GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – It seems no matter how often the police say it or the CFF rail company cautions travelers, foreigns are anxious to hold onto the image of clean, tidy, crime-free Switzerland, a place that exists mainly in the imagination.
The latest dire warning to travelers comes from a writer in the UK’s Daily Mail, who recounts the tale of his nephews’ stolen luggage, then a friend’s backpack, on Swiss trains, noting that “the impeccably clean Swiss carriages are sadly no longer free of crime.”
The trains haven’t been free of crime for years. Yes, the problem has worsened over the past 10 years, as has crime in general throughout Europe. There are plenty of people who will argue that Schengen is responsible, with fewer police border checks, but there are plenty of other possible reasons, starting with the rich-poor divide. Switzerland, with one of the smallest wealth gaps in the world, is a comfortable society that makes a good target.
Whatever the reason and whatever the relative seriousness of the Swiss crime problem (European crime figures still show Switzerland’s crime level as remarkably low, including theft and muggings), we can’t say it too often: don’t invite crime by leaving your valuables surveyance-free!
The Daily Mail author says “Apparently the chancers quickly scan luggage for tags indicating foreign travellers. In the case of Geneva, it is easy pickings, as they can get off with your luggage at the city stop, before the train moves off to the airport station.”
It’s too easy to get into the “we’re foreigners, so we’re easy targets” mentality: the Swiss are also ready targets, and I can recount tales of travelers I know whose computers were stolen while they snoozed. But the Swiss don’t think of their country as a Heidi paradise, so they watch their belongings.
Men, keep your computer bags and packbacks attached to you. Women, do not set your bags on the floor in restaurants or in trains.
The problem with being a foreigner is that you’re easily distracted. The views are great, you’re on holiday, and you’re looking for something nicer than the daily grind of worries at home.
If you’re traveling in Switzerland, behave like the Swiss. Use common sense and stay focused. It’s not foolproof against theft, but it helps.
As for the luggage racks at the end of carriages, you are required to use them, if you have a large bag. Take a seat nearby and check that it remains in view at every stop. If you go to the restaurant car, take your bag with you or leave someone you know in charge.
Look around and you’ll see the Swiss doing the same.