Summer in Geneva: is there escape?

When it is 30C plus with high humidity for days and then weeks on end, it’s hard for anybody from Australia to comprehend that Geneva is not prepared or set up for the relentless heat. Buildings are not designed for it. Airconditioning is all but non-existent.

(1) Buy a portable airconditioner. I’ve yet to try this. Downsides include: noise which will upset neighbours, having to keep the window open and patch it up with something that looks dreadful, needs to be powerful enough to make an impact. Expense – but all options have expense attached except maybe…..

(2) Go to the lake – if you are in shade in the greener settings around the lake that can be okay.

(3) A tiny number of cafes have aircon. Basically if they sell chocolates, then they don’t have a choice about this. Martel is okay. Auer, also on Condederation is okay sometimes, though we went there on a very hot day recently and they only had the door open.

(4) I hear that the cafeteria in Coop on Confederation is okay. Manor’s is not. The Station is unpleasant. The airport is better than the Station but not great. Bongenie’s lounge on the 6th floor isn’t fabulously airconditioned, but it is bearable. I haven’t been to their cafe on the 4th floor in summer.

(5) Posh hotels are very hit and miss. In general they are only a tiny bit better than being in non-airconditioned places. The Beau-Rivage on the lake has a chilled foyer area with seating, but the bar is much warmer. I sweated whilst having a cold drink there recently. Having tried The Four Seasons in summer, it hasn’t good enough airconditioning to get me back, nor The Metropole or The Mandarin. The McGallery was about the same. You walk into all these places and they feel cooler, but within a few minutes you realise the difference just isn’t enough.

(6) I have no idea if any of the pubs have aircon. In Australia they’d be a refuge, but I suspect here they aren’t.

The cinemas I’ve been to in this heat are generally horrible. The Grutli’s main cinema is not bad, but the outside part, reception etc is as dire as everywhere else. I’ve never been to a restaurant with proper aircon here. Yomo’s just off the lake near Jardin Anglais is as good as I’ve noticed. I’d sweat still (I know, I’ve been there and done that), others mightn’t.

So there it is. There are no good solutions. There are only options which aren’t quite as bad as the others.

Switzerland and cigarettes

Switzerland’s ideals regarding individual liberty include an attitude to smoking that is prehistoric.

In Switzerland the price of a packet of Marlboros is a bit over 8CHF. You can probably get one cheaper.

In Australia the price of a packet of Marloros is $24, that is to say, double at the current exchange rate.

In Switzerland the decision as to whether children may smoke is a matter for the cantons. There are cantons where the permitted age is 16 and still cantons with no age restriction at all.

In Switzerland all outdoor areas in restaurants are smoking areas where one may eat if one can bear it.

To sum up, you get the idea in Switzerland that they think smoking is good for cancer. And I guess if you look at it the right way…it is.

Life in Switzerland – one for the rich and one for the poor.

I couldn’t help noticing these two stories next to each other in the Swiss edition of The Local.

Switzerland is defined as a rich country but this is partly because it is happy to have this sort of person living here:

Former Novartis chief moved to Monaco: report
Published: 01 Nov 2015 21:38 GMT+01:00

The controversial former chairman and CEO of Novartis has moved to the tax haven Monaco, where he has purchased a luxury duplex apartment valued at around €24 million, a Swiss weekly says.

Daniel Vasella, 61, resigned in early 2013 from the Basel-based pharmaceutical giant amid an outcry over a 75-million-franc severance package — later cancelled — in return for a promise not to work for a competitor for six years.

It was later reported that Vasella, upset about the treatment he was getting from Swiss media and politicians, moved to the United States but SonntagsZeitung reported online that the multi-millionaire had instead quietly relocated to Monaco.

In the Mediterranean principality, free of tax on income and wealth, Vasella acquired a 268-square-metre with a pool on the terrace and wine cellar in a 22-storey building, the newspaper said.

The apartment enjoys a view of Monaco’s old town, the palace of Prince Albert II and the sea, according to the report.

It is located in a luxury building with a spa, indoor pool, gym, sauna and steam room.

SonntagsZeitung computed the value of the apartment based on property prices in Monaco, quoted by real estate agent Savills, of €91,000 per square metre.

It noted that the cost would be no problem for Vasella, who walked away from Novartis with a share package worth 220 million francs, in addition to options worth 105 million francs.

Since 2013, the native of Fribourg has also been receiving 250,000 francs a year from Novartis for advisory services, a sum he will continue to get until the end of 2016, regardless of whether he actually provides any services, SonntagsZeitung said.

Four years ago Vasella transferred ownership of his 700-square-metre villa in Risch in the canton of Zug to his three daughters to ward off a threatened inheritance tax initiative.

The lakefront property is next to four parcels of land formerly owned by a Novartis subsidiary that has passed into Vasella’s possession.

He acquired the land after a dispute in which he and Novartis could not agree on the price, a disagreement that was settled by the Zug cantonal court, SonntagsZeitung reported.

Neither Novartis nor Vasella have revealed the price but reports have put it between 30 million and 40 million francs.

Vasella has not revealed what he plans to do with the property.

