Sunday, January 14, 2007

The Discreet Charm of the Zurich Bourgeoisie

by Alain De Botton
from The Best American Travel Writing 2006

In "The Discreet Charm of the Zurich Bourgeoisie" De Botton is attempting to argue that boring is beautiful. "[F]ew places in the Western World have been quite as deeply unfashionable as the city of Zurich," De Botton writes. Why is this? Because Zurich is just plain old ordinary. The streets are clean, the neighborhoods are safe, and the people are unfailingly polite. Why should the anti-social, the dangerous, the consciously different and the purposefully exotic have the market on interesting? Why isn't ordinary just as beautiful, just as worthy of interest?

I don't know, I think they both have their merits. I understand how the mind can tire of monotony and routine. I also understand how monotony and routine could make our lives easier and longer. And I also think, that if we dig deep enough, if we look closely and honestly, there is something worthy of review and interest in any walk of life, even the happy suburban kind. I have always disagreed with Tolstoy's proposition that all happy families are the same and therefore unworthy of a writer's critical mind and time. No one person's happiness is the same, just as no one person is the same. To assume so, is to ignore half of life and half of the people who live it, if not more. I don't have statistics to back me up but I believe that there are just as many happy people in the world as there are unhappy.

Perhaps this is just me standing up for my people. Yes, I am a generally happy person and proud of it. Why shouldn't the story of my life and the city in which people like me would choose to live like Zurich deserve a story or interest beyond boredom? After all, we happy people will live longer than the curmudgeons and I have the statistics to prove it.

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