Yet More on Polythene Bags

Today I went grocery shopping, but went to a different supermarket than usual because I needed to buy things which aren’t normally available in the smaller store beside my apartment.  When I got there I discovered the aversion to polythene bags had reached far beyond the checkouts and into the heart of the shop.

Usually when buying loose fruit and vegetables you pull very light polythene bags off a roll and put your selection in them before weighing.  But in this place – a Monoprix – they had done away with the polythene bags and replaced them with stacks of paper bags like these:

So if you want to buy a lemon, two carrots, five potatoes, an onion, and a parsnip you need five of these bags.  You can see the problem already, can’t you?  The excess paper takes up a lot more space than excess polythene does, and so your basket is full after putting only a few small items in it.  You also can’t seal the bags like you can with the polythene ones by tying a knot in them, and the best you can do is scrunch them down.  Yeah, that’ll work on the drive home.

There is also a major drawback when you come to weigh them: the stickers don’t stay on a scrunched up paper bag, which is down to a combination of the irregular shape and the surface of recycled paper.  Put a sticker on a polythene bag and it stays on.  So you get to the till and find the stickers have fallen off.  This is progress, apparently.

I then went to another store, this one specialising in organic produce which I normally avoid like the plague but I had no choice if I wanted to find what I was looking for.  Their entire collection of carrots was split.  When I worked on Britain’s largest vegetable farm in the summer of 1996, we wouldn’t dream of selling split carrots to our supermarket customers.  Perhaps we should have doubled the price and sold them as “healthier carrots”?  Anyway, this shop had the same deal with the paper bags only you didn’t weigh them yourself, the cashier did it.  The geniuses who dreamed up this plan overlooked one crucial benefit of polythene bags over paper: you can see what’s inside!  So the cashier – I kid you not – had to unscrunch everyone’s paper bags to see what was inside before she could tap the price in.  Again, this is supposed to be progress.

Hey, maybe using millions of paper bags is better for the environment than using millions of polythene bags, I don’t know.   But I would like to see a study that shows the recycling process and the chemicals used, plus the transportation and disposal costs (paper bags are much heavier and bulkier), works out better for the environment than sticking with polythene bags.

Otherwise we’re being monumentally stupid, aren’t we?

With bosses like these…

It’s well understood that football players are a bit dense, but those running football clubs are sometimes lacking in grey matter as well:

Paris St-Germain full-back Serge Aurier has been stopped from entering the United Kingdom by authorities before Wednesday’s Champions League match at Arsenal.

The Ivorian, 23, was given a two-month suspended prison sentence in September for assaulting a police officer.

Aurier is appealing his conviction, leading PSG to believe he is entitled to be presumed innocent.

“Paris Saint-Germain strongly regrets that the presumption of innocence has not influenced Britain’s decision,” said the French champions in a statement.

He’s been convicted.  By definition he’s not innocent, and those appealing a conviction are not presumed to be either.

Easy Pickings in Paris

The BBC reports on a robbery in France:

Masked men have robbed two Qatari women and their driver on a motorway north of Paris, taking valuables worth €5m (£4.5m; $5.6m), police sources say.

The sisters had just left Le Bourget airport in their Bentley on Monday evening when they were forced off the road and sprayed with tear gas.

“Everything in the vehicle: jewels, clothes, luggage” was taken, a police source told AFP news agency.

Here’s some advice from somebody who lives in Paris: don’t go around with €5m of valuables on you.

The section of the motorway where the robbery took place is favoured by criminals targeting luxury cars or wealthy-looking foreigners stuck in traffic jams:

In April last year, an east Asian art collector was robbed of jewels worth €4m when three people caved in the window of her taxi.

In August 2014, heavily armed men attacked a convoy of cars belonging to a Saudi prince, stealing €250,000, as he headed in a convoy to Le Bourget

Last month, US reality TV star Kim Kardashian was tied up and robbed at gunpoint of jewellery worth up to €6m in a luxury apartment in the heart of Paris.

Not that I’m excusing armed robbery, but common sense has given way to vanity here, hasn’t it?  Getting in a taxi with €4m of jewels about you?  These people are asking for trouble.

Les Brocantes

As a follow-up to yesterday’s post on the folly of diverting Sweden’s labour pool to repairing bicycles instead of just letting white collar professionals buy replacements, I want to talk about the very French event called a brocante.