It makes this story all the more abhorrent that it is placed next to this one:

Basel soccer fan ‘lost’ on Milan streets for decade
Published: 02 Nov 2015 09:09 GMT+01:00

A Basel football fan ended up living on the streets of Milan for ten years after losing his way while leaving the Italian city’s San Siro stadium, where he had been watching his team play Inter Milan, according to a Swiss media report.

Rolf Bantle, 71, returned to Switzerland earlier this year after he slipped on the sidewalk and broke his femur, prompting the Swiss consulate to arrange for his transport back to Basel, Schweiz am Sonntag said on Sunday.

Bantle , who had survived as a street person in Milan since 2004, was without health insurance, which apparently led Italian authorities to contact the consulate.

He was treated at the Basel University Hospital and is now living in a Basel retirement centre, where his astonishing story has come to light.

Bantle was reported missing after he failed to return to the bus that had transported him and his colleagues to the football game on August 24th 2004, Schweiz am Sonntag reported online.

The men were residents of a group home in Läufelfingen in the canton of Basel-Country who were on a day outing to see a Champions League qualifying game, the weekly said.

After going to the toilet in the stadium, Bantle became disoriented and could not find his colleagues, the newspaper said.

“I was suddenly in a different sector,” he is quoted as saying in an interview from the retirement home where he is now living.

With just €20 and 15 francs in his back pocket, without a mobile phone and without a telephone number for his group home, he ended up staying in Milan, living on the streets.

A search was launched for Bantle but he could not be traced.

Bantle explained that he survived by living rough and depending on the generosity of residents in the Baggio district of Milan, including students who gave him food and cigarettes.

One student “gave me a sleeping bag” so he could sleep outside without catching cold, while a woman offered to wash his clothes.

He took showers once a week in a public restroom and frequently visited the local library.

“There was for me no longer any reason to go home,” he told Schweiz am Sonntag, saying that he liked the freedom he lacked at the group home, where he had to follow rules and was placed under guardianship.

Bantle said he speaks some Italian because he had worked in construction jobs with Italian immigrants.

He grew up with his mother without knowing who his father was and was handed to a foster family at an early age.

Schweiz am Sonntag said he was currently without relatives and did not want to talk about his foster parents.

With limited education, he worked as a labourer but Bantle suffered from a drinking problem, which led him to being put in the group home.

“It’s nice here,” he told Schweiz am Sonntag of the retirement home where has been living since the summer.

He has a room in the home with expenses covered by the city of Basel, which include 100 francs’ pocket money per month.

“In the afternoon I go to the Denner (supermarket) and buy two cans of beer, which is allowed.”

Bantle said he doesn’t miss life in Milan now that he is in the Basel retirement home.

“Ten years is enough and here I feel very good now.”

Bantle’s life is as poignant as Vasella’s is repugnant. This is Switzerland for you. Children were taken from their parents and used and abused as unpaid labour until very recently when the horror of it was exposed and now some steps are being taken to amend the situation. But men like Vasella thrive here. FIFA has a true home here in Switzerland.

Ordinary Swiss people are told all the time that there is no money, cuts to the public service, to transport, to education are commonplace.

Health insurance is going up by a huge amount every year – my policy has gone up from 350CHF to 450CHF over 2 years. But at the same time this happens:

Geneva hospital probes massive lawyer fees
Published: 21 Sep 2015 22:19 GMT+02:00

The Geneva University hospital (HUG) has suspended a senior manager after revelations that the public facility paid a lawyer more than 40 million ($41.2 million) in fees.

A criminal investigation is under way into the payments made to the Geneva lawyer between 2007 and the beginning of the summer of 2015, broadcaster RTS reported on Monday.

The unidentified lawyer and the unnamed senior civil servant at the cantonal hospital have been charged with collusion and abuse of public trust through management, the state broadcaster said.

They were detained before being released last week while the investigation continues, according to the Tribune de Genève newspaper.

Officials at HUG reportedly became aware of the massive payments just a few months ago.

The lawyer was apparently retained to recover payments from the hospital’s debtors.

The investigations aims to determine why these fees were paid because the pay orders were not formalized in written documents, RTS said.

The investigation aims to establish responsibilities for the hefty payments, including at the top of the hierarchy of HUG.

The cantonal hospital and Mauro Poggia, the Geneva cabinet minister responsible for health care, have declined to comment on the affair.

I’ve been watching a relationship develop between HUG and a group at Geneva university trying to get a modest amount of funding to provide technology which will substantially improve the quality of communication between doctors and refugees.

It’s eye-opening to see where the money is all actually going.

Getting a cuppa in Europe

I mentioned in a post recently that I used my own teabag in a cafe in Berlin. Perhaps that needs a little explanation. It’s darn near impossible to get a good quality plain ornery cuppa in this part of the world, even in London, but certainly in Europe proper.

Kusmi contaminates everything. Typical teas:

Euphoria A tasty blend of maté, chocolate and orange, Euphoria is the perfect drink for a wellness-inspired teatime. Chocolate lovers can now indulge without feeling guilty.

Sweet Love A true invitation to awaken your senses, Sweet Love offers smooth, sensory delights. Its blend of spices, guarana, liquorice and pink peppercorn has a naturally sweet taste. No one can resist its enticing flavour.

