Swiss Watching

A ‘Best Book of 2010’: Financial Times

Forget everything you thought you knew about Switzerland. Swiss Watching is an original and intriguing read about this landlocked island, going behind the stereotypes of banks and skis, francs and cheese. In Swiss Watching, Diccon Bewes’ expert knowledge dispels the myths and unravels the true meaning of “Swissness”. One country with four languages, 26 cantons and 7.8 million people (but only 78% of them Swiss): there’s nowhere else like it in Europe. Switzerland may be almost 400 km from the nearest drop of seawater, but it is an island at the centre of Europe.

This is the country that not only gave us the Red Cross and an army knife, but also the Toilet Duck (1980) and Velcro (1955). It’s a country famous for punctual trains, strict neutrality, and Roger Federer – but what lies behind these stereotypes? What does Switzerland look like from the inside?

Swiss Watching is a revealing historical journey around Europe’s most individual country. While seeking Heidi and meeting Tell, it relives a bloody past and explores an uncertain future. In a country known for its cleanliness and courtesy, it has some of the worst graffiti in Europe and forbids recycling on Sundays; the Swiss consume the same amount of chewing gum per head as Americans, and most of it ends up on the pavement.  It is also known as a conservative nation, with the anti-minaret vote and right-wing politics, although this doesn’t stop Switzerland attracting over 15 million visitors a year!

In a land of contradictions, this is a picture of the real and normally unseen Switzerland, a place where the breathtaking scenery shaped a nation not just a tour itinerary, and where tradition is as important as innovation.It’s also the story of its people, who have more power than their politicians, but can’t speak to one another in the same language – and who own more guns per head than the people of Iraq. As for those national clichés, well, not all the cheese has holes, cuckoo clocks aren’t Swiss and the trains don’t always run exactly on time. Swiss Watching puts the wit into Switzerland.

Swiss Watching was published in 2010 by Nicholas Brealey Publishing in London. A second edition was released in March 2012, completely updated with a new Epilogue at the end. You can read reviews from the press and readers or just go ahead and buy the book:

Switzerland: all the English bookshops stock it – BooksBooksBooks in Lausanne, Off the Shelf in Geneva, Orell Füssli and Pile of Books in Zürich, Stocker in Lucerne, and of course Stauffacher in Bern. It is also widely available in other bookshops, such as Thalia and Payot. To order online via Stauffacher, just click here.

In other countries, either ask in your local bookshop or order a copy online:

There is also a e-book available to download from any of the online booksellers above or Kindle on Amazon US, UK or Germany. You don’t necessarily need a Kindle reader as the e-book can be read on any PC, Mac, tablet or smartphone. Or as a Nook Book from Barnes & Noble.

Once you’ve read the book, please go back and write an online review ; it really does help others decide. You can even be critical if you didn’t like it!

48 Comments on "Swiss Watching"

  1. Rob Chenoweth June 16, 2010 at 9:07 pm · Reply

    I’ll have my library in New Orleans order your book. Visit the Goetheanum (.org) in Dornach for me…I hope to visit someday.


  2. swisswatching June 23, 2010 at 8:19 am · Reply

    Thanks Rob. Hope the good citizens of New Orleans love reading about Switzerland. I’ll make sure I pop over to Dornach once I am home again.

  3. Beatrice Born July 15, 2010 at 10:45 am · Reply

    Even as Swiss citizen, being born in Lucerne, with Heimatort Niederbipp/BE (I have never been there but know where it is) and living near Zurich I realise with shame, that Diccon knows much more about Switzerland than I do (or did). I really enjoyed the book and I earned some strange look for my sudden outbreaks of laugh from people arround me. (they must have been Swiss as well. Beatrice

  4. Therese August 31, 2010 at 8:39 pm · Reply

    Living an expat life as well (Swiss living in South Arica) I enjoy your look at my home country tremendously. My family already knows what I am reading, when I have my outbreaks of laughter again. However, the chapter about the Swiss loving paperwork left me shaking my head a bit: you definitively never have lived in S.A. – here you almost need a certified copy of your passport for every toothbrush you buy ;-)) Thank you so much for making me laugh so much!