As the linked site says:

The flea markets, second hand markets and car boot sales are very popular in France especially in the summer and before Christmas, in fact, that’s an understatement – it seems to be the national pastime to spend weekends visiting the different types of second hand markets.

Some of these brocantes are permanent, but the ones I have seen are held periodically in each suburb perhaps once or twice per year.  The local municipality closes off a few streets and sets up collapsible tables and the local residents come out with all their old junk and spend the day trying to flog it.   These events are very popular and people pack the streets, but from my observation most of them are just nosing around and not buying anything.  They can also be a pain: I woke up one Sunday morning in June to find a brocante going on in my street; clearly I’d not bothered reading the signs that had been posted.  As such, I couldn’t get my car out of the underground car park to go anywhere.  The French expression governing what to do in such a situation is “toff sheet”.

A brocante is basically the French equivalent of the British car-boot sale or jumble sale, or the American yard/lawn sale.  They are also similar to the school fetes which used to go on in the 1980s when I was a kid, where parents would bring junk they wanted to sell.  I have no idea if this still happens.

It might be my memory playing tricks on me, but I seem to remember the jumble sales and school fetes of my childhood turning up some bargains for my various family members.  Decent books were a favourite, and I managed to snag myself a hardback second edition of The Lord of the Rings for 50p back in 1992 which I still have.  But you also stood a chance of finding a good piece of furniture, some tradesmen’s tools, gardening equipment, kitchenware, sports gear, and other items which were bargains in the sense that to buy them new would cost a lot more, assuming they were available.  I recall people used to get quite excited by what you could find, myself included (I was usually after piles of old Beano and Dandy comics).

By contrast, when I walked around the brocantes of Parisian suburbs I found there is little of any value and nothing that could be considered a bargain.  It is mostly toys, children’s clothes, shoes (I always wondered who bought second-hand shoes; that was the one item that was not hand-me-down when I was growing up), and obsolete rubbish like CDs, VHS cassettes, and mobile phone chargers.  You might find the occasional fishing rod or ski gear, but not much else.  Even the books seem to be junk, very little by way of early edition hardbacks and lots of Da Vinci Code.

I think the reason for this is that a lot of stuff is so cheap now that when it breaks it is simply thrown away and replaced:, e.g. tools, kitchenware, and furniture for example whereas before this stuff could stay in a family for generations before being packed up for a jumble sale after a clear-out.  Perhaps another reason is that nobody would buy items which can break, e.g. kettles, microwaves, lawnmowers, DVD players, bicycles, drills, flashlights, etc. when buying one brand new with a warranty is only marginally more expensive and people have more disposable income.  There’s also the effect of eBay: there is no need to trawl through jumble sales looking for an obscure item at a bargain price when you can do that sat on your sofa with an iPad.

In short, things getting cheaper and more readily available has killed the second-hand market for many items which would have appeared in jumble and car-boot sales a generation or two ago.  It’s the same reason why people are choosing to replace broken appliances and other items in Sweden rather than having people fix them.  It is nice to engage in a nice spot of nostalgia about going through a jumble sale and finding a set of vintage cast-iron kitchen scales for a fiver, but the very fact such an item was being traded second-hand shows they were expensive new and not within reach of everybody.  Cast-iron kitchen scales might look nice, but it is probably better that every household can now buy an electronic set for ten quid in Argos and there is no second-hand market any more.  It’s called progress, and it’s a sign we are all better off.

Perhaps the Swedes ought to have taken a wander through a brocante or two before meddling with their economy.

The Costs of the Paris Agreement Confirmed

There’s a rather stunning admission by Nicolas Sarkozy in this BBC report on the climate summit taking place in Morocco:

Away from the conference the former French President Nicolas Sarkozy has been calling for a carbon tax on US goods if President Trump follows through on his promise to walk away from the Paris deal.

“Donald Trump has said – we’ll see if he keeps this promise – that he won’t respect the conclusions of the Paris climate agreement,” Mr Sarkozy, who is a candidate for next year’s French presidential elections, told the TF1 television channel on Sunday.

“Well, I will demand that Europe put in place a carbon tax at its border, a tax of 1%-3%, for all products coming from the United States, if the United States doesn’t apply environmental rules that we are imposing on our companies.”

