it and said incantations to bring it to life.  Initially, the Golem was a big help, kind of like your own personal robot.
Unfortunately, the Golem could only follow orders.  This led to some strange outcomes as he would continue doing what he’d been asked to do until he was told to stop.  You can see how this could become problematic.  Eventually, the Golem ran amok and had to be deactivated.
The Golem has appeared in a vast array of works including: the Simpsons (Bart finds the Golem), Michael Chabon’s novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavailer and Clay (a great read) and in various editions of Dungeons and Dragons.  It even served as inspiration for Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (which she started writing in Switzerland, not far from where we live).   The above statue of the Golem, looking astonishingly like Darth Vader.