How well do you know the Swiss? This frank and irreverent guide shares some insight to Swiss character and culture.
Perceptions of the Swiss as being dull, while at the same time displaying a talent for ruthless efficiency and a limitless capacity for hard work, are uncomfortably close to the truth. But ask to buy a Swiss roll, no Swiss has heard of it, and cuckoo clocks are far too kitsch for Swiss tastes.
The positive downside
Typical Swiss character has perfected a negative mental attitude so that it works positively. Müller’s Law, the Swiss version of Murphy’s Law, states ‘whatever can go wrong, will go wrong – but we will be more than prepared for it’.
The Swiss ‘mountain’ mentality
Mountains dominate the landscape and the Swiss mind-set. It’s an isolated life on a mountain farm where relationships with others are more difficult to cultivate than potatoes. Today even Swiss town-dwellers still go about their daily lives as if they, too, were farming a lonely mountain cliff.
The obsession with Swiss quality
The Swiss long ago abandoned hope of making anything cheap and instead found a niche at the other end of the market. Of course, expensive things will only sell if they are of the highest quality. With this Swiss obsession, most Swiss things are built like a tank and made to last a thousand years.
Abiding by Swiss regulation
Switzerland is often referred to as a police state. Once the Swiss start obeying the myriad laws, they are inclined to think all fellow countrymen should also obey them – ‘cheating the system’ is not applauded. Some of the most horrendous crimes that one can commit is to put out one’s rubbish in a non-approved bag or taking a bath before 7am or after 10pm.
How the Swiss see themselves
The Swiss have a healthy belief that whatever originates in their own country, and preferably their own area, is the best, particularly the people. Thus, if the supermarket offers Italian strawberries at half-price, the Swiss will still buy home-grown ones in the firm belief that theirs are vastly superior.
Switzerland and Ausländer
The Swiss adore everything from other countries but only in small doses. The non-Swiss fifth of the population has provided the other four-fifths with the perfect alibi for everything that is the slightest bit imperfect. When restaurant service is poor, gardens are untidy, neighbours are noisy or cars are dirty, the favourite scapegoat – Ausländer (foreigner) – is saddled with the blame.
A Swiss introspection
The Swiss are very image-conscious and care passionately how they are seen by other nations. They firmly believe they are subject to constant inspection and criticism by the rest of the world. They do it to themselves, so they reason, others must be doing it to them too.
The Swiss are seen as an unbelievably polite nation. The Swiss are unable simply to say ‘good morning’ to their neighbours. Swiss formality also manifests itself in handshaking, which is taken to absurd lengths – even schoolchildren can be seen shaking hands when meeting in the street.