So it is confirmed, then: this Paris agreement will impose costs of 1-3% on European companies and, by extension, consumers.  Thank goodness we are all so fabulously well-off and European (especially French) companies so unburdened by deadweight costs that a 1-3% arbitrary increase in costs will go unnoticed!

And retaliatory tariffs are always such a good idea, particularly if imposed because another country declines to regulate its own industries out of existence.

Remind me why Britain voted to leave, again?

This also amused:

The Paris climate agreement will survive a Trump presidency says the US special envoy on climate change Dr Jonathan Pershing.

US lead negotiator Dr Pershing told a packed news briefing that the passion and dedication displayed in the effort to deliver the Paris treaty was strong enough to withstand the impacts of Trump presidency.

Passion and dedication? This Dr Pershing sounds like an England football manager explaining away their latest defeat.  He might be in for a rude awakening in a few months.

Mysterious Attackers Target French-Chinese

My fellow blogger and friend Tim Blair wrote a post last year entitled “Invisible People of No Description from Nowhere”.  He was making fun of a phenomenon which nowadays gets regularly commented on by bloggers whereby a news report fails to mention the ethnicity or religion of those suspected of criminal behaviour.  It’s something that started several years ago but is now almost ubiquitous to news reports: pressure has been applied either directly or indirectly to those writing the articles to not mention the ethnicity or religion if the suspected criminals happen to belong to certain groups.  The only problem with that, as bloggers gleefully point out, is that the very lack of such information serves to tell you everything you need to know.  (There is an interesting inverse to this phenomenon which was recently identified by a Samizdata commenter.)

So, with that in mind, have a look at this article from the BBC about French-Chinese being subject to racial attacks and fearing for the lives in the suburbs of Paris.  There is absolutely no mention of who is carrying out these attacks.  Not even a whiff.  Now you can be sure that if one of the French-Chinese assault victims reported being struck with a large baguette wielded by a man with a big moustache wearing a beret and stripey jumper and his mate said “Jean-Louis, ‘it ‘im again, ‘e is steel moving!” then the BBC would be telling us.  But they’re not, so we know.

They still think we’re stupid.

Walloons good, English bad

Plucky little Wallonia, a French-speaking part of Belgium, is threatening to derail years of negotiations between the EU and Canada by refusing to agree to a new trade deal.  Apparently, under Belgium’s constitution, the Wallonians Walloons (thanks, dearieme) have a right to do this.  EU leaders are now falling over themselves to get to Namur, where the hold-outs have their gang hut, in order to persuade them to come on board.

One is permitted to contrast the reaction of the EU leadership towards Wallonia in the past few days with their reaction towards Britain voting to leave the EU and, prior to that, Prime Minster David Cameron’s attempt to get some concessions ahead of the vote.  One would have thought that accommodating a country of 60m people would be of greater importance than a region of 3.5m to the EU, but obviously it’s not.  To see why we first need to look at an Forbes article on the subject written by Tim Worstall, who speculates as to why the Walloons have rejected the deal:

There are some out there who are simply hostile to the idea of any trade deals at all. This is an undercurrent in left wing and environmental politics over here. There are actually people so deluded about economics that they think that trade is something bad, to be avoided. Goods and services should be locally produced and locally consumed. Economies should be small and self-contained. Yes, I know, it’s an absurdity but it’s a very real current in European politics. The various Green parties near all sign up to this idea as do all too many unthinking leftists. They’re all failing to see that it is trade with its attendant division and specialisation of labour which make us all so much richer than our peasant forefathers.

We then need to look at a post on another blog which I now rather embarrassingly cannot find (I thought it was at Nourishing Obscurity, but I haven’t been able to locate it).  It was a photo taken in Brussels of a street sign which bore the name Salvador Allende Square.  As the blogger noted, if places are being named after communists in non-communist countries, that tells you a lot about the local politics.  France is no different: the Parisian suburb of Montreuil has an Avenue du Président Salvador Allende.  Lyon has a Salvador Allende Tram stop, and Nanterre a Salvador Allende public car park.  Paris also has a Karl Marx college.  The city of Brussels even has a tribute to Salvador Allende on their webpage.

