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

Grandparents of the World, Unite!

Those of you who are not grandparents really don’t have to read this. You have not had the crown of grandparenthood thrust upon you. You are free agents. When you invite your adult children for a meal, they come on time and are perky and refreshed-looking. They engage in adult-style conversation. They don’t crayon on the walls. They sit on their chairs through the entire meal and generally do not knock over their glasses. They leave the place without crying and needing their diapers changed.

They might, of course, bring a child-substitute. A puppy, perhaps, or a large barking shedding dog. Something that chews chair legs, slobbers over the table, steals half the cheese board, pees in the hall and poops in the corners. Such behaviour only goes a small way in illustrating what it’s like having real grandchildren around.

I personally love my grandchildren. The bigun (16) seems quite mature with her blue hair and black clothes. We will be going together to the Stratford Festival in Canada next week to see a somewhat kindred spirit, Hamlet.

The two littluns (6 and 2) also have literary references. Lord of the Flies comes immediately to mind. When they are not fighting, they work as a two-man demolition team, and, if your drug combination is right, and you are in an anti-materialist mood, can be considered delightfully active and life-enhancing.

We grandparents can’t play hop-scotch forever, however, and knees and backs are often screaming at us to sit down and WATCH the world rather than running along trying to keep up with it.  So it really wasn’t easy being 70 years old on Wednesday. The Geneva public transport system went on strike which meant walking miles and miles on hard concrete sidewalks to see an ear specialist in the morning (ref. Simplon Tunnel blog) and attending a Baluchistan concert in the evening.

While slogging along the pedestrian pavements with speeding silent electric bikes and scooters inches from my shoulder, I was reflecting on the pronouncement of grandson #1 the previous day. Sitting in his car seat, having been picked up for his weekly luncheon in the Geneva countryside (grandparents are the glue of most Geneva family life) the little ayatollah issued the decree that all cars were evil inventions.

This was vaguely agreed with, and then it was cheerfully explained that without a car there would be no cheeseburgers with the grandparents on Tuesdays: It was too far to walk from his school, the buses took too long, and our carpets don’t fly. Without a car, there would be no pyjama parties on the weekends, no visits to the Shack, no walks along the Rhone River. If he couldn’t ride in a car, then the grandparents would be permanently on strike.

He went quiet and was vaguely abashed. Hopefully, like the wedding guest in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, he arose the next day a sadder and a wiser man.

But I doubt it.




The Simplon Tunnel Exploding Head Syndrome

Well, it was probably just a coincidence that my head almost exploded and my ear piercingly popped while roaring on a train through the Simplon Tunnel last week.

Normally, we drive the car over the Simplon Pass (2006m) to Italy, following the old Neolithic trails that were widened by Roman Legions, firmly established by 17th-century merchants (Kaspar Jodok Stockalper famously running salt, iron, gold and mercenaries) and institutionalised by Napoleon in 1805. On the high roadside pull-offs you step into the chilly winds and take pictures of a stark treeless landscape and lugubrious granite buildings. Time slows. You buy a brick of cheese with mountain flower petals in it at Simplon Dorf and wish your pants were thicker.

Not so on the train. If anything, there is a certain air of feverishness as you pull out of Brig and turn the corner towards the cloudy mountains. The train blows its whistle as it roars into one side of the double-mouthed tunnel. It then speeds up; and I think I have discovered why: The train driver has heard the grizzly story of the tunnel’s construction and he wants out of there as soon as possible.

The tunnel is almost 20 kilometres long. It is pitch black and as hot as hell–about 56C when you get to the point where the mountain on top of you is more than two kilometres thick. Miners began digging the tunnel in 1898 and by 1906 when the first tube was opened, 106 of them had died.

During the tunnelling, which consisted of drilling holes with Brandt hydraulic drills and packing them with dynamite, there were all kinds of problems. There were the surprise hot springs that suddenly gushed out.  There was a huge leaky water reservoir ABOVE the tunnel. There was a soggy section made out of water-logged clay that bent the iron girders and snapped the massive oak beams. Men couldn’t work in the extreme heat and insulated cold water hoses had to be installed.

A second tube was finished in 1921 and the problems shifted. During WWII the tunnels were mined—ready for instant destruction if they fell into enemy hands. James Bond killed an enemy in there on the Orient Express in 1957. In 2011 there was a fire.

