Archive for November, 2009

Nov 13 2009

Published by under Status updates

I feel like I pulled a near-all-nighter, but I slept for something like 6 hours.

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Nov 12 2009

From a disenfranchised, bystanding expat

Published by under Uncategorized

Since my last blogging, a good family friend, may her memory be for a blessing, passed away from cancer to our great devastation; my state of NJ went red despite my overseas absentee ballot effort; I heard the near-future strategy of the International Criminal Court presented in person by Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the chief prosecutor; we went on a long weekend to Bath, England to meet up with my parents on their way to Mauritius; Seth wrote and finished a major grant application and got a paper accepted to a journal…too much has happened, and much has been too heartbreaking.  So I’m not going to talk about any of those things, but I am going talk about something else.  Minarets.

In Switzerland, there are way fewer billboards than in the US.  More selective advertising means that one notices the ads more.  They are rarely for companies (and if they are for companies, it is usually one of the two duopolists, Migros or Coop, or for butter or cheese), and more typically for events (like concerts or festivals), as public service announcements, or for political causes. There are frequently popular referenda here, and thus there are often ads to accompany them.  Ads here are a weird affair in themselves.  They tend to be:

  • filled with beautiful, white people
  • have good graphic design
  • occasionally filled with some kind of minority in an incredibly offensive sort of way
  • often about very Swiss topics like keeping the train as clean as you would keep your bedroom
  • relatively low on the sexual content

Seth and I are often upset about them.  Last year, there was an ad for butter which showed the “natural” image of someone who ate butter (beautiful, white) and the “unnatural” image of someone who ate butter substitutes (transvestite).  The butter campaign has switched to photoshopping alpine villages to make them look like they are growing out of butter, mountains included (looks like mountain mold).  Now, a poster-hanging company is advertising itself with an offensively, stereotypically, fez-wearing Turk named Ali Kebap.  Do they think these are gaining them customers, and, um, are they?

Then, of course, there are the political ads, which generally have images that have little to do with the actual issue at hand.  But currently, there are signs up about the issue of allowing minarets to be constructed.  There will be a federal referendum on Nov 29 as to whether more than the 4-already constructed minarets in Switzerland will be allowed.  I haven’t seen any signs in favor of this cause; the best I’ve noticed has been “yes, right of worship, no, minarets.”  I’ve also just seen “no to minarets!”  Both of these ads feature very sharp and scary looking caricatured and multiplying minarets with a hijab-wearing woman cowering ominously in the corner. I can’t even imagine how Muslims walking by those signs must feel.  What a welcoming place this country is.  People here can be pretty darn xenophobic—it goes beyond those ads.  I’ve had some uncomfortable conversations.

In our town of Renens, which is very immigrant heavy with a large proportion of Muslims, there are graffiti taggers who specialize in tagging ads, often with what I consider rather astute political commentary—mustaches on white, beautiful women, blackened teeth on Ali Kebap, a well-placed snide word, etc.  In the case of the “yes, right of worship, no minarets,” which is posted prominently in the train station, they cleverly crossed out the “no” and replaced it with “yes.”  Also, in the far-left party newsletter spam we received in the mail (our town is not only immigrant heavy, but into communism), there was some relief to be had from the cover-page article denouncing xenophobia and proclaiming that banning minarets will alienate immigrants.  They compare this intolerant referendum to the old ban on bell towers for Catholic churches in the Canton of Vaud.  Why is this only appearing in far-left propaganda?

[Update on 18 November: I have since noticed more mainstream sources denouncing racism.  It took awhile, but it arrived.  Renens’ official newsletter featured a cover story on the issue, encouraging its citizens to vote no to the ban on minarets and republishing a beautiful ad to religious equality produced by the Societe pour les Minorities en Suisse, which is running an active campaign against the initiative.  In French, it says “Le ciel suisse est suffisamment vaste pour abriter toutes les croyances,” which I would translate to “The Swiss sky is sufficiently vast to shelter all beliefs.”  I wonder what synagogue’s roof is featured in that ad; it looks suspiciously like the Neue Synagogue in Berlin, which is most definitely not in Switzerland.  In addition, several of my friends from IHEID and choir have joined a facebook group of over 4,000 members which parodies the malicious poster and encourages its members to vote no to the initiative as well.  This is all encouraging, and I am happy that serious organizing against the initiative is happening before the vote, before it is too late.]