Time of for an anecdote.  I have an acquaintance here in Paris who worked through from the 1970s to early 2000s for EDF, the French state power company.  He told me the company was “openly communist”, which I took to mean the management and employees were either communists or communist sympathisers.  Because of EDF’s nuclear expertise, my acquaintance used to travel to the USSR, North Korea, and other communist states to share nuclear technology.  He told me he went as a visitor to the top-secret bomb-making facilities in the Soviet Union where there were portraits of the Rosenburgs on the wall.  I’ve included this anecdote just for fun.

The point is that Belgium, France, and many other European countries are far more left-wing than England is.  I say England because Scotland, and to a lesser extent Wales, are more left-leaning than England but even they are not as left-wing as places like France.  In France, the Socialist party holds power and is being challenged from the left by a Communist party.  By contrast, the communists in England consist of a gaggle of clowns who think the Soviet Union is still in existence, and the socialists under the banner of Labour only managed electoral success when they shifted rightwards.  When Labour ran as socialists under Neil Kinnock they were roundly rejected by the electorate.  Britain’s most successful post-war Prime Minister in terms of time in office was the decidedly anti-communist Margaret Thatcher and the second was Tony Blair who the left-wing hated for abandoning socialist principles.  Now Labour is being led by socialists and communists and they are a laughing stock who stand zero chance of attaining power unless they ditch this lot for some who are much further to the right.  The only place in London bearing Karl Marx’s name is his grave.  The closest we have to Salvador Allende avenues in the UK are places named after Nelson Mandela which lefty councils foisted upon cities during the apartheid struggles.

And this is why the EU leadership – particularly the French and some Belgians – cannot stand Britain: we are right-wingers who lean towards free markets and capitalism whereas they are made up largely of socialists.  A good number of French and other Europeans believe that the EU should be more socialist and more powers granted to the centre, whereas most British believe the exact opposite.  Socialist Europeans know they cannot attain, or retain, power at the nation-state level (or make the books balance) and so are attempting to do so at the EU level: Britain leaving represents a setback to this goal.  Listen to Francois Hollande – a socialist – saying Britain must “pay the price” for leaving.  What price?  Scuppering the plans of European socialists?  Whereas the Walloons are good, old-fashioned socialists pushing back against capitalism, and so they get treated with kid gloves.

It is also enlightening to look at how the Remainers in the UK lean politically: most of them are left-wing.  Having failed to bring about many of their desired policies via national elections, they have been quite content to see them imposed via the EU where socialism holds much more sway.  They know that without their fellow travellers in Europe, socialist policies in England are pretty much dead.

A lot of the anger around Brexit is not actually about Britain leaving: it’s about communists, socialist, and other left-wingers not being able to join forces and impose their policies on the English who are stubbornly centre-right.  And this is why it is getting so damned bitter.

Food for Thought

Earlier this year France passed a law banning supermarkets from throwing away or destroying unsold food.

France has become the first country in the world to ban supermarkets from throwing away or destroying unsold food, forcing them instead to donate it to charities and food banks.

Charities will be able to give out millions more free meals each year to people struggling to afford to eat.

I’m not sure when the ban actually comes into effect, but there has been a recent spate of articles doing the rounds on social media about how wonderful this is and how the US should adopt the same laws.

The narrative is that supermarkets are callously destroying food while the starving, huddled masses are gathered outside their automatic doors pleading for some sweepings from the delicatessen floor.  Why not just give this food away?

I can already think of two reasons why not, with the first being that of liability.  I haven’t visited every supermarket in France, but I know British supermarkets pretty well and if you go to one in the late evening just before closing you see a section filled with produce expiring that day which has been marked down, and further marked down, and then reduced to almost nothing in a desperate attempt to get rid of it before it goes in the skip out the back.  As far as I know this is common practice among supermarkets everywhere, and there are a lot of people out there who have made buying groceries from these sections an art form.  In other words, supermarkets already go to considerable lengths to avoid destroying food.

There is a good reason why expiry dates are put on food, and it’s mostly to do with liability and ensuring the customer is adequately informed.  Present in the contract a customer enters into with the supermarket when he or she buys a product is the expectation that the food is fit for consumption; the onus is therefore on the supermarket to adequately inform the customer when he or she should consume it before it goes bad.  The dates on the products might be a bit conservative and sometimes even silly, but they exist in order to ensure the customer is informed and the supermarket has carried out its duty of care to the best of its ability.  If they fail in this duty of care and a customer gets ill, they can and will be sued for compensation and suffer a loss of reputation.  This is why supermarkets will not take the risk of selling food past its expiry date: customers could get ill, and both parties will suffer.  All of this is entirely sensible across a colossal, multi-billion dollar, international logistics operation – and it remains sensible even if somebody can pick up a can of beans a day past its expiry date and say “Oh, this is stupid, they are still perfectly edible.”