So, finally, it was of little importance that at one point mid-way through the Simplon Tunnel my head had a pressure-blow-out.

Intensive research has discovered all of the above true facts, along with a scientific paper which mentions this tunnel pressure phenomenon. The short paper is entitled Measurements of Train-Induced Pressure Variations in the Simplon Tunnel and, unfortunately, did not measure what happens inside passengers’ heads.

Arriving at the south end of the tunnel in shabby old Domodossola was a lovely relief. We dragged our bags to a concrete backless bench and under the clear blue sky happily ate our sandwiches on the graffitied train station platform. And waited for what was going to happen next.


Coffee Balls

Well, the response was loud and clear and almost instantaneous. I simply had to whisper about a serious competitive coffee capsule situation, and the problem was solved!  Yesterday Migros announced that it has invented the coffee ball!

They look like those round Lindor chocolates the melt in the mouth. But instead of hard chocolate surrounding soft, they are made of an invisible compostable material that surrounds ground coffee beans.

Of course, you have to buy a special machine to squish the balls and extract the coffee flavour, but then you just scrape the little sacks of coffee grounds out of the machine and put them directly in the compost. No drippy trips to the post office or the recycling bin.

No prices are available yet, but this exciting new product is coming to a store near you SOON! Just in time for Christmas!

Back in the day in our manses in the Canadian countryside, we didn’t know there was any kind of coffee except instant. Tea, stewed in a glass pot, was the drink of choice.

Black and white cowboy movies brought us into the world of cowboy coffee where water and strong and gritty coffee were boiled over a campfire. A Stetson, a guitar and a tin cup were additional props in this exciting and adventurous world.

Childhood forays into other houses, revealed divergent coffee universes. There was percolated coffee where the machine stood on its own little heating pad and stayed warm the whole day. Those kitchens smelled strong and specific.

A Dutch friend’s mother (beside her meat mincer attached with a vice to the kitchen counter) had a coffee pot with a plunger she pressed and the water magically changed colour. She had huge strong arms and her dangerous kitchen was my absolute favourite.

Later on into the adult world of coffee production, there were the paper filters holding the ground coffee that you poured hot water over, and the timeless Italian Moka coffee pots.  Then came the fiddly coffee capsules and their specific machines. The world was full of narrowing possibilities.

Anyway, the new coffee ball method has been brewing for the past five years, and Migros claims to have the competition shaking in their aluminum coffee-capsule boots.

The official Migros crystal ball contains images of future tea balls, cappuccino balls, soup balls, and many many other things. I am already dreaming of the coming cold winter and making hot toddies with a canny mixture of rum and water in the reservoir, and a sugar and cinnamon spice ball.

Unfortunately, most coffee methods require electricity, which might also be in short supply in the months ahead, so I am getting prepared.

The fireplace or the barbeque can be used for cowboy coffee. Note to self: find a couple of tin cups and a guitar. The fondue burner is just perfect for the Moka machine.  And now, with this most recent invention of the coffee ball, if worse comes to worst, like Lisbeth Salander in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, we can just chew on cold yet sustainable coffee balls.


The Ongoing Trauma of Returning Defective Products: Sunscreen and Coffee Capsules

You would think that one of the largest domestic merchandising outlets in Switzerland (Migros) would be smooth and cool about taking back and refunding small faulty items.

Actual exchanges (always for a larger size, for some reason) usually work efficiently; and when presented with stinking, dripping perishable goods there is also swift action.

However, if you have no ticket, no bag, and something that doesn’t offend the senses of the lady at the customer services desk, you are dealing with a bigger issue. They have been trained, possibly with refresher courses, how to avoid parting with cash.

This summer, it began with a small tube of #50 sunscreen. Guaranteed no wrinkles. Guaranteed youthful progress into the past. Guaranteed beauty and protection.

The problem was mechanical. The lid didn’t click closed properly and so the precious liquid would escape inside bags and purses. After a week or two battling soggy innards and my futile attempt to secure the lid with black electrical tape, I girded up my loins and went to see the lady at the desk.

She smirked and called her colleagues over.  The three of them squirted my precious rejuvenating liquid over their hands and asked (did I detect sarcasm?) if I really thought such a product worked? What did I want them to do?

The small tube was soon empty and I was dumbfounded and humiliated.  They told me to go buy another tube and they would check the lid for me on the way out.  Guffaws were heard as I walked away.

