News is toxic

May 23, 2013

images-55One Sunday a few weeks ago, I padded around the house with the oomph and enthusiasm of Droopy the Dog.

‘Al, I’m feeling flat as a pancake,’ I said.

‘Why are you flat?  Let’s analyse it,’ Alastair asked (for I have trained him well).

After some navel gazing, we concluded that The Daily Mail had tipped me over the edge.  My fear antenna was going beserk.  I had just read a story about a 30-year-old woman with terminal cancer, another about a guy who had thrown himself off a bridge and another about killer additives in food.

Alastair and I decided that enough was enough.  It was time for drastic action.  Alastair blocked access to The Daily Mail on our router which means we can’t open this website on any electronic device in our house.  The reason for this intervention was because I was addicted and I didn’t have the self-discipline to simply stop reading The Daily Mail myself.

Picture 6MailOnline is the electronic version of the British newspaper called The Daily Mail.  It has over 100 million readers every month and is one of the most visited ‘news’ websites in the world.  It breathlessly reports on current events, celebrities and general misfortune with the relentlessness and speed of an ambulance-chaser.  It is a tabloid masquerading as Serious News and it pulls this off very well.

MailOnline is the best source of celebrity gossip in the world.  At the time of the intervention, I was perusing MailOnline at least 6 times a day and my celebrity general knowledge was unsurpassable. It was instant escapism to read about Kim Kardashian’s dress at an award’s ceremony or peer at a picture of Kate Middleton doing her grocery shopping.

The Daily Mail helped me relax but it had a more sinister, insidious impact on my subconscious too.  The Daily Mail is emotive and describes events in gory detail.  It stokes fear and anxiety because it convincingly paints the world as a tragic place, full of horrors and threats. As someone who is easily alarmed, The Daily Mail was not good for my mental health. I can’t read something gruesome or upsetting one minute and forget about it the next.

It has been 2 months since I stopped reading MailOnline.  I am less anxious although Droopy is still hovering and I have realized that the problem is not just The Daily Mail but ALL news.

I should have been born 50 years ago when there was no internet and the newspaper arrived once a day.  Now we have constant online access to news from multiple sources and it is updated in real time.  At least three times a day, I check BBC, news24, CNN and a few others.  News is inherently negative and depressing and for a glass-half-empty person with no self-control (like me), it causes all sorts of anxiety and paranoid fretting. I started practicing my French by reading French news sites, which means that I am not only depressing myself in English, but in French too.

As my favourite columnist Charlie Brooker said,

To be alive on Planet Earth is to be pinned by an unseen gravitational force beyond your control to the surface of an almighty bauble of death cluttered with sharp objects, death traps, diseases, disasters and killers concocting new and exotic means of inflicting agony upon your person, all of it revolving silently in an infinite and eternal vacuum, the sheer insensate vastness of which is simply too ghastly for the human mind to contemplate.

images-54I am easily sucked into the whirlpool that is Breaking News.  After events such as the Sandy Hook shootings, the Boston Bombing or the Oscar Pistorius shooting, I scoured news websites and read different versions of the same story over and over as I tried to scope out a tidbit I hadn’t heard before.

I think we are a news-obsessed society.  But news wastes time and doesn’t improve life in any way. It just gives us more things to worry about.

I came across this article in The Guardian.  It says news is to the mind what sugar is to the body.  AMEN!  Hear Hear!  I agree!

It says,

News is easy to digest. The media feeds us small bites of trivial matter, tidbits that don’t really concern our lives and don’t require thinking. That’s why we experience almost no saturation. Unlike reading books and long magazine articles (which require thinking), we can swallow limitless quantities of news flashes, which are bright-coloured candies for the mind.  Today, we have reached the same point in relation to information that we faced 20 years ago in regard to food. We are beginning to recognise how toxic news can be.

News is irrelevant, toxic, makes us passive and acts as a drug.  The article goes on to say

News wastes time. If you read the newspaper for 15 minutes each morning, then check the news for 15 minutes during lunch and 15 minutes before you go to bed, then add five minutes here and there when you’re at work, then count distraction and refocusing time, you will lose at least half a day every week. Information is no longer a scarce commodity. But attention is. You are not that irresponsible with your money, reputation or health. Why give away your mind?.

I have given too much of my precious and scarce attention to news and social media.  My computer and its internet connection is just noise – a very loud, very distracting hum.  I must quit.  I must throw my computer into a fast-flowing river.


A few things I love about Switzerland

May 1, 2013

We spent the Easter weekend in Lake Como in Italy.  Italy and Switzerland are opposites.  Italy is laid-back and unrefined whereas Switzerland is prim and proper.  Italy is like Switzerland’s shady second cousin who’s always borrowing money and can’t hold down a job.  I can’t cope with Italy’s emotion, unfocused energy and constant disorder.  I prefer structured, rules-based Switzerland.  On the trip home over the border, I thought about some of the things I enjoy about this country:

Three kisses

DownloadedFile-6The Swiss greet with three kisses on the cheeks.  Left cheek, right cheek, then left one again. The Swiss give these cheek taps to old pals and also to acquaintances.  The lips don’t touch the other person’s skin, as I had to explain to Alastair who almost zerberted the recipient the first time he did it.