So what’s the supermarket to do with those few items they can’t sell before their expiry date (and as a percentage of overall stock the volumes will be tiny, even if the poverty campaigners will cite numbers which sound large in isolation)?  The most sensible and cost effective thing to do from a business and liability point of view is to toss it into a skip and replenish the shelves with fresh stuff for the hungry customers who come in the next morning, and indeed that is what they do.

But now they are being forced to give away food which they have deemed unsuitable for sale to their customers, several problems will arise.  The first of these is actually mentioned in the article, but being The Guardian they’re too dense to follow through:

The law has been welcomed by food banks, which will now begin the task of finding the extra volunteers, lorries, warehouse and fridge space to deal with an increase in donations from shops and food companies.

Lorries, warehousing, refrigeration, and distribution all cost money.  And by far the best people at doing these operations are supermarkets, as evidenced by their commercial success.  So if the supermarkets, with all their expertise, have decided these operations aren’t worth doing for certain items, maybe they are onto something?

But now the supermarkets have handed over the food, who is going to pay for these operations?  Where is the money for the refrigeration going to come from?  And more importantly, who is responsible for ensuring these products are handled and stored properly such that they are still fit for consumption when handed to the recipient, and that the recipient is correctly informed as to when he or she should consume it?  The expiry date on the package has already gone by, remember?  That was yesterday.  Are a team of volunteers and charities seriously going to be able to manage the receipt, storage, and distribution of thousands of tonnes of food at or near its expiry date such that nobody is going to get sick?  Are these charities and volunteers going to accept responsibility if somebody gets food poisoning and dies?  If not they, then who?

What’s happened here is some (undoubtedly wealthy middle-class) busybodies have decided they can effectively extend a supermarket’s operations beyond their doors at no cost and with no accountability, and now this has become law.  I suspect the liability issue alone will prevent this being adopted in the US, there would be lawsuits within the first month.  Only against Wal-Mart, probably.

There’s also another problem with forcing supermarkets to give away products, one that we’ve seen with food banks in the UK: some people will take the free stuff instead of doing regular grocery shopping.  Supposing a supermarket sectioned off a corner of its floorspace, filled it with free products, and opened it up to the public for an hour after normal shopping hours.  Now repeat across the country.  Very quickly this would be captured by organised third parties who would employ people (of the type you see on nightclub doors in Manchester) to swoop in and collect everything on offer in what would become a large-scale industrial operation: just as charity clothing has become a lucrative, large-scale, international business.  The idea that a little old lady whose pension won’t stretch to three meals per day would be able to get free food is ludicrous.

If people are substituting products they would have paid for with free stuff, the supermarkets (or the wholesalers) will be losing revenue.  Yes, it is true: if supermarkets are forced to give away products they would otherwise have destroyed, they will lose revenue because of the substitution effects.  This will either result in a fall in profits for the supermarkets – which is what the campaigners think will happen – or, more likely, they’ll just distribute the costs of the new law among the sale prices.  In other words, food will get more expensive.  How does that help the poor, again?

Practicalities aside, this whole thing is annoying me on another level.  For the first time in human history we as a species are able to produce and distribute enough food so that real hunger in properly-run countries is something only our grandparents knew about.  We do this so effectively we can feed ourselves and our families without any more inconvenience than a quick trip to a nearby supermarket.  Furthermore, we can obtain our food without worrying if it’s going to kill us if we eat it.  This in itself is one of the most astonishingly, staggeringly, brilliant outcome that humankind has managed in its existence.  We have solved the millenia-old problem of constant hunger.  So what do we do?  We moan like fuck and attempt to sanction those who have brought it about.  Like the attempts to dismantle our reliable energy supply and replace it with one that doesn’t work, historians are going to look back on this era and think we went collectively insane.

People do go hungry in the developed world, I don’t deny that.  This is why we have a welfare system, food stamps, charities, and a whole load of other measures in place to do what we can to alleviate poverty and hunger.  Supermarkets and their stock-management practices are not the problem, by contrast they are the very things that are keeping the majority of us fed so that we have enough surplus wealth and energy to help those who are not.

