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Friday, 17 September 2010

‘Whats not to like about Switzerland?’

It’s a comment I often hear myself saying when people ask me why I have come back to live here. Nature, efficiency, low crime, high wages, cleanliness…there is no doubt that the quality of life here is extremely high and the Swiss have gotten a lot of things right. Even Obama came shopping here for a Health system.

So what is there not to like about this alpine paradise? Well, any foreigner here, in particular those who are not of the WASPy persuasion, could write volumes about the institutional racism here. On paper everyone is equal, or at least everyone with a Permit B is equal to everyone else with a Permit B, and so on for Permit C,A,L etc. However when a few very Swiss agencies control most of the urban housing markets and the police have the right to stop and question anyone without the requirement of probable cause, you can see some unfriendly trends.

Not living in the Swiss German part of Switzerland, and in a region which has welcomed many migrants, immigrants and asylum seekers , I am normally insolated from the worse rigours of the Swiss mindset. However a recent trip to the German speaking part of Valais for a music festival threw some different shades on my thinking.

Nadja is Serbian and has lived in Bern for some time, having previously lived in the French speaking part of the country. She invited me out for a day’s amusement in a open air music festival. The location was stunning, set in the flatness of the valley with mountains rising to both sides and as far as the eye could see. The festival was also very young, very drunken and very Swiss German. For the first time in Switzerland I found officials who could not speak French and did not seem too happy about speaking English either.

Don’t get me wrong, people at the festival were as friendly as anyone at festivals anywhere…alcohol wil do that…the difference in Switzerland is that however chatty a Swiss person is at a festival, you will never hop that invisible barrier in the Swiss head which seperates you from the friends they have known for 20+ years. In very real terms you are a no one to them and its fairly obvious from the way they treat you. Non-Swiss are generally disposable entertainment for the ‘locals’.

What, I wonder, could have caused this? Is it the excessive tourism? I fail to understand the utter lack of interest the Swiss show in others – others defined as anyone from outside their dorf.

That afternoon I looked around and was transported by the bright sunshine and the beauty of the mountains, only to be brought down to earth rather rapidly by an inebriated local giving Nadja some hassle for not speaking Swiss German (she speaks a reasonable amount of high German). He said something derogatory about visitors, to which I replied that she had lived in Switzerland for 10 years. “Hmp…yes…she is a tourist” he spat back at me.

That’s Switzerland for me, heartbreakingly beautiful and on many levels very livable, but so ugly sometimes what lives in the hearts and minds of its people.

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