I love this convention because it takes away the uncertainty of greetings.  There is no dilemma as one tries to assess the appropriate level of intimacy – handshake, hug, cheek-kiss or lip-kiss?  There is no fumbling and no awkward half hugs or misfires as one person goes in for the kiss and the other for a hug.  The three-kiss greeting is convenient and angst-free and we expats do it among ourselves too.


IMG00276-20130430-1540I have a new appreciation for coffee.  Not the cappuccinos or lattes you get at Starbucks, Café Nero or Mugg n Bean – I am talking about real dinkum coffee that puts hair on your chest.

When I first arrived here and ordered les cafés, I was disappointed that they came in a little cup and saucer.  It was in more of a thimble than the mugs I was used to.  I always asked for milk and this sent waitresses into a dither because, in continental Europe, coffee and milk don’t go together.  It is either black or with a dash of cream.

Now I appreciate good quality, strong coffee.  Almost everyone I know (except us) has a Nespresso or proper bean-crushing coffee machine at home.  Recently I tried a Starbucks latte for a blast from the past and it tasted like coffee-flavoured milk.

Days of rest

I took this photo of the sign outside our local restaurant.

Picture 1

It is shut on a Sunday but they didn’t write ‘closed’ as I would expect.  They wrote ‘Day of rest’ (Jour de repos).  I love it that they got off the roundabout and said, ‘Enough.  On this day, we rest’.

Businesses don’t rest anymore, except in Switzerland where all shops are closed on Sundays.  Sunday is a government-enforced opportunity to do something more worthwhile than shop until you drop.  I love it that Sunday is a break from our relentless pursuit of more, more and even more.  Stop the glorification of busy.  Rest more.  Life is better in the slow lane.

Everything I need is close by

During our recce in Dec 2010, an agent took us around to view apartments.  I asked if she could take us to an attractive house I had seen on the internet.

‘No, I’m not showing you that place,’ she said. ‘It is too far from Alastair’s office’.

‘How far?’ I asked.

‘About 20 minutes.’

’20 MINUTES!’ I shrieked. ‘But that’s just down the road!’

Now we are thankful we didn’t take that apartment.  Everything I need is within a 15-minute radius.  I could never cope with commutes in London or Johannesburg again.  The 30-minute schlep to Geneva or Lausanne feels like a trek to a galaxy far away, which is why I rarely see friends that live there.

Tax on bags

DownloadedFile-7In January, throwing things away became expensive.  We no longer use black rubbish bags and have to buy special green and white ones that cost a fortune.  For one 35litre bag, I pay CHF2 (which is R20 or £1.40 per bag).  Now I think before I throw.  I am a fanatical recycler and the new bag tax has made everyone else so too.  I read in the local newspaper that the level of recycling has more than doubled since the bag-tax and the commune is sending substantially less to landfill than before.

Prices are high, but they don’t increase exponentially

Picture 5Switzerland is eye-wateringly expensive. I still hyperventilate when I have to pay CHF70 (R700 or £50) for a quick trim at the hairdresser.

The good thing is that prices don’t rise with the same madness as everywhere else.  Rent does not increase every year, as in most other countries.  I have a friend who has been paying the same rent for the last 25 years.  What a bargain.

No tipping

In Switzerland, tips are already included in the price so you are not obliged to leave extra.  I didn’t know that at first so I added 10% and then wondered why waiters waved me off with such warmth and good cheer.  On the other hand, this means the Swiss are awful customers anywhere else in the world.  My old Swiss boss embarrassed me every time we travelled internationally because he never left tips.

Nothing to buy

DownloadedFile-8There is very little variety in the shops.  Shopping is not fun as it is in other countries.  It is boring.  I find I save more here because there is nothing exciting on which to spend my money.

Advertising is subtle and calm and Christmas and Easter pass quietly without the usual hysteria and rampant consumerism. This suits us because Alastair and I have simple tastes.  In fact, our only luxuries are the occasional holiday and sometimes I splash out on fancier food and buy fillet instead of our usual brisket.

Stop for pedestrians

images-45I love it that pedestrians have right of way at a crossing and cars must stop.  Some pedestrians don’t even look out for oncoming cars and simply flop into the road and then dawdle over the crossing.  They assume that cars will stop – and they generally do.

Shoes off

images-51Most people I know take off their shoes before entering someone’s house.  My Swiss friend took off her shoes at my front door and then whipped slippers out her handbag.  In South Africa, it is unheard of to remove shoes before entering a house and you would only do it if the host was seriously neurotic or anal retentive.  I like it that people take off their shoes here, especially since I clean the house myself.

Coming soon … What I don’t like about Switzerland.