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Ruminations on cows and cultural differences

Vicki von Allmen says some cows can be "mean"

(Keystone Archive)

Philadelphia-born Vicki von Allmen arrived in Switzerland 11 years ago and now helps to run the Hotel Obersteinberg.

In an interview with swissinfo, she talks about life on a dairy farm, her fondness for cows, and cultural differences.

Vicki worked for three years on the von Allmen’s dairy farm before marrying Hans-Christen, a farmer and cheesemaker.

She has to contend with life without electricity at the so-called “Candlelight Hotel” and says she misses not having a hot shower.

swissinfo: What attracted you to mountain life?

Vicki von Allmen: Cows. I’d seen them on the hiking trails, and I thought it might be nice to work in the high pastures – not in a hotel, but with the cows. I had this friend in the Mürren area, and he knew the von Allmen family and got me an interview. That’s how I met my husband, Hansel.

swissinfo: What is it about cows?

V.A.: I have always been kind of a nervous person and cows are so serene-looking. And I thought maybe there is something I can learn from this animal.

The truth is, they’re not [serene]. They have every personality through the entire spectrum. Some of them are really mean. I've bonded with a couple.

swissinfo: Was it hard to get used to a dairy farm high in the Alps after suburban Philadelphia?

V.A.: It’s different. Culturally there are more subtle differences than you would think… and as far as the work ethic is concerned, there’s really a big difference. You wouldn’t believe how hard these people work. And you wouldn’t believe how hard you can work.

swissinfo: What sort of cultural differences?

V.A.: Privacy is relatively big in this country, whereas at home I think all the doors are open. People who are friends of friends end up sleeping on your couch, and somebody you don’t know is all of a sudden sitting at your kitchen table.

Here, the doors are closed. It’s not really meant in an unfriendly way, it’s just the way it’s done. I think the Swiss can open up fairly well, but not as much as the Americans. But then, Americans will dump everything out on the table the first night. But then six months later they move on and you may never see them again.

swissinfo-interview: Elizabeth Meen

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