So, when the faulty coffee capsule episode arose this week, I knew the highest level of preparation was necessary.

The box stated clearly that these capsules were compatible with the internationally famous coffee capsule brand, “Nespresso”. I put an M-capsule into my N-machine. A bit of water reluctantly spit out, there was a grinding sound and all the lights started blinking. Upon extraction and close forensic examination, the capsule showed it had been pierced at the front, but not at the back.

I closed the newly-opened box and placed the bad capsule and a used Nespresso capsule in an evidence bag. The prosecution was armed.

The lady at the desk the next morning was good. Flying in the face of black and white evidence, she tried to throw the case out on a technicality. She said that on their product, “Nespresso” was spelled with only one “s”. Over-ruled.

She then said that no one had ever complained before and so my complaint was invalid. She went to find a man who was a coffee capsule expert. He denied specific expertise in this case, as he always used another variant. Did I have a receipt? Why not take the box home, and try all the rest of the capsules? Maybe it was just a rogue individual?

I held firm.

A quarter of an hour of recalcitrance, and finally my palm was crossed with silver: A breathtaking hard-won victory of seven francs.

A Pair of Christmas Socks

The Swiss relationship with socks is much like its relationship with the world. One of enduring, neutral, pragmatism.

Socks are what you put on your foot between your skin and your shoe. They are wool or cotton. They are black (work) or white (sports). A true Swiss sock is of medium quality and medium price. Of course, there are the packs of 6 pairs that suddenly come off a boat from some far-off place which crowd out your domestic sock drawer and make it impossible to close… but these are anomalies and generally regarded as a nuisance.

The great Swiss sock of old was the hiking sock or the ski sock. These had specific function and purpose as they covered your calf or filled your boot.  They were serious and stalwart socks with the chance of a toe-hole being zero. Much like the Swiss military sock, they would last you a lifetime.

Sadly, there is no sock-hanging tradition on Christmas Eve around here. No misshapen once-familiar sock stuffed with treasures to be discovered at first light on Christmas morning. Here, the candies and nuts are delivered on December 6th in a burlap bag by Saint Nicolas. And when it gets dark on Christmas Eve the magical little Christ Child pops around and puts presents under the Christmas trees. These days there is a confusion of characters and nationalities and names. But socks do not figure in any of this.

As a kid in Canada, socks and Christmas went together like wonder bread and jam. At Christmas you would choose your biggest one to be filled up with hard candies, peanuts, an artificial-looking store-bought apple and a navel orange in the toe. The anticipation almost killed you.

At some point in our childhood Christmas careers, we were supplied with felt cut-out Christmas stockings. They were festive as there were applied Christmassy objects such as candy canes, or candles or Christmas trees stuck to them. Sequins added a twinkling celebratory air. Our names were shear-cut at the top. As the greedy eldest, I remember considering the injustice of it all, as Kathleen, the littlest, had the same-sized sock as I.  These stood stiff and did not bend and bulge to reveal the filling. They were more beautiful, but also less exciting than their predecessors.

In my sock basket, today, I review my sock collection. I realize my favourites were Christmas presents. There are two pairs of library socks and one pair of Rosie the Riveter “We Can Do It” socks. There is a pair of socks with little non-slip buttons on the bottom. And another pair made with fluffy material impregnated with sandalwood for everlasting health. There are one-toed socks from Japan, too uncomfortable to wear, and too beautiful to throw away. I have even come across a forgotten pair of sneaker flamingo socks.

These socks are decades old and do not regularly adorn my feet. My small Swiss collection (cotton, black and white) gets me through most days perfectly well. However, there are some mornings when just a little something extra is required.

As Christmas approaches this year, I find myself wearing my Christmas socks more and more frequently. Nostalgia? Age? A second childhood? A wish to be light of foot and fancy free? A security blanket on each foot? Too much bad news all over the place?

I have already procured (with great expense and difficulty) some un-Swiss socks as Christmas presents – a pair of lime green and black-striped Mickey Mouse socks and two pairs of fake fur socks. I dream of them lighting up the eyes of the recipients and their keeping them safe in their sock drawer for years to come. I know they will remember who sent them, and hope they offer a minute of calm and courage and comfort as a new day begins.








