Few years ago. Central Switzerland

untitledI noticed them and sighed.

From a distance there appeared to be at least six. Hanging around the vending machine, playing music and talking. A thick cloud of smoke hovered over them like a mini microclimate made up entirely of cannabis and tobacco.

I kept going. Having run out of cigarettes at 11pm there was no way I was waiting until 9am the following morning for my next fix.

No, I would steel myself, fix an un-threatening, un-confrontational look on my face and show no outward sign of trepidation or weakness.

As I approached they stopped talking and turned to stared at me.

Teenagers. Four young men and two women. They each wore the same black on black uniform with multiple facial piercings. Rings, spikes, studs. Explosive hair with the consistency of red granite. Goths.

The music sounded angry. I couldn’t tell about their mood.

They parted to give me access to the machine and then reformed. It was a pubescent, rebellious pincer movement which effectively trapped me inside. No words were spoken.

My heart raced as I fished in my pockets for the correct change waiting for the verbal abuse to start and hoping this was as far as it would go. Sticks and stones.

I fed the coins in and pressed the appropriate code. The machine burst into life and a coiled silver spring started turning. I watched as the red packet slowly edged forward towards the drop. It moved with a glacial speed. They were silent, only the music continued, fast, loud and aggressive.

The pack stopped and the machine returned to its pre-coined, impotent and inactive state. The packet hung there, suspended by nothing obvious. According to a robot brain somewhere in the metal box it had done its job. Only it hadn’t.

The cigarettes were fixed balancing between the end of the silver coil and the drop. It was defying gravity, taunting me in front of a restless nocturnal feral pack. Shit.

I shook the machine but it remained. I shook it harder and the pack just wobbled, still balancing precariously over the abyss, infuriatingly refusing to budge. I stood back and pondered my predicament. The vampire thugs watched me. I could sense the circle closing.

I jumped as I felt a hand touch my shoulder. It was the largest of the kids, broad shoulders, eye liner. His head appeared to be weaponised. If he bent down and head-butted me would I find out the spikes were tipped with a deadly frog poison?

‘Entschuldigen’ he said quietly and motioned for me to stand back which I did without question not entirely sure what he was going to do to me. Gore me with his head or lick me to death with his spiked and studded tongue?

He did neither. He stepped back and kicked the machine hard. Very hard.

Hard enough I imagined to set off an alarm deep in the 24hr vending machine central control room which I assumed had to exist somewhere.It was also hard enough to make the packet drop.

I watched as he quietly bent down to retrieve the small cardboard box which he handed to me with a polite nod and a respectful smile.

‘Thank you, I mean vielen dank ’ I stammered taking the packet from him. I stood there for a second not quite sure what to do next. The remaining ghouls glared at me so I quickly took my leave, not wishing to test my good fortune any further.

I left them there to their music and rebellion and walked quietly back to my apartment, smoking. I was smiling as another preconception shattered around me.
There are times when I really like the country I live in, Switzerland.

For all their music, hairdo’s and aesthetically rebellious appearances Swiss teenagers are just grown up versions of the little children I see every morning walking hand in hand to kindergarten wearing their yellow anti-traffic florescent vests. It’s going to take a lot more than some heavy rock, sex and drugs to sway your average Swiss seventeen year old.

Deep down, buried away beneath the clothes, the snarls and the cannabis they are still the friendly, law abiding, elder respecting kids they have been taught to be since birth.

And I for one like this.

Who likes Joe Pesci?

matterhornHe is a bit boring.
Not someone you would call your friend but someone you know exists. He is selfish, rich and just a little bit annoying. He will avoid involvement at all costs but when he does step up it’s generally out of self interest. He will relinquish a little if his hand is forced, otherwise he will keep everything locked down, tight, solid. He is someone we like and dislike in equal measure, he is Joe Pesci from Lethal Weapon.
He is Switzerland.

Ordinarily most people have no opinion on the country. Opinions normally range from dunno to don’t care. It is quiet, unobtrusive and frequently confused with Sweden. It rarely sticks its head above the trench, internationally speaking that is. This is why it feels rather odd to have such international condemnation directed at this quiet Alpine country. News normally happens elsewhere, anywhere, anywhere except here.

The decision from 57.5% of the Swiss voting public to ban the building of new minarets is an example of pure democracy in action, ask the country a question and you might be surprised about the answer.

What would happen if we were, for example, to ask the British public if the death penalty should be reinstated for crimes such as pedophilia? I think you could guess the response.

Now lets be clear if this was an architectural argument I could understand, Minarets do tend to stand out and would look rather odd next to an Alpine chalet. This vote however was not based on aesthetics, more it was based on fear and conservatism in the extreme.
What the result boils down to essentially is, is a rejection of Islam and of religious freedom. It tells you – if you are not Christian, you are not welcome here. The infamous Minaretposters essentially said as much, their black and red colouring harking back to a dark period some 70 years ago, coupled with the Darth Vader imagery was anything but ambiguous.
What will be the result of this vote? Will this result in less Muslims on the ski-slopes? Will there be less risk of extremism? Less risk of a large, internationally powerful neighbour asking awkward questions?

Why-o-why did they decide this was worth the publicity? Surely the easy answer was to simply refuse all new planning permission or put a restriction of, say, 5 meters on all new religious buildings. There are enough Christian churches here to accommodate everyone already so no risk of offending the majority.

No, instead they have managed to ostracise 5% of the population and seriously piss off some very, very, dangerous people.

The Swiss government know as much, the justice minister was quick to point out that this result was “not a rejection of the Muslim community, religion or culture”.

If not, then what is it?

Democracy is a good thing that’s for sure, pure democracy has its limits and I fear the Swiss may have overstepped the limit this week.


Switzerland is a country of contradictions.

On one hand it is a country where the people are peaceful and law abiding. They eat organic muesli and bio-bread. They recycle everything, rollerblade, cycle, nordic walk or take the train to the office. They shop at the local store, get involved in the village fair, respect their elders, pay their taxes and work hard.

and on the other hand they have these billboards around town: