Bernadette’s Take #5

Joanne’s advice against Lederhosen

I wonder whether the people from Biel/Bienne in the canton of Berne were aware what had befallen them. A famous Canadian journalist lived among them and did what journalists do: She watched them oh so closely. Mayhem she wrote.

Jo 6 biel switzerland 2012 - CopyJoanne Hatherly descended on Switzerland from April 1, 2011
to June 30, 2012, with unexpected consequences – for the Swiss.
(Photo Joanne Hatherly)

Joanne Hatherly has not only written articles for the National Post in Toronto, the Times Colonist in Victoria, and major city newspapers across Canada: She is above all the author of a hilarious and revealing blog about the Swiss. You have to read it. I did, and it did me in.

There are 323 entries, and – according to Joanne – followed by readers from 119 countries! My, the Swiss are definitely a source of inspiration.

Joanne`s blog about Switzerland:

Here are some extracts (I will not quote one of her most popular blog posts about transparent public toilets – viewers` discretion advised – for that you have to go to her blog):

“The Swiss are orderly, but they waste no time, so if they see a gap in a line-up, they will immediately fill it. Never hang back from a counter – plunge right in and belly up to the counter or you will be swept aside by the Swiss, not because they are rude, but because they assume you haven’t made up your mind yet.”

“The Swiss can vote for crazy things like prostitute garages and keeping women from voting (until the 1980s), but sometimes their poll results reveal an intelligent electorate mature in its understanding of economics.”

IMG_7583 - CopyThe Swiss can vote for crazy things? No, surely not.
Definitely not. Unimaginable. Never. Ever.
(Main station in Zurich, Photo B.Calonego)

“They love festivals, and they are crazy about music. It’s not just yodeling that tickles their ears: I have never seen such a large concentration of accordion players anywhere.

They beat out the Americans when it comes to marching bands – they have them all over the place, some in costume and organized, while others who look like they decided to take their band practice out of the garage and on to the street, just for fun.”

Jo Hatherly.Biel - CopyJoanne Hatherly thinks that the quality of music of street
musicians in Switzerland is very high – who would have thought!
Forget about Mozart, Austria!  We have The Sharecroppers in Biel/Bienne!
(Photo Joanne Hatherly)

“Switzerland is swathed in bureaucracy. For example, no one is allowed on a golf course until they have been certified. It seems a bit far-fetched but there it is.

The same thinking applies to dog-ownership. Switzerland demands that dog-owners become certified before they actually own a dog, and certification does not mean just paying a fee and getting a piece of paper; it means taking a course in dog-training.

After successfully completing the course, the person then gets the dog and later goes back for further training and certification.”

“Switzerland is the third-largest chocolate producer with the Swiss Nestle’ corporation placing it there, just behind “Mars,” a U.S. company. The U.S. is home to three of the world’s top-ten chocolate-makers. That is pretty impressive, but consider that Switzerland has two companies in the top ten, then compare the two  nations’ population and geography (the U.S. is gumpteenzillion times bigger, for one), and Switzerland is all the more outstanding. You have to think that if the U.S. applied the same degree of diligence that the Swiss do, we would be swimming in chocolate. This would be okay with me.”

Jo.Hatherly - CopyWe don’t bribe in Switzerland, we don’t need to – we have
chocolate. Swiss chocolate even defeated Joanne Hatherly.
Slabs of chocolate in a store in Solothurn (Photo Joanne Hatherly).

“What surprises us the most, however, is that such a geographically small place has such a globally large footprint – from the Red Cross to the United Nations to its international market for banking, pharmaceuticals (Roche, Novartis), watches, Swiss Army knives and more. They are a stunningly successful people who from so little have made so much.”

Thank you, Joanne! Thank you, thank you, thank you.

No wonder that I absolutely had to place an

UPC (Urgent Phone Call) to Joanne Hatherly

who now lives in Victoria B.C. where she is working on a novel (I hope it is about the Swiss!!!! Something like William Tell emigrating to Canada because the tyrant Gessler prohibited Tell from forming the Crossbow-for-Dummies Party).

Joanne says about herself:

“I’m a native Canadian prairie gal whose European ancestors’ early arrival in North America was documented when one brother sued another over a matter of a few cows and some Quebec farmland in the 1600s, permanently setting the familial tone toward “acidic.”

I am setting the tone to tongue-in-cheek:

Finally the UPC  to Joanne Hatherly

Joanne, why on earth did you advise the North American travelers not to take Lederhosen to Switzerland?

It turns out Lederhosen is not part of the Swiss’s daily wardrobe. We only saw it at a wedding and at festivals.

Why do you think that Swiss, commonly known as conservative, are actually daring risk-takers?

This contradiction baffled us. In the Jungfrau mountains, on a winding narrow pebble trail with no safety guardrails, we saw mountain bikers blaze past us. A single error in judgement would have sent them wheeling down the mountainside to their deaths, but that did not seem to worry them or slow them down.

We also saw many signs of sports injuries in the population, with many young people hobbling by on canes, crutches and even walkers.

IMG_7573 - CopyThe Swiss are risk-takers?? No, this is NOT what Joanne meant. Really.

Store in the old core of Zurich (Photo B. Calonego)

Do you have an explanation for this phenomenon?

I don`t know. How does a nation so famously prudent with its finances and so diplomatic in its politics, breed such an air of adventure about it?

It may be that Switzerland’s rugged landscape breeds a rugged people.

The Swiss are risk-takers, otherwise, they would not exist. They would have been absorbed into Germany, Italy, France and Austria long ago.

How did you deal with Switzerland`s secret weapon (I mean chocolate)?

I surrendered to it. I had to. I was surrounded on all sides. Everyone knows about Switzerland’s chocolate kings: Lindt, Nestlé and Frey, but what they don’t know is that all those little Swiss villages have their own quaint chocolate shops where the sweets are made by the locals.

It is in these shops a tourist can find some real treasures. I am forever a slave to the creamy richness of the chocolates at Lanz Bäckerei Konditorei, an unassuming small shop in Evilard, on the slopes of the Jura Mountains.

What did surprise you most about the Swiss?

Two things surprised us the most: First, that so many Swiss smoke cigarettes, which contradicts their devotion to good health; and second, Switzerland’s military readiness.

The latter surprised us because in Canadian schools, we were taught Switzerland maintained neutrality magically by just being nice.

The truth is more complicated: Switzerland is neutral because it works hard to be so, through trade, diplomacy and by keeping its population battle-ready through mandatory military service.

What makes you think that Canadians and Swiss are actually like-minded?

IMG_7398 - CopyCanadians and Swiss prefer the same colour scheme. Isn’t
this ghastly? (Train station in Zurich-Oerlikon, Photo B. Calonego)

Canada and Switzerland have more similarities than they do differences. People in both countries prize generosity and altruism. A lesser-recognized national trait shared by both nations is stability, whether it is in personal life, economics or culture.

It is not an accident that in the recent global economic meltdown, both Swiss and Canadian economies became front-page news as both countries weathered the financial storm better than most.

Joanne, how will you ever recover from your experiences in Switzerland?

I will never recover. I don’t want to. We hope to return to Switzerland, soon, and if we do, I am working up the nerve to ask the prostitutes what they thought of the Swiss voting to build them a “garage.”


I could not end on this note, I had to subject Joanne Hatherly to the Can-Swiss Quiz!

Here are her answers:

What gift do you bring home from Switzerland?

We sent home the usual type of souvenirs: Key chains, coffee mugs, chocolates, a traditional Swiss doll, a snow globe and more chocolate! If our budget had been more generous, I would have bought watches for everyone.

IMG_7577 - Copy - CopyIf Joanne had been a millionaire, she might have bought the
Matterhorn. Instead she bought key chains. Luckily.
(Souvenir store in Zurich, photo B. Calonego)

What Swiss product do you miss most in Canada?

Swiss cheese in all its forms, including Corgemont cheese!

Which are the 3 qualities you cherish most in Swiss men or women?

Kindness, punctuality, hospitality.

Which are the 3 qualities you cherish most in Canadian men or women?

Kindness, fairness, humour.

What triggered a culture shock for you in Switzerland or Canada (in one sentence, please)?

I was shocked at the Swiss’s version of change room etiquette where women would bring their husbands or boyfriends into the change rooms to consult on their wardrobe purchases.

Jo.Hatherly.Thun - CopyMaybe there should be shutters in the change rooms in
Switzerland to give more privacy from leering eyes! Joanne Hatherly
fell in love with them (the Swiss shutters, not the leering eyes).
Shutters in Thun, Photo Joanne Hatherly

Which Canadian or Swiss personality fascinates you?

It’s impossible to name just one, the list is so long, but there would be these at the top: Daniel Peter and Henri Nestlé, who together created milk chocolate.

2 responses to “Bernadette’s Take #5

  1. Pingback: After Switzerland | HoboNotes·

  2. Great story….being Swiss and having to do a lot with british colleagues, I can ad another story:The British can not understand that we Swiss have to have our lunch at noon. And not in the office, a proper lunch outside!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s