Go play with guns, kids.

14 02 2011

The Swiss never cease to underwhelm me. Yesterday’s national referendum on weapons control which I wrote about a month ago (here), went down in flames. More than 55 percent of the population voted to keep semi-automatic military weapons in homes, garages, sheds, stables, cottages and greenhouses across the country.

And they said loud and clear: Children, you can continue to have fun playing with firearms you find in the closet. Men, you can continue to threaten your families with your weapons. And suicide-endangered individuals, Hey – go for it!

The trench was clearly drawn between the country’s small urban, cosmopolitan population and the vast majority of (backward, insular, godforsaken mountain) folk that live the Alps and behind the moon. There is also a marked division along language lines – the French-speakers said mostly “yes”, the German-speakers said mostly “no”. The so-called Röstigraben, the ditch dividing the two language regions, just got that much deeper.

The French and the Zurichers got it right this time.

Some German-speaking cantons declined the measure with majorities of more than 72 percent. 72 percent! If this had happened in any other country on the planet, the OECD election observers would declare the vote unfair and corrupt and say ballot boxes had been stuffed. But because it’s Switzerland, nobody bats an eyelid.

Why does this make me so angry? Because the referendum’s opponents knew nothing better than to use propaganda and intimidation to get their point across to a willfully brainwashed public. There was no single logical, rational reason to decline the referendum, as there is no single rational reason to keep these lethal weapons (responsible for more than 300 deaths every year) at home and not locked up in an armory. But the opponents’ message rang loud and clear: “Take away our weapons and you take away our traditions.”

Well you know, I’m not sure that would be such a bad thing. Some ancient traditions, established in the dark ages, really need to be done away with. One such tradition is the annual Zurich holiday called “Knabenschiessen.” Literally translated that would mean: “Young Boys Shooting (Day)”.  (No, young boys are NOT lined up to be shot – as much as we might wish that to be the case sometimes.) It’s a day when a canton-wide shooting tournament is held for young people. A few years ago, the organizers graciously started to invite the girls too.

And simply questioning the status quo or any God-given rights regarding guns those oh-so-traditionalist Swiss claim for themselves instantly draws their (f)ire and an emotional overreaction. On Knabenschiessen day two years ago, I was filleted by a Facebook friend when I posted an anti-childrens’-shooting status note. Shortly thereafter she defriended me.

Yesterday’s vote is another prime example of where direct democracy just doesn’t work, and where a country’s population must be protected from its own supidity.

After more than six years in Switzerland, I think it is time for greener pastures. And the winters here are too damn cold, anyway.

Singapore is starting to look pretty good right about now.

My best friend: My gun

12 01 2011

The tragic weekend shootings in Tucson have given me a good lead-in to today’s blog topic: Guns. There are lots of them, and they are everywhere. Legal and illegal, they rest in the hands of competitive sportsmen and -women, the military, the police and gun freaks of all colors. Gangsters have them in their toolbox, and regular folks have them in their desk drawers. And hell, what’s the harm in shooting off a couple of rounds after a miserable day, right?

Of course in the U.S. we are used to the right-wing wackos from the NRA and the Tea Party claiming their Second Amendment rights as if their lives depended on it. And last weekend we saw what happens when one of those wackos, likely influenced by an Alaskan pitbull in lipstick, short circuits. (And believe it or not, since the shooting, Arizona sales of Glocks have exploded…)

Here in Switzerland, 3,500 miles away and living among peaceful-looking alpine meadows with happy cows, an overly-efficient train network and mostly mild-mannered mountain folk, I only found out quite recently that this country has one of the highest militia gun ownership rates in the world.

The Swiss military’s standard-issue automatic weapons are very present in everyday public life, on public transport and in the public consciousness. In Zurich, men carry around their army rifles like women carry around their Louis Vuitton handbags. Last Sunday’s newspaper even featured photographs of prominent Swiss politicians sitting on their sofas – in stinky socks, no less – and cradling their firearms.

Criticize him for the weapon around his neck or just his God-awful taste in living room furniture?

On February 13th the Swiss voters – who are, as we know, professionals at direct democracy – will decide on an initiative that would ban all military weapons from private homes and require them to be stored in a local armory.

At the moment, more than 420,000 of these automatic weapons (NOT counting firearms that have been privately purchased, you know, for fun) populate closets and attics, sheds and garages across this seemingly gentle, neutral country. Why? Because two generations ago, while Adolf Hitler steamrolled across Europe, the Swiss thought it prudent that its citizen-soldiers keep their guns at home so that in case of an invasion, they could engage in urban warfare and shoot their way to their military unit.

