Did you hear the one about a bike that was stolen from a secure underground garage?
It was in Switzerland.
I know, I doubt the punchline made you laugh, it certainly didn’t make Steve chuckle, but it’s definitely a joke. In the same week that ‘safe’ Switzerland was named the happiest country in the world(!), Steve had his bicycle stolen from our ‘secure’ garage.
When we were about to embark on our Big Adventure everyone, almost without exception, commented on the fact that Switzerland was a safe country. Well, I have news for you, Switzerland is not as safe as you might think it is. Having done a little bit of research* I have found out that even though general crime levels are indeed lower than in the UK, the incidence of Intentional Homicide is higher in Switzerland. The number of murders with firearms is five times higher than in the UK. There are 53% more car thefts per 1,000 people in Switzerland compared to the UK. In addition, about 23% of the population are immigrants (high immigration usually being connected to high crime rates). AND our children had to participate in a routine ‘lock down drill’ at school, just in case some loon decided to take issue and terrorise 900 primary school kids. So why do we have this perception that Switzerland is safe?
It is just to do with the fact that Switzerland abstains from global military action and that the European headquarters of the ultimate peacekeeping force, the United Nations, is found in Geneva? (Surprisingly, for a nation of supposed pacifists, every Swiss adult male has to endure conscription to the Swiss armed forces. Perhaps it is this that allows the Swiss to have an ingrained sense of right and wrong, of respect for order, and a desire to live in harmony together). Is it because the fortunes of global business and wealthy individuals makes its way to Switzerland where the Gnomes of Zurich ensure its security (and, historically, its secrecy)? Is it simply because the total number of jails in Switzerland is 13% higher than in the UK?
Whatever the reason, Switzerland is widely perceived to be a safe place. So it is with some irony that Steve and I have found ourselves, for the first time in our lives, victims of crime. Ok, I know it’s not a dangerous crime, and I know it’s not as though someone has broken into our living quarters and rifled through our belongings, but it still leaves us with a bad taste in the mouth. What has been bizarre about the theft is that the bike (not top of the range, not custom built, not even a particularly desirable brand) was taken from a secure underground garage. It was the only bicycle to have been taken despite the presence of 30 other bikes in an unlocked bike store not more than 100 metres from the bikes point of theft. Hercule Poirot would have a theory or two on the subject but unfortunately the local Polizie didn’t. It appears that in Switzerland over 40,000 bikes are stolen each year. As a comparison Londoners have 20,000 bikes filched – I compare the two because they have similar sized populations. These are conservative figures by the way as the majority of bike thefts (up to 53%!) go unrecorded.
I always wondered if it was really true when I heard the comment “Oh, Switzerland, it’s so safe for the kids”. All it has taken is a lock down drill and a bike theft to shatter the perception that Switzerland is a safe country. And if Switzerland, the Happiest Place in the World, isn’t safe, then where is?
* Statistics taken from NationMaster.com
May 13, 2015 at 11:25 am
I expect people think it’s safe because of the whole neutrality thing. A country that doesn’t take part in wars must be full of peaceful people, right? Sorry about the bike. My colleague had hers stolen from outside work – in full view of a large window! This was in Germany.
May 13, 2015 at 11:34 am
I think you’re right about the neutrality. I think though it’s a bit like a duck, serene on top but lots going on beneath the surface. I couldn’t believe how many bikes are stolen each year though. I guess they are easy money for the thieves and practically untraceable.