What is interesting, and frustrating for me, is that all I can do here is look at the ads and then go to Democrats Abroad events here or send an overseas ballot home to vote on something currently very dissociated from me.  It is strange, because I continue to follow American news sources very closely, and Swiss news sources less, but it is in Switzerland where I now live. What has become really noticeable to me, living abroad and studying international relations, is that people often see foreign countries only in terms of their foreign policies.  Transnational efforts on social issues occur, but not all too often, especially not in a grass-roots kind of way.  Friends here simply cannot comprehend why Obama might be mired in women’s right to choose, gay marriage, health reform, recession, and climate change debates and how political compromises on these issues at home might inlfuence him when it comes to, say, Afghanistan and Iraq.   Friends back in the US campaigning for gay marriage never seem to have asked themselves what the status of gay rights is abroad and how they got where they are and whether gay rights are a politically charged issue or not. Personally, I still can’t figure out where the gender queer people are in my Swiss life (I’ve only met two gay couples since I arrived, and they’re 3/4 American) yet I know that the laws are more favorable to LGBTQ people here than in the US.

I feel overwhelmed by the acceptability of discrimination all around me, coming over the New York Times, via billboards in Switzerland, and every day in class.  How is it still possible that such blatant prejudice and intolerance is still within the political mainstream?  Should I tolerate such intolerance?  It’s upsetting, and paralyzing, because it is so close, and yet so far.  People I know, in both countries, are affected directly by all of these debates.  Yet, all I can do is be a bystander.  So I’m standing by, but not uncritically.  What are you doing?

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Nov 11 2009

Published by under Status updates

Finally, our homemade sourdough bread came out well!  Too bad we already ate it all.

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Nov 03 2009

Good morning, 6 chf, please

Published by under Uncategorized

At 8 am, when we two were still soundly sleeping… **buzzzzzz**

I popped out of bed, popped out my earplugs, ran to the front door, and found some dude.

“Your package could not be delivered, so we are returning it, and you have to pay 6 francs.”  This statement is, of course, in French, so it only half makes sense to my half turned-on brain.

Oh.  The mailman.  Why doesn’t he look like a mailman?  Oh, I don’t have my glasses on.

I squint.  Well, it does look like a package we sent last week.  One that cost 6 chf to send in the first place, despite it being just a tiny, practically weightless supersoaker that we were returning to Max the maltese‘s owners.  One that now cost an additional 6 chf to have returned to us.  Pretty sure that water gun is worth less than 12 chf, at least if the owners bought it in the US.  I kind of want to tell the dude to keep the package, I don’t want to pay for it.

I stand, there, blinking.  Sleepy.  Seth stumbles out, inspects the package.  I tell him we have to pay 6 chf.  Mailman dude is still standing there.  We sleepily scramble about for change, and pay.  Back to bed.

Again, why does the postal service start operating so darn early in the morning?  Second, how do they defy, on a daily basis, the electronic key pad on the front door of the building?  Do they have a list of apartment access codes or a magic all-buildings-everywhere master key?  Third, haven’t they ever heard of leaving packages on the doorstep?  I’m pretty sure none of our neighbors would steal a package.  Fourth, we pay the SAME AMOUNT it cost to send the package to have it returned to us?  I mean, I guess it makes sense, but, but…

Well, on the bright side, Max’s owners don’t know why it didn’t reach them, and they told us just to keep it. Score!  12 chf mini supersoaker!!!

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Nov 01 2009

A spooky Halloween…or not

Published by under Uncategorized

We had an incredibly spooky Halloween.  Our running water stopped functioning for a half hour or so.  It was scary; we almost couldn’t make tea.

Seriously, that was the event of the evening.  Though we were invited to a party, which I am sure would have been really fun, Seth and I both had too much homework to do and I have a cough which makes going out in the cold unpleasant.  At least we didn’t have to try to come up with costumes from nothing.  We don’t have random accumulated stuff lying around here and all stuff is too expensive in Switzerland to purchase for one night’s usage.

We also didn’t get a single trick-or-treater.  It’s not as widespread a tradition here as in the US (in fact, it’s not much of a tradition at all, but an imported holiday encouraged by stores hoping to sell a lot of candy, pumpkins, and costumes).  We actually were prepared with candy this time, too, unlike last year.  I think the fixed electronic keypad at the front of our building kept out children.  We saw some costumed little people outside the building, but they never made it to our apartment.  Alas.  What are we going to do with that candy?

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