  5. Mark September 3, 2010 at 12:56 pm · Reply

    Sounds like an interesting read! Any chance that “Swiss Watching” will be available as an e-book?

    • swisswatching September 3, 2010 at 1:22 pm · Reply

      Not just yet Mark. For now you have to persist with the old-fashioned paper version but I’ll discuss it with the publisher.

      • Mark September 10, 2010 at 8:39 am · Reply

        Thanks, Rob!

  6. Alex September 12, 2010 at 1:58 pm · Reply

    Hi Diccon,

    Just finished reading your book and wanted to say congratulations – it was really informative and enjoyable. My brother gave it to me last week for a 50th birthday present; I had never heard of it – clever of him.

    I have lived in the French speaking part for the past 25 years or so and now have the passport to prove it. I found the book particularly interesting as it has an inevitable Swiss German focus. Things are very different there (whilst, as you are manifestly aware, still somehow the same). Anyway, your book has inspired me to do some of those touristy things that I have never got around to, like visit the Swiss Way (if that is what it is called) and scoot up the Pilatus or take the second-mortgage Jungfrau railway. It is amazing how you can live in a place for years and not do the things that tourists do in a few days. But then I have never visited the Tower of London.

    So what is missing? Nothing much. I suppose I am now very used to all sorts of things that seem completely normal and maybe don’t notice them any more. After all, most of my adult life has been here. I still think the Swiss get a bad press for things like not dumping your bottles on a Sunday, or not being able to use your lawnmower on that day. Bonkers to think like that. I lived next to a bottle bank in Lausanne once. On Saturday you’d be woken up by people tipping in all their empties with a huge crash. At least one day free from that. And no lawnmowers while you doze peacefully in the garden? Bliss.

    I’d be interested to know more about the mentality differences between the Swiss German cantons. For me, the people in the Valais, Vaud and Geneva are completely different animals. How do the people from Solothurn compare with those from Thurgau?

    And the book is missing the magic number: 4478.
    This might be the meaning of life, but it is definitely the height of the Matterhorn. How do I know? Because Tissot, in the advertising for their multifunctional watch, display the number to show off the altimeter. Of course, they preserve the mystery by making no reference to the Matterhorn (or Cervin as we prefer to think of it here…). It’s an in-the-know thing. How Swiss.

    There could also be more on the Fighting Cows, but I may end up writing that one myself. There is a snippet about it on my blog

    Hope to catch you at one of your Geneva readings – you can sign my book!

    Thanks again and well-done!

    • swisswatching September 12, 2010 at 6:07 pm · Reply

      Hi Alex. Thanks for postive feedback (glad you liked the book!) and the comments – I’ll do my best to answer them. I still find the no recycling on Sundays rather irritating, but it’s not the end of the world by any means. Lawnmowers are less of an issue as there as so few lawns.

      As for differences between the cantons, of course there are many, though most far smaller than the Swiss like to make out. It’s like Manchester and Liverpool (or Lancashire and Yorkshire). To their inhabitants, they are as different as chalk and cheese; to the rest of Britain (and indeed the world), there’s not a lot to separate them apart from accent. I very purposefully steered away from going into such local details. It might be interesting to the Swiss, or expats who live here, but to anyone else it could make rather dull reading. Of course Emmentalers are different from Luzerners, but not in so many ways that it’s worth writing about. That may have been the wrong decision for some readers, but it was the right one for me as the writer!

      4478 is on page 12 of the book, where I talk about the Matterhorn. You must have been enjoying your read so much that you missed it 🙂

      and Fighting Cows has been done before, (most recently a whole chapter on it in a book about Europe’s weirdest festivals and contests – the name escapes me!) so I didn’t want to go over old ground. I also couldn’t quite see how to fit it in as it’s really not a stereotype in the way that cheese and chocolate are. I realised early on that I couldn’t possibly write about everything, so had to be focused on what went in and what stayed out. Casualties all round I’m afraid.

      Do come along to one of the Geneva readings, and by all means bring your book.

