In London, for as much as work as I did finding Swissness at Sainsbury’s, M & S, and Waitrose (I deliberately shun Tesco as much as I can, and I never do Aldi, Lidl, or the like), I found only limited Swissness when it came to dairy products. I was a regular Onken yoghurt consumer, but as it had German roots, I wanted to look for something “more authentically Swiss”. And the only Swiss yoghurt you got were at Whole Foods, from a local dairy in Bischofszell (or thereabouts), Canton of St Gallen. You could easily forget what Waitrose passed off as its Number 1 choice for chocolate — I as a Swiss feel quite insulted that we weren’t picked (but the choice was made pre-Brexit, so they could always reconsider!).
For Beijing, by no means are they cheap (apart from the occasional sale), but if it’s something that won’t kill you, I’m going for it at all costs. ▶
You’re seeing a black-and-white copy of the first part of my Swiss visa on my old, and now expired, Chinese passport. That was what I used to come to the Alpine republic. When I left for Beijing in 2000, I left Zürich Airport with the classic red booklet — the Swiss passport. The Swiss cross of worldwide fame was no longer restricted to a classical Wappe; it had taken over the entire cover of the passport.
Switzerland has given me so much for my past 12 years there. The country still continues to be part of what I do, day in, day out. Not sold? Here’s what it gave me… ▶
Rumantsch is that mysterious, hidden language that only “comes to” if you take a look at a Swiss passport or ID card. On the last line of the inside back cover of our passport, where you might “usually” expect English, you get this instead…
Quest passport cuntegna in chip da datas electronic. Il passaport sto vegnir tractà cun quità e na dastga betg vegnir faudà, sturschi, donnegià u exponì a champs electromagnetics ferms. Mintga perdita dal passport sto vegnir annunziada al proxim post da polizia. In passport ch’è puspè vegni chattà na dastga betg pli vegnir utilisà.
I see you utterly confused! This is Rumantsch Grischun. ▶
The average gearstick in a car — and as in which gear you select — will decide how fast your motorised monster will go — or in which way, rather. It is close to suicidal to suddenly yank it into reverse — especially if your car is in a higher gear. Not only do you risk ruining your car’s hardware, you yourself are at risk as well!
Switzerland has just less than a year to see if it can come to an agreement, of sorts, with Brussels — on the thorny issue of freedom of movement for EU, EEA, and Swiss citizens. Much of this depends right now on how the UK will vote on the contentious issue of Brexit. And yet, a new people’s initiative, RASA, proposes an immediate yank into reverse for the Swiss constitution’s Article 121a, which is the point of contention — by scrubbing it out of the constitution itself. It would be no less than be a Swiss version of the US Constitution’s article on Prohibition, to be struck out. It’s really no different to yanking the stick from 5th to reverse, just as Bern blindly finds a way to realise Article 121a. ▶
You will note I am all for Swissness in everything I do. Indeed: Attributes with positive connotations, which include fairness, precision, reliability, political stability, nature-ness, precision, and cleanliness, should be summarised and be marketed overseas as something that is typical of Switzerland. (That’s if you take it from the German Wikipedia!)
My challenge every time I head onstage is how to either host an event or make a talk in such a way that the audience feel like it’s done with Swiss quality. This is particularly big for me, because having travelled to so many different places, one does really see the difference between Switzerland and the rest of the world. There are also the tiny bits and bobs that so define the country that you simply miss when you’re beyond the border.
Having myself been frustrated at times with “things from other places” that might not work the way you wanted them to, I felt it was important to give the audience an evening where everything simply worked like clockwork. I’ve been adding elements from Switzerland in such a way that I’d be happy as a member of the audience myself, and my idea is if I tested the waters with high standards, you as the audience should enjoy the show as well! ▶
Jau sun dischillusinà, SWISS!
Ti sas bain: Tgi che sa rumantsch sa dapli!
For 2014, I avoided flying with SWISS International Air Lines because I totally exploded into a year-long fit of fury after a bill to limit immigration from the rest of Europe passed by the narrowest of margins.
So when the year-long self-imposed ban lapsed in 2015, I returned to flying “my” bit of the world. To my absolute shock and horror, though: it looked like SWISS had done away with Rumantsch, certainly on their displays and other items, and where I could easily brush up my knowledge of Deutsch, Français, Italiano and Rumantsch (in addition to English), this was simply gone. Never mind it was spoken by “just” 0.5% of the Swiss population and has six or seven variants; it’s part of Switzerland and you simply don’t throw it away! ▶
Dörf ich Ihrni Frau seh?
Immigration at Zürich Airport was incredibly quick as Tracy and I just landed in Switzerland. She actually made me dress up a little bit more “formal” than usual. This was a trip back home unlike any other — to the same nation that officially registered my name as David Feng. There was no doubt the real David was headed back to his country of citizenship.
All that was needed was to show the immigration officer both my Swiss passport and Tracy’s passport — and we were welcomed. Into a very different Terminal B. ▶
If there was anything that would drag Switzerland to the surrender position — it would not be the guns of an alien army, but rather surrendering everything to Brussels. The Swiss are more than prepared for the former, but most of us in the country would consider the latter more than just merely “cruel and unusual punishment”.
This does not mean Switzerland is un-European. It does not mean Switzerland isn’t happy with people who don’t think Swiss, look Swiss, or hold a different passport. But Bern and Co do have other priorities. OK, even if you think Bern might eventually want to EU-ise us, reality is, most of us (certainly here in German-speaking Switzerland) aren’t too happy to be dragged into the loose union run by the institutes at Berlaymont. ▶
I admit I sunk my teeth into the Mac very early on — in 1991, in Switzerland. In 1990, I was given a test drive on an old Apple (pre-Mac!) machine, where I completed this oddly-named course called Type to Learn. I was the first-ever student in the whole class to finish it in that year, which kind of made my Chinese parents happy (since the Chinese, Asians etc were supposed to be best in class, yotta yotta yotta…).
I remembered from very early on that this in essence gave me a “licence” to test-drive the Mac much earlier. I’m talking about the pre-Mac OS era: back in the day this was System 6.0.7. If you could imagine a compact, all-in-one Mac in greyish-platinum, capable of running only one app at a time in black and white, this was it.
The Swiss had some kind of nationwide obsession with the Mac, it seemed, even though Apple Switzerland (as in the office) wasn’t reality until 1995. It wasn’t like that made any difference, though: before the Wallisellen office was set up, the nation was already engulfed in Mac mania. I was invited in 1995 to an office which was completely run by Macs. ▶
The vote on 30 November 2014 on whether or not “Ecopop”, an initiative which seeks to impose very rigid immigration caps per year, as well as give federal money for foreign birth control measures (link in German), is like one of those surreal plots to just simply put a cork in what some in Switzerland fear as “mass immigration”.
To me, Switzerland has always been a country which has continued to grow, although if it wants to “chase China” in terms of growth, it is sorely behind. Train stations have continued to witness key expansion projects, and I cannot blame anyone or anything other than “natural development” as the reason.
Most of the growth was basically in parts of the country which was already relatively well urbanised. I have driven through a part of Zürich which goes through older parts of town, more hilly terrain, and parts of the countryside. I think I have seen about 5%, no more than 10%, in terms of newer buildings. Yes, Zürich has continued to grow, but what do you expect from a part of the country that brands itself “downtown Switzerland”? ▶