I realised how bad things had got when I went to Boreal one day and this happened. Of the 28 varieties of Kusmi flavoured teas, they used to stock one that was just tea flavoured. If you wanted a cup of tea that didn’t taste like liquorice or peppercorns or guano (sic), you could order that one tea. But one day I walked in and even this had disappeared to make room for Prince Vladimir or detox or booster or something equally untea-like.

I wrote and complained. I asked wasn’t it enough to have 27 weirdshit varieties of tea, did they really REALLY need that 28th one? Couldn’t they squeeze in one plain tea? The management responded that they might consider it the following winter, that is to say, in many months’ time. I replied with a threat that they could not have cared less about: well, in that case, I will consider coming back to your establishment in winter. In contrast, see what happened when my local French cafe Cacao in Melbourne tried doing this to me here.

In fact I didn’t. I realised that I was much better off saving my tea money for trips elsewhere. I have tea at home. I carry around teabags for emergencies. I sometimes carry my own milk too. In Geneva, like much of Europe, almost no cafes have fresh milk. You get UHT milk, or that coffee creamer plastic tub that passes for good taste over here. Particularly mysterious, this, in a country in which the population is largely cows.

Fortunately, as is the case in Australia, where even if, like me, you don’t drink coffee, you can nonetheless reliably suppose that with good coffee comes good food and good tea, the same holds for Berlin. Go to one of those terribly earnest nothing-in-the-world-is-more-important-than-the-right-attitude-to-coffee cafes and you will get commensurate standards with what they consider to be the incidentals, that is to say, tea and food. I didn’t have a bad cup of tea in Berlin.

In fact, it was the first time since I’ve left Australia where I really felt like saying Aaaaah. Robur.

On national anthems and Australia and Switzerland: peas in a pod.

I’m amazed at how similar Australia and Switzerland are. Switzerland has been a party to Western civilisation since the Romans had an interest in it. It’s teensy, it’s landlocked by large countries which are sometimes friends, sometimes enemies. Australia has been a party to Western civilisation since the late 1700s, it’s enormous, it’s sealocked and surrounded by countries which are sometimes friends, sometimes enemies. Oh, and New Zealand.

But they have a lot in common. Switzerland is isolated despite its location. It professes, like Australia, to believe in a fair wage for workers, a principle that makes me happy.

And most recently this. The Swiss are like us. THEY don’t know their national anthem either. To be precise, we had God Save the Queen and the Swiss had their own words set to – God Save the Queen! Even they figured that was pretty weird and they changed the whole thing in 1981, but they picked a baddie and there is movement afoot to do something about that.

Speaking to AFP when the competition [to provide options for a new one] was launched, Pierre Kohler, president of the jury, said of the current anthem: “Nobody knows the words! Anyone who tells you they do is a liar. Or else we manage the first few and afterwards we go ‘la, la, la’.”

Most Australians will know exactly how that feels. I can remember being on stage with a large Australian bridge contingent at the end of a tournament in Indonesia maybe early nineties. At the Victory Dinner there was a band and each country was expected to sing their national anthem. Between us, the Australians didn’t know more than a line or two.

The Sensitive New Age Cowpersons did a brilliant version of how Australians sing Advance Australia Fair. Unfortunately I can’t find it online and I don’t have a way of uploading the audio to this blog.

However, here is their suggested replacement:

I’m curious to hear the Swiss equivalent!

Added later:

My goodness, I had no idea how influential God Save the Queen is as a piece of music. It has been used for many national anthems over history. I’ve lifted this from Wiki:

“God Save The King” was the first song to successfully be used as a national anthem. (The Spanish La Marcha Real and the Dutch, Het Wilhelmus, are older but took longer to become popular. Japan’s anthem Kimigayo has lyrics which are older still, but a more recent melody). Its success prompted a number of other countries to pen similar anthems to help construct a concrete national identity – many of which used the same tune:

The first German national anthem, Heil dir im Siegerkranz, used the melody of “God Save The King”.
The national anthem of Imperial Russia from 1816 to 1833 Molitva russkikh[90]
In Switzerland (Rufst Du, mein Vaterland or Ô monts indépendants, until 1961).
“God Save The King” was used as the national anthem of the Kingdom of Hawaii before 1860
E Ola Ke Alii Ke Akua, from 1860 to 1886 the national anthem of Hawaii, was set to the same melody.
The American patriotic hymn “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee”, the lyrics of which were written by Samuel Francis Smith in 1831. The song is often quoted – alongside “Hail, Columbia” – as a de facto national anthem for the United States, before the de jure adoption of “The Star-Spangled Banner” in the 1930s.
Norway‘s royal anthem Kongesangen uses the melody.
The Swedish royal anthem Bevare Gud vår kung between 1805 and 1880, used the melody.
Liechtenstein‘s, anthem Oben am jungen Rhein uses the same melody – so the same tune was therefore played twice before the Euro 96 qualifying match between Northern Ireland and Liechtenstein; likewise when England played Liechtenstein in a Euro 2004 qualifier. (When England plays Northern Ireland, the tune is only played once).
Iceland‘s de facto national anthem in the 19th century was Íslands minni (“To Iceland”, better known as Eldgamla Ísafold), a poem by Bjarni Thorarensen[91] set to the melody of “God Save The King”. This lasted until the current national anthem was adopted, first by popular consent and later by law. The tune remains a popular one in Iceland and many different texts—serious, satirical and comical—have been set to it.
The melody is also used as a hymn tune by Christian churches in various countries. including by the United Methodists of the southern United States, Mexico, and Latin America, among other denominations. “Glory to God on High” is frequently sung to the tune, as is “Since I Have My Retreat” in the Protestant Church of Korea.