The (Solar Panel) Fools rush in where Angels fear to tread

Sheer dogged determination and pure pig-headedness was the only thing that got us solar panels on our roof. And I am pleased to report they work. The energy that we don’t use on sunny days gets sold to the Geneva Industrial Services Department (the SIG) and they pay us what they can afford (the night-time electricity rate). This has now happened two or three times and I am soon going to have enough money to buy a new pair of shoes.

The installation cost us more than five years of time and about 40,000 Swiss francs. We happily paid more for French-made panels and, most deviously, Chinese ones were installed instead…but that’s another story. I do, by the way, apologize for leaving you all hanging with my blog of July 2, 2018 entitled Geneva Solar Panels (almost) Verboten!

The physical installation happened in the spring of 2019 and a team of nice young men fixed 42 panels on four different roof surfaces. To beautify our installation, the red tiles peeping out around the edges had to be painted with black tar (a condition of permission being granted.)

I realized the amplitude of the embarrassment involved in this story the other evening when long-lost friends were treated to the tale.  And here’s the whole shameful story in a nutshell:

We first applied for cantonal permission to install solar panels in 2015. The request was turned down as all villages in the Geneva countryside are “protected”. That means that inside the village boundaries ugly solar panels are considered an aesthetic eyesore and are simply forbidden unless they are hidden.

To enforce this rule, there is the Geneva Solar Panel Police. They are also called the Department of Monuments. One of the many other rules against solar panels, is that they must NOT be visible from a cantonal road. So we had two strikes against us from the very start—we are just inside the village limits and the busy road out front belongs to the canton.

Our chosen installation company was eager to help us get permission and promised assistance—a word in a local politician’s ear, for example—and waiting for “the time to be right” (i.e., the Swiss vote against any future nuclear power installations). This dragged on for almost two years.

Fed up with lethargy, we took the initiative to formally ask the first of the Geneva Tribunal (Appeals Court) to grant us an exception to the rule. The fee was 750 francs and our home-made “dossier” featured plans and diagrams and our eager production possibilities. Our humble non-historic house was proven to be in a totally discreet location and several pertinent precedents were cited.

On a cold January day, the Geneva Court (a group of eight including a judge) came to the village. They examined the site. They looked from the cantonal road to the roof and were almost all run over by the French frontaliers speeding home from work. They heard the army grenades exploding over in the bird sanctuary, they took note of the location under the approach to Geneva Airport. I was sarcastically asked why on earth I wanted solar panels anyway, as I was obviously a complete waste of time.

They turned down our request.

We sent the dossier out again to the second Geneva Tribunal. We paid another 750 francs. This was considered an act of idiotic throwing money away by almost everyone we knew. The second court traditionally backed up the first. After these two courts, the next step would be the Federal Swiss court which required real lawyers and more money than any honest person could possibly pay.

Not this time, baby. The judge wrote a scathing condemnation of the decision and its administrative errors and omissions. We were repaid our 1,500 francs. We were finally granted permission to install solar panels on our roof.

And so here we are. The 26th climate conference is now over, and deep climate depression is setting in.

Switzerland as a country can do much more about solar energy and should do it with civil grace and common sense. Even a little house in the Geneva countryside can help.

The Monument People should go back to figuring out what a real monument is, and then fighting to the death to defend it. And all the rest of us should become Angels who do NOT fear to tread in the mine-strewn world of Geneva’s solar energy.





The Bomb Shelter Revisited

We bought our house in the Geneva countryside sixteen years ago, and all our Swiss friends complimented us on our big and roomy bomb shelter. We use it to store little-used items such as Christmas decorations, antique computers, boxes of old slides, wooden tennis racquets, and decades of income tax returns. A freezer and a beer fridge both hum away happily, and there are still a couple of mystery boxes that haven’t been unpacked.

Starting at the height of the cold war in the 1960s, every private house built had to have its own officially-approved shelter – a thick-walled room with a mysterious contraption in one corner. This legal obligation was phased out about ten years ago.

However, back in October 2010 we were seriously alarmed when an official letter arrived, announcing The Official Bomb Shelter Visit. Suddenly faced with two pages of rules and diagrams (article 28 of the Civil Protection Ordinances) involving the verification and functionality of the air intake system, the anti-explosion valve, the pre-filter, the reducer, the blocking mechanism, the lead rings, the gas filter, and the condensed-water recipient we were flummoxed.

The crank was nowhere to be found. The dog was a prime suspect.

