G is for Geneva

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Welcome back, to the letter G of this year's A-Z challenge! 

We spent yesterday in Florence, Italy from where it's just a 6+ hours' train ride to G is for Geneva, Switzerland. 

Geneva is in the French part of Switzerland, therefore you're crossing the "Röstigraben". What's that? 



Literally it means hash brown ditch, and I can't believe there's a contribution on Wikipedia! 

We commonly use the expression to point out the language gap. In the larger part (63%) of Switzerland we speak Swiss German. The Western part on the hash brown map is the French speaking part of Switzerland, about 23%. And of course it's not just a question of language, but also of culture and political votings. 

There's a lot of stereotypes that one group of people says about the other. The Swiss Germans say that the Swiss French are on the lazy side, don't feel like taking orders or keeping deadlines, are chaotic and unreliable. Plus their language is really impossible.

The Swiss French say about the Swiss Germans that they are overly punctual and tend to be anal and intolerant. Plus their language is really impossible. 

There's a bit of truth in both. 



Fact is that the French part is a minority. Many Swiss companies have their HQs in the German Part and branch offices in the French part. Meetings are being held in Zurich, and the language is either German or English. As the financial situation gets tighter, oftentimes it happens that unpopular measures have to be taken, and affiliates are being relocated and shut down. People get offered jobs at the HQ, but nobody is obviously ever going to accept it. Why would they wanna move to the German part? 

Good thing the cities Lausanne and Geneva, thanks to interesting tax benefits for international companies and organizations like Cisco, Honeywell, Nestlé, Philip Morris, Starbucks Coffee Trading, UN, Red Cross, International Olympic Committee, IATA, Médécins sans frontières, WHO, and many more, make for a very diverse place to live, work or visit.



Every year Mercer is putting together a list of cities that have the greatest quality of life, and Geneva ranks #8! Bern, Basel and Zurich also made it among the top 15 - Switzerland for the win!

Looking at 450 cities across the world, what metrics was Mercer taking into account?
  1. Political and social environment (political stability, crime, law enforcement)
  2. Economic environment (currency-exchange regulations, banking services)
  3. Socio-cultural environment (media availability and censorship, limitations on personal freedom)
  4. Medical and health considerations (medical supplies and services, infectious diseases, sewage, waste disposal, air pollution)
  5. Schools and education (standards and availability of international schools)
  6. Public services and transportation (electricity, water, public transportation, traffic congestion)
  7. Recreation (restaurants, theatres, cinemas, sports and leisure)
  8. Consumer goods (availability of food/daily consumption items, cars)
  9. Housing (rental housing, household appliances, furniture, maintenance services)
  10. Natural environment (climate, record of natural disasters)
Those goodies come with a hefty price tag, which was clearly not part of the metrics. I'm not sure what "climate" made Switzerland (and Germany) score so greatly. Also we're not known to be the friendliest and most tolerant of people, so expats moving here are having a hard time making friends which to me is a huge part of quality of living. 

Plus San Diego is not on the list, so obviously something must be wrong with this statistic, let's move on.

Before we dive into the sightseeing, let me ask you a question: do you know the difference between a macaron and a macaroon?

A macaron is a confection made up of two round, flat, almond-flour-based cookies sandwiching an emulsified filling like ganache or jam. Any variation in color or flavor is simply a variation in the filling, plus some food coloring added to the shells. A macaroon is a mounded cookie made with shredded coconut and often dipped in chocolate. 

Now, what may be the difference a macaron and a macaron?

I swear, I'm not pulling your leg. The answer is Swiss French part specific: Geneva, Lausanne, Vevey, Neuchâtel, Fribourg,...

The first macaron, as we have learned, is the  yummy meringue based, filled cookie that you may purchase at two Ladurée locations in the city of Geneva.


The second macaron is the monthly or annual parking permit that locals pay for, allowing them to leave their car within their place of residency or business for an unlimited time as opposed to visitors who have to use the parking meter and are usually restricted to half an hour. I assume the "K" represents the district the permit is valid for.


May we finally go and explore the city now..? I'm sure you're dying to hear about the most famous landmark, the Jet d'Eau, the large water fountain situated at the point where Lake Geneva empties into the Rhône, that is jetting 500 liters (130 gallons) of water to an altitude of 140 meters (460 feet). 
Back in the day it was used as a safety valve for a hydraulic power network


On your way to see the Jet d'Eau at close range you'll take a leisurly stroll along the river Rhône and the lake on your left hand side and the English Garden on your right.



Does anybody know what time it is..?


Upon preparing for this post I did some research, and I came across the Broken Chair, Paul Vermeulen's sculpture on the Place des Nations. It is an enduring symbol of the world’s opposition to land mines and cluster bombs. The Ban Land Mine Treaty, also known as the Ottawa Treaty, with its 162 signatories (the U.S., Russia, China and India are not among them?!) remains a noteworthy example of how civil society, NGOs, international organizations and governments can take decisive action for a safer, more peaceful world.





I was intrigued, especially because the United Nations are featured in my fictional family's adventures (arrival in Switzerland, blast from the past, cultural differences, NGO St. Patrick's Day Party), more installments to be published in the upcoming months), so sure enough I planned an impromptu day trip to Geneva! 


On my very smooth drive in the morning I had to exit the freeway so I could stop and take a picture of this fabulous rainbow.


Another sightseeing tip I got from the internet (hey, it's fun to be a tourist in your own country!) is the neighborhood right in the main train station's backyard, the bohemian Grottes quarter. I've never left Gare Cornavin at its north side, because the south side is the one leading to the lake and the shopping area, so I was in for a surprise! Look who welcomed me!

From the 1960s the Grottes was the home of anarchist communes and squats, and although it has been gentrified in recent years, it is still a very affordable place to live considering the center is so close.


I was lucky to explore the city on such a gorgeous day, and I didn't even visit the Botanical Gardens, but even if it were raining, there'd be more than enough museums to choose from: 
  • Patek Philippe Museum Home to the prestigious creations of the Geneva-based firm of master watchmakers which was founded in 1839. 
  • International Museum of the Reformation In the 16th century, John Calvin set out to turn Geneva into a model for a new way of living the Christian life, to serve as an example to the world.
  • Art and History Museum Among other things they display Ancient Greek, Roman and Egypt stuff: Sphinx, pharaohs and their tombs, vases, the works. History was not my favorite subject at school for this exact reason: no matter if in primary, middle or high school: every time you would go back in time and talk about the Romans, the Greeks and the Egyptians, and by the time you graduated, you barely made it to WW I. 
  • Natural History Museum I understand it features a live two-headed turtle and lots of stuffed preserved animals. 
  • If you're into China, as in porcelain, ceramics, pottery and glassware, you ought to check out Musée Ariana
  • We wouldn't be in Geneva if there wasn't the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum Now this sounds like something I might actually visit! Even if it was just to take a break at their roof top restaurant! Kidding.
I intended to take the tram to the suburb of Meyrin, to check out CERN (Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire = European Organization for Nuclear Research). Not sure if you need a PHD to even set foot on the campus? 

Alone reading about the 27-mile ring of superconducting magnets somewhere beneath our feet which is accelerating particles at the speed of light, makes my head spin! And yes, regular people like you an me are welcome to visit, evidently, but I was running out of time, and sure enough my ride home wasn't as painless as in the morning. Not only did I hit some rush hour traffic jam, I also got pulled over...


PS: I was talking about German and French speaking parts of Switzerland. What about the Italian or Rumantsch speaking?


Oh, don't worry about them. They are an even smaller minority (8 / 0.6%), and they know and have accepted it. They learnt to speak German or French or both and never complain. Hey, they got all the pasta and vino to enjoy the good life!

Did you enjoy learning about and exploring my country? Have you been to Switzerland? Do you like cheese and chocolate? You should come and visit!

We're taking tomorrow off and will be back on Monday with H is for Hamburg! In the meantime check out a couple of fellow A-Z blogger's contributions.