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June 18, 2003

Island Living 76: Getting with the Program
by A. D. Coleman

I've just returned from a three weeks' teaching assignment in Vevey, a small town (pop. 15,000) in the heart of the wine country on Lake Geneva in Switzerland, a country in which adults over the age of 40 generally consider it impolite to talk politics. So – aside from one student who couldn't resist bringing it up in an informal, after-class context – the only person who spoke to me about the war in Iraq was a transplanted Syrian running a kebab shop on a small plaza off the town's main square. Having figured me as coming from the U.S., he joined me with a hostly pot of tea after I'd bought and consumed a felafel sandwich, in order to express unalloyed satisfaction in the destruction of Saddam's regime. As one result thereof, his family had heard from his brother – imprisoned by Hussein – for the first time in twenty years, and had some hope, albeit faint, of recovering rights to (or getting some compensation for) a restaurant his father had owned in Baghdad until they were forced to flee the country in the early ‘80s.

In his middle forties, this man – I'll call him Ahmad – felt we'd conducted the war judiciously, and thought we were making the right opening moves in facilitating the reconstruction of Iraq. (All this he volunteered, by the way, after initiating a conversation I hadn't expected.) His one concern: That we apply equal standards of justice and democracy everywhere. Would we do that? he asked. I replied that I hoped we would, but we'd all have to wait and see.

I don't mean to imply that the Swiss are apolitical. Indeed, even their vaunted neutrality constitutes a political stance, neutrality necessarily favoring as it does the status quo. Many people I met were preparing to demonstrate at the upcoming G8 meeting across the lake a few weeks later. From what I saw in the Swiss papers and on Swiss television (I'm bilingual, and can both speak and read French), they take their politics – local, regional, national, and global – seriously, and the level of political discussion there is consistently better informed and more substantial than what we get here as a matter of course.

Their mass media have become increasingly and regrettably Americanized: TV is full of soap operas, variant versions of our game shows, lots of Clint Eastwood and Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger thrillers, and (go figure this) endless reruns of "Friends" and "The Nanny" dubbed into German. But there's a lot of serious social and political commentary in prime time; there's solid, in-depth reporting by real journalists on the news shows; there are no Rush Limbaugh and ditto-head types nattering on about "cheese-eating surrender monkeys"; and the newspapers don't stoop to childish nonsense such as montaging the heads of weasels (or any other animals) onto the bodies of U.N. diplomats for front-page illustrations. By contrast, what passes for political discourse here in my native land seems naïve and juvenile.

Of course, now I've come back home, so I have to get with the program. When people here ask what other languages I speak, I understand that according to the new social policy here in the States the politically correct answer is not French but Freedom. And that, along those same lines, when I dress up to take my girlfriend out this weekend to celebrate my return, I'll put on a shirt with Freedom cuffs, while she'll don some sexy Freedom lingerie and splash on a little fancy Freedom cologne.

At dinner in a Freedom restaurant we'll have our salads with Freedom dressing, our steaks with Freedom fries and maybe a little Freedom's Mustard on the side – sopping up the gravy with slices of Freedom bread, washing it down with Freedom wine. (Assuming, of course, that the restaurant hasn't dumped all of its pricey Freedom vintages into the toilet. Several people in Switzerland did ask me why we in the U.S. considered it a boycott to buy wine and then throw it away; do we believe, they wanted to know, that the people who make "the widow" – Veuve Cliquot champagne – care whether we pour it down our throats, into the bathtub, or onto the sidewalk once we've paid for it? I couldn't think of a reasonable explanation. Bill O'Reilly has one, no doubt.)

Not having seen each other in a month, the lady and I will naturally start to feel frisky after such a repast. Wouldn't surprise me if we started Freedom-kissing as we walk home. I've thought about giving her a good Freedom-polishing once we close and lock the door, as a warm-up; that always gets her going. Of course, when things get really serious, as advocates of safe sex, we'll use a Freedom letter.

Then a good night's rest. Probably we'll sleep in. As for Sunday morning breakfast in bed, we'll have my favorite: Freedom toast. With Canadian (but not Freedom-Canadian) bacon. And a steaming pot of Freedom Roast coffee.

Great to be back.

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© Copyright 2003 by A. D. Coleman. All rights reserved.
By permission of the author and Image/World Syndication Services,
P.O.B. 040078, Staten Island, New York 10304-0002 USA.