During those long years between inspections, all rubber bits were supposed to have been treated with silicon and the massive armoured door and window should have been kept rust-free. The motor should have been tried out (without filter attached) for at least five minutes every twelve months. The anti-explosion valve should have been cleaned and looked after. Attention should have been paid.

When the big day finally came, the inspectors tried to catch us out and arrived two hours before schedule. They were from the Swiss Civil Protection Force and wearing clean and sharply pressed brown and orange boiler suits. From a clipboard, they handed me a 10-page brochure on “Helpful Bomb Shelter Tips” and my heart sank.

Colleagues had told me that a drink, or even a bottle of wine, might be a friendly gesture to grease the inspection wheels. However, as my inspectors were of obviously non-Swiss cultural origin, this plan was relegated to a last resort.

Down the dusty, dog-haired steps to the basement, my inspectors trotted behind me and I heard a sigh—was it of contentment?—when we got to the massive door and they stepped inside and pulled it shut.

Miraculously, having done nothing, we passed the inspection. As they left the inspectors called out cheerily that they would be back in five years.

As the inspection day trauma gradually faded, retirement and travel and grandchildren happily filled in life’s cracks and the bomb shelter reverted to its friendly functions of storing swim fins and snorkels and mosquito nets and old toys. Until last week.

On November 10th, 2021 an official letter arrived. It cited Article 81 (sic) of the Civil Protection Ordinances and an inspection is imminent.  It stresses that the site has to be prepared, and the elements accessible and “manipulable”.  There are pages of cut-away drawings and a list of checks that should have been carried out every 12 months.

A new element has been introduced: the “emergency escape.”  It has to be functional and I have a horrible feeling that this involves the grill where a 10-ton flower pot is now standing with a huge tree growing inside it.

Off now down to the bomb shelter for a cold glass of “last resort”.  I will let you know how this all pans out.

Note: The original op-ed article, Inspection Day, was published October 22, 2010 in The New York Times (IHT). Le Jour de l’Inspection was published in Le Temps also in October 2010. The French translation by Emmanuel Gehrig.



The Great Swiss Underpants Experiment

In these pandemic days The Swiss Federal Government is trying hard to keep up the citizens’ morale, and give us something meaningful to do.  They are on a roll. Last month featured the Swiss Army Underwear Scheme, and this month they have invented the Great Swiss Underpants Experiment.

Yes, there is a certain lack of imagination in the theme involved, but, then again, this is Switzerland.

Anyway, they want everyone to bury underpants in their gardens or fields and see what happens. This country-wide scheme was initiated by Agroscope, a federal agricultural-based platform, in collaboration with an ecologist at the University of Zurich. They want to survey the richness of Swiss soil.

After extensive research, I have found out that this is a time honoured technique. Swiss farmers have always buried their underpants. I myself, have even seen evidence of this just over the border in Haute Savoy, France, where our old neighbours were mountain farmers. This practise explains all the dark grey splotchy underpants always hanging on the line along the side of their farmhouse. As the land was so poor in nutrients, their underpants never dissolved in the miasma of bacteria, woodlice, earthworms, fungus strands and microscopic spiders of the rich lowland fields. Henri and Roger obviously just rinsed off their undergarments after a couple of months underground and carried on.

For the first 1000 collaborators in the Great Swiss Underpants Experiment, there will be two pairs of underpants provided for free along with six tea bags (this is for the Tea Bag Index comparison.) If you miss out on this offer, then you must use your own underpants that have to be 100% cotton, white, and “bio” (organic) and your own tea bags (one black and one green in tetrahedral bags will do.)

Your white cotton culottes have to be planted vertically and you must dig the trench straight down with a spade without disturbing the soil layer. You can leave the elastic band at the top sticking out. After waiting for two months dig out what’s left of your underpants, and send a picture and a soil sample back to Marcel.

You are advised to do the experiment in the springtime (NOW!) when the soil is most active, and you must visit the burial site regularly and observe the odour of the soil and the presence of earthworms.

You are warned that it is possible, because of climatic conditions that your underpants might not rot. This would be a great disappointment, of course, but could be entirely due to drought, for example rather than a lack of healthy dirt. It does not mention whether or not you should water your underpants.

Everyone who participates in The Great Swiss Underpants Experiment will be listed as a scientific co-author when the results are published–a meaningful addition to your post-COVID19 CV.