Saturday, July 26, 2008

10 More Things I Learned in Switzerland

* Being 'blue-eyed' means being gullible.

* County Thurgau is known as the Apple Juice India, because it makes lots of apple juice and er... is shaped like India. The inhabitants of Thurgau are said to have evolved long fingers after many years of pickpocketing.

* One of the two main supermarkets sells neither alcohol nor cigarettes, because the founder believed they were harmful. The store does sell lego, blank DVDs, and stealth technology, so it's not like you can't have *any* fun.

* There is a few thousand tons of solid gold in a big vault under the main street in Zurich, Bahnhofstrasse. Hopefully one day I'll see a Die Hard 3-style escapade involving big trucks and cool diggers.

* Ronny Biggs is famous here, but the 'For Mash Get Smash' TV adverts from the 70s aren't.

* Tina Turner can't buy the fantasy house she rents. Swiss people don't like to sell land outside the family.

* The military, and I swear this is true, have a hollowed-out mountain full of planes and armies and shit.

* Most blocks of flats have fall-out shelters built into the basement.

* Swiss farmers, and once again I assure you I'm not making this up, love to wear cow-shaped earrings.

* It is considered unprofessional, in Zurich at least, for bankers to have a beard. Retail staff also shouldn't have beards. It's okay for homeless people and teachers though.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Adolf Kitler and the Furred Reich

Everyone loves cats.  But what if your cat looked like Hitler? Would you still love it?  Sure you would. But would you let it sleep in your bed?

Cats That Look Like Hitler is one of those websites where you think, 'This is what happened at the end of the Roman Empire.'  But then you think, 'Huh, but it's funny. Look at that one!'  Eventually, if you are anything like me, you start making your own...

A meme is a piece of pop culture that spreads quickly, often via the Internet.  But you knew that, because you read The Selfish Gene.

Make your own lolcats here...

If you like lolcats, you'll love Girls Who Look Like Hitler


Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Things I've Learned About Switzerland

* People from County Aargau wear white socks and are bad drivers. Everyone from that part of Switzerland dreams of the day they qualify for a Zurich license plate.

* Regressive tax (i.e. rich people pay lower tax than poor people) *is* illegal, but some areas tried to introduce it. Rich foreigners can negotiate with the government about how much tax they have to pay. Michael Schumacher and the boss of IKEA are examples of people who got a good deal. But if they didn't pay low tax, they wouldn't live here, so it is acceptable to the Swiss general public.

* Girls from Lucerne are hot, but incredibly mysterious.

* Collecting Panini stickers is a mainstream activity for men and women of all ages.

* A British marine lost his foot doing the insane Cresta run, and didn't know he'd lost it until he tried to stand up at the end.

* There are no more Fraulines. It's one of the words most anglo-saxons know in German, but it is actually archaic. In the movie Music and Lyrics, Hugh Grant was lying when he said he had dated a Frauline. because if he had, he would have known.

* Switzerland is the last remaining country where fascist-sounding tannoy announcements are commonplace. Being on a crowded tram and receiving traffic information in German makes your sweat turn cold.

* When dentists say 'brush your teeth after meals', the Swiss really listen. Everyone keeps a toothbrush in their locker or briefcase, and the worst time to go to the toilets is about 1pm when they are full of people scrubbing away bits of pasta and pesto and flossing and gargling.

* Sheep, goats, and warthogs are standard pets in Zurich.

* You can drink from the fountains, and the water in Zurich's lake is said to be clean enough to drink. It's probably not.

* Swiss people don't know about Dodos; are unfamiliar with The Scorpions's 'Wind of Change'; are unlikely to know which Ronaldo you are talking about (even in context); tend to take my ex-girlfriend's side in the 'Shanghai Pizza Argument' story; don't immediately see a connection between County Schwyz and the name of their country (Schwyz was one of the original three counties - it seems pretty connected to me); When Swiss waiters hear me speaking English, they ask if I want milk with my tea.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Der Böögg

"I realised at that moment that all my girlfriends have been mental or using me as a distraction from their upcoming exams. The bad dreams always come on Fridays. They are always about girls I like. They are repetitive in nature. I wake feeling inadequate and disorientated - write that down, disorientated - and the day passes and I wait for sleep." I drew circles on the table with my index finger. "You are lucky your English is bad, because when you dream in English, your dreams are neither vivid nor escapable."

"Is this going to be in the exam?"

"What exam?"

"The exam we are studying for." Students. Exams. Whatever. Better than dreaming.

"Oh, that. Don't worry about it," I sighed. "I'm good at exams and I don't get stressed about them. Just relax and you'll be fine. Let's talk about something important. I want to know why I have Monday off."

