Geneva is one of the most favourite locations for international organizations dealing with developing country issues, because it offers a vast selection of the very best of global developing country shortcomings from all over the world. You may have encountered the theory that it was the foundation of the International Committee of the Red Cross by the Genevian Henry Dunant in 1863, followed up by the establishment of the League of Nations and the International Labour Organization around 1919/1920 that started off the successive settlement of one organization after another in Geneva. The tourguides at the UN Palace of Nations take a three-day course and have to pass a 3-hour exam in order to tell you that Geneva is an awesomely located operational base, because it is kind of in the middle between Africa, Asia and Latin America, with assures that in a discrimination-free manner, it is equally difficult to get to any of those places from Geneva.
What both the Red-Cross theory and the UN tourguides leave out though, is the fact that all of the historical founding politicians were able to stroll along the serene shores of the Lake of Geneva – therey softly being engulfed by swarms of gently humming green mosquitos that subconciously evoked memories of their adventures in far-away oppressed mosquito-filled colonies. This made them realize that Geneva had the perfect soundtrack to distill the essence of how it feels to live in a developing country.
The Tune Rockers – “Green Mosquito” (1958):
In Winter, there are no mosquitos around, though. In order to sustain the full-fledged developing country experience, the population of Geneva has come up with a great many ways to make sure that you don’t miss out on the day-to-day tribulations of the now-decolonized developing countries:
Since Geneva is so small, you risk getting from one-place to another in a hassle-free few minutes. Thankfully every possible measure is taken by the municipality of Geneva to ensure that this won’t ever happen to you. Geneva has the absurdest public transportation system in the world, with a multitude of busses and tram lines criss-crossing throughout town on the most convoluted routes possible without offering opportunities to interchange between them. Even when two lines cross, you never will be troubled by them sharing joint stops so that you can conveniently switch from one in to the other. Instead, their stops will be as far as possible apart, and also the two or three “official” transfer points that the local transport company has grudgingly set up for its customers maintain separate stops for each bus, so that the passengers stay healthy by having to run the farthest distances in the shortest time possible to get from one bus to the other.
Generally, traffic in Geneva consists of an endless, widespread traffic jam, created by the thoughtful simultaneous dispersion of construction sites in every part of the city. Like this, you can be sure that whereever you are, your closest road most likely will be blocked. Despite the alleged Swiss fondness for orderliness, motorbikers have discovered their even stronger fondness for zig-zagging between cars and on-and-off bike paths. Thus, via ingenious planning, roads in Geneva continously are way more chaotic than even the most bustling street crossing in the busiest Indian metropolis. The only thing missing are animals such as cows and chicken trying to cross the road, but otherwise, the thrill of nearly being hit by a motorcycle is just as vibrant in Geneva as it would be in any other motorcycle-reliant developing country. The construction sites make sure that roads aer bad enough to jolt you around just as you would be jolted around in an Auto-Rickshaw on a non-asphalt street – for the few minutes that you do move, since most of the time you are given the opportunity to stand still in the middle of the road and enjoy the scenery of bicyclists fleeing from motorcylists.
Thus, the citizens of Geneva trapped in their cars are constantly invited to engage in philosophical meditation: “We all face the same way – yet it takes all day!”, thereby asking themselves the question: “Is anyone going anywhere? Everyone’s gotta be somewhere!”. Turns out that these featueres of traffic jams are exactly the features that characterize international politics relating to developing countries, which is why the song “Traffic” by the Stereophonics in fact has become the inofficial anthem of Geneva.
Stereophonics – “Traffic” (1997):
Many people think that prices paid in developing countries exhibit extraordinary amounts of variation, since in the same shop, one person can pay between 10 and 1000 times as much as the person before just paid for the same good. What is common about this observed price pattern though, is that the first person always is a local customer, whereas the second person always is a tourist automatically assumed to be richer than the local customer. Switzerland makes sure that everybody – tourists and locals alike – pays between 10 and 1000 times more than everybody else in the world for any given good, so that your each and every purchase is accompanied by the sweet sensation of the feeling of having been ripped off – exactly the feeling that you missed so much ever since you’re last trip within a developing country.
Just as high prices are formally established, also the concept of bribing has been formalized in Switzerland. In a developing country, it is very common that you have to pay a randomly determined bribe to government employees who are suppposed to offer you tax-funded services, if you are intent on these services actually being delivered. In Switzerland, you pay a randomly determined “fee” to government employees who are supposed to offer you tax-funded services. For example, if you call the police for any reason, the police officers will decide at their own discretion, whether they will offer you their help for free, or if they will charge you a minimum of 500CHF (equivalent to 500$) for you taking up their time. Similarly, every Swiss bank will gladly assist you in your attempt to commit a crime by hiding your money from your non-Swiss native fiscal authority, as long as you pay them an agreed-upon monthly fee to do so – instead of getting a monthly interest on your money as you would in any normal bank account elsewhere, in Switzerland, you actually have to pay banks to accept your money.
Remember that everytime you went to the beach in order to relax from the stress of constantly being exposed to poverty, for sure some annoying beach salesman would suddenly appear out of nowhere and try to talk you into buying a fake Rolex watch from him? Think of Geneva as an enormous impersonal rolex-watch selling institution – the moment you step outside every wall in town is trying to sell you a watch, with just as little consideration for your disinterest as the beach salesman.
People spoiled by functioning markets tend to get a bit frustrated by the fact that in most developing countries, the only thing that never seems to be short in supply are fake Rolex watches. Apart from that, daily power shortages, the impossibility to find toilet paper anywhere, and a stunningly low variety of products are the de facto standard. In order to at least preserve the notion of non-existing product variety, Switzerland has reduced its number of its super-market chains to basically two: Migros and Coop. This duopol not only takes great care in keeping prices high, but at the same time also undertakes great efforts in keeping product variety as low as possible.
With glowing eyes backpackers throughout the world marvel at the hospitality they encounter in developing countries. No matter how poor the respecive local hosts are, they always offer their most expensive foods to their foreign guests and are the friendliest people ever met. Well, also Swiss chocolates offered in a Swiss chalet are sure to cheer up everybody. However, things change when you move to either a developing country or to Switzerland. As a matter of fact, the housing market in Geneva is a development economics text-book model of an “informal developing country market”. If you want to get a place to stay in Geneva, you first have to enter a close-knit community consisting of “Régis” organizations who ensure that only their friends get access to apartments. Furthermore, the local newspapers remind you that the Swiss population is very emphatetic of developing country regimes that discriminate against the construction of foreign religious buildings such as churches or that restrict the rights of foreigners. In a grand gesture of solidarity, the Swiss recently decided to forbid the construction of minarets of mosques and also chose to immediately deport foreigners who commit any kind of crime (no worries, hiding your money here to avoid taxes doesn’t count!).
Quality of Life
A Cameroonian colleague once explained to me about her country “We may be poor, but at least we’re happy”. The miracle of Geneva is that is manages to sell all of its infrastructural inadequacies as “Quality of Life” – thereby regularly being ranked as one of the “most livable” cities in the world. Perhaps Geneva strikes the ultimate balance by making sure that its citizens encounter enough troubles every day that they don’t get bored, but make sure that the citizens don’t have so many troubles that they are stressed all the time. What better definition of “Quality of Life” could you think of? No wonder Geneva is so “livable”!
Enjoy the feeling of backpacking this week – whereever you are!