Donnerstag, 30. April 2015

Z is for Zürich

Happy Zürich. Photo by me
Bern may technically be the capital of Switzerland, but Zürich is the largest city. It is 2000 years old this year but was called Turicum back then. It's the wealthiest city in Europe and has been rated the city with the best quality of life in the world in several surveys (this in addition to Switzerland being named the happiest country in the world last week; so Zürich is the most pleasant city in the happiest country - - and full of banks.) Zürich was the capital back on and off throughout Swiss history (ever-changing throughout those wars that I wrote about in previous posts.)
Zürich's parliament has been majority left for the past few years. Our mayor is a member of the social democrat party and she's been leading the city for 6 years. It's one of the leading cities in protecting the climate, as of a 2008 referendum that promises to reduce the carbon footprint of each resident by one tonne by 2050. This will be achieved with new hospital policies, new bike-only areas, research projects on renewable energy and an ever-evolving public transport system.
Zürich's official language is (Swiss) German and as of 2008, the first language taught in schools after German is no longer French (one of the country's four languages) but English. As an native-English speaking immigrant, I'm not so thrilled about this. This might be because I currently teach english to all those adults who learned French and / or Italian at school, but also because I love that Switzerland is multilingual and am always mildly disappointed when I hear people from different linguistic areas of Switzerland reverting to speaking English with one another.

Mittwoch, 29. April 2015

Y is for the Y Chromosome

Photo care of
Patricia Arquette thinks that it's time to talk about the pay gap now that women have solved the rights issues of homosexuals and African-Americans, so lets do it.
But seriously folks, to paraphrase John Gray, men are from Switzerland and women are from Switzerland and they don't earn the same, they don't work the same amounts and they don't come out to vote in the same numbers. Swiss men have birth control pill hormones in their drinking water and are more likely to kill themselves than their female counterparts are. If they're homosexual, they're nearly 5 times more likely to marry or be civilly partnered than a swiss lesbian couple and they're less likely to beat their female partners than citizens of many other countries.
Though many of my American friends think that I live in Sweden, Switzerland is actually a country all it's own and does not have nearly as comprehensive maternity and paternity leaves as Sweden (or any Scandinavian country.) We don't (yet) have state-funded preschools (though it is regularly proposed) and on average have the most expensive crèches in the world according to a 2014 study, so working parents are in the awkward position of one member working nearly exclusively for the price of childcare. Also, swiss children go home for lunch (more and more go to a daycare facility for lunch - but either way, lunch is not served in Swiss public schools) and have no lessons Wednesday afternoon, so many women in Switzerland choose to reduce their work schedule in favor of providing their own child care. 17% of Swiss women with children under the age of 25 work full time compared to the 88% of Swiss men who work "100%." Men earn 19% more than their female counterparts as of a census in 2012.

Dienstag, 28. April 2015

X is for XXX sex industry in Switzerland

Back when I had my hen night and (as discussed in th F post, we learned some swiss folk dances) some of my kind American friends braved the sex shop down the road from my place and bought me saucy gifts. It was....not the sex-positive (see: clean and run by cheerful and helpful women) and very different from those that these California and New York residents were used to. This sex shop has since closed and is reportedly going to be a new branch of a popular asian fusion restaurant soon.
When I returned to Switzerland from a year in San Francisco, a search to get a European adapter for a marital aid led me to a shop that is open by appointment and sweetly called "clit care." Had this shop existed or been known to me in 2007, I might have been able to show my American friends that sex-positive shops can be found here as well. Alas, that was not the case.
Another thing that happened when we returned from our year in California (and this was the night that we arrived home) we sat eating pizza and watching a political roundtable news program and there was a debate about whether or not there should be rules in place to limit cell phone use by prostitutes when they're working with a client. "Text messaging is one thing, but taking and making phone calls when they're with a client is unprofessional." It was then that I knew that I was truly home.
That year, we also got to vote for safe places for prostitutes who prefer to serve (or have customers who prefer to be served) in cars. They approved proposal was for a parking area that would be patrolled by police for the sex-worker's safety. The parking structure is constructed in a way that would make it impossible for the driver to exit the car, while providing space for the passenger's side to be opened, and hopefully create safer conditions for sex-workers. Those women who use those the "sex boxes" have to have the same permits and pay the same taxes that workers in brothels do, and they're also provided laundry facilities, showers and a café for breaks.
Sex work in Europe is of course never entirely safe. Though pimping is illegal and brothels and prostitution are legal for adults with the correct permits, there is always a risk of women being trafficked. But Switzerland has done their best to make sure that this "inevitable" service is done as safely and sanely as possible.
As far as pornography is concerned, Switzerland worked between 2006 and 2014 to fine tune their ban or hard core pornography. According to the current criminal code, they not only forbid the production of porn with children under 16, those children must also appear to be 18. The idea being that a 16 year old who still looks pubescent or pre-pubescent may not be filmed in pornography. (The age of legal poor consumption is also 16, which would play a role in any cases that may arise from adolescent "sexting") The other sorts of hard core porn have been tweaked and the presence or urine or scat is now no longer considered hard core. There are certain levels of S&M pornography that are forbidden, but the main focus of criminal code 311.0 are concerned with child pornography.

Montag, 27. April 2015

W is for War

Switzerland is known for being neutral. It's so ubiquitous that in a teeny bopper book series written by a very ... less intelligent.... woman, a character says "I'm Switzerland" when a wolf boy and a blood sucking boy are fighting. (I only know this because of a knitting pattern for mittens that that have those words written on them with the swiss flag. *ahem*)
Despite Switzerland's identity of neutrality, it still has a military staffed by career and conscripted soldiers and has been involved in wars as both service men and women and the producers of military weapons.
Through this AtoZ blog challenge, I've written about the Swiss wars of revolution and reunification, I touched on the mercenaries in the Vatican entry. They made their neutrality at the Vienna conference of 1815. In World War I, noone tested Switzerland's neutrality, their massive army or their mountains which may or may not have contained ready to mobilize forces and vehicles. Same goes for World War II, though in both cases, Switzerland did not stay out of the conflicts in non-military ways.
Within this militarily neutral country, Swiss voters continue to vote for the conscription and armament of their able-bodied and -minded male citizens. Most recently, in 2013 they voted to continue conscription and in 2011, they voted against official armories for the many military weapons that must be maintained and used every year of eligible service. Without armories, the men are required to maintain their weapons in their home (most choose their wine cellars, storage areas or those handy underground bunkers from the U post.
Each year, 48,076 males become eligible for service. Now, those young men can choose to do paid community service instead. It was not always thus. In the 80s, not serving if you could was punishable as mutiny by a prison sentence. In the early 2000s, my husband had to go through a long, arduous process of essay-writing and speaking to a board in order to prove that he would better serve without weapons training. (He served at an old folks home and an education board for his service.)
Switzerland has been producing and selling arms since 1854. Until recently, it's been nearly indiscriminately. They don't export the most weapons, but the fact that a supposed neutral county earns so much through the sale of instruments of war is - - questionable.

Samstag, 25. April 2015

Vatican gaurds

photo property of the guardia svizzera official website
We'll talk about proper Swiss soldiers in the W post, but this post is all about those soldiers who stand guard in the Vatican city. Anyone who's gone to see the ancient buildings full of all that scary gold from the crusades and what nots will have also have noticed those fellows in fancy fabrics.
These soldiers have served to protect the pope since 1506 in his home (they don't travel with him.) Though they still wear the same uniform that they did then, the guards are actually super well trained security professionals, completely skilled in modern defense and all Catholic.
The pontif's guard were originally mercenaries. They were the top pick at the time, because they'd be loyal to anyone who was paying. As we read in previous posts, before the Helvetic Confederation formed, there was just a clump of non-citizens and they were apparently an army for hire. So the Pope (Pope Julius II) done hired 'em.