The Ren & Stimpy Show uses the tune for the anthem of the “Royal Canadian Kilted Yaksmen”.

In addition, it has been used by a large number of classical composers including Bach, Hayden, Beethoven, Paganini, Debussy, Strauss, Liszt to name a few of the more famous ones.

One wonders why Australia didn’t just change the words and keep the music when they decided to pull away from using England’s.

Personally, much as I love the Sensitive New Age Cowboy’s version, I like the idea of Up There Cazaly as the anthem. It is so very Australian, it’s stirring, we all know it.

I noticed a clip on youtube that has the words and in the background a selection of amazing but typical Aussie Rules marks. There just isn’t a game like it. The others are all for pussies.

‘Switzerland discriminates against English speakers’

‘Switzerland discriminates against English speakers’ said the WRS (World Radio Station) online today. It was their headline to the story of the suppression of the following report which they quoted in full. I’m doing the same, in case the WRS site suffers the same fate as the original publication site It was apparently forced to retract the article ‘after supposedly not meeting the publication standards of the government controlled public broadcast platform’. WRS is naturally not a little peeved with the Swiss government as the government has certainly seemed to actively discriminate against this English broadcaster for no obvious reason.

It is both a fact and a source of angst that in this country English is becoming the language of choice. French areas are choosing to drop German for young school students after deciding that to learn two non-native languages takes too much of precious school-time, whilst German areas are doing the same to French. This is, in all areas, to permit English to be the language all children learn at school. It’s obviously English which is already the preferred shared language and it is impossible to see how this will change. France may be willing to be completely isolationist in its attitude towards English, but the Swiss are far too pragmatic to try to protect themselves in that way. Given this, it is hard to understand why it is that they have behaved so badly towards WRS. On top of everything, WRS is dominant in the most international and therefore most English setting of Geneva. Much as not everything can be funded, this seems an odd institution to deprive of funding.

From the WRS story:

Switzerland needs to value the international community more, according to an opinion article written by veteran Swiss-American journalist Edward Girardet.

The provocative and strongly worded editorial piece, describing the Swiss government’s neglect of English-language media as unwelcoming and discriminatory, was initially published on Monday by the Swissinfo website.

The article was subsequently removed within hours of being posted, after supposedly not meeting the publication standards of the government controlled public broadcast platform. (See below for full article)

Mr Girardet says that the decision to turn off World Radio Switzerland’s FM transmitter in 2013 sent a disturbing if not nasty signal to the international community. He believes that English is the “official unofficial” fifth language in Switzerland and that more needs to be done to acknowledge it’s vital role within the Swiss society.

Drivetime presenter, Tony Johnston, spoke with Edward Girardet about his controversial views and the desire to encourage robust discussion on the relevance of the English language in Switzerland.

Swiss-American Edward Girardet is a Geneva-based foreign correspondent and author and a specialist on war and humanitarian issues. He is also the editor of Le News.

You can go here for the radio interview.

My own newspaper, Le News, a free English-language print and electronic publication for the Lake Geneva region, reaches some 45,000 regular readers, notably Europeans, Americans, Canadians, Australians, Russians, Africans and Arabs, plus Swiss with cosmopolitan or mixed marriage backgrounds. Launched just over a year ago, Le News has established itself as a vital source of local and regional information about Switzerland., an excellent online news service partly funded by the government, also reaches some of these foreigners, but is not widely viewed as a local community voice.

When Bern refused last year to continue its support for World Radio Switzerland (WRS), the English-language radio station in Geneva run by the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, it was sending a disturbing if not nasty signal to the region’s approximately 200,000-strong international community, including many Swiss who enjoyed its different perspective.
The decision basically said: “We’ll take what you have to give us, but we really don’t care about you.”

This narrow-minded if not discriminatory approach was further reinforced by the refusal of the Federal Office of Communications to allow Anglomedia, the new owners of WRS, to continue on FM, which is what most people listen to. It insisted that the station go straight to DAB+, itself an already outdated White Elephant costing taxpayers millions of francs that is being superseded by internet, mobile phones and satellite broadcasting. In contrast, other Swiss stations have been allowed to retain their FM wavelengths. Compared to its previous audience, estimated at around 100,000, including listeners on the French side of the border, the new WRS currently only attracts just over 32,000 listeners a day across Switzerland because most do not have DAB+.

The importance of English-language media in Switzerland is to ensure that the numerous (1.7 million is a figure often used) first and second-language English speakers, whether Swiss or foreign, understand what is happening in our country. The other is to provide a form of insight not necessarily reflected in mainstream Swiss media. While many ‘internationals’ speak at least some French, German or Italian, a sizeable number do not. Furthermore, many are only here for two or three years and fail to integrate. The end result is that most do not rely on Swiss newspapers or radio and TV stations for their information.