Today, 80 years later, this law is still on the books and the majority of these lethal toys still live in private homes. Behind winter coats, under the bed, in on the ski rack – free for any child to pick up and play with, for any adult to threaten (and kill) his spouse with, for any individual to end their own life with.

What seemed thoroughly logical and sensible in the 1930’s is equally ludicrous and superfluous today. Especially considering Switzerland has Europe’s highest rate of suicides by firearms, and an alarming number of homicides are committed with army weapons, too. On average, they are responsible for one death every single day.

The perfect Swiss family

The public debate ahead of the referendum is emotional as it is gruesome. While the supporters of the ban are appealing to simple common sense, the ultra-right wing Swiss nutcases (though they lack a Second Amendment to ride around on) have proven so far they don’t have any. Their irksome habit of fanning the fires of collective panic, claiming law-abiding citizens will be “castrated of their rights” should the initiative pass is getting really old, but may just prove effective in the end.

And once again, any virtues of direct democracy aside, I come to the conclusion that sometimes governments have a moral obligation to protect citizens from their own stupidity.

Switzerland is great, but…

5 11 2010

When my company transferred me to Zurich in 2004, I was ecstatic. I thought I had hit the jackpot – Switzerland had the reputation of a being clean, safe, neutral little corner of paradise. Year after year, Zurich consistently ranks high up in Mercer’s annual “Quality of Living” Survey as one of the top three “most livable cities in the world”.

At the time, I told a work colleague I had purchased the “Rough Guide to Switzerland” in anticipation of my move. He answered sardonically, “Evelynn, there is nothing rough about Switzerland.”

And he was right for the most part. I eased into society with a few little boo-boos along the way, but really, I couldn’t complain too loudly. The Swiss have perfected the art of, well, being perfect.

Is this not...just... perfect?

But over the course of six years, the perfect Swiss have lost a teeny bit of their luster. And I have discovered that while I really do enjoy a very high quality of life here, there are a couple of things that really piss me off. Of course there are many, many worse places on this earth to be. But still.

Here are just five things I really dislike about the Swiss (in no particular order):

1) Schwiizertüütsch – If you thought German sounded bad to the untrained ear, well Swiss German is a further bastardization of language. Fortunately, I learned (high) German at home, and was spared the torture of being force-fed “that awful language” (Mark Twain) in a classroom. But when I arrived here, it took me a full year to figure out what people were saying to me. Swiss German sounds like it stepped right out of the middle ages. And the most frustrating thing about it (for a foreigner) is that there is no ONE Swiss German. Every village has its own distinct dialect (i.e. Züritüütsch, Bärntüütsch, Baseltüütsch…). Any Swiss person can determine the origin of any other Swiss person’s dialect within an instant of them uttering their first word. After six years here I’m just happy I can follow a conversation.

2) Exaggerated honesty – There is a wonderful salad bar at our canteen, you load up your plate and pay for it according to weight. Standing in the checkout line one day, I absentmindedly began to nibble on a crouton. A gentleman tapped me on the shoulder and said, “You can’t do that! That’s stealing!”

3) A love of firearms – At last count, there were 218,000 semi-automatic military assault rifles lying around in attics and closets across this pristine and seemingly peaceful country. After being conscripted into basic training, most young Swiss men must serve in the reserves for several years. His (legal, state-sanctioned) weapon becomes his best friend. In public, on public transportation and at home. And after every accident, suicide or homicide involving a military weapon, there are isolated calls that this insanity must stop. Since the beginning of 2010, reservists have been granted permission to store their weapons at an armory rather than at home for their kids to play with. So far, only 452 individuals (or 0.2 percent) have taken up this offer.

Great toy, if it wasn't so lethal.

4) Fondue –  Instructions: Spear diced cube of stale bread with a long two-pronged fork, drown in hot, stinky liquid cheese, attempt to swallow, chase with cherry schnapps (Kirsch). As one American friend says: “It’s not really a meal. All it does is occupy space.”

5) “HANDS OFF MY BANK SECRECY LAWS!” – Ah yes, those gnomes of Zurich, still driving the rest of the world crazy after all these years.

Otherwise, it’s a great country. It has to be or else I wouldn’t still live here and I wouldn’t have married one of them. I’ll write about the good stuff some other time.