GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – The human urge to complain tends to lead to exaggeration and crime figures for Switzerland seem to be a current victim of that. I’m hearing and seeing claims about the rapidly climbing rate of crime that simply aren’t backed by numbers. Let’s take just one example, theft. First, let’s compare figures for 2009 to 2013, Swiss-wide, theft but no break-in and not including car theft, reported to the police:
The numbers jumped in 2011 and again in 2012 as the number of cantons included in the nationwide figures rose. Police harmonized their reporting systems starting in 2009, but some cantons asked for a longer deadline. The project to harmonize the reporting systems was part of a larger European project to do the same, so that Eurostat crime statistics can be compared more easily since 2008.
Thefts that involve break-ins, which account for about 30 percent of all theft:
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If you want to compare these to the rest of the world, it’s important to note that attempted robbery is included in Swiss statistics but it is not for all countries in Europe, according to Eurostat figures.
Two of the OECD’s most recent tables for comparing crime rates, from January 2012, are shown at left (click on the images to view larger). The term “robbery” used for the first one, includes violence, whether threatened or real.
Switzerland rises in the ranks when it comes to burglary, but it is well behind leader Denmark and has roughly 75 percent of the burglaries that Austria has.
One explanation for the impression that break-ins are on the rise could be that they are in some areas, notably Vaud, where the figure climbed from 7,265 to 10,644 between 2009 and 2012, and Geneva, where the rise is less spectacular, from 6,463 to 7,322 in four years.
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – It seems no matter how often the police say it or the CFF rail company cautions travelers, foreigns are anxious to hold onto the image of clean, tidy, crime-free Switzerland, a place that exists mainly in the imagination.
The latest dire warning to travelers comes from a writer in the UK’s Daily Mail, who recounts the tale of his nephews’ stolen luggage, then a friend’s backpack, on Swiss trains, noting that “the impeccably clean Swiss carriages are sadly no longer free of crime.”
The trains haven’t been free of crime for years. Yes, the problem has worsened over the past 10 years, as has crime in general throughout Europe. There are plenty of people who will argue that Schengen is responsible, with fewer police border checks, but there are plenty of other possible reasons, starting with the rich-poor divide. Switzerland, with one of the smallest wealth gaps in the world, is a comfortable society that makes a good target.
Whatever the reason and whatever the relative seriousness of the Swiss crime problem (European crime figures still show Switzerland’s crime level as remarkably low, including theft and muggings), we can’t say it too often: don’t invite crime by leaving your valuables surveyance-free!
The Daily Mail author says “Apparently the chancers quickly scan luggage for tags indicating foreign travellers. In the case of Geneva, it is easy pickings, as they can get off with your luggage at the city stop, before the train moves off to the airport station.”
It’s too easy to get into the “we’re foreigners, so we’re easy targets” mentality: the Swiss are also ready targets, and I can recount tales of travelers I know whose computers were stolen while they snoozed. But the Swiss don’t think of their country as a Heidi paradise, so they watch their belongings.
Men, keep your computer bags and packbacks attached to you. Women, do not set your bags on the floor in restaurants or in trains.
The problem with being a foreigner is that you’re easily distracted. The views are great, you’re on holiday, and you’re looking for something nicer than the daily grind of worries at home.
If you’re traveling in Switzerland, behave like the Swiss. Use common sense and stay focused. It’s not foolproof against theft, but it helps.
As for the luggage racks at the end of carriages, you are required to use them, if you have a large bag. Take a seat nearby and check that it remains in view at every stop. If you go to the restaurant car, take your bag with you or leave someone you know in charge.
Look around and you’ll see the Swiss doing the same.
BASEL, SWITZERLAND – It’s hard to decide which bit of this story from Professional Jeweler is the most enjoyable, as long as your name isn’t James Thompson. Thompson last week was sentenced to 18 months in prison for his bungled attempt at stealing a costly, special diamond during the BaselWorld watch and jewelry show earlier this year.
