Or: the Trials and Tribulations of an Uptown Girl with a Boyfriend from Old Europe

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Location: Basel, Switzerland

Thursday, April 12, 2007

What next?

America is, with some justification, considered one of the most consumeristic countries in the world. However, in some ways Switzerland is just as bad. When I was here back in October, I saw that many shops had already started displaying their Christmas wares. Then, Fasnacht cakes took the place of Christmas lebkuchen and läckerli cookies, and those in turn were nudged aside by enormous chocolate Easter bunnies and elaborately decorated eggs. Whenever I'm here, there's been something special for sale in the stores.

Now that Easter is over, I've been wondering what they'll come up with next. As far as I'm aware, there are no religious, national, cantonal, or city holidays coming up. So what excuse will Coop and Migros use to get people to indulge?

Well, yesterday I went into Migros for the first time since Easter, and the answer seems to be: BEETLES.

Yes, you read that right. Beetles, and I don't mean the car, either. For some reason, an artful arrangement of fist-sized, creepy-crawly-shaped chocolates was perched in the middle of the grocery store, between a refrigerator case filled with yogurt, and a display stand of melons.

After a bit of staring and obligatory photo-taking, I got down to the serious business of wondering. Who would want to eat a bug, chocolate or not? (On second thought, I can imagine a lot of grade-school boys thinking this would be really cool.) And were there actually beetles inside? (The American Museum of Natural History used to sell similar stuff for its Insects exhibit, and some of those candies involved real bugs embedded in lollipops; they were meant to ressemble flies in amber.) And why, of all things, beetles?

Swissy Pie clarified things somewhat when he got home. Those were Maikäfer, or May bugs, which were once a terrible pest in Europe. Both the larvae and the adults are voracious eaters, so infestations could wipe out the entire year's crop. Nevertheless, since they appear in late April or early May, they are a sign that spring has arrived, so apparently as long as they don't behave too terribly, they are welcomed.

That still didn't quite explain why people ate chocolate Maikäfer. After all, spinach, asparagus, lamb, strawberries, raspberries, and all sorts of seasonal stuff was appearing on the market at the same time. Why bugs? Was it some sort of "we'll eat them before they can eat us" mentality, I asked? Swissy Pie only shrugged.

Possibly, as a little bit of research showed, but more likely it's an evolution. Back in the dark ages before DDT and other lovely pesticides were invented, farmers attempted to keep the Maikäfer population under control by catching and killing the adult beetles. These efforts were only marginally successful, so presumably crops were often destroyed. People might then have turned to the beetles for food. There are recipes for Maikäfersuppe, which evidently tastes somewhat like crab soup. Even as late as the 1920s, some students ate sugar-covered Maikäfer. Just as the Karneval Nubbel has taken the place of a real human sacrifice, chocolate Maikäfer may have taken the place of the real thing.

Which is probably for the best, as far as the Swiss retailers are concerned. But what will they put in the aisles after the May bugs are gone? June bugs?

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Blogger The Big Finn said...

You'll see that July is dead in Switzerland. That's when the grocery stores will offer all sorts of incentives for you to go shopping (5 x Superpoints at Coop, coupons, etc.). It's a great time to stock up on all your necessities. Also, July is when the grocery stores begin selling fireworks (we're talking major explosives here!) for Swiss National Day on August 1st.

April 12, 2007 at 9:12 PM  
Blogger Alexandra said...

ha! nice job on the research! that does make sense--

now i want chocolae beatles (the CAR kind)

April 13, 2007 at 7:46 AM  
Blogger Greg said...

You'll often see hazelnut filled ladybugs in the chocolate shops as well.

And TBF ain't jokin' about the fireworks. These things look like weapons. My brother-in-law brought along some huge rockets the last time we were celebrating August 1st in Vals. Good thing the roofs on the houses there are made of 6 inch thick stone there.

April 13, 2007 at 7:48 AM  
Blogger Global Librarian said...

What a fabulous blog topic!

My parents are here visiting. Tonight we went to the Migros and got chocolate beetles for each of the grandchildren.

They'll love them!

April 13, 2007 at 7:23 PM  
Blogger Eva said...

Thanks for the research! Had wondered about them when I saw them in migros tonight....now I know :-)

April 13, 2007 at 10:14 PM  
Blogger naechstehaltestelle said...

I still would not eat those...chocolate or not. So many other delicious chocolate things to eat.

April 14, 2007 at 7:52 AM  
Blogger Princess Cat's Pajamas said...

Oh my God, I am so glad those have not arrived in Geneva yet. (Or if they have, I haven't seen them yet.) I am so terrified of bugs that I would not go into any supermarket with chocolate beetles...

Yeah, I'm a wimp. :)

April 14, 2007 at 9:09 PM  
Anonymous jessica said...

i love how you know everything ":)

April 15, 2007 at 8:12 AM  
Blogger Un-Swiss Miss said...

TBF: Fireworks! Yay! I love a good show.

Ale: A chocolate VW Beetle would require a LOT of chocolate! Think you could eat the whole thing?

Greg: Will have to keep my eye out for the ladybugs. Somehow they seem less repulsive to me than beetles. I think this is because when I was growing up, we had swarms of June bugs descending on us every year to feast on our Japanese plum tree. Spraying just got us a nice, crunchy back yard. YUCK.

GL: Hope the grandkids enjoy! (Are they grade school boys, out of curiosity?)

Eva: You're welcome. How was skiing?

NHS: I'd eat them if someone told me the chocolate was really good. Otherwise... better things to fill my tummy with! (Oddly, I'd probably be more likely to try the Maikäfersuppe... as long as the soup isn't crunchy.)

PCP: If you really fear bugs that much, one word of advice: don't ever move to New York City!

Jessica: See, it's not me - it's the boyfriend.

April 15, 2007 at 3:33 PM  
Blogger Indie Mama said...

Hi Un-Swiss Miss!

My husband and I (along with our cat and 15 month old daughter) are planning to move to Basel (very) soon. I'd love to hear your thoughts. The move is slightly unexpected, so we're scrambling to get everything together and could use all the sound advise we could get!


April 23, 2007 at 1:05 PM  
Blogger Un-Swiss Miss said...

Indie Mama - Welcome! Please let me know if there's anything I can tell you, though keep in mind it's a learning process here, too. =)

April 27, 2007 at 3:42 PM  
Blogger Tinsie said...

I think the May bugs and ladybirds are supposed to symbolise the arrival of spring, because once they come out it means there will be no more frost. I don't mind them - any excuse to eat chocolate!

May 9, 2007 at 7:09 PM  

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