We were driving down a “one way road” near Zermatt in Switzerland. We slowly approached a blind corner and sharply put on the brakes as a 4WD Ute came screaming around from the other side. He stopped waiting for us to reverse. Rovin tried to throw our trusty old van in reverse but it stalled out almost immediately. He tried again but again it stalled. We weren’t going anywhere. I assumed that the guy in front of us would see us struggling to back up the steep hill and roll backwards to a passing point. I mean, where was he going to go otherwise? “He’s from the Wallis” Rovin said firmly “he won’t back up”.
I had no idea what that meant but it sounded ridiculous. If I had the power of foresight at this point I would have jumped out of the car, tried my best to apologise and asked as politely as possible, perhaps even beg, for him to reverse for us. Instead I sat in the car and waited for him to reverse. But he did not reverse. No, he jumped out, stormed over, demanded to know what the problem was and then demanded to reverse the van himself. He then all but burnt out the clutch over revving the engine and managed to force the car back two metres stalling once as well. He then stormed back to his ute and drove on at maximum speed before the smoke had time to settle. I was shocked. I was too shocked to even be angry, could that guy be for real?
Rovin was resigned “we have a foreign number plate and he’s from the Wallis, they have rules, the car above has to reverse”. The fact that he was justifying the crazy Swiss mans actions was even more incredulous. This behaviour was okay in Europe? Because we were tourists?
“This would never happen in NZ” I told myself over and over again while we sat on the side of the road trying in vain to free our now jammed on handbrake. At least 20 cars passed us, examined us, stared at us, but not one car stopped to see if we needed help. We were just dumb tourists stuck on the side of the road, in the middle of nowhere in Switzerland, on a Saturday afternoon when no garages in the next 100km were open, and an after hours call out fee would be more than the car was worth.
This wouldn’t happen in NZ. In New Zealand I would have called the AA, because I’m a member (thanks Mum!), and got free roadside assistance. If I didn’t have reception, I would’ve walked to the nearest farmhouse and knocked on the door, asked to use a phone. Maybe farmer Bill would’ve come out to have a look with his tool box or maybe he would’ve given his mate Barry the local mechanic a shout. I played all these alternative scenarios out in my head while we sat helpless by the road.
I realised with a shock though, in all my idealistic scenarios, I was a local. I had “fush and chups” on a Friday night for “tea”. I wondered how Farmer Bill would respond to French, a German, a Japanese tourist who knocked on his door. Maybe their English wasn’t so good. Maybe they didn’t understand what “in a sec after a cuppa” was.
I really hoped my hypothetical a Farmer Bill would still meet these people with kiwi kindness. However, as tourist numbers increase in NZ, and the media loves a good tourist bashing story. From dangerous driving to freedom camping, tourists are an easy target and are unlikely to publish a rebuttal.
I think it would be easy for New Zealanders to become jaded by tourism. It would be easy to forget that most tourists, most people, have positive intent. It would be easy to forget that the tourists in NZ are the mirror of what many kiwis are doing all over the world right now. Your sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, friends and coworkers, having an adventure in a foreign land and all just hoping for a bit of help when the sh*t hits the fan.
There are many good things about Switzerland. Beautiful mountains, efficient public transport, well paid jobs. But I wouldn’t trade any of it for a friendly Farmer Bill when in need. I hope New Zealand can keep some of its innocence and remain the little friendly-people island paradise that it is.