  7. australianteacher January 10, 2011 at 8:13 pm · Reply

    Hi Diccon,

    My wife was given Swiss Watching for her 60th birthday (Christmas Day) but she’s been unable to read it, thanks to me.

    What a super read!

    Who gave my wife the book?
    Her niece, Simone, who lives in the same block of flats as you.

    I’ve posted a review on Amazon and Amazon UK.


    Ron Shaw

    • swisswatching January 11, 2011 at 11:29 am · Reply

      It really is a small world! Thanks for the reviews – glad you liked the book.

  8. Andrea Laister April 28, 2011 at 11:34 am · Reply

    Having just completed the building of our holiday home in Switzerland, we wanted to learn more about the Swiss people that we are now neighbours with – and your book is just perfect for that! I loved reading it!
    My question for you now is will there be a follow-up? And if so, when can we expect to see it in the shops?

  9. Andrew April 28, 2011 at 10:21 pm · Reply

    I really enjoyed the book which is in the same league as Bryson at his best. Very informative, very true and always amusing, a wonderful read. I am originally from England and have lived in Switzerland for nearly 11 years.

  10. Martin Müller December 8, 2011 at 11:26 am · Reply

    Hi Diccon,

    I am really enjoying reading your book a lot, even as a Swiss with a lot of laughter. Though I have to mention one thing you did not manage yet at all: numbers.

    About phone numbers: I really usually say dreihundertvierundsechzig (364) for the three first local digits, and not drei vierundsechzig. It feels just the most convenient way to say it 😉

    In Switzerland, as opposed to Germany, the digital point is actually and really a point and not a comma (as in Germany): 29.90 Fr., or CHF 29.90 nowadays.

    Time is written with a double point between hours, minutes, and seconds: 09:15:36 e.g.

    Eine Milliarde is 1’000’000’000 and eine Billion is 1’000’000’000’000 is not only true in Switzerland, but in every German speaking part of the world.

    The easiest way to find out is: just change the regional setting of your computer to the respective Swiss version, on both, Windows or Mac OS X operating systems, and you will see how they look like 😉

    And finally besides this, I would even recommend to make your book a mandatory reading for every one living in Switzerland 😉


  11. Ann Ng January 28, 2012 at 4:17 am · Reply

    I encountered your book via a Swiss friend who was lent it by his neighbour. I spent 2 weeks in Berne and kept asking my friend that boring question: “Is this what Swiss is like?” to which he kept trying to explain that there is no “Swiss Swiss”. So, your book answered or reiterated all his points about why there is no ‘one’ Swiss. Informative, witty and a bonus to the reading world and anyone keen on things Swiss. WUNDERBAR!

    • swisswatching January 29, 2012 at 11:15 pm · Reply

      Thanks Ann. So glad to hear you liked the book.

  12. Daniela February 3, 2012 at 10:34 am · Reply

    After reading this book I am proud again of being Swiss. Or as we Swiss people would say: From Weggis in the canton of Lucerne which is in Switzerland.

    I am a Swiss Expat in Nigeria and felt homesick after reading only the first couple of pages.

    Thank you so much


  13. Biesenberger Jutta March 28, 2012 at 7:18 pm · Reply

    Hallo Herr Bewes; ich lese gerade Ihr Buch; phantastisch; etwas ist mir aufgefallen und möchte es Ihnen daher mitteilen: Sie schreiben vom Föhn-Wind; korrekt, der Haartrockner Fön, schreibt sich auf deutsch jedoch ohne h; therefore no connection between Föhn-Wind and hairdryer; sorry when I’m correcting you, but as you can see and read, german is my mothertongue. Best regards from Männedorf, Switzerland, Jutta Biesenberger

    • diccon March 28, 2012 at 8:16 pm · Reply

      Hallo von Bern. Ich bin nicht sicher, ob Sie das Buch auf Englisch oder Deutsch lesen! Natürlich ist das deustche Buch eine Übersetzung, aber nicht von mir selber. So no problem about the correction, except that it is itself not entirely correct. There are two acceptable ways to spell the word for hairdryer in German: Föhn and Fön. See Duden for more on that
      Glad to hear you are enjoying the book.

  14. Laura Rust August 28, