8: The Fate of Literature

Good-bye little books. See you sometime this summer, way across the ocean.

For months we have agonized over what to do with the little Swiss library we have amassed. Our dedication to this matter is all out of proportion to its long-ranging consequences.

We could leave Alice, Tom and Irene (Munro, Boyle and Nemirovsky) here in our hotel library and they would live quiet purposeful lives entertaining the hotel’s English-reading guests for years to come. That is the altruistic thing to do, but we have not done it.

Our attachment to our books is inexplicable even to us, and so while we have whittled away at the lesser authors – who shall remain nameless just in case we should ever meet – Alice, Tom, Irene and the rest of our favored tribe are at this moment heading for Canada via Swiss Post’s slow-boat system. We love our books, but we’re still careful financial managers so they travel economy class, the same as us.

The cost is only 58 Swiss Francs – quite a bit less than the courier bill that was estimated at almost 500 Francs (although that included our full pre-pared-down library so it is not an apples-to-oranges measure). And sadly, if Swiss Post cannot find our little cottage in Ontario, the destination for the books, we left instructions to treat them as ‘abandoned.’ Even checking that box on the Swiss Post export form depressed me a little bit.

Why is it so hard to part with books?

 

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46: Under the watchful eyes of Swiss authorities

My son’s mother’s day card arrived yesterday, conveniently pre-opened for me courtesy of Switzerland’s postal service. In Europe, one need not worry about opening a letter-bomb because it is a sure thing the authorities have already had a run through your mail.

This often is the case with international mail. Happily, they appear disinterested in our local mail, perhaps because they are too horrified by the slenderness of the account statements our Swiss banker sends us. Nothing repulses the Swiss more than the idea of underfed bank accounts. They cannot look at them.

In a non-scientific survey conducted by me, out of five nations not named here, Switzerland’s post service turned out to be the snoopiest. They even beat the Australians who may not even open their own mail, much less someone else’s. Meanwhile the Swiss have opened almost everything of ours incoming and outgoing alike, and occasionally they have ‘seized’ some goods, such as a squishy gel-pighead that flattens when flung against a hard surface, then slowly unsticks as it resumes its shape. That was for my 33-year-old lawyer son, you Swiss nogoodniks, and he wants it back.

Last week, Swiss Post announced a quarterly profit of 299 million Swiss Francs. I am not saying this is related to the pilfering that has occurred among the souvenirs I’ve sent home, but how does a post office post such profit? The answer is, when it is not a post office. Swiss Post is also a banking institution, which makes us shake our heads in amazement. Is there no venture that escapes the notice of Swiss bankers?

It might explain how Switzerland has 45,000 “postal” employees to serve 8 million Swiss, while Canada’s 35 million citizens squeak by on only 60,000. But then, maybe one postal worker for 177 residents is needed when postal service includes opening customers’ mail.

For my American friends: U.S. Postal Services has 546,000 “career” postal workers, and I cannot say why they inject the word “career” there except that it suggests they are “lifers,” just as there are “career” criminals. That means there is one postal worker for every 572 Americans, which seems a desirable ratio given that U.S. postal workers are the ones who created the term “going postal” by occasionally unloading their firearms at inappropriate moments. As a postscript: No U.S. Postal Service workers opened our mail when we lived in the U.S. None need come looking for us.