Freitag, 24. April 2015

U is for Underground bunkers

photo property of Null Stern hotel
There is enough room underground to accommodate the population of Switzerland should the need ever arise.
The bunkers were built in the 1960s, when fears of nuclear war were rampant. But even once other countries lessened their defenses, Switzerland went right on building them. Nowadays, if a building is being constructed from the foundation up and chooses not to build a bunker, the building's owner(s) must pay 1,500 CHF per person requiring space. But having one is a lovely addition to any home. After all, bunkers are permitted to be used as storage areas, so long as the spaces are well maintained. In truth, many are now employed as wine cellars or armories for the household (I'll get to that in the W post.) As a wine cellar, it's the safest storage of grapes that one could imagine.
But whether or not wine is safe, article 45 of the Swiss Federal Law on Civil Protection says "Every inhabitant must have a protected place that can be reached quickly from his place of residence."
But being evacuated to the underground will not always guarantee access to aged booze and weaponry (don't worry, W will be here before you know it), some citizens have the unfortunate positions of citizens to be evacuated to the Sonnenberg tunnel in Lucerne, for example. (Our evacuation bunker is just up the road beneath a community center.)
The shelters and evacuation routes remain current, according to the government, because of the risk of terrorist attacks, "dirty weapons", natural disasters and of course, in case our nuclear power plants blow and our iodine tablets just aren't enough.
Another use of one's underground bunker could be converting it into a hotel room. One group of artists did just that. Null Stern (Zero Stars) is in canton Argau, but is not available for use at the moment (so far as I can tell from the website.) Whether it's a source of income or a point of storage, bunkers are regularly inspected by the city and must be up to snuff. And that's what keeps us all sleeping easy at night.

Donnerstag, 23. April 2015

T is for Ticino

Ticino is the Italian-speaking region of Switzerland. The population is 346,539 of Switzerland's 8 million. (The french part is called the Welsch part or Romandie and the part that speaks Romansch is called Graubunden or Grissons.) It has been a part of Switzerland since the 15th century and the country has enjoyed the cuisine ever since.
They're represented in the upper house of parliament by 16 representatives (2 per canton) and in the lower house by 8 representatives.
3 of the world's gold refineries is in the Ticino and it's also the place with the better film festival in the country. They do most of their trade with Italy, but as a Swiss region, their main business is - of course - is banking.
Something else that is remarkable about the Swiss region that borders Italy is the fact that the border is changing. As glaciers melt, the imaginary line between the two nations is altered. And yet the two countries just quietly and politely agree upon a new surveyal of the areas.
When we were living in San Francisco, we'd escape to the Mission in the south when we needed some sun and warmth. In Switzerland, the Ticino is our Mission. The climate is infinitely sunnier and warmer than here in Zürich.

Mittwoch, 22. April 2015

S is for School system

I met my husband while he was studying in the States. Had he gotten his undergrad degree in Switzerland, at the University where he's now getting his doctorate, it would have cost 840 francs per semester instead of the 4,631 francs at his university in New England.
Tuition is not the only difference in Universities in the US and Switzerland. Whereas in the US, students don't need to declare a major until the 2nd or 3rd year of study. Here, students begin studying only one or two fields.
There are also Hochschulen (high schools) in Switzerland. They're less like US high schools and more like college in France. They come after secondary school and are instead of university.
So the general course of a Swiss child's education is as follows:
Primary school from 1st to 9th grade
Then there is secondary school: kids can choose to go to a vocational secondary school that will lead to an apprenticeship or they can go to a secondary school that will lead to gymnasium (college prep high school), or a hochschule. (There's also a Berufsmatur as well that's somewhere in between.) From Gymnasium, kids will go to University or a Hochschule.
(Some kids can choose to take exams and enter Gymnasium as early as 7th grade if they want, but they are few.)
But there are tests and intentions that need to be taken to chose this course. This has always made me feel uneasy. I was fearful that foreigners who don't know how the system works wouldn't be able to help their children find their way through the system. It also felt like a way to keep classes the way they are. But my teacher friend from the I post explained that teachers are aware of these issues and encourage the kids to follow a path that best suits there needs. There are also multiple info nights for families with brochures in multiple languages to inform them.)
 There also seems to be a greater respect for and appreciation of apprenticeships and trade schools here in Switzerland. Since learning about the system and hearing more and more about the fact that too many children are being forced on a course for college, resulting in increased drop out rates and needless debt, I've begun to appreciate this system more.
So this post was less funny and more informative, I guess (hope.)

