On E-dawg’s second day we had pegged the Palais des Nations as a possible stop for the rainy Monday. It was a good choice because, by default, it was literally the only museum open on Monday. Also E-dawg had it on her Geneva “must visit” list.
She had read there was a lot of walking and warned me but I decided I was up for it – couldn’t be more than a km or so. We took the bus to Nations. This was our first mistake. Or my first mistake. I just assumed that tourist rolled right through the colorful flags into the Palais des Nations to enter.
However, the actual tour entrance is was a 1 km walk away from the grande entrance. This detail would not have been very important to the old me. However, it is very important to the present-day me with healing feet. Thus, I wanted to show those readers who might be a little walking challenged where the entrance is. The #8 bus, Appia stop, gets you considerably closer. It’s important to conserve energy as this tour does include a lot of walking.
They are very protective of the safety of UN workers. Rightfully so, since 3000 have died in operations or just by being in UN offices in times of terror. So, checking in for the tour required multiple steps. First, you go through an airport-style metal detector. Then, you approach a desk to register by showing your passport for scanning, getting a new picture taken, and that photo being printed into a picture badge.
Next you go down an escalator, pay 12 CHF, and walk a distance to the entrance and gathering group of the tours. You approach the desk, give your language preference and wait. Then you get a bright orange lanyard indicating you are a tourist so that you can be easily spotted.
We were very lucky to have an amazing tour guide. We started the tour by seeing some of the conference rooms. There are over 9000 meetings a year so they need a lot of conference rooms.
We learned that in the traditional rooms, the member states sit in alphabetic order. Then comes the observer non-member states (like Palestine, Vatican City), then the NGOs that provide the link between civil society and UN. Then approved media.
The UN has six official languages – English, Arabic, French, Mandarin, Spanish and Russian. If you want to address the UN in a non official language, you have to bring your own translator.
Some fast facts about the UN:
-It was formed in 1945 after WW2 with the UN Charter
-It started with 52 members. Now there are 193. South Sudan was the last joiner. Switzerland didn’t join until 2002!
-The UN is decorated with art from all over the world, to represent its diversity among member states. In a grand entrance, there are colored marble in different designs. Our guide pointed out that the marble comes from 3-4 different countries to show integration and how great works are possible with collaboration. Pretty cool.
What is the difference in Geneva and NYC?
NYC handles more of the political and economical issues while Geneva focuses on human rights, science, technology, health, and world disasters.
The WHO (world health organization) is one of the bigger departments here in Geneva. Also, UNHCR – the high commission for refugees, which helps 20 million people a year!
Why did they pick Geneva?
NGO, The Red Cross was already there (1863) and it had been proven to be a good place for a headquarters. Plus, Switzerland was a neutral country making it additionally easier to facilitate an organization such as the UN. Third, Geneva was known as a very diverse city which helped exemplify what the UN’s goals are. Finally, geography – Geneva is in the center of Europe and is accessible by train and airport.
Currently, there are 8500 employees in Geneva, but 25,000 delegates participating here each year. Building on that, 163 of the 193 member states have permanent missions in Geneva. I know a few women at the women’s club whose husbands work for the missions so this fact a was interesting.
All in all, it was a good tour. I give it a 7 out of 10 and E-dawg rates it a 6.5 or 7 out of 10.