Finally:

Campaigners now hope to persuade the EU to adopt similar legislation across member states.

And people are wondering why Britain voted to leave.

Even More on Carrier Bags

This is the post I know you’ve all been waiting for!  Further to my previous two posts on carrier bags, I now have something more to add.

Back in August I said that my local supermarket had stopped providing free carrier bags and everyone jumped on me by saying you can buy them for only 5p.  Only I couldn’t, because my supermarket wasn’t selling them.  But now they’ve given us an alternative: a strong, American-style paper bag with handles that looks like this:

They cost 23 cents each.  Last night I bought one because I found myself needing a couple of bottles of milk, a bottle of some sugary fizzy shite that I drink, and a bottle of wine and I didn’t have room in my gym bag.  As I was walking the few hundred metres home I noticed the handles were cutting into my hand, and that carrying more than one in each hand would be damned near impossible.  Plus they’d lose all their strength if they got wet.  You know what I did with it when I got home?  I put it straight in the bin.  What the hell am I going to use it for?  It is too big when folded flat to go into a pocket, and it’s useless for lining a bin, wrapping shoes, or any other purpose to which a secondhand plastic bag can be used.

Maybe it is because my supermarket is a “metro” style one in a nice suburb that these are on offer and traditional carrier bags are unavailable, but I am still convinced that whoever decided free plastic bags should be replaced by inferior paper bags at 23 cents each didn’t have poor, single mothers with no car in mind when they campaigned for it.  No, like my French acquaintance – who no longer speaks to me following an initial argument over the original post and another row over my mentioning her in the follow-up – they will be wealthy middle-class and living a short walk from the nearest supermarket either alone, or with a car in the basement.  Or both.  The types who buy overpriced organic avocados and wear complete Nike outfits when they go to their gym classes.  Now that’s probably enough snark for today.

Staying on topic, there was a rather revolting story doing the rounds on social media the other day about a camel in the UAE having eaten a load of plastic and dying.  I have looked for it online but it seems to be one of those stories that gets recycled every few years, only the name of the camel changes each time.  Anyway, the premise of these articles goes like this:

1. A camel has died in the UAE by eating discarded plastic, some of which is carrier bags.

2. GLOBAL BAN ON PLASTIC BAGS NOW!!!

Whereas my first reaction, having lived in the UAE, was how’s about they get the ignorant, arrogant, self-centred assholes who inhabit that part of the world to strop strewing litter all over the place?  This would do more for the wellbeing of camels than banning carrier bags in Parisian supermarkets, surely?

Geneva: Still Dull and Expensive

Sometimes I wonder if the BBC is a bit like the Clinton Foundation and receives hefty bribes cash donations in exchange for favourable treatment, in this case puff-pieces on various trendy expat locations.  This week the city under discussion is Geneva:

For an affluent country once considered one of the most stable economies in the world, Switzerland is going through a rocky patch.

In the country’s financial hub, Geneva, a slowing economy and an investigation into the country’s secretive banking industry has led to almost 2,000 jobs being cut over three years, about 9% of the sector, according to the Geneva Financial Center.  In the coming years, more jobs could disappear following Brexit, since the UK is Geneva’s fourth largest trading partner.

Eh?  Geneva – located in a non-EU country – could see jobs disappear because Britain leaves the EU?  What’s the mechanism for that, then?  The BBC doesn’t say.

Yet the city (which is not the capital, that’s Bern) remains an incredibly popular place for expats to relocate to for work. Mercer’s 2016 Quality of Living Survey ranks Geneva among the top ten cities to live in, scoring highly for personal safety and quality of life.

Ah yes, we’ve been here before: these surveys tend to identify which cities upper-middle class wives with husbands who draw large corporate salaries most like to live and raise kids in.  The result is usually a list of cities which are clean, safe, expensive – and mind-numbingly dull.  Geneva, then.

One of these fans is Silvana Soldaini. After nearly 20 years working in Milan, Italy, Soldaini received a job offer to work in banking in Geneva. She arrived in March 2004 as a single parent of two.

Before she arrived in Geneva, she held some common preconceptions about it.  “Being an Italian, my stereotype of [the city] was that it was stiff, that it had a culture without much soul to it,” she says.

Twelve years on, she’s a convert. She lives in a spacious apartment a 10-minute walk from Lake Geneva and has no desire to move back to Italy. Her two teenage children speak French, Italian, German and English.