Dienstag, 21. April 2015

R is for religion

panorama of Zürich taken by me 2014
When I was fixing to move to Switzerland, there was a delay with my visa and I almost didn't make it. I phoned the Swiss consulate, but was met with an outgoing message that told me that due to Pentecost, the offices would be closed that Monday. I believe that I was meant to leave that Wednesday. I was gobsmacked. Why on earth a consulate building would be closed for Pentecost? But it turns out that it's a bank holiday in many western European countries, as well as Senegal, Benin and Togo.
The reformation in Switzerland was later than and more intense than Martin Luther's in Germany. Switzerland's reformer, Ulrich Zwingli, disagreed with Luther about the consecration of the eucharist. He was installed at Grossmunster church in Zürich. In Neuchatel, there was Guillame Farel, who met our third reformer, John Calvin in Geneva as the latter was headed to Strassburg. If you'll notice, 2 of these three were from the north and west of the country. It was the city-folk in the north west who seemed primed for reform. The country folk in the middle and the Italy-neighboring south held fast to Catholicism and damn if they didn't have more fun than their Calvinist neighbors. (Calvinism is marked by austerity and referred to by that name by Lutherans. They would simply call it reformed christianity or protestantism.)
Then there was a big Catholic-Separatist Civil war in 1847 and now we have consociationalism. In 1980, there was an initiative for the separation of church and state, but it failed. It failed! This is ridiculous to me because since then, church attendance has declined considerably.
Like in the US, churches don't have to pay tax, but citizens and residents of Switzerland, when they register (because as I said in the G post, we're all registered) they can choose to claim a confession and will then pay their tithe - or tax by another name - which sustains the institutions.
So, some cantons are catholic and some are protestant. The only effect from this that I know is the volume of the bells and the number of weekdays that banks are closed in honor of one holiday or another. Though I do know a certain 90 year old who felt the sting of being a calvinist in a catholic canton. Her parents impressed upon her how important it was that she be an especially good girl, because they would be scrutinized as an outsider. She remembers being a 3 years old girl, newly out of diapers and paddling naked in the shallows of the lake that bordered her family's garden. She was spotted and her parents were criticized for her nudity. She  so clearly remembers the feeling of being other, but so does her son, who is 30 years younger.

Montag, 20. April 2015

Q is for Quotas

In 2014, there were two immigration referenda "against mass immigration"that lead to prickly relations with the European Union. Previously, (and as eluded to in the Ö entry), immigration had been a bilateral treaty between Switzerland and the European union. The national conservative Swiss People's Party (SVP) proposed backing out of the treaty in favor of limiting population growth from without and increasing population from within. (But without the fun encouragement to procreate of other nations and other eras. Man some of those were funny.)
As of January 1st 2017, the quota for short-term (L) and long-term (B) work permits will each be reduced by 1,000 people. This means that L permits will be limited to 2,000 and B permits to 1,500 for citizens of an eastern European EU country (Romania and Bulgaria in particular.)
Up to 100,000 foreign nationals arrive in Switzerland annually and although the program won't be in effect until 2017, promises have been made that applications will be reviewed with more scrutiny straight away.
Swiss naturalization is a big deal. Children born in Switzerland are not given citizenship automatically. They have to be born to a swiss parent to get their shiny bright passport. As of 2014, foreigners must live in the country, in the same canton for at least 10 years (previously 12 years) before they can apply for citizenship. The person must be integrated, must show knowledge of the customs and traditions, and pose no threat to national or international security. Each Canton has it's own requirements and will make the final decisions for or against citizenship.
Despite how difficult it is to become a swiss national, apparently too many people are successful at it, so they voted to change the quotas and the EU was....displeased. In Switzerland's previous role, it'd been in negotiations with the EU about things like electricity and a common energy market. Negotiations haven't been officially halted (a consideration that was dramatically referred to as the Guillotine Clause. That's a clause that states that if one agreement is terminated, then the entire body of treaties will be nullified.) This wouldn't break down all transport between Switzerland and other EU countries, but it would "make life much more complicated" according to an EU official.
For anyone keeping count, I've physically been in Switzerland for 8 years, but officially have only been here 5 years this time (after a year abroad) and so still have 5 more years until I can apply for citizenship - perhaps. We shall see which new quotas are in place by then. 

Samstag, 18. April 2015

P is for Polizei

police prepare for May 1st demonstrations 2014
Cantonal police in Switzerland are meant to be run completely independently of one another (so sayeth the constitution.) But in 2015, there is debate about which issues should be handled  on the cantonal and which should be handled on the federal level. I personally don't see why they'd want to take tasks away from Zürich police officers, as according to Zürich's own reggae star Phenomden, they have nothing to do ("Polizisten gehen im Zürich nie Ruhe. Polizisten haben im Zürich nicht zu tun. .")
But seriously, the cantons are so diverse, that it makes sense that the cantons should organize their own law enforcement. Zürich is the largest metropolis in the country and has it's banks, it's drug problems, it's soccer hooligans, it's public transport. But not so far canton Uri (the canton with my favourite flag) has no soccer team, has no drug problems, no organized prostitution but miles of highway. Clearly, their needs are different and their police force are different. That said, their finances are also different. So making blanket federal decisions for all cantons doesn't make sense. 

