Derek Sivers

Swiss Watching - by Diccon Bewes

Swiss Watching - by Diccon Bewes

ISBN: 1473677416
Date read: 2018-07-08
How strongly I recommend it: 5/10
(See my list of 320+ books, for more.)

Go to the Amazon page for details and reviews.

About the culture of Switzerland, written by a Brit. I love these kinds of country culture books, and have always been curious about Switzerland, so it scratched my itch, and has good insights. The description of how the government works was most interesting.

my notes

The Swiss have more power than their politicians.

Swiss love surnames.

CH = Confœderatio Helvetica, Switzerland’s official name.

Ask where his Heimatort, or place of origin, is and he where his ancestors came from.

The home is rarely opened up to strangers.

What to outsiders appears unfriendly is actually them respecting personal space and taking time to get to know someone.

Switzerland accounts for 6 per cent of the fresh water in Europe.

The mountains are the Swiss equivalent of the sea, the soul of the country. Beautiful and inviting yet defensive and unwelcoming.

Being direct and stating the facts : not wanting to talk about trivia or divulge personal information.

For many English speakers up is synonymous with north, and down with south. For the Swiss it’s about gradient not direction. Going down (north) to Basel but up (south) to Interlaken.

Kantönligeist: The polite translation is that each canton has its own identity, culture and history.

Switzerland never had one big capital.
Bern, the federal capital, is the political centre
Basel, thanks to the pharmaceutical companies, the industrial one
Lausanne, home of the Supreme Court, the legal
Geneva, HQ for the United Nations, the international
Zurich, the biggest of the five, the economic
Geneva is too international, and almost too French, while Lausanne is the closest thing Switzerland has to an alternative culture. Neither seems truly Swiss.

Drinks party, or Apéro, is a big deal.
Every guest’s first duty is to go round and greet everyone.
How rude it would be to stand in a room with someone whose name you did not know.
It would be unseemly to chat too long until you have met everyone.
Once your hellos are done, you can return for a proper conversation.
With friends, the handshake is supplemented by three cheek kisses (right–left–right) and a ‘How are you?’
Leaving a party is the same process as arriving but in reverse. You go round, shaking hands as you say goodbye but using the person’s name.
The trick is to wait until someone else starts to leave. As they go round you follow a step or two behind, carefully listening to each name.

To tell if the church is Protestant or Catholic: look up and see what’s on top of the spire or tower. A cockerel means it’s a Protestant church, a cross means it’s Catholic.

Geneva’s inhabitants refuse to speak German.

People have the power, and they use it.
Don’t like a government decision? Then collect names to change it.
Want to create a new law? Then collect names to initiate it.
Hate minarets? Then collect names to ban them.
The poll tax, the Iraq war, the privatisations and the tax hikes – all would be so much less likely to happen in Switzerland, precisely because they would be subject to a referendum. The Swiss people can initiate legislation or destroy it; they can force the government into new policies or reject decisions it’s already made. No one person or party ever has complete control – the people do.
The Swiss people are the final decision makers on almost every single policy, whether it affects their own neighbourhood or the whole country.
The people decide foreign policy.

Political advertising on TV is banned.

As part-time politicians, Swiss MPs remain relatively normal and don’t get carried away with their own importance. In Swiss eyes that’s an essential trait in public life, where parliament is about serving the people not yourself.

Invitations almost never state a dress code because that would break two cardinal rules: you are implying that you don’t trust your guests to come dressed properly, and you are invading their privacy by telling them what to wear.

Smart casual is a way of life, the only men to wear suits are bankers, lawyers and politicians.

Trust sums up the essence of the country.

You don’t ask questions and you expect everyone else to be as honest.

Swiss cherish privacy more than anything.
Swiss hate others telling them what to do and is one of the main reasons Switzerland is not in the European Union. Letting Brussels run their affairs would be invasion of Swiss privacy on a grand scale.

Swiss red tape makes all others look pink.

Only 35 per cent of Swiss own their own home.

Fist clenched around his thumb = wish me good luck.

In English “half seven” is a shortened form of half-past seven, whereas in German “halb sieben” translates as halfway to seven o’clock, 6.30.

Peace and neutrality go hand in hand. An oasis of security in a troubled world, but maintaining it is only possible through upholding their neutrality.

Switzerland didn't join the United Nations until 2002, after a close referendum.

While the Red Cross deals with the aftermath of the latest war, Switzerland prepares for the next one. Their flags are the reverse of each other’s.
Neutrality, Swiss style, is about being prepared.

From the age of 20 a Swiss man must complete 260 days of compulsory military service, either all at once or in annual stages.

Switzerland exports more arms than Israel, and has the world’s fourth highest gun ownership. Armed neutrality is a very Swiss concept.

The Swiss love to buy Swiss brands.

This quiet nation of conformists come up with more than its fair share of inventions.

The anti-capitalism, anti-globalism, anti-Americanism, in fact anti-anything feeling has grown quite strong in a country that traditionally sees itself as pro-individual.

Most Swiss people understate everything from their own wealth to the winter temperatures. If they say they only speak a little English, they’re probably nearly fluent.

No in Switzerland is always a no; it’s never a no disguised as yes or even a maybe.

Guests do not help in Swiss homes. Never set foot in the kitchen, never refill drinks, never clear the plates. Helping unasked implies that the hosts are not sufficiently organised and cannot cope on their own.