Xenophobe's® Guides: How the Swiss see others

Xenophobe's® Guides: How the Swiss see others

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With a healthy regard for everything Swiss, how does Switzerland's population perceive the rest of the world?

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

The Swiss, if happy with their strawberries, are always plagued by doubts about most other things. The biggest of these is that someone else might have thought up a better way of doing things. This leads them to look longingly over into the next valley and from there at every other nation on earth.

After much national soul-searching, Switzerland finally joined the United Nations in 2002, but membership of the EU and NATO still lie a long way off. Officially, this is because it would compromise their unique democratic system and Swiss neutrality. Unofficially, the Swiss feel that they are not worthy to join such august organisations, staunchly clinging to their independence and the Swiss franc. The people voted no to the EU because nobody was able to convince them that there would be any great advantages in joining a poor man’s club. But they are constantly racked with worry, wondering if they made the wrong decision.

They have a long-standing love affair with America. This is because the USA is everything that Switzerland is not. America is vast and uniform. Switzerland is small and diverse. The Swiss imagine Americans to be freewheeling extrovert cowboys roaming unhindered over immense tracts of unspoilt land, while they themselves labour under a strict bureaucratic system and social codes that place heavy burdens of responsibility on every citizen’s shoulders. The wildest thing that a Swiss can do is buy an American car – and many do.

The British are admired for conquering half the world and not feeling guilty about it; and then losing it all again and not feeling a failure. The Swiss still see them as tea-sipping gentlemen despite the hordes of British football hooligans rampaging through the stadia of Europe.

The Germans are openly disliked for being so confident, not to mention being able to speak German so well. At the same time, the Swiss are secretly jealous of German confidence. The French take the collective Swiss breath away with their charm, sophistication and savoir vivre. And the Austrians are convenient neighbours who take the butt of many jokes.

While the Swiss adore everything from other countries in small doses, it should be noted that there is a big difference between ‘things from other countries’ and ‘foreign’. The Swiss have trouble with defining what is Swiss, so it is clear that they will also have problems defining what is foreign. Almost 21 percent of the resident population of Switzerland is foreign. You need Swiss parents, or a Swiss partner, or to be an artist, better still a rich artist, or have lived at least ten years in the country before you can be considered for citizenship.

This 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 service is poor in a restaurant, gardens are untidy, neighbours are noisy, cars are dirty, clothes not quite the latest fashion, the favourite scapegoat is saddled with the blame. With knowing looks, the explanation is proffered that the offending parties are not Swiss; they are not even tourists who are allowed to do whatever they want, but Ausländer – foreigners.

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.



Thumbnail credit: SVP political campaign. 

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