I mean look at this flag!!!

Another aspect of the police in 2015 is the reason my husband keeps asking me if I shouldn't join the force: increased diversity. I'm as white as most of the police force, but the diversity they're after are polyglots and immigrants. I support their desire to be more inclusive. The most meaningful interaction I've ever had with the swiss police was on a tram. Two officers boarded and arrested a man who kept repeating (in English) that he didn't know what was happening and he didn't speak Swiss German. I stuck my nose in and said that I'm a translator and asked if I could interpret for them. The police forcefully refused and so I spent the next hour on the phone to the headquarters, where I received no satisfactory answer to why I wasn't allowed to intervene. Except for the fact that it was not my business. 

Freitag, 17. April 2015

O is for Ökonomie

photo care of Forbes magazine
So for the K post, I had the unpronounceable consociationalism, and now we've got an "ö." If you don't know how to pronounce this letter, just say "ay" or "day," and while leaving the inside of your mouth the same, tighten your lips into an o shape.  And now on to the oekonomie.
We already talked about Bank security in the B entry, so that's that economic box ticked.
Here's something that friends of mine who are traveling in Europe and then come to visit me sometimes forget: we're not on the Euro. No sir. It comes to a vote fairly regularly, and the Swiss seem pretty darned sure that they do not want to be in the EU or use the Euro. And yet....
Hitler called Switzerland a little porcupine because it's sat in the middle of Europe with it's spikes set in it's surrounding countries and was in the way of the path to so many other European countries. ("Die Schweiz, das kleine Stachelschwein, das nehmen wir im Ruckzug ein.") Switzerland is a small island in a big ol' Euro-using sea. It may not use the Euro itself, but when the Euro tanks, so does Swiss trade. So this winter, Switzerland had to do some stuff (called dirty floating) to make sure that the Franc didn't stay too strong against the Euro.
So we've got our pretty money with swiss innovators on it, but we're still controlled by the Euro.

Donnerstag, 16. April 2015

N is for Nuclear power

Urheberin: Anne Lund;
Rechteinhaber: OOA Fonden
I've lived in Switzerland since 2006 and I still can't get over the landscapes when I'm riding in a train through the country. I ooh and aah and sigh and gasp at the hills and mountains and meadows and sweet animals and then whoops! a cooling tower. I remember a photo in my high school French book, where there's this idyllic looking village with old wooden cottages and a cooling tower in the background and thinking that it looked absurd.
Somewhere in my home there's a photo of my husband playing naked in a sandbox with his friend while their hippy parents protest nuclear power plant (or that's how it was described to me - the boys were teeny tiny and I've not yet seen this newspaper clipping.) There are 5 nuclear power plants in Switzerland now, and currently the protests of them seem limited to stickers on bathroom walls. But they must have been effective, because in 2011, the Parliament decided that no new plants shall be built.
In 2013, Switzerland decided to begin phasing out nuclear power. When discussing this idea with a friend of mine who has family in Ukraine, she enlightened me to the fact that Switzerland's plan to reduce nuclear power in their country does not mean that they will reduce the nuclear power that is used within their borders necessarily, but that they will outsource it to poorer countries in eastern Europe. I felt a bit naive learning that.
I hadn't realized how close our nearest nuclear power plant was to us until we got out iodine tablets in the mail. Since Fukushima, the Swiss government has expanded the are of potential danger in the event of a nuclear incident. So apparently I now live in a potential danger zone.
the medicine that's gonna save me when the power plant blows

Mittwoch, 15. April 2015

M is for Milk that is sometimes subsidised

me approaching a cow on the day that she marched down the alp for autumn 
The Swiss spend as much annually on subsidising three cows as they do on primary schooling for one child.
Silvio Borner, the head of Basel University's department of applied economics, calculated that a Swiss cow costs CHF 4,000 in government subsidies, while the bill for educating a primary school child for one year is CHF 12,000. He then formulated that awkward comparison.
68% of a swiss farmer's income will come in the form of a government subsidy, if they have chosen to feed their cows with hay and grass instead of soy feed and support biodiversity.
Switzerland has one of the highest levels of farming subsidies of all countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) (many countries in western Europe).
The Swiss Farmer's Association says that "in terms of sustainability, it is among the most modern worldwide." The sustainability may be the only modern things, as the rest seems really traditional and beautifully old school to this foreigner.
Here is a strange Youtube video of a different foreigner talking about Swiss cows.

