Statistics Counts!

Infographic for 2018 Social security stats

I was selected among the yearly 3% of the population in Switzerland to do a questionnaire about some stats; not a full census, just a few questions about housing, education, personal transport.

Not only the questionnaire is well implemented on the web (and I could have easily done it on a smartphone), it was pretty quick and painless… and at the end I was treated to a nice page of infographics explaining why my involvement is important, because statistics help making informed policy decisions, and so on. Again, very well made page, nice infographics, enthusiastic but professional tone… all in 4 languages, obviously (Italian, German, French and English… no Romantsch, strangely)!

This is one of the small ways this country delights me: bureaucracy… that WORKS! Amazing.

Here, see for yourself!

Food!

This specific post is an oddity mostly because I’m Italian, I realize.
If you have interacted with any of us for any length of time you know we tend do care about food. And I mean A LOT.

So, when moving to Switzerland, food was not particularly high in my list of reasons: I mean, we live a stone throw from the Italian border anyway, we can go for groceries in Italy, and so on.
What I didn’t expect was… many foodstuffs are actually better in the land of cheese and clocks! And no, I don’t mean cheese, either.

You see, Switzerland has this strange (from a European citizen POV) status: it’s in the middle of Europe, but without being part of the EU. It has free movement of citizens according to Schengen’s treaty, but not of goods. One of the many consequences of this is a slightly more protectionist internal market, with many brands, company and products that are present in Switzerland but not elsewhere.

And not just that: the confederation is trying to maintain a healthy agricultural sector, both with actual handouts (or tax cuts) to farmers (especially in the mountains) and with limits on import. This is especially true for a few products like milk and meat, which have higher prices (sometimes a lot higher) than in Italy. While this can suck, it also translates in a much more liveable farming business, stricter health and quality of life rules for cattle (mass cattle farming is illegal in Switzerland).
Another aspect is that some products have pretty small production numbers (often because there are explicit limits set from the confederation, but also simply because there’s only so much farmable land to go around), so they tend to go on the internal market: an unexpected consequence of this is that for example fruits can be harvested knowing they’ll only travel a few hundreds of kilometres at most… so they are actually picked up when ripe! Mind boggling I know.

All this foreword about international trade to say what?
Well, that meat, milk, butter, and even chicken are surprisingly good here in the Confederation!

I can actually find apricots and peaches (Peaches! Sometimes even nectarines!), generally from the Vallese Canton, that are ripe and tasty, ALMOST like those I used to eat directly from the tree when I was a kid.

Roasted chicken is an actual Swiss specialty (they use some kind of marinade and then cook it to perfection).

And butter! You see… all the milk cream in Italy (almost all of it) goes into Parmigiano making (and for good reason: Parmigiano has a huge market and nets better prices), but this means it’s really hard to get real butter in Italy. There is a product made in a different way (not by churning milk/cream) that can be legally called butter but let me tell you, as someone who saw the light after buying Swiss real butter… it’s not the same thing.

Who would have thought?

Cars Cars Cars

It’s not like this is some special exclusive of the Swiss, but… boy do the Ticinese love their cars! Since moving here, I got used to see much more often a number of car types that are… not so common in Italy.

Among them are…

Vintage Cars: for a while there’s even been someone who parked in the same spot in front of the mall where we often eat lunch several different vintage, perfectly restored cars. We think this is actually a garage owner advertising his skills and/or catalogue (see: that’s what the pictures in this post are).

Sporty and/or custom cars: there’s a clearly above-than-average presence of cars with custom parts, odd colors, custom wheels and giant spoilers… not to mention, slightly less flashy cars that are still waaay overpowered, especially if you consider how speed limits are actually lower than in Italy, and much more strictly applied. I often refer to a certain kind of car as “hot-wheels-like”. But even more apparently innocent station-wagons often can reveal themselves as Skoda Octavia RSs (a sensible family car that goes to 100Km/h/60Mph in little more than 6 seconds).

4WD and offroaders: Switzerland is very mountainous, and many people live high up in the valleys (where it tends to snow a lot), so… it makes sense. Still, it’s sometimes odd noticing just how many all-wheel-drives cars are around. Not to mention, the venerable Steyr-Puch Pinzgauers! These small vehicles of ’60s Austrian origin can be 4 or 6WD, with small wheels and very low centers of gravity: they are workhorses that people with vineyards built on steep hills like a LOT.

American cars! Yeah, they’re rarer now, but they are still far more common than in Italy! By “American cars” I don’t mean Ford, but the stereotypical US muscle-car, some big pick-up trucks (I saw an Escalade in a mall’s lot and it was almost comically oversized with respect to everything nearby), and (I swear) even an old giant station wagon with wooden panelling on the sides, possibly a Buick? (I think they stopped making them 60 years ago in Italy). It’s less odd than it would sound when you consider how, especially in the past, the Swiss had to import cars anyway (Switzerland is not in Europe, after all), plus there is no national industry to protect.

Diabolik’s Jaguar

…and big, pretty pricey cars in general. It is true, after all, that wages are generally way better here: Audis, especially the smaller ones, are everywhere ’round here. Not that Inner-Swiss (especially the many of Italian origins) sneeze at Alfa Romeos: I see them on the highway, with the Zurich, Bern and Luzerne plates, going down to Italy for the weekend 😀

Blue Collar Helicopters?

I know helicopters might be a rather common sight in the US (according to your pop media, every local TV in urban areas has at least one traffic helicopter, plus maybe one to follow police chases), but believe me… where I grew up, I only ever saw a helicopter up close once a year during they cycling race “Milan-Sanremo”, because they were doing aerial shots and the race passes right in front of my parent’s house.

Even after moving near Monza, you only ever saw several helicopters when the Formula1 was in town: VIPs coming and going from Milan Linate airport to the racetrack, once a year.

Here in Ticino… it’s odd. It seems like helicopters for “blue collar” tasks are more common.

Eliticino chopper on firefighting duty (image courtesy of Wikimedia)

There’s a company, imaginatively named Eliticino (it’s Elicottero in Italian, vs Helicopter in English), whose choppers I see pretty often: they are used to move heavy loads up and down high hills and mountains, or to-and-fro in places with little in the way of roads, almost always flying around with some 50 meters of steel cable dangling from the aircraft. One time there was one a few meters above the building in front of where I work: it was acting as a crane to put the glass-cleaning gear on the building. I mean… a job you’d expect from a normal crane, not a flying one (the building is like 6 stories, not a skyscraper).

Oh and we often see one of their helicopters (with the black and white livery) “parked” in a grassy field enclosed by the on-ramp of the highway: they have a chain-link fence and gate, they cross the road and go eat their lunch at the mall nearby. Then they’re back to work. It’s… odd.

Bonus: Switzerland is very mountainous (duh, I know), so heli rescue is very important. Many people here (I might even say MOST people) have a Rega membership: it’s the non-profit org that comes to your rescue if you are stuck on the Alps, but also if you crash your car on a small road up the hills, or you get lost while looking for mushrooms in the woods. If you are a card-carrying member, you get a big discount on a (not small) part of the fee (that is generally not fully covered by health insurance).

Oh and they have really stylish full-red-with-white-cross liveries (the Swiss flag).

A Rega rescue helicopter (image courtesy of Wikimedia)