Xenophobe's® Guides: How others see the Swiss

Xenophobe's® Guides: How others see the Swiss

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The Swiss care passionately how other nations see them – as much as the Swiss inspect and criticise themselves, they assume every other nation is doing the same.

Xenophobe's® Guides: A book series that highlights the unique character and behaviour of different nations with insight and humour.

The culture of the Swiss is diverse, so they do not have a ready caricature. Tourists demand cuckoo clocks to take home, so the Swiss are happy to accept Swiss francs for them, but in reality they are far too kitsch for Swiss tastes and originate in southern Germany. It is true that the Swiss army is issued with knives; but not the tourist version complete with scissors, tweezers, toothpick, nail-file, corkscrew and horse-hoof stone extractor.

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. Thus they are devastated when Switzerland is confused with Sweden as it often is on the grounds that both are neutral, begin with ‘Sw’ and have snow. Even Switzerland’s capital city is a ‘Trivial Pursuits’ question. It is not Geneva, nor its biggest city Zurich, but Berne.

Such misconceptions are not helped by the liberal use of the name ‘Helvetia’, which causes confusion among young would-be stamp collectors. Its origins lie with the locals being called the Helvetii by the Romans. Swiss cars bear the nationality plate CH. This stands for ‘Confoederatio Helvetica’ i.e., ‘Swiss Federation’ in Latin – the Swiss opting for neutrality rather than choose one of their own languages.

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. The clichéd impressions of high mountains, watches, cheese (with and without holes), chocolate bars and gold bars are genuine.

But ask anyone in Zurich where the gnomes are and you will earn blank looks. The same applies if you want to buy a Swiss roll – no Swiss has heard of it.

For more, read The Xenophobe's Guide to the Swiss.

Reproduced from Xenophobe's Guide to the Swiss by kind permission of Xenophobe's® Guides.

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