As a community, however, these outsiders represent highly influential businesses and international organizations, whether Procter & Gamble, Caterpillar or the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), that are crucial to Switzerland’s economic well-being. After all, without its foreigners, who contribute vital taxes, jobs, investment and expertise, the Swiss economy would collapse. The bulk of its key industries and services, such as pharma, high-tech, watch-making, tourism, hotels, restaurants, farming, finance and education, cannot survive without migrant skills.

And we are not talking only about ‘frontaliers’ – or cross-border workers – from France or Germany, but directors, managers, researchers and technicians from places like the United States, India and Argentina. Many of Switzerland’s leading corporations, such as Nestlé, Novartis and ABB, have foreigners in their upper echelons. These companies do not seek nationalities; they seek the best people possible, regardless of origin, in order to operate in a highly competitive global arena.

Despite being here for years and making important contributions to Swiss society, numerous migrants feel ostracized. Part of this is their own fault. Many make little effort to learn more than basic French or German because they are only here for short stints or function in primarily English-speaking environments, such as the United Nations. Or because they fear the challenge of a new language. Others simply have not got the time.

But we Swiss are also to blame. Apart from some cantons and individual communes, Switzerland makes very little effort to accommodate its foreign population, or to help them understand Swiss society. Also, as condoned by political parties, such as the Swiss People’s Party, it is socially acceptable to regard foreigners, including those who have since become naturalised citizens, as ‘others’. Such prejudice is not only unacceptable, but xenophobic.

As a “world Swiss” (Weltschweizer), born in the United States of Swiss parents (father from Vaud, mother from Basel), what I am perceiving is a Switzerland that takes rather than shares, or worse, fails to acknowledge its foreign community. Many Swiss, even if they are benefitting heavily from outsiders as customers for their businesses, such as supermarkets, restaurants or golf clubs, like to complain that Switzerland is no longer Swiss. Not unlike self-righteous rightwing American patriots, they justify this by maintaining that foreigners should consider themselves privileged to be living in such a beautiful country. Of course, they are right, but it is a privilege for all of us.

The end result is that we come off as a shamelessly selfish people, unable to grasp the importance of what these migrants are providing. Many Swiss do not like to hear this, but it is a reality that we need to deal with. Nor do they, including certain leading newspapers, wish to debate it. Last February’s vote on limiting immigration clearly has not helped, even if the overwhelming rejection of the November 30 Ecopop vote somewhat redeemed the Swiss in the eyes of many internationals. New anti-foreign initiatives, however, are in already in the offing.

Foreigners are feeling increasingly unwelcome. With international companies picking up and leaving, growing numbers of potential migrants, many of them precisely the sort of people we need, are thinking twice about relocating to Switzerland. Such trends are deeply worrying for Swiss enterprises, which rely heavily on highly qualified foreign labour. All this is exceptionally shoddy public relations and doing little for Switzerland’s reputation.

While most informed Swiss, particularly in the more international parts such as Geneva, Zurich or Basel, know this only too well, there are numerous citizens who fail to recognize this. And yet, with their votes, they are holding Switzerland’s future hostage. They remind me of those conservative Pushtun tribesmen I used to meet while covering the war in Afghanistan as a journalist. They resent any form of outside thinking or change, believing that they can continue living in a past that no longer exists. Not only do such attitudes severely threaten the Swiss economy, but they are uncomfortably reminiscent of those disgraceful ‘Gastarbeiter’ years of the 1950s, 60s and 70s, when we allowed Italians, Portuguese and Spanish to come and work, but not with their families. And when we no longer needed them, we tossed them out.

Fortunately, the Swiss are an extremely pragmatic people when up against the wire, much of it thanks to migrant influences. They recognize the numerous positive aspects that make this country such a unique place, and why it is critical not to lose our international advantage.

For one, Switzerland is a far more dynamic, diverse and imaginative society than 40 years ago, when, quite frankly, it was a beautiful but dreadfully boring place. While attitudes have not necessarily changed, the country has emerged as a far livelier and more creative nation, particularly for young people. It is a Switzerland of the future with ground-breaking ideas and initiatives. One only need consider how the EPFL in Lausanne has risen from a largely unknown entity less than a decade ago to one that rivals Boston’s MIT worldwide, or Geneva’s Graduate Institute, a firm player in the international arena for political and environmental trends. Or ArtBasel, the world’s leading art hub, in a city which founded Switzerland’s first university in 1460 and has since played a critical global role as a “thinking” hub.

Switzerland is also a healthier, more open society. Until the 1980s, any black or Asian person was assumed to be either a student or a foreign diplomat. Now, you have Swiss of Tibetan, Vietnamese, Ugandan, Salvadoran or Sri Lankan background. And, as far as the young men are concerned, many will have served in the Swiss army. While before there were no more than two or three Chinese and Indian restaurants in most large towns, today one can find ethnic cuisine almost anywhere in Switzerland, even in small country villages in Graubünden and the Wallis.

Swiss often forget that for much of their own history is immigrant-based. Two thousand years ago, Roman towns ranging from Emperor Augustus and Avenches to Nyons, were thriving cosmopolitan centres for commerce and culture, a veritable European Union. Today, Switzerland has become once again a vibrant immigrant society. The challenge now is to accept that in order to excel with a forward-thinking, razor-edge economy, Switzerland needs to become more European given that EU is our biggest trading partner. It also needs to embrace quality immigration as a basis for its continued survival.

But for this to happen, we need to stop sending out derogatory messaging, whether the slashing of fiscal incentives or the imposing of immigrant quotas. While this may delight the populist right-wingers, they may think twice once the economy starts stagnating. Even those hinterland cantons, which have supported immigration restrictions, but rely heavily on tourism, will suffer from lack of investment or the ability to find qualified cooks and waiters. Even tourists are beginning to sense Switzerland’s rather sour anti-foreign rhetoric.

Given the ever-widening cultural and linguistic gaps of the Röstigraben (the linguistic divide between German and French in Switzerland) and Polentagraben (the crevice between Italian-speaking Ticino and the rest of Switzerland) is a far less a homogenous nation today as it splits more and more into three separate entities. The Swiss French are far more isolated from the German-speaking north than ever before. Travelling to Schaffhausen or Lucerne from Lausanne is like visiting another country. It is even worse for Ticino. This has little to do with immigration. It is more a question of Switzerland’s own 21st century identity crisis.

Perhaps the biggest irony, however, is that English is becoming an increasingly important cross-community, even unifying language. After all, key meetings at the ICRC in Geneva or Swiss banks in Basel and Zurich are being held in English. Growing numbers of young Swiss professionals are turning to English-language media such as the BBC, Al Jazeera or International New York Times as their principal secondary news sources. In the rapprochement with Switzerland’s foreign community, this is where entities such as WRS and Le News can play key roles. Not just by providing internationals with a better understanding of Swiss society, but by offering English-speaking Swiss a much-needed alternative perspective.

The Switzerland you might not have known about.

Last night 200 armed, masked men went on a violent rampage in Zurich. You can read a detailed report here.

Does a story like this one make a lot of what you might think about Switzerland seem like myth? The most interesting thing is that although 200 armed men went on an extended violent rampage, all of four were arrested. Is it a reflection upon a police force that isn’t equipped to do much more than enforce people in their apartments to be quiet after 10pm? How on earth does it fit in with the picture we are supposed to have of a warrior population ready to deal with invasion by other countries at a minute’s notice? I can’t decide whether it is nice or terrifying that the police had no way of effectively dealing with this situation.

This is despite the fact that football thuggery is common in German parts of Switzerland. It is typical for angry mobs to go on destructive violent sprees. Yet again, however, the police don’t seem to have an effective way of dealing with it.

These sorts of stories are not rare in this country. There seems to be such an expectation here that people will act like people ‘should’ instead of how they do and no amount of evidence to the contrary will lead to a change in approach.

Here in Geneva a large number of surveillance cameras have recently been put into place around the town, not least around my area, which is an area rife with drugs, prostitution, violence, binge drinking. Apparently police will be looking at the footage all the time….but there is not any evidence that what they see will ever be acted upon. Mostly anti-social behaviour will be noted and ignored.

The police have one major job in this country. It is to stop people in their own abodes from making noises. Suppose, for example, there are 50 people binge-drinking on the footpaths near my apartment block, yelling and screaming after 10pm. The police will do nothing to stop that. But if I turned up music in my apartment loud enough to block out that rather offensive noise coming from those outside, I would be guilty of a crime. The situation is both mystifying and scary. It was suggested to me that it has something to do with business interests – selling alcohol being an important business interest – having powerful friends in the halls of political power in Geneva. I’m prepared to believe that’s true.

Swiss Post

Switzerland has a reputation for efficiency and good business practice based, as far as I can tell, on its excellent public transport system. Nothing else I have observed here could be said to be bound by the same principles.

Take, for instance, Swiss Post, an institution which, being privatised, seems to have no duty of care. It is grossly inefficient, incompetent and unpleasant in its dealings. It is expensive and slow and delivers not much for its high price. In fact, apparently its services are going to deterioriate even further now, according to this report from a local newspaper.

But of all the deficiencies of this laughable service, the one that particularly staggers me is this. I am quoted a price on my shipping. I give them my Swiss bank card. They do not accept Swiss debit cards. It is the only place I’ve ever been into which fails to accept this card. Even the dodgiest little shop in the bad part of town will accept this card. I give them my Australian credit card. They do not accept credit cards. Other than cash, they accept exactly one form of payment: their OWN credit card. If you are unwilling to acquire one of those, cash is the only payment taken.

I’d end by saying WTF, but really I want to spell that out. What the fuck?

Outside drinking in Geneva.

Good on the Geneva council for trying to stop drinking outside on Rue de L’Ecole de Medecine. It’s horrible living next to groups of people getting pissed and being dicks. Switzerland has a very simple approach to noise. It’s not social, it’s anti-social.

So the idea that the drinkers are going to stage a demonstration tonight is pathetic. Go home. Get pissed. Quietly so that other people around you can have their lives.

The thing I find most interesting about the situation as it unfolds – the young drinkers who think, seriously, that they ‘made’ this street, which means it used to be somewhere they didn’t want to go and therefore didn’t exist – is the very idea that there is ‘nothing for young people to do in Geneva’. There is no ‘night life’ in Geneva.

What a pathetic definition of nightlife. Geneva is the most amazing place for culture. It still has ten or so independent cinemas – though, alas, they struggle. It has many theatre groups. It has much live music of all kinds. It has opera. It has bridge clubs. Chess clubs. Reading groups. Acting groups. Knitting groups. You can tango outside on the side of the lake. Or rollerskate if that’s more your thing. I’ve never seen a place with so much stuff you can do at night relative to population. You can go to bed early enough to get up in the morning. Mornings are beautiful in Geneva.

But the only thing that actually defines ‘night life’ for ‘young people’ and this seems to include, say, thirty year olds, so people who used to have jobs and children and the commensurate life, is getting hugely pissed outside other people’s residences and being really loud and offensive about it. That is apparently their definition of what fun should be. I might add, that one of their justifications for ruining the lives of people who try to live on the streets they turn into pisspots is that it’s ‘known’ that this is what they are, so people ‘choose’ to live there. That argument would be bollocks anywhere, but especially in Geneva where there is often no choice about where to live.

I wish the residents of the area nothing but the best of luck in their ongoing battle to make their district livable again. I hope our area does the same.

What makes Switzerland tick?

That’s what Jeremy asked me the other day, in reference to the article What Makes Switzerland So Competitive? I apologise for the long-winded, rambling result.

It’s an interesting time to be in Switzerland. Having benefited from various alignments with the EU over recent years, a popular vote in January 2014 supported the limitation of immigration to Switzerland in ways that contravened established agreements. The many complicated arrangements with the EU have a simple principle at the base of them. If any one is retracted, all bets are off. The EU showed how serious this was by coming down on Switzerland immediately like a ton of bricks. It made a showcase of education, instantly withdrawing the rights Switzerland had established to be part of Erasmus, the general EU pool of money.

Those in education not only in Switzerland but also in the EU are anxiously waiting to see what the consequences of this are going to be. At the moment this struck, Manny’s University of Geneva research team was in the middle of a collaborative research proposal with various other European education bodies to be submitted for funding consideration. What was going to happen? Nobody knew. The Swiss authorities gave general indications that they would come up with all the funding necessary for the Swiss side of such projects and that applications should go ahead. Right now they are waiting to hear from the EU. At the very least things are more complicated, as if they are successful at that level, then comes applications to the Swiss authorities. And nobody knows if it will make the chances of getting EU funding worse or maybe better – after all, presumably the EU has some self-interest in getting Swiss money into its research.

That’s one side of things, the research side. Then there’s the teaching side which has also been put into turmoil, with Switzerland having a very strong higher education presence of internationals, needless to say, many from Europe.

So at the moment, there are political machinations at work to try to implement the popular vote whilst not implementing the popular vote. That would probably be an easy enough task for the slippery politicians of most countries, but politics in Switzerland is so different from anywhere else, that I can’t see easy solutions. If the people are a rock, the EU is a very hard place indeed. No wonder nobody wants to be head of the system here. There are potentially profound implications. It isn’t clear to me that the EU did best by big boy bullying tactics at the outset. It got my back up and I’m not even Swiss. The question is, how will the Switzerland travel if it isn’t able to maintain its various EU agreements? It seems to me that historically Switzerland’s been a solid performer for far longer than it’s been party to the modern political developments of Europe. It might lose economically, but maybe it will make some gains too. Surely any country that gets to be picky about who it lets in has to get something from that. It’s very odd to watch the interaction of Switzerland with people coming into the country with nothing to give it. A couple of years ago it was found necessary to create a new law to deal with the idea of anti-social crime. That speaks volumes for recent change in society and one cannot dispute that it is non-Swiss people who are the problem. Equally, keeping more control over the quantity and quality of who comes in is much better for the less skilled Swiss workers who are seeing non-Swiss undercutting them – illegally, I imagine, but nonetheless, it is happening. This is a historical pattern: it is always the wealthy who are more welcoming of migration because they have everything to gain from the driving down of working class incomes and nothing to lose. The workers, who have everything to lose are naturally concerned.

Whatever favours the EU thinks it’s done Switzerland by flooding the country with extremely bad buskers, now that Switzerland’s questioning its need for an infinite array of buskers performing Santa Lucia and El Condor Pasa on everything from the electrified pan pipes (my particular most hated) to upside down woks (don’t get me started) what’s going to change? Personally, I’m hoping for a substantial improvement in my quality of life. But I’m biased. If the local busker were Placido Domingo I still wouldn’t want him outside my window.

I was rather surprised recently when a friend working in the University of Geneva said that Swiss don’t go to university. The figures seem to bear that out. Switzerland has a strong tradition of preparing people for the workforce with practical education and many take that path. Presumably it isn’t looked down upon the way it is in Australia and the UK, where it was necessary to change the names of Institutes to Universities to conform with a modern notion that learning useful things is damning. I have no idea if Institutes kept on teaching useful things while giving the linguistic illusion otherwise or if they did in fact begin to teach more university style where graduates generally find upon entering the work force that now they have to learn how to function in their field. At any rate, Swiss don’t seem to consider themselves inferior if they opt for such education. I think this is part of the Swiss sense of equality, a sort of capitalist version of how that ethic works in Scandinavian countries. Unlike Australia, the UK and the US (not to mention many other parts of the world) being a politician does not make you superior in any way. Theoretically nor does being a banker.

