Thursday, 9 September 2010

The Honour System

Did you know that the honour system is still in practice in Switzerland? At first I was baffled by this, and sort of smirked over how quaint it is to live somewhere so simplistic that they actually have faith that you are a good person and will do what is right.

Fools, they probably get ripped off all the time.

Then I brushed the huge North American chip of cynicism off my shoulder and realized that living in a country where the people are firstly believed to be honest, is very humbling.

Here are some instances in my day to day life where I see the honour system:
  • Riding the Post bus. The Post only seems to check your ticket at night. During the day, the honour system is in practice where you are expected to have a valid ticket with you or purchase one from the driver. Dan rode the Post bus everyday before I got here, and never--as in not once--EVER had his ticket checked during the day. He still carried one though.
  • Riding the city buses and trams. There are random ticket checkers that hop on these trams and buses, but did you know I lived here for 1 1/2 months before I ever had a group of ticket checkers step on my bus. I have only had my ticket checked a handful of times during the four months I have lived here, and only once at night. When they do get on to check though, I've never seen anyone fined for not having a ticket.
  • The trains. If you're going on a long train journey (aka, over an hour or so...this is Switzerland) you are guaranteed your ticket will be checked. But for shorter distances, it's hit or miss if your ticket will be checked. As you know Dan and I have been settling in to our apartment, so a few trips to Ikea have been needed; the train trip is about twenty minutes: I've never had my ticket checked, but if the ticket guy does come down the aisle, I'm ready for him and as far as I can tell so is everyone else in my car.
  • The laundry room in my building. The machines are not coin operated, but you are expected to plunk your laundry money into the box all the same. Sure you could do laundry for free, but why would you want to take advantage when you are being trusted to do the right thing?
  • Visa. This isn't so much honour system (I imagine there are repercussions if you don't hold up your end of the deal) but still such a display of genuine faith in people doing what's right. You buy something off the Internet with your credit card, and the package is delivered to you along with the bill. They don't charge your credit card, they give you a bill and you go pay it. You get something before you've paid for it.
  • Vegetable gardens. Littered around where I live are fields where apartment dwellers (or anyone else who doesn't have gardens) can go and pick their own fresh produce. After you have your greens, you drop your money in a bucket to pay for what you have taken because there's no one there manning the stand.
  • The flower gardens. These are my favourite.  I have one near my apartment, and I've been a frequent visitor this summer.  There has never been anyone there tending the flower stand, collecting your quarters for the blooms you have cut. Again, you drop your money into a slot to pay in full for what you have taken.
Here is what the flower garden by my house looks like at the moment.  It is the end of the season, so half the field has been plowed of flowers that have long since opened, then closed.

I appreciate how simple the honour system is.  And given that it is so widespread, I also appreciate how it shows how much integrity is on display in this country: to believe in people's goodness that they will drop their money in the bucket; that they will have their ticket on them; and how much character it shows when we prove them right.

Would you honour it?


Romy said...

Absolutely. It's one of the things I love most about Switzerland. When my (now) husband was getting ready to propose, he walked out of our town jeweler's with my engagement ring and a payment slip in his pocket. The only information the jeweler had on him: his first name and email address. Of course Matt paid, but still.. that is very trusting even for here. It gives me the warm fuzzies. :)

Caitie said...

Romy-that's amazing! My engagement ring couldn't leave the store until Dan had paid for it in full.

mom said...

That is so neat Cait. I wish we were more like that here. Love the pictures of the flowers.

Habebi said...

Wow that is awesome!! I love that. I don't know how I could get used to a system like that, but, I'd like to try it lol. Love the pictures too girl! Very vivid and pretty. I'd be going there a lot too!

Kristi said...

Weird, apparently you and I were both in awe of Swiss trust at the same time. I just did a post, albeit slightly different circumstances, sorta on the same subject. Cra to the zy.

Kathy said...

I agree. The honor system is one of the best things about Switzerland.