In praise of “Continental Europe”

On one day August the whole of Basel takes to the water for “Rhein Swimming Day”. This was the official 6pm start.

It’s Friday in early May, though today it feels like summer has come to the heart of Europe. The weather is scorching hot and unrelentingly sunny. I leave work promptly – being as it is Friday – with over an hour to kill in central Basel before German class. I grab a pot of ice cream (…two pots) and join the crowd on the banks of the Rhein. The water is still chilly, but there are people swimming down it. There’s room on the steps for me to sit down and stick my sweaty feet in.

And I think to myself…

This is Continental Europe, folks…I love it.


Coming from the UK via a stint Philadelphia I understand that the British way of living has more closely aligned with America than it is with the continent it’s geographically tied to. British shops stay open late – some even for 24 hours – and the notion of shops being closed on Sundays is somewhat antiquated.

Yet with the open-access nature of UK-US consumers comes a sense of urgency. We want something…right now the shops are open…we can buy it now…hence we need it now. Why don’t we have it already?!

Once you move into mainland Europe, I think the situation changes slightly. For example. Most supermarkets close by 6.30 pm on weekdays and remain shut on Sundays. The Swiss aren’t bothered by this: they plan ahead and make sure they have dedicated time set aside for their shopping on Saturday or on a week night. There isn’t that immediacy we have in the UK or US: non-urgent things can wait, urgent things can be thought of in advance and prepared for.

I feel that non-urgent, relaxed attitude when enjoying my favourite Basler activity: Rheinschwimmen. It’s all about floating down the river at your own leisurely pace, enjoying the views and not worrying. People finish their swim, dry themselves on the sunny banks of the Rhein, then find themselves a cool beer. For me, that’s the epitome of the Continental European lifestyle: warm weather, taking time to enjoy the weather in cafes or parks or rivers, no induced sense of  urgency.

Activities you just CAN’T do in Scotland: swim en masse in rivers.

Those Continental Europeans…I think they are onto something…


2 thoughts on “In praise of “Continental Europe”

  1. Funny… this looks just like a photo of the east bank of the Schuylkill (okay, I STILL had to Gooogle the spelling even though I’ve lived here for 11 years) when it was the starting point of the first Philly Naked Bike Ride. 🙂

    • “SKOOO-KILL.”
      I guess the main difference between the Rhein and the Schuylkill is that the Rhein goes right through the city, so there isn’t a park area to relax by. But both rivers draw the populace in summer…

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