Free Plane Ticket Home Comes with Cuffs and Diapers

It's immature of me to think this, but what the heck. If I saw these costumes coming at me from over a ridge, yes, I would be easily subdued, mostly because I'd be blinded by tears of laughter. No disrespect to the Swiss, a fierce and highly organized warrior state.

Through the magic of poor research by elementary textbook authors and a marketing/public-relations campaign that included the export of copious amounts of Swiss chocolate and cheese, the entire world skates along on the notion that the Swiss are neutral because they are just so danged nice, and they happen to inhabit an impassable mountain range that no other country really wants.

It is true the Swiss are very nice, but it is not true no one else wanted their territory. France, Germany, Austria/Hungary, everybody has tried to take a bite out of Switzerland. They probably could smell the chocolate. They were all, however, ably rebuffed by the people who were in the middle-ages renowned for being a “warrior nation.”

Not much has changed with Switzerland’s national character since then. It’s not an accident that the Pope is still guarded by the Swiss. They are a precise no-nonsense lot, and if you don’t think so, talk to Geordry

Geordry, a Cameroon refugee who overstayed his welcome, was summarily diapered, handcuffed, helmeted, and tied inside a special flight taking him home to whatever uncertain future awaited him back in the country being run by the man who was Geordry’s assassinated father’s political opponent.

Of course, you cannot talk to Geordry any more. He’s been swallowed up inside one of Cameroon’s prisons that is allegedly notorious for torture. (Note: I am awaiting a response on Geordry’s current status).*

The Swiss government does not speak specifically about Geordry, but it doesn’t deny it orchestrates forced deportations. In September 2011, Swiss Minister of Justice and Police Simonetta Sommaruga explained its deportation procedures that are alleged to have played a role in three deportee deaths to date, including one that occurred on an airport tarmac.

Sommaruga is quick to point out that Switzerland does not drug its detainees to subdue them, and it now allows impartial observers to monitor the practice. She says Switzerland gives illegal residents ample opportunity to depart voluntarily in the form of the usual administrative reminders, a free flight out of the country, and that the incarcerated deportees can leave the facility with police escort to depart the country any time they choose. The implication is that the manacled and diapered deportees are those who physically resist boarding the airplane.

Sommaruga emphasizes that the forced evictions are a last resort and the only way the country can preserve the integrity of its refugee system.

Why am I writing about this now? I just realized I’m an idiot to have paid for our return tickets out of Switzerland. They would have flown me home for nothing – although, I’d be risking the diaper-and-handcuff special. Dave thinks we shouldn’t chance it, but it would certainly liven up this blog.

Learn more about Switzerland’s deportation facilities and procedures here. 

An unconfirmed annual estimate on the cost of deportation is at almost 2-million Swiss Francs. Detainees can be held on administrative detention for 18 months without a hearing.  Switzerland’s deportee legislation won widespread support in a 1994 referendum.


Cop Shop

As a reporter,  I maintained a no-sweat policy at police stations. I refused to race into them, because it seemed unwise to arrive in a sweat, possibly raising suspicions that I was fresh from a bank heist, thereby triggering the police’s “arrest-and-detain” instincts. ***

A police station in Lauterbrunnen, not the police station that I had to visit to get our residency cards. I took this photo because its unassuming appearance suggests Switzerland's low crime rate.

But I did break into a sweat when my husband suggested that I go all on my own to the police station here in Switzerland to pick up our residency cards.

The last time I went there I was accompanied by a tri-lingual corporate agent and Dave, my hubby who everyone likes “on sight.”

Dave is the guy who strolled through Heathrow’s security detail without earning even a second-glance from the guards, meanwhile, I had to remove my shoes, which I admit that when the border official said, “your shoes” to me in that stern voice, I mistook her intention and replied, “Oh, do you like them? I got them in Canada – they’re Skechers. They’re great, although I really should have worn my Merrills cause they’re better for long hikes through airports.” Apparently, she was not interested in their retail history.

But I drift from my point, which is that I do not possess “on-sight likability,” making all ventures into police or foreign-government premises tricky business.

It is a serious handicap.

To prevent the dreaded sweat-syndrome, I dressed in extremely light summer clothing, such that by the time I made the walk to the police station in the brisk morning air, I could no longer feel my hands. Excellent.

However, I arrived 15 minutes before opening so I settled down on an inside staircase with a book, not realizing that sunlight was pouring in through a window above me. Within minutes, the sun’s amplified warmth, coupled with an anxiety-related hot-flash did its work. I was mopping my brow when the police station door opened.

I mumbled my way through in French, whereupon the clerk informed me I belonged in the office one-flight-up. Upstairs, the second clerk looked at me with a deadpan-bordering-on-openly-hostile expression.  I knew my unlikability-ness was oozing into the room, but there was nothing I could do about it. She sent me to the back of the line to wait for the only English-speaking clerk.

I panicked and phoned Dave, in the hopes that I could absorb some of his charm via the wireless. It worked! When I saw the third clerk, she recognized our names and handed over our residency cards.

Witness the awesome power of Dave’s likability – he doesn’t even have to be in the room to make it work.

This ends our bureaucratic visa-scramble until next year, when we have to re-apply.

***The no-sweat policy, however, did not apply to Central Saanich’s police station, because I have gotten lost several times in that outlying municipality of farmlands. Many times, Central Saanich’s media officer had to “talk me down” over the cell phone, giving me step-by-step directions to get to the station. It is to her credit that she never directed me to Sooke, which she easily could have done. I would never have known.

Day Two in Switzerland

I studied French for three months to get ready for living in Switzerland. Apparently, I made a mistake.

Things are looking up. Early this morning as we enjoyed a wonderful breakfast in the Hotel Elite’s posh dining room, a waiter with a heavy accent asked if we would like him to take our photograph together.

I said yes, thinking that he had asked if I wanted a whole pot of coffee at our table. As I said, his accent was heavy. I was pretty enthusiastic about the pot of coffee, which did not materialize. Not so enthusiastic about the picture, which accurately records the previous day’s trauma on my face.

And then I lost the digital photos – some how. Some way. It was wonderful.

After breakfast we trundled down to the Hotel Mercure to meet a representative who would walk us through our setting-up day. We waited around for an apartment rental agent who showed up fashionably attired and fashionably late. As per usual, she forgot to bring the right key to show us the apartment, but then we lucked out and discovered the cleaning staff were inside and the door was open.

Having seen  plans that took months to build fail at a rate of one-per-hour over the course of a single day, we took a run at the apartment as though we were hipsters. We didn’t ask all the important questions, paid almost no attention to any details because hanging over our heads was the biggest question of all: Why bother? If we learned anything this week, it is to be reckless.

Evidence of a parallel universe: Coke Light instead of Diet Coke.

Next came our visit to the police station for our residency papers where a genetically linked version of Attila the Hun in menopausal-woman-form handled our file. I’m not insulting her when I say “menopausal,” because I’m in that state myself, but she looked really bitter about her hormone depletion. Me, I’m too sleep-deprived to be bitter.

As one would expect, she grimly informed us that there were not enough signatures on our apartment lease. She said this in French but I understood her perfectly owing to our parallel menopausal status. I almost congratulated her on the way out. You have to respect a woman who can glance at a bundle of officious documents and pick a needle out of that haystack to make our introduction to Biel just a little more cumbersome.

We walked to the rental office where everyone told us in French that the signature was unattainable because the

Strange little garden-shed villages line the rails between Zurich and Biel.

manager was away. Again, I understood every word. There is something about rejection that I am growing to recognize.

After some verbal rough-housing with our representative, the papers were signed and we went back to the police station where we had a non-menopausal young woman process our application, and things went much better. Nevertheless, while we were told we’d get our permits today, turns out it could take another week or two. Naturally.

On a more personal note, without the benefit of my hair “toolkit,” my hairstyle grows more exciting everyday. Pictures will not be posted.

Face-to-face with a government bureaucrat

Have just finished reading up on friends’ travels through places tropic populated with elephants and water buffaloes and have to say: Glad I’m not there.

Her hubby had to run back to Canada to deal with errant tenants, leaving the wife in a village hut with a sheet for a door. She was recovering from Dengue fever, which made her feel as though her bones were broken.

I suppose it’s part of the adventure, but if Dave left me in a remote village with cantankerous ungulates and a fabric lock-less door, heck would follow.

But she is having fun, if catching tropical diseases can be called that, and good for her.

Me, I’m still comfy in my home with plenty of solid doors, but not for long.

The trip to the Swiss Consulate was a disappointment.

The traffic into Vancouver was non-existent and we virtually whisked our way down to Canada Place on the shores of the Burrard Inlet. We found the Consulate with only a little fuss, were admitted immediately and met with a polite and exceedingly helpful bureaucrat who in under 15 minutes gave Dave his visa and said I could get through the border without trouble and finish up my visa application while in Switzerland.

“It will take about a week,” she said.

This ruins everything.

I’ve set my expectation-o-meter to “appalled” and having reality smack my worldview around requires that I get a new attitude. Matters worsened on the ferry ride home when we ran into friends returning from holiday and passed the 90-minute journey over coffee discussing how their car got broken into while on their week away. I loved this story. It was proof that travel is annoying.

The car-break-in, however, was interrupted by security and so the car was undamaged and nothing was stolen. More proof that I am wrong that travel is just asking for trouble.

This has put me in a dour mood, but things are looking up: It appears that the amount of stuff I need to pack will exceed the space available in our suitcases, thanks to the airline’s recent baggage allowance changes.

Ah, something to be miserable about … that’s the stuff.

How I got this way

“You’re living the dream,” is what people say when they learn we’re heading to Europe for an extended stay, but I don’t always feel that way.  Hotel-living, travel, sight-seeing, modest cardiac-safe levels of adventure – what’s not to like?

Bureaucrats, that’s what’s not to like.

Yesterday’s discovery that our designated bureaucrat forgot to process my visa application  is a classic twist in the overseas-working-holiday picture.  In short, whatever you expect the bureaucrat to do, whatever he/she says they’re doing – it is not so.

And the fact that they hold your passport and identity information, plus wield the awesome powers of “the state,” forces you to be your better self when dealing with them, when really you want to be your five-year-old, tantrum-throwing self.

Our friends Al & Nina (not their real names – must shield their identities from foreign bureaucrats who might wreak horrible vengeance on them for sharing this story) danced this dark waltz with Spanish visa authorities who insisted she stay in Canada during her application while sending him willy nilly around the globe fetching documents to feed into their paper shredders (I’m sure this is true).

After sending Al to Japan on a boomerang mission to fetch security clearance from a northern district’s police department, because they had lived there once, and then return immediately to British Columbia, and then back to Toronto to pick up their visas, a Spanish official handed Al his visa, with a dark comment about Al stealing jobs from decent, hard-working Spaniards (Al’s company was creating 400 jobs for those Spaniards, but visa bureaucrats are weak on math).

And then, the official turned to Nina and informed her that her visa had been denied.  Nina – who had endured a forced year-long  separation from her beloved because of this bureaucrat – is ordinarily a suave, well-dressed, dignified, intelligent and articulate woman.

As she threw herself against the embassy’s safety glass, she reminded the official that while inside the embassy she “may technically be on Spanish territory, but you have to come out sometime, and when you do, you’ll be in MY country and I”LL be WAITING.” Nina  managed to say a few more things as her husband physically dragged her out of the building, but I don’t want this blog to get blocked for inappropriate content, so you will have to imagine the rest.

We are waiting for the day that embassy’s security tapes get hacked and put up on Youtube. It’s going to be a doozy of a show.

In the meantime, I’m coping with my own visa-stress by applying generous dollops of Breyers Black Forest ice cream to my thighs,via my digestive system, of course.

Just about the right amount of ice cream required to soothe bureaucrat-burn.

Paperwork: The price of travel

We don’t have criminal records, parasites, psychotic disorders or flesh-eating disease and so our expectations on processing visas is that things will go smoothly. This is not the case.

A complicating factor is the nine-hour time difference between Europe and Canada’s west coast so we can really only communicate ‘real-time’ between midnight and 7 a.m.  We are over 40 years of age, therefore the concept of being awake at these times is unthinkable, if not impossible.

Hence, instead of emailing back and forth to settle visa-application difficulties within the space of an hour, emails dribble across the ocean at the rate of one a day, and sometimes only one a week, depending on the workload and motivational level of several bureaucrats. In other words, we are in purgatory – neither heaven or hell, but somewhere worse: Limbo.

This is made more fun by the fact that we don’t speak German/French/Italian/PigLatin and their English is somewhat off. I don’t want to criticize their English overly much because it is roughly 5,007,813,492 times better than my French.

We also learned while living in Spain that one culture’s idea of expediency is not necessarily shared by another’s. This time, however, we’re dealing with the land of clock-makers and given that they are the arbiters of punctuality (ie. clock/watch-makers), we expected a little better. The jury is still out on whether this is the case.

Here is what the process looks like so far.

Monday – Dave to bureaucrat: Who applies for the visa? Do I or do you?

Friday – Bureaucrat to Dave: I don’t know.

Monday – Dave: Can you find out?

Saturday morning – Bureaucrat: I’m very busy.

Monday – Dave:  I just checked the  government website. It looks as though we both can, but if I do, it will take over four months, but if you do it, it will take two weeks.

Wednesday – Bureaucrat:  Okay, I’ll do it as soon as I get back from vacation.

By this time three weeks have passed and we have achieved exactly nothing except to perhaps annoy a bureaucrat or two.

This has gone on roughly for three months now and Dave is mightily annoyed that he has to keep pushing.  I, however, worked in a newsroom and dealt with the Canadian/British Columbia governments for years and so expect precisely nothing to make sense, therefore my mood is unaffected.

Last month, we learned our papers were approved in Europe, however, the  Consulate in Vancouver cannot stamp our passports because they must wait for the overseas authorities to send them our file – this is done electronically, not by donkey-and-rowboat, but you would never know it. More than three weeks have passed and the file remains in Europe, probably dining on  chocolates and pastries.

Finally, today Dave learned that the reason the bureaucrats-in-Europe have not sent the file to their bureaucrats-in-Canada is that “no one has requested it.” True. It would seem to us that the very fact of applying for a visa is intrinsically linked to the concept of asking for said visa, but these bureaucrats are precise if nothing else and having done everything else to give us a visa, they are now waiting for us to “ask for it.”

And so we have. In theory we could be only a week away from departure.

In the meantime, I’ve posted the best sugarless frosting recipe ever. Check it out