Sunday, 23 December 2012
St Bernard’s Law

Arriving in my hotel in Geneva recently without having had my lunch, I decided to order something from room service, but soon thought better of it: a croque-monsieur cost £30.

I went in search of something cheaper but it was not easy to find. Eventually I found a café and the Tribune, the local newspaper, was on the table. Its headline concerned the distribution to the poor of surplus food from school and hospital canteens.

A charitable organisation was collecting the lamb stew with couscous and beans that was not eaten by children at their school lunch and handing it out in the evening to those most in need. Could it be, then, that there were the hungry even in Geneva where (as the newspaper informed me) building workers averaged £50,000 a year?

I was astonished as I walked down the Rue de Lausanne. I was accosted by a Russian looking for work and a Frenchman with disks in his earlobes asking for his fare back home. Switzerland signed up to the Schengen agreement and now has no right to control who comes into the country. A Genevan by adoption told me that there has since been an explosion of crime, at least by local standards.

One story in the Tribune intrigued me: a local law is to be passed to allow guide dogs into restaurants and cafés. The story was slightly confusing because the head of the association of the blind was reported as saying that no blind person he had spoken to had ever been refused permission to take his dog into a restaurant or café. But the article also claimed that the law was to be changed to prevent dogs having to be left tied up outside restaurants and cafés, from where they were sometimes stolen. And guide dogs cost between £15,000 and £30,000 each.

Who would have thought that such a thing could happen in Switzerland (if, indeed, it ever had happened and was not a purely hypothetical crime dreamed up by the legislators or by the newspaper reporter)? A guide dog might cost £15 or £30,000 to train, but could not possibly be worth such a sum to a thief. The very thought that there are people willing to deprive the blind of their dogs is enough to make you tremble for humanity.

But are there such people even in Geneva, city of humanitarianism on an industrial scale? I don’t suppose I shall ever know.

First published in Salisbury Review.

Posted on 12/23/2012 6:08 AM by Theodore Dalrymple
23 Dec 2012
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