Okay, good for her.  But if you’re looking for somebody to disprove the stereotype of Geneva being a boring city, you might want to pick a 25 year old bachelor rather than a middle-aged woman bringing up two kids on her own.

Switzerland is one of those places where the 1% – that tiny chunk of the global population who are rolling in money – are conspicuous. Luxury watchmakers specialising in diamond-encrusted watch faces line the riverfront, and it’s not uncommon to see Ferraris and Lamborghinis cruising down the spotless streets.

So a bit like London, Paris, New York, Dubai, and Singapore, then.  With the possible exception of the spotless streets in those first three.

Initially drawn here by higher salaries, expats – especially those with families – often choose to stay for the year-round cultural events such as the Geneva Music Festival or Nuit de Bains, a contemporary art event, plus a wide range of outdoor activities around Lake Geneva…

…but mainly for the higher salaries.  And wifey’s ability to park the Porsche Cayenne without some brown oik nicking it.

While it used to be standard practice for multinational firms to fork out for housing and children’s school fees, this is not always the case today, says Laetitia Bédat, managing director of relocation agency Welcome Service. Now, most foreign hires will either get no allowances or they will only get relocation services, tax assistance and medical benefits.

Bless.  How will they cope?

According to research from global consultancy firm ECA International, Geneva is one of the most expensive cities in Europe, second only to Zurich. In other words, you will need good salary prospects to even consider living there.

For American Sarah Brooks, who moved from Washington, DC to work at a human rights organisation, she found her expenses comparable.  “There is more take-home salary,” Brooks says, “and I find I tend to spend it in different ways, like I don’t spend it on commuting anymore.”

Why a human rights organisation chooses to base itself in one of the most expensive cities in Europe is a question the BBC didn’t bother to ask.  But I’m glad those who work selflessly for the betterment of mankind aren’t having to slum it:

According to the survey, nearly a third of expats in Geneva earn more than $200,000 a year, second only to Hong Kong’s high-earners.

Which will no doubt bring comfort to those rotting in the dungeons of a third-world kleptocracy.

For Olivier Greneche, his reason for relocating from Paris in 2012 was simple.

He could finally escape French meetings?

Besides the job opportunity from a French bank, it was also for his two children who were toddlers at that time. Geneva’s access to nature and green spaces made it an easy decision.

“To understand Switzerland, and to fully enjoy Geneva, you should be keen on going to a chalet in the mountains on the weekends and the countryside quite often,” he says.

Similarly, to understand France, and to fully enjoy Marseilles, you should be keen on taking your yacht out at the weekends.

Soldaini’s family were much more city-centric, and state benefits – such as allocating 250 Swiss francs (about $260) per child to a family or the four public swimming pools within a 15-minute bike ride from her apartment – made life as a single working mother much more manageable.

Which is great, until you learn that:

Eating out could terrify frugal newcomers. Lunch in a low-key restaurant will generally cost more than $20, while a mid-range restaurant can quickly surpass the $100 mark with wine.

Does having free stuff offset ludicrously high prices?  I’ve generally found it doesn’t.

As for their schooling, Geneva is spoiled for choice. Public schools are free, and generally considered very good. Due to the large number of expats, there are plenty of international and private schools, although tuition fees can hit 30,000 CHF ($31,200) a year, says Greneche.

I think that tells you just about everything you need to know about the type of people who show up for expat positions in Geneva and the taxpayer-funded international organisations that are based there.

Much of the residents’ social lives revolve around stunning Lake Geneva, a pristine, freshwater lake measuring roughly 21 sq km.

Tim Worstall is forever bemoaning journalists’ lack of grasp of orders of magnitude: Lake Geneva covers 580 square kilometres.

So Geneva sounds awesome.  Only:

Often, residents cross the border into France at weekends to buy groceries, to avoid Switzerland’s higher prices. Produce is generally double supermarket prices in France, while meat generally costs triple.

What the article doesn’t mention is how many people work in Geneva but choose to live over the border in France, getting the best of both worlds with high salaries but lower living costs in a place which doesn’t shut down and go to sleep at 6pm.  This practice is so widespread that the canton of Geneva and others deduct French taxes from your salary. Yes, there is a reason why Annecy and its surroundings are so popular, and it’s not just because of the lake.