How Cosmopolitan Can One Become?

Letter From Geneva

A friend of mine who worked for more than 30 years for the ILO (International Labor Organization) in Geneva was standing in a post-office queue one day when he noticed that the man just in front of him was in a curiously agitated state.  “Mais c’est impossible, intolerable!” he kept muttering.  He turned out to be a vintner who had been trying surreptitiously to extend his acreage of vineyards on the western, sun-absorbing slopes of the nearby Jura mountains by buying up new plots of land.  “Those Boches,” he exploded.  “Those Boches will stop at nothing!  You know what they did?  They hired a helicopter and had it fly over my lands and take photos!   Without permission or a word of warning!  Ah, ces Boches—they are capable of anything!”

When my astonished friend asked him why on earth Germans from somewhere to the north would be indulging in aerial espionage, the vintner explained that, by “Boches,” he did not mean Germans but “les gens de Berne”—snooping inspectors from the German-speaking capital of the Swiss Confederation.

It is virtually a truism to say that any inhabitant of this extraordinary land-locked confederation is first and foremost a member of his canton (of which there are 26, each with its own police and law courts) and only secondly...

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