Nationalism. Where I’m from, it is almost a dirty word. To be nationalistic is to be proud of and dedicated to one’s country. It is often associated with fanaticism, prejudice and rejection of other nations. Switzerland, though not necessarily all of the above, is beyond doubt a nationalistic country. It’s every policy seems bent on preserving Switzerland and keeping everything as Swiss as possible.
There are good and bad points to this, but one thing that I have noticed about the Swiss attitude is it does not denigrate other nations. It is highly concerned with itself, it’s true, and keeping Switzerland pure and protected, yet I don’t get the impression that the Swiss spend much time looking arrogantly down their noses at and mocking other countries. Unlike other nearby places (naming no names here) which seem to almost make a sport of it. We would simply like to be left alone, please, and we’re happy, seems to be the Swiss mentality.
Anyone who’s seen a UDC poster will get an idea of Swiss nationalism at its extreme. It’s not a pretty sight. Foreigners trying to find employment here, particularly non-Europeans, are obstructed at every step with solid doors which open willingly for Swiss, less willingly for other Europeans, and barely ever for anyone else. I have a friend who, though non-European herself and continuously frustrated in her attempts to secure internships, thinks this is a good measure, that it protects the country. Otherwise anyone and everyone would come into Switzerland and ruin it; this way, they ensure only the crème de la crème are allowed in and can make a contribution to the country, maintaining those (highly Swiss) high standards, according to her.
The distinctive square, red Swiss flag with the central white cross is omnipresent. It flutters from rooftops – I can see one right now as I look out my room window – and graces a huge majority of products (100% Swiss-made! Swiss quality!), from supermarket groceries down to the sachets of sugar that come with your tea in McDonald’s. Seriously. Some find this disturbing, though there must be great comfort in this for the Swiss themselves, to have such a strong sense of their own, well, Swiss-ness.
Switzerland’s reputation for quality and efficiency has not been unjustly earned; it’s no wonder the people don’t really want to leave. It’s a little oasis of calm and affluence in an otherwise troubled continent. The place is so peaceful it’s nigh on impossible to feel stressed here, even when disaster strikes; just take a deep breath and escape to the mountains for some re-equilibration, and get in touch with those bucolic roots.
Yet what does it mean to be Swiss? The idea of Swiss identity baffles and fascinates me, and will probably be the subject of my final-year dissertation. The country is not only divided into regions by the four official languages spoken, but within these regions there are further divisions into cantons, all of which have fiercely distinct identities and even differing laws.
Much legislation is decided on a cantonal level, meaning that a canton just next door could have very different policies. There is also, naturally, inter-cantonal rivalry. Here in Lausanne, for example, they’re not huge fans of Geneva; “too French”, apparently. Yet despite these marked dissimilarities within this one tiny nation, there is still a great emphasis on an overall national identity. “We’re SWISS!”