Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Swiss Army Knife (1)

21 functions
What can the Swiss Army Knife tell us about Switzerland? Thanks to a generous student I finally own one. It has 21 functions and by trying to find a use for them all, maybe I'll learn something about Swiss culture. Or maybe I'll just make up some outrageous lies and pass them off as fact.

Function 3 - Corkscrew
On their eighth birthday, Swiss children are given a basic Army Knife with eight functions. Every year their godparents give them a new one with nine, ten, eleven functions and so on, and by the time they retire, the Swiss are proficient with a 65-function knife.

Not me. I'm a total spastic. I did manage to get the wine out of this bottle, but not the wine stain out of my Transformers pyjamas. 

Function 2 - Small Blade
I almost never use the CD drive on my Macbook because God gave us wifi and USB. The other day I tried to insert a CD but there was a wall of dried plum blocking it. I used the small blade to push the CD in. Success!

What's this about the plum? Sigh. What happened is explained by the fact that Swiss companies leave fruit lying all over their offices to keep their workers healthy. I often steal some and then forget it is in my bag.

The plum in question disintegrated over a weekend and was sponged up by my Apple. The damage was limited to messing up the CD drive and to turning off the power LED on the front - the latter being a considerable improvement as I like to sleep in the dark.

The Swiss have the highest per capita spend on corporate fruit in the Western hemisphere, and the lowest rates of absenteeism. Coincidence? No.

 Function 13 - Scissors
In Zurich you recycle cardboard by wrapping it in string and leaving it on the kerb. I normally use big scissors to cut the string, but look: my Army Knife has scissors, and they cut through string like an elderly Frenchman cutting in line in an onion shop.

These cardboard pickups are one part of Zurich's impressive 21-point waste management policy. Recycling is taken very seriously here. There's no space for landfill because all the spare land is being used to store gold, to build unused holiday homes for rich Arabs and Russians, and to construct a gigantic statue of Roger Federer, the base of which will be bigger than seven Wimbledons. With incinerators costing a fortune to build and run, there are very strict rules about what can be put into household waste.

Like everything in Switzerland, this seemingly liberal, progressive way of doing things has a dark, sinister side. The police have special teams of garbage inspectors who sort through people's garbage to check for rule breaking, such as bunging batteries in a bin bag. Typically migrant workers from Sri Lanka, the teams wear shiny easy-wipe plastic coats and when a misdeed is detected, forensic specialists are called in to establish the identity of the perp. Minutes later the police arrive at the miscreant's door and cart them off for re-education. The worker who found the mistake is rewarded with a three-week visa extension and a morning off.

Further, neighbours inform on each other with gruesome glee, sickening to watch. If you want to have a chilling, horror movie-type experience, go to a bottle bank in Zurich on a Sunday and start dropping bottles. Wait a few seconds until the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end, and then slowly turn around. At least six people will be taking photos of you or recording you on their iPhones. And their smiles will stop you from sleeping for weeks.

Part Two
Part Three

1 comment:

  1. Wow! That's awesome.
    I've learned how to do links in blogger comments just to make it easier for my readers to check it out. They're a lazy bunch!

    Amazing Knife


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