"Monday? Oh, it's because of Der Böögg," said a student.

I looked up. "Excuse me?"

"Der Böögg. You must know about Der Böögg. No? Well, he's a snowman. And once a year we burn him on a big fire and his head explodes."

"You burn... a snowman?"

"At six o'clock. It's important because he tells us how long summer will be. If it takes a long time for his head to pop, summer will be bad. And, ipso facto, vice versa."

"Is this still a dream? Where's my ...?"

"Look, it's simple. In the olden days, the rich people of Zurich used to take a peasant and put him on a big fire and he'd scream how long the summer would last and then the explosives strapped to his head would explode." My student gestured a messy explosion. "Then the bankers would buy or sell wheat futures and corn derivatives and make a ton of money. Zurich is the only canton in Switzerland with this tradition and it is by far the richest. Coincidence? Impossible."

Another student spoke up. "When the head exploded, the brains would splatter on nearby poormen, and the one with the most brain on his coat would be Der Böögg the next year. For one year he'd be the toast of the town, and then his head would explode lucratively."

The first student took up the story once more. "But over time it became unseemly to explode a poor person so frankly. Political correctness and that. So in the late seventies, they were encased within a snowman and the explosives replaced with fireworks. It's better for the kids, and costs less in psychiatry. So that's why you have a day off."

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Valentine's Day Poem

The Seduction

"I have an itchy neck" she sings
"It's scratchy and annoying
It makes me think of snakes and stings
And dust and heat and poison things"

"Whoa, take a breath", he says
"You've got your head all stupid
Think softer thoughts like ocean waves
A sandy beach and cupid"

"No it hurts" she says "it hurts a lot
Not pain but discomfort which is worse
It itches underneath the skin
It itches underneath the nerves"

"Shh, listen, quiet, calm
I'll whisper in your ear a psalm
A verse of soothing moving smoothing
Auditory rhyming balm"

"Okay I'm listening but check my neck
It must be full of spots and specks
And flecks of dirt and nits and lice
Atomic cats, protonic mice"

"Is it here?" "No down a bit
So make a start on kissing it
That feels quite nice I must admit
I'm still not cured so don't yet quit"

"I have a plan that could well work
I think I'll nibble at your ear
I'll nibble at your ear and then
Your itch will disappear"

"It's worth a try I guess, go ahead
Mmm - oh yes that's right" she said
"One itch is gone but now instead
I have an itch to go to bed"

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

A Tower of Bagel


Morning worshippers fill the aisles. Fluorescent candles, holy sparkling water, stained glass stain remover. Little wire baskets which symbolise the suffering of the saints. This is our globalised religion. All the faithful must be departed by ten pm, eight on Sundays, because Sundays are more holy than other days.

There is an ache inside of me. A longing. All the life and activity of the city has been condensed into this place and this moment. I am hungry; I am in a supermarket. The world does not get any more primal than this. Time expands and contracts mystically.

I am approaching the dairy section. It's colder there, like in space. My eyes can already feel the chill. If I buy a bagel I will want soft cheese, but if I pick up the soft cheese now and there aren't any bagels left, I will have to walk all the way back here and return the soft cheese to the shelf. My dilemma threatens to freeze me in an endless logic loop, like in a 1980s computer programming language.

10 If breakfast = bagel THEN goto 20
20 buy softcheese
30 If bagel = soldout THEN goto 40
40 return softcheese
50 goto 10



I decide to risk it, and if they don't have bagels in stock, I'll take the soft cheese home now and I'll come back later for the bagel.

But now that the soft cheese is in my hand, I realise that I must have a bagel. Leaving the supermarket without a bagel would be the worst thing I could possibly do in the next ten minutes. The city must provide a bagel. That's what cities are for. I put up with their shit because I know there will be a bagel for me when I need one. And boy, do I need one now. Picking up the soft cheese got my brain pumping chemicals faster than being in love, or scoring a goal. I'm almost frantic in anticipation of the bagel - cut in half, lightly heated in the microwave, smeared with soft cheese, washed down with a healthy swallow of Earl Grey.

I walk with head bowed in the direction of the bread products section of the church. It smells like hot fresh bread and sweet sacred incense. It fills up my senses. My tongue licks the edges of my lips. My throat feels warm already. The mantra-prayer brings some relief:

I must have bagel. Bagel is the wheat-giver. Bagel is the little snack which brings total satisfaction. I will eat my bagel.

And behold! The city has provided a multitute of bagel! A legion of bagel! A tower of bagel! And although within a few hours I'll hate the city more than ever, it will be a regretful hate, for the city has given me what I wanted. It always gives me what I want, though never what I need.

I pay at the altar, and tap my stomach. This is my body.