I do not dislike Switzerland, but we got off to a bad start. It all began with my stamp collection, which I mentioned previously. I wasted quite a few hours trying to find Helvetia on the map, only to discover that this was the Latin name for Switzerland.
My second brush with Switzerland came with the classic comic album Asterix in Switzerland by Goscinny & Uderzo. The heroes, Asterix and Obelix, are sent to the Alps to pick edelweiss and end up at a Roman orgy where people are punished for dropping their bread in the fondue. This made a deep impression on me at the time and, to this day, whenever we eat fondue and someone drops their bread, we jokingly threaten to beat them, whip them or throw them in the lake. Only later did I realise that it was the Romans who were doing the beating, whipping and throwing, while the poor Helvetian servants were trying to keep the place clean.
This was followed by the Saga of the Swiss Army Knife That Came Too Late. It was one of those big ones with twenty different implements, including scissors, a magnifying glass and, bizarrely, a plastic toothpick. I’d wanted this knife since I was nine or ten. I eventually got it when I graduated from high school at the age of seventeen. But by then it was too late, because the status of the knife had diminished from “object of immense pride and joy” to “utility item”.
And then there was Orson Welles, who delivered one of my favourite movie lines of all time in The Third Man. His character, Harry Lime, gives the following scathing commentary on Switzerland: “In Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, bloodshed – but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”
Now I know all that is a little unfair, so I decided to call in the help of some Facebook friends, hoping that they would surgically remove my prejudice and convince me that Switzerland is more than just banks, mountains, watches, skiing, fondue and Roger Federer.
I was wrong. Here are some of their replies to my question: “What are the first few words that come to mind when I say: Switzerland”
“Why don’t they use the Euro!”
“Chocolate, fondue, banks, army, mountains.”
“Is N’Kufo/Heidi really Swiss?”
“Stuck in the Gotthard Tunnel.”
“Fondue, watches, Lindt, Alps, Heidi.”
“Autobahnvignet, Fake, Cell, SF700 fine.”
“Heidi, chocolate, banks, watches, referendum.”
“It’s a funny word, Switzerland.”
“Cheese, bank vaults, edelweiss, mountains.”
“Souped-up Mercs at full throttle.”
“Schnitzel, Sauber, penknives, steeples, no minarets.”
“I would have to say, cheese.”
“Birds don’t sh*t there!”
“Fondue, mountains, skiing, chocolate and I-am-going-there-in-three-weeks’-time!”
“Cuckoo, crossbow, neutrality and hotel schools”
“Spengler Cup, skiing, chocolate, watches.”
“Barbecues (apparently they are world champs).”
“Cheese, chocolate, cowbells, mountains, snow.”
“Just reading the word Zurich makes your wallet lighter.”
“Neutrality, chocolate, snow, banks, Red Cross.”
“Organised, cold, mountains, expensive, beautiful.”
“Yodel ay ee oo oo.”
Well, after that avalanche of chocolate, cheese, cuckoo clocks and other gross stereotypes, I am quietly hoping that some kind Swiss readers will drop in and change our minds, tell us something we don’t know about Switzerland. Like, what’s so funny about “bündnerfleisch”?