There’s the reason: £100,000 in gambling debts, which forced him to flee Scotland for Switzerland, where he hoped to “steal something of value” to pay off his debts; the diamond, worth £160,000, fit the bill neatly. Loan sharks were reportedly after him, and if worse came to worse, he’d be safe from them in a Swiss prison, although he didn’t say that to the court.
There’s the champagne touch: the Scotsman reports that he drank champagne from his hotel minibar before the theft, to give him courage. So much for the whisky industry, champagne is a diamond’s best friend.
There’s the great escape, which more or less fizzled out. The Scotsman writes that “Thompson did not cover his tracks, police said. He had registered at a Basel hotel under his own name and it did not take police long to go through the registration cards in the city on a police computer.”
And then there’s the mindset. According to Professional Jeweler, “He was appointed a Swiss lawyer, who said his client ‘realised the gravity of his offence but wasn’t in the best frame of mind when it was carried out’.”
Blame the bubbles, I say.
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – In fact, I, the editor was too cautious! For the past six years I have been insisting, with everyone I meet, that GenevaLunch exists because of a strong need for news in English in the Lake Geneva region and the rest of Switzerland because there are at least half a million people who speak English regularly in this country, a large number of them in western Switzerland.
It turns out there are some 739,000 of us.
The census bureau has measured this for the first time, and today the Federal Statistical Office published the 2010 figures that show 4.1 percent of the resident population calling itself fluent in English: we think in the language and consider that we have mastered it. But a much larger group, 16.5 percent of the working population, speaks English regularly at work.
A crucial point is who these people are: some are of course expatriates from English-speaking countries, but this is a minority. Look at the numbers:
- 513,775 Swiss use English at school or on the job
- 166,000 foreigners come from the European Union (Ireland and England are the only 2 English as main language countries)
- 14,000 from elsewhere in Europe
- 44,000 from outside Europe (US, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa, etc.).
GenevaLunch was created to provide news for the international population in Switzerland, broadly defined as anyone who uses English regularly, as well as for Swiss English-speakers. Many of the latter are Swiss who have traveled widely, or who work in international companies or attend Swiss universities, and they want to maintain a certain level of English. A demonstration of the real need for quality news in English is that we now have 105,000 pages viewed monthly, all this by word of mouth since, as a small non-profit community service organization we spend almost nothing on marketing.
A word in support of WRS here, which provides news and other programming in English for Switzerland: the public radio station is being threatened with closure by its parent, Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, which must make cutbacks. The station has support from what is generally considered the expat population, but the Swiss would do well to reflect for a moment on how many Swiss people also need to hear English regularly, given its importance to the economy.
The international population includes people who have lived in Switzerland for years, many of whom are fluent in German, French or Italian. We provide news with a different slant from Swiss media; we don’t replace newspapers or radio or TV in French, but we supplement it and help people who are still trying to improve their Swiss languages skills by making it easier to follow the story in another language.
The 2010 census survey covering language and religion covers permanent residents of Switzerland:
• foreigners with a residence or work permit for at least 12 months: B, C or Foreign Affairs pass (international organization workers, diplomats and their families)
• foreigners with short-term stay permits with a cumulative time of more than 12 months
• registered asylum seekers (F or N) who have been resident in Switzerland for at least 12 months.
BERN, SWITZERLAND – Have a look around the newly redone Federal Tax Office web site, which houses a lot of good information. There is a small section in English for foreigners, but it’s pretty limited – it does, however, make it easy to find a variety of forms needed by foreigners. Note that the information for US citizens is limited to documents produced last November in connection with the investigation of Credit Suisse by the US Justice Department.
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – Eat forms! Stay thin! Whittle down those calories through worry! Americans abroad may have some sage advice for fellow citizens. A survey headline that is being picked up by media because it is catchy and touches a subject near and dear to Americans, food, states that “Americans Find Doing Their Own Taxes Simpler Than Improving Diet and Health”.