I wonder if the army of Swiss who go through these more practical courses include those in banking? That’s another big problem for Switzerland at the moment and I have no idea if it will have an economic impact. Will concessions to transparency in Swiss banking not only neutralise its advantage compared with the systems of other countries, but also put a dent in that healthy looking glow Swiss people have about them each morning as they open the paper over a croissant to see how much the Franc went up the day before. There is clearly much angst, the bankers not understanding why they have done wrong – even now I understand they don’t see any moral dilemmas in their behaviour in the period around WWII, so one can imagine there is much outrage at the moment. The biggest of these issues is the US trying to extract money from Swiss banks, the holdings of US citizens. It might seem obvious that the US should do this. On the other hand, it seems a trifle peculiar to me that the US doesn’t try to get more out of its own sometimes criminally liable banking system rather than Switzerland’s. Is it easier to deal with Swiss banks than their own?

Speaking of Swiss behaviour during WWII makes me think of raising the issue of racism. I’m rather shocked, coming from Australia to observe the anti-semitism here. On the one hand historical anti-semitism – the habit of anti-semitism – is alive and well. On the other hand, right now, the left-wing liberal support of Palestine – Israel out – is making bedfellows of these two groups. I’m not just talking about the idea of people being anti-semitic, reading about it in the newspapers. I mean all sorts of people I know here, nice vegetarians who believe in Gaia, nice university educated psychologists, nice chess players – you name it – will spout anti-semitic opinion with no sense of discomfort whatsoever. I am greatly discomforted by this, but have no idea what to do about it, short of going back home to Australia. But how does it relate to Switzerland’s on-going prosperity, racism? That I don’t understand. Nor do I understand how the sense of racism fits in with actual practice. I see nothing that indicates there is institutionalised racism in Switzerland and I don’t know that it is any worse here than in other parts of Europe. The many Australian friends I have who bang on about Australia being racist really need to get educated. I don’t know a place with less racism.

On the issue of tertiary education in Switzerland, this undoubtedly has lots of spin, but nonetheless many interesting facts too: campus-switzerland-e. I am particularly surprised to see that females outnumber males at universities including Geneva’s at 60/40 ratio. Unfortunately it doesn’t indicate gender differences for international students, so one can’t conclude that it is Swiss females who are opting for this path in great numbers than males. One of the things it is anxious to point out is the deficiencies with how measurements of investment in education are given by The Most Educated Countries in the World, which rather idiotically discusses percentage of GDP that goes into education. That only makes sense if all countries have equal GDP. So, as the Swiss plaintively point out, barring the US, they spend the most on education per capita. Damned statistics!

What about global warming? Let’s suppose it exists – the people who own all the skiing infrastructure in Switzerland have been cut-pricing long term memberships, and I guess they know – is this not potentially disastrous for Switzerland? I don’t think they have any forward planning for it. As it is, if it doesn’t rain for a few days drought’s declared. But again we see collusion in effect between leftwing liberals and right-wing racists in so far as I understand there is another vote coming up to restrict immigration on the basis of protecting an already stressed environment.

That brings us to Geneva’s housing crisis. Partly at issue is extending outwards, taking away valuable farming land, partly at issue is not wanting high-rises. One of the lovely aspects of Swiss cities is the avoidance of tall buildings. Thus even though I live right in the centre of town on the fifth floor, I can see mountains from some of my windows. So, partly at issue is the insistence on low-rise which gives aesthetic quality to where-ever one lives here. Partly it’s to do with the relationship between people and property, who owns it, who rents it and how. There is a very detailed English report on Real Estate in Switzerland 2014 which is worth looking at, if only to see how things are in Geneva.


I understand, by the way, that Geneva is broke. It suffers mismanagement and corruption the same as administration in other countries. But I imagine, compared with other parts of Switzerland, it suffers also from having a large population of incomeless or close to incomeless inhabitants. Between the many temporary inhabitants from other countries who are students, or working for a pittance at Cern, or working for nothing as interns, who is paying tax? Who is supporting local business? Not, as a rule, the young internationals who shop in other countries or on the internet without any interest in the principles of well-paid workers, which is part of the Swiss ethos. Is this going to significantly change things for the Swiss economy, much as it tries to protect itself?

How important is Switzerland’s multi-lingualism to its prosperity? If it is, will it continue to be, as mechanical ways of interpreting improve? Its multi -lingual and -cultural history makes it hard to generalise about the country. But one can confidently say it is a bizarre mix of conservativism and open-mindedness. It is pointed out how highly the Swiss rate in terms of innovation, one of the things that makes its education system so attractive to buy into. But it is, of course, the Swiss who didn’t finish giving women the vote until the 1970s. Perhaps CERN’s being surrounded by cows is a good image of all this. There’s a lot of dairy in Switzerland…and a lot of science.

I can’t help thinking grassroots democracy, as the Swiss practise like nobody else, combined with stolid pragmatism, are the key. A story that caught the world’s eye earlier this year was the Ethiopian pilot who hijacked his plane and took it to Geneva. Internationally, much fun was made of the fact that Swiss territory was entered during lunch break and so the airforce was not on duty. The airforce tried to use this as a reason to buy more planes, the proposal going to a popular vote. But the Swiss are so sensible, they were having none of it. Lunch IS important here. Everybody, as far as I can see, gets a 2 hour break and most people have a proper meal. Maybe that’s the key to Switzerland’s competitiveness.