The Elephant in the Swiss Cupboard

I like billboards and advertising. They give you a specific feel of time and place – its hustle and bustle and commercial twists and shouts. I like the man who makes engine gear-changing noises and then drinks motor oil. I like the baby that climbs out of its crib and leaves the house to buy milk while Petula Clark sings Downtown. I like the graphics of Swiss political posters with their 1940s feel of primary-coloured Soviet propaganda.

I hate it when you’re watching a French TV channel and they show you specific Swiss commercials. This is cheating: if you’re watching a France production, the ads should be about soft cream cheese and children running around in flowery meadows; not hard mountain cheese with grumpy men in red vests with spoons hanging on their ears.

And I’m not the only one. After a six-year battle to ban commercial billboards in the city of Geneva, they were brought back by a popular (referendum) vote a couple of weeks ago. For some reason, people like seeing gigantic pictures of skinny young women wearing skimpy cheap underwear. It sort of cheers one up, or gives one that little snip of anger necessary to get on with real life.

And so, I am struck by yesterday’s three newspapers that are sitting here in front of me. There is Le Temps, The International New York Times and The Guardian Weekly.

The Guardian Weekly, London, offers a word-view of things and somehow manages to get by with no adverts in their magazine (except for their own podcasts and subscription offers which bombard you with ads if you go on line to take a peek). They do have unusually good colour photographs on almost every page, so complete boredom is averted. This week’s cover carries the title “Tipping point” and illustrates ionic (bank) columns being pushed over.

The New York Times has four full-page adverts – all for fancy watches/fashion house combos. (Watches like the one that Emmanuel Macron slipped off his wrist the other day while addressing the plebs.) In the mother paper in New York these ads (in colour) cost $250,000 per page.  So the middle double colour spread of a Louis Vuitton Swiss-made tiger watch with no hands or numbers that I can see cost a cool half-million. Maybe it’s not a watch. Maybe it’s a Chinese bank.

Le Temps, the Swiss national French-language paper, also has three full pages of watch-related adverts (one being a Tourbillon Diamant cheesy Chanel watch on the fake front cover).

The Swiss paper goes beyond watch season, however, and runs three full-page colour ads for private banks. There is a happily hugging elderly couple with disturbing glasses, a happy father and son with a surfboard on a grassy beach, and two happy mountain climbers reaching the summit.

The Credit Suisse Bank collapse is the elephant in the Swiss (Le Temps) cupboard, of course. And the message is clear: Give us (Syz! Julius Bär! UBP!) your money, and all will be well.

The pictures say it all.

Going Postal

Being from “Away” and living in the Geneva countryside means that the local post office holds a special place in my life.  The newspapers, the magazines, the parcels, the jugs of maple syrup and the occasional letter reflect moments of pleasant daily diversion. Usually.

The postman is cheerful and helpful and friendly. He will attempt a second delivery if the gate is shut early in the morning and happily heaves heavy wine boxes inside the door. We sometimes help to get his car started, and always give him a Christmas card and tip. It’s an old-fashioned relationship based on genial humanity and weather conversations.

But the other day my relationship with Swiss Poste took a turn for the worse and the following letter has been sent to Bern:

Dear Swiss Poste,

Yesterday (Feb 28, 2023) I had an unsettling experience in one of your post office affiliates.

As you took the Chancy village post office away some years ago, we have had to go to a neighbouring village (Avully) to send our parcels and deal with bills, letters, etc.  When you shut down that post office a year or two back, we now have to go to the little shop/post office in the village.

Yesterday when I arrived there (16h30) with two small international parcels (each under a kilo and accompanied with the Customs barcode print-outs) I was told the following:

  • The Swiss Poste parcel system had changed in January 2023.
  • The type of Customs Declaration barcodes that I had generated from your Swiss Poste web site as usual, were no longer valid.
  • I needed another SORT of barcode and had to print out in its entirety the contents etc. of each parcel as there was a new Swiss Poste rule that this information had to be attached to each package in a plastic pouch.
  • She could not help me in this process.

I left the post office, returned home and investigated thoroughly your Swiss Poste international parcel information web site and could not find any confirmation of your agent’s information. Nor could I print out the details of the form I filled in to get the bar codes!

Faced with the impossibility of my task, I drove the 12 km to the Lancy/Onex Post office in Lancy Centre, arriving just before closure at 18:00.  There your agent routinely, efficiently processed my parcels with the customs declaration barcodes that the Avully Swiss Poste agent had rejected with all the above explanations.

Can you please explain to me what is going on? Was your agent in Avully some sort of imposter? Had she received a Swiss Poste training course that she had badly misunderstood? She was entirely credible in her detailed lies, but wasted a huge chunk of my time as I had to drive back home the second time in the big evening rush hour.

I would like an explanation. And, needless to say, I will never use that particular Swiss Poste agency again, so you might as well shut it down too.

Yours sincerely,

Joy Kündig