US citizens abroad struggle to convince fellow Americans that the tax-filing burden is onerous for those living outside the US, but getting the folks back home to digest that information looks unlikely, if the new survey is right. Taxes aren’t as sweet as food, and sadly, the survey report lacks any meat on tax filing problems to back up the story.
Here’s what it does show, providing food for thought for Americans abroad:
The US-based International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation’s 2012 Food & Health Survey shows that “Six out of 10 Americans have given a lot of thought to the foods and beverages they consume (58 percent) and the amount of physical activity they get (61 percent). Yet, only 20 percent say their diet is very healthful and 23 percent describe their diet as extremely or very unhealthful; less than 20 percent meet the national Physical Activity Guidelines.”
A worrisome detail is that “Fewer than one in 10 Americans correctly estimate the number of calories they need to maintain their weight and only three in 10 believe that all sources of calories play an equal role in weight gain. Calories from sugar, carbohydrates and fats are believed more likely to cause weight gain.”
Marianne Smith Edge, senior vice president for nutrition and food safety at the foundation, says “Clearly, there is a disconnect for many Americans.” The survey shows that “76 percent agree that ever-changing nutritional guidance makes it hard to know what to believe.”
That point eerily echoes one often made by US citizens living overseas, that the ever-changing IRS guidelines and rules make it hard to know how to file.
The tax part of the survey is thin, to say the least. The catchy headline is not backed up in either the press release or the executive summary with even a hint of what questions people were asked about filing taxes. A comparitive survey with Americans abroad could be interesting.
Silent march to honour those who died, Tuesday evening 20 March in Sierre
Police officer whose unit was first on the scene dies of acute leukemia; police in mourning again
SION, SWITZERLAND – Most of the injured children have gone home to Belgium and the bodies of those killed have returned home following the bus crash one week ago, 13 March, in Sierre. The 250-plus journalists from around the world who abruptly descended on the central Valais region with cameras, radio mikes and TV film crews just as abruptly disappeared over the weekend. They arrived by air, road and train in Sion, the capital and nearby Sierre, where the autoroute tunnel accident occurred, within a few short hours of the news of the crash.
For five days the canton Valais Police did an extraordinary job, and it’s time to give them their due, now that media attention is pointed elsewhere. A contingent is heading today to Belgium, to be with the families of those killed in the crash, to offer their support for the next two days. The funerals take place Thursday.
An additional heartbreak this week
The police are carrying an additional burden this week, with the very sad news Tuesday morning that Jacques-André Barras, a 38-year-old police sergeant, has just died of acute leukemia. Barras was the leader of the unit that responded first to last week’s crash, immediately putting in place an extraordinary rescue and medical operation.
He is survived by his wife and two young daughters.
Barras died proud, I hope, of his colleagues and his own work, for they deserve our recognition for this. The job of the police is to keep order and this they did with truly remarkable organizational skills last week. That alone is noteworthy, but during a week of incredible, non-stop stress for them I also saw compassion, sadness, kindness and helpfulness that went far beyond the call of duty.
Clearly, they were not the only heroes: the medical teams were nothing short of extraordinary. Their fellow disaster workers in the fire department and medical services were remarkable, and all the unsung heroes who came out in the middle of the night to translate or help with other tasks. But the police work, separating those who were helping and those who needed help from the rest of us who were just upset and concerned, was crucial to making the best of a very bad situation.
A surprising patience with the media
I’ve covered bombings, celebrity and royalty visits and a number of other mega-media events and I have never before seen the police make such an effort to help journalists do their job, while ensuring that obnoxious reporters (and there are always some) did not cross the line of what could be allowed under the circumstances.
The police communications team provided good access to medical, hospital and political leaders while doing an excellent job of protecting the privacy of the families from Belgium and Holland.
They kept the children who were injured safe from public curiosity as well as legitimate public worry, not necessarily easy in small cities when a mass of journalists arrives.
The police officers worked flat out to provide this level of protection just after the horror of the crash itself, where scores of officers were involved.
They saw to it that hospital transfers were done discreetly and smoothly, that the bodies were loaded onto the planes without obtrusive cameras (Keystone for images and RTS for television were the only ones given access, on condition that they provide photos for the rest of the media).
They provided an honour guard. They looked exhausted all week but I never saw a single police officer become impatient with media people and while a heavy sadness cloaked them, I never saw anyone break down or do less than his or her duty.
A very heartfelt thank you to the entire police corps.
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – It’s St Valentine’s Day, so let’s aim high for marriage and partnerships. I’ve just seen a truly optimistic web site in French that offers suggestions for your “noces d’albâtre” which I had to look up since I didn’t remember that particular anniversary.
The suggestions include admiring alabaster statues by visiting the Rodin Museum in Paris or going to Greece. You can check out, online, what animal passions bond the two of you. You can also find suggestions for the perfect gift, which include, for example, a necklace of precious stones for her and a fine watch for him, to mark those happy years together.
And don’t forget to send a card saying “I love you.” (ok, the French is more romantic sounding, so go for “Je t’aime.”
In English, alabaster is apparently your 37th anniversary, in some countries.
But in French, your noces d’albâtre is your 75th wedding anniversary. So if any of you old folks out there are reading this, online, trying to work out the perfect gift to mark the day I sincerely wish you the best of luck and another 75 years of shared bliss!
ZURICH, SWITZERLAND – Switzerland comes in sixth, behind three Nordic countries, The Netherlands and Belgium (not having a leader doesn’t count against you, it appears), for work life balance, according to the Paris-based OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development).
The report was published in October 2011 but unlike quality of life rankings for countries and cities, designed by for-profit groups, it received relatively little publicity.
The OECD report uses three key indicators to compare countries for work-life balance, but the ratings are based on this plus 10 other criteria, which together make up its better life initiative. Here, Switzerland ranks 7th. Canada, which suffers on the work life balance ratings, holds 4th place overall.
Two interesting tidbits of information form part of the Swiss report page: there are more visitors, 8.6 million a year, than the resident population of 7.6m, and renewable energy now accounts for 20.42 percent of energy used.
What we do right: income, jobs, education, health and life satisfaction
What we do wrong: governance (OECD’s lowest turnout for voters)
One statistic will surprise many readers, given the paucity of child-care facilities in Switzerland and the fact that women earn 20 percent less than men, according to the federal government: “In Switzerland, 79 percent of mothers are employed after their children begin school; this figure is higher than the OECD average of 66 percent and suggests that mothers are able to successfully balance family and career.”
Germany comes in for a tough review despite 8th place in the work life balance ratings, notes the Atlantic, which carries a nice set of slides on the top 23 countries. The odd cutoff number of 23 is due to the US coming in at 23.
I have a niggling complaint with the Atlantic article, for a sentence that could leave you thinking Europe’s oldest country is 30 years old: “The average first-time mother is as old as any country in the OECD (30), and the career costs of having a child are sky-high.”
LAUSANNE, SWITZERLAND – Get your Christmas shopping in this week, before the weather turns a little chillier and weekend snow flurries arrive, for the Lake Geneva region’s weather this week doesn’t qualify as wintry yet.
Temperatures of 8-10C along the lake and thunderstorms have been followed by sunshine and more thunderstorms.
The safest bet for clothing today is a scarf around your neck.
St Prex, like other villages in the region has had unseasonable and unstable weather 14 December, with rainstorms and five minutes later sunshine; the neighbour’s flowers love it, Santa at another neighbour’s looks lost.
The good news, for skiers, is that it is snowing in the mountains (Crans-Montana’s webcams at 16:oo are grayed out from the snow).