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The Independent Culture
Today is International Red Cross Day and the joint is really jumping in Geneva, Red Cross headquarters. No, not really ...

Most ubiquitous item of clothing: Sadly, fur coats and white socks. Geneva is one of the last bastions for those wishing to wear anything from an eviscerated fox stole round the neck to the full-length mink. Throughout the winter Geneva's lite, as well as many highly paid international civil servants, can be seen swanning up and down Rue de la Confederation in a doomed bid to look filthy rich and carefree.

For men, white socks are all the rage. At any of the manyinternational meetings held here, the Swiss delegate stands out from those who go for the more conformist black or grey socks. Still, in the summer months, Swiss men throw off the shackles of social requirement and wear sandals - with white socks.

The eating places: Any of the atmospheric restaurants in the Old Town where cheese-lovers indulge in one of Switzerland's national dishes: fondue. However, don't make the same mistake Hillary Clinton made last year while accompanying Bill on a presidential visit. One should not drink water with fondue, as the First Lady found out after a sleepless night. Alcohol is the only liquid that will save you from a week of constipation. If cheese isn't your thing, but you're eager to relive the Seventies, try a Fondue Chinoise, wafer-thin slices of meat that you put into a boiling cauldron of bouillon.

Favourite topic among UN employees: Will Hiroshi Nakajima (right), the director-general of the World Health Organisation, resign? At an executive board meeting of a WHO sub-group in January, the controversial Japanese head complained, in his unintelligible English, that "few Africans very good speaker" and that few are able to write or edit comprehensive documents. Although he apologised to African ambassadors in February for his comments, the death toll in his aquarium of exotic tropical fish continued to rise. Before Nakajima took the post, African representation at the UN agency was balanced with other continents. Now, after two terms in office, there is only one African director among the agency's 46 top policy-makers. Calls for his resignation are gaining support.

Hottest tickets in town: There is always a circus of some sort playing in Geneva. For the young and young-at-heart, rock concerts converge annually in nearby Nyon for a four-day festival, although there is nothing resembling the dope clouds seen over Glastonbury. For those who prefer the finer things in life - and most Genevoise do - there is always a selection of classical concerts and theatre productions. Fur-lovers, this is for you.

Most politically incorrect dinner party talk: The European Union. Switzerland has become an island state surrounded by European Union members, much to the disappointment of the Genevoise. In a national referendum (which are held religiously four times a year) in 1992, Swiss voters rejected moves to forge closer links with the rest of Europe. The Swiss-French voted overwhelmingly in favour of membership, but were defeated by the majority of Swiss-Germans. The Swiss-French retaliated by threatening to leave the confederation of cantons. The battle rumbles on. Raising the issue at a social gathering could lead to a six-hour marathon bile-spitting analysis of how bourgeois Swiss-Germans are.

The meeting place: In the summer most people head for the Bains du Paquis, a swimming place on Lake Geneva. Here one can bask in the sun and stare at Geneva's Jet d'Eau (water jet), the city's answer to the Statue of Liberty or the Eiffel Tower. Places to avoid include the English bars in town where au pairs, tourists who speak no French and the homesick hover to lament the price of Guinness: about £3 a pint.

Latest fad: Throwing in your membership to a doomsday cult. Not to be outdone by Waco, French-speaking Switzerland was catapulted into the spotlight last year by the suicide of 48 members from the Order of the Solar Temple. Switzerland boasts one of the highest concentrations of cults in the world, but the incident at the Solar Temple (above) has made people think twice before they throw off their clothes and dance naked around the altar. Not a very Swiss thing to do anyway ...

Things the visitor would otherwise not know: It was in Geneva that John Jacob Schweppes and two partners invented the soft drink in 1780. The prototype was none other than gaseous mineral water, which was marketed as a health drink. However, finding the Genevoise uninterested, Schweppes took his concoction to Britain. The rest, as they say, is history.

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