Isn't it cute when you hear the expression on sports TV about "playing Switzerland?" To some not terribly familiar with the country, the term and image of Switzerland conveys a land of neutrality, prosperity and idyllic place to live (militarily neutral and won’t join other armies even though they have an army and will defend themselves).
How adorable and charming to hear about the special land of Geneva, Bern and the Matterhorn and the only country portrayed as a neutral land in American media even though their neighbor, Austria, is also neutral but apparently does not get the same kind of love. Why not love for Vienna, Innsbruck and Salzburg too? Why just love Suisse? Perhaps Austria is neglected because of the absence of kangaroos and perhaps the Swiss have a better PR department and more influential lobbyists.
Decades ago, I lived in this beautiful place for almost one year where at least four languages are spoken: Romansh, French, Italian & German. I still follow the ‘goings on' from many kilometers away as I still find this land, culture and economy compelling. From my past experience, my perspective or take on this idyllic country is typically quite different from the American bus traveler who visits 20 European countries in 21 days.
It goes without saying that living in any country for an extended period may provide a unique "snapshot" of their culture.
In my mind, even though Switzerland is considered a neutral land, one might be prudent not to project much beyond that point. First, as mentioned earlier, military neutral means they have an army -- and they'll defend themselves tooth and nail. Military neutral doesn't mean it doesn't have social problems to deal with especially significant drug issues in their largest cities. Military neutral doesn't mean it's not ethnocentric in its thinking where any foreign worker or Gastarbeiter (guest worker) does much of the manual labor and is often looked down upon by the wealthy Swiss. Perhaps similar to the United States with Central American laborers although laborers in the U.S. are much more likely to gain citizenship if they keep their nose clean. Getting back to being military neutral, it doesn't mean there are many world economists and business people who question their opaque banking policies.
Perhaps this is overshadowed by the entire wonderful PR done by travelers who fall in love with pictures of Switzerland. Many of whom can’t wait to walk down those quaint and uber clean village streets, eat scrumptious chocolate, see snow-capped Alps, and for some, fortunate to hear the brown Swiss cows casually ringing their bells while grazing in the mountainous regions.
A bittersweet relationship about this landlocked country? Perhaps should I hold a neutral position? It offers a tremendous amount of beauty and many things to see and experience. However, it's quite expensive so that experience may take a sizable chunk from one's wallet. Maybe in my mind, that's the Achilles heel with Switzerland. If you're extremely wealthy, they will welcome you with open arms. If you're not, it might present many challenges. Of course, one might associate these conditions with many other countries and that might be true although, I'd argue, this is more acute with Switzerland.
Hearing references to ‘playing Switzerland’ during sports’ TV compelled me to provide another perspective about Switzerland – contrary to the common stereotype. Perhaps it's only human nature to project "the grass is greener on the other side" about a foreign land. A place some may inspire to visit sometime.
The perception that Switzerland is a fairly tale place to live will be further reinforced by travelers who spend less than 36 hours there. Also, as mentioned above, the media perpetuates the image of a safe and idyllic place without any social problems. One's perception of the fairy tale land may be shattered by those outsiders who actually get a first hand experience of how the Swiss actually think and feel about those not native Swiss residents.