Dienstag, 14. April 2015

L is for Ladies spaces

I'm a feminist and I am a strong woman who used to live in much larger cities, but damn do I love ladies parking spaces.
Ironically, I first heard about these swiss additional on the American NPR quiz show "Wait, wait, don't tell me..." while on a city bus here in Zürich. I believe that my reaction at the time was t"how sexist and misogynistic!" But then there was that time when I was driving my friend's car in a shopping complex with a poorly lit garage, where some people were spending time in the corners and I was feeling ill at ease. But then there they were!: ugly and pink and right in front of the entrance to the complex next to the handicapped spaces - ladies parking spaces. And I loved it.
Sure, having a vagina or identifying as female isn't a handicap per se, but I happen to know that I walk through dank scary places alone with my keys between my fingers and my husband doesn't. (That way if you have to punch someone it will hurt more.) So maybe what we really need is "nervous nelly" parking spaces and not ladies spaces...
Sadly, these spaces are disappearing because the garages are meant to be brighter and more secure than they were when the government instated them. They'll be missed by this nervous nelly.

Montag, 13. April 2015

K is for Konkordanz - or Consociationalism

Konkordanz is far easier to pronounce than Consociationalism. Perhaps that is why it is the swiss form of government and not that of an English speaking nation.
Consociationalism is also known as "majority democracy" or "power-sharing" (though those terms are less accurate.) Some people might say that this system makes the most sense in a country that might otherwise potentially be fragmented by diverse cultures and religions. I am such a person. The idea is that no cultural or religious group has the majority, and it makes sense in a country that is made up of cantons that are mostly one religion or another or speak one (or two) of the four national languages. All people should feel represented under the 7 parties in the parliamentary system.
Interestingly, another country with consociationalism is the Netherlands. I find this interesting because it's also another country that had the potential to be permanently divided between Catholics and Calvinists. (There's a Catholic/Calvinist similarity, as you'll see in the R entry.)
Konkordanz has been the rule in Switzerland since 1959. One might find coincidence in the fact that such an agreeable, diplomatic system was implemented at the same time as suffrage. That is, if one is a woman from the US who still can not believe how late women got the right to vote here.

Freitag, 10. April 2015

J is for the Judicial System

Bezirksgebäude - our local court house
So, I wrote a whole great post about the Judicial system on Saturday and it somehow disappeared. I am very disappointed.
The gist was this: There are no juries on criminal or civil court trials in Switzerland, though there were in Geneva a while ago; there is a federal supreme court, that is equivalent to ours in the US, but there are fewer appellate courts on the way to that one.
The names of indicted and convicted criminals aren't published in the newspaper.
Judges can also be lay people, which is the same as in the US.

Islam in Switzerland

my photo of a church tower
claiming to be a minaret in a
parody of a public transport ad
R is coming and religion will be discussed more thoroughly, but Islamism, as in most western European countries is a topic all it's own. You'll read in R that churches are under-attended here in Switzerland. This may be why Islam is the 2nd most widely professed religion in Switzerland, making up 4.9 of the population - 5.33 here in Zürich.
Because the whole world became Charlie Hebdo this January, there was an increase in conversation about muslim extremism and it's dangers in Europe. One lovely thing to come out of the tragedy (and horrific/hateful sentiments expressed among the grief afterwards) was that free speech and religious rules and differences and similarities were discussed in schools. A report from SRF (Swiss radio and telly) showed that many swiss children know nothing at all about the islamic religion.
This didn't surprise me. As an American who has mostly lived in cities, the idea of not being exposed to, curious about or educated about different religions is foreign to me. When I first moved to Europe and got into a heated argument about the forced removal of headscarves from school children, I realized that I was no longer in Kansas (though I never had been to Kansas at that point - - I'm very poorly traveled.)
In 2009, when a referendum to ban the construction of minarets in Switzerland was on the ballot, our nearest mosque had an Infoabend (Info night.) A friend whom I'd brought to a friend's seder the year before (and was the perfect curious and attentive guest, "yes! why on this night do we do these things?") , asked if I would accompany her to the mosque to learn. It was horrifically awkward and poorly attended, but a lovely and informative evening, and my friend (an elementary school teacher) was very pleased that she'd gone.
The ban went through and in a city that is protestant and that rings out with churchy reminders on Saturday nights and Sunday mornings, minarets will not stand. Warning: R is going to be a very long post.

Donnerstag, 9. April 2015

H - is for health care

my local pharmacy
When I first moved to Switzerland, I had not been insured. I have a pre-existing condition and had no coverage in the US, but here in Switzerland, health insurance is a legal obligation, so I got all set up and wouldn't you know that I'm healthier than I've ever been before.
The Swiss system isn't perfect, and it is definitely not that socialized health care the republicans in the US are afraid of, but it works for me. One must remember, though, that I am a resident alien. I've got papers and am a legal eagle. For undocumented workers forever, healthcare is even more terrifying to live in a place with mandatory coverage.
So there's the mandatory and affordable (within reason) health insurance and then there are the pharmacies. When I first went into a pharmacy and was looking for a drug that I'd used in the states for digestive well-being, I was given a tea that was all natural and worked wonderfully. I would not expect this in the US. Pharmicists are also regularly approached to look at a rash or consult on small medical issues (there's a private room to do this.) They do not only dispense pills.
But then there's Switzerland's dirty little secret: It's not immunized. When  outbreaks of measles or "German measles" occur in the US, it's typically after some american family has visited Switzerland. They have one of the lowest rates of immunization in Europe (with measles, they're below the 95 percent of immunized citizens, which is the amount needed to eradicate the disease.) When the soccer European Cup competition was co-hosted by Switzerland, the World Health Organization had to warn visitors about the health risks that the measles presented.

Mittwoch, 8. April 2015

G is for Gay (LGBTQ) rights

pride march 2013
This winter, Der Kreis was released in theaters and I bawled like a baby.
It was a documentary film about Zürich's Harvey Milks, so to speak. You see, after World War II, homosexuality was illegal in many western European countries, but not Switzerland, which became like a Mecca for homosexuals. They came from all around at the weekend and lived and loved freely (more or less). That is until a serial murderer (rent boy) began killing homosexual men and the powers that be began to push for the registration of homosexuals in Switzerland (for their safety). Watch the film, it's horrific, but it has a happy ending because civil partnerships! (Since 2005)
So from 1942, homosexual acts were legal in Switzerland, though the age of consent was higher than for heterosexuals: 20 instead of 16 until 1990.  Anti-discrimination laws for homosexuals in the work place were only passed in 1999. (But there's always been equal protection under the law for homosexual prostitution as heterosexual prostitution.
Here in Switzerland, we all get united in a civil way at or by a member of city hall and then those who choose to can go to a church and do a wedding ceremony if they like. (There's not a justice of the peace, but someone who's sole job is to register partnerships.) Up until 2015 there was still a linguistic difference between hetero- and homosexual partnerships. But that changed this February. 
Though civil partnerships have been legal here since the early 2000s adoption remains a hot button issue. (If we're honest, adoption for single folk and straight folk is a bit kooky here to begin with.) But as of 2014, partner adoption in homosexual couples is legal. 
So homosexuals no longer need to be registered by orientation, but we're all registered one way or another here. Here, since 2012, citizens can change their gender officially and legally without any sort of sterilization.

Dienstag, 7. April 2015

F is for Fremde

immigration limiting referendum 2005
At my hen night, some sweet swiss friends of mine organized traditional swiss folk dancing. The teacher's English was pretty good, but when she wanted to say "partner and corner" in English, but didn't know it. I did my best to translate for her and when she asked "Was heisst Fremd auf Englisch?" I said "! stranger." The teacher then got confused and wound up saying "....turn to your foreigner, turn to your stranger...." instead of "partner/starnger." This memory stayed with some of our American guests and they joked all weekend, linking arms and bowing to the left "foreigner" and to the right "stranger."
That's me! Immigrants are Fremden. No stranger than the word "alien" if you ask me. Since Ivo and i began dating 11 years ago, there have been a few votes on immigration. The most recent of which was to not cap immigration. 
Remember how I told you in A how scary the political propaganda can be? 

An Ecopop referendum was proposed in order to limit immigration that the self proclaimed leftist ecologist party anticipate as a result of climate change necessitated migration. They worry that the teeny country with limited resources will be "buried under concrete" by the increased housing that will be needed to house an increasing influx of Fremden. Final results showed 74.1% of voters said no in a referendum. spearheaded by Ecopop, a group describing themselves as leftist ecologists, who claimed the country was being “buried under concrete” owing to the growing influx of foreigners. 
To apply for naturalization, you'll need to have lived in Switzerland for at least twelve years (consistently). You will have to satisfy the following requirements for naturalization: you must be socially and culturally integrated in Switzerland (re: properly observe the rules of the laundry room) comply with the Swiss rule of law, and you must not endanger Switzerland's internal or external security.

Montag, 6. April 2015

E - Is for Elections and I have no idea where to begin

our ballot about to be sent Easter Sunday. 
I am a legal alien in Switzerland and have no voting rights. But my husband and I vote together in his country and mine (when we're allowed to vote - location permitting.)
Here, we have the opportunity to vote a bunch of times per year. In the States, we just have the once a year and I vote absentee (every since I missed my first election in 2001 due to being in hospital in another state.) Here we either mail it in or we walk it to the school next door with our dog and drop it off to the volunteers. Here, election day is a Sunday and we get to see our neighbors while we bring it. In the US, it's the first Tuesday after the first Monday after the .... third full moon.... in November... I'm not sure. It's tricky.
The elections here are tricky too. We vote 3 times per year for either people, optional referendums (on something that's been accepted by the Federal Assembly and accepted 50,000 signatures of opponents) or Federal Popular Initiatives (voting on something put forth by citizens that collected 100,000 signatures of supporters.)
When we're voting for people you can either vote for a party or a la carte and you list them in order of preference. When we're voting for referendums, there are sometimes multiple options of purposed compromises. It's neat!
In our household, we fill out our ballots most often on a train (it seems like elections always take place around vacations.) If we agree that we're pro or anti something, then we write it on the ballot. If we disagree, we leave it blank.
I am completely aware of how kind it is for my husband to do this for me. There's an amazing sense of belonging when you're able to vote in the country you call home.  I feel that I can't leave this topic without also adding that women in Switzerland were some of the last to get the right to vote in the world. Though some cantons granted the other half of their population suffrage as early as 1959 (go Romandie) but the last canton to allow lady voting at the swiss level was in 1971 and at the federal level 1991.
That said, we regularly have female parliamentary presidents, so....

Samstag, 4. April 2015

D is for Drogen

2 cops writing kids tickets
for smoking pot on the river.
I moved to Switzerland in 2004, so the government had already taken action to change their heroin problem. I'd most recently been living in Philadelphia, near Malcom X park. I never entered that park, as the drug trade happening there made it feel unsafe. It's equivalent in Zürich was Needle Park, or Platzspitz park, just behind the Landesmuseum. The central green area was filled with heroin addicts during the 80s and most Zürich residents avoided it. 
According to the president of the Addiction Research Institute at Zurich University"The Swiss population has generally always had a high addiction liability in comparison to other European countries, in alcoholism, cigarette smoking, and in illegal drugs as well." The 83-year-old Professor Ambros Uchtenhagen was responsible for establishing in- and out-patient rehab clinics at the Uni's Psychology department. He also set up emergency teams, which were dispatched to revive overdoses on site. 
His work was integral to changing the political way that addicts and addiction were being addressed. Initially (and familiarly to an American) the political response was police crackdown with severe prison sentences. Thankfully, Uchtenhagen was made chair of the Cantonal Drug Commission and took the dramatic and controversial decision to pilot a program of heroin assisted treatment. This is the legal and medically supervised prescription of synthetic doses of opioids. 
Within 4 years, deaths as a result of overdose were reduced by approximately 50 percent, and the instance of HIV infections reduced by 65 percent. Today, one might come across a FLASH packet in a public toilet (where needle disposal bins are handily available.) Those cartons once contained a patient's methadone (such litter is most often found in areas around pharmacies.) 
"Needle Park" Autumn 2014
Today, "Needle Park" is a lovely place to walk during the day...if that day isn't early Sat or Sunday. Because then it's full of empty packets, bottles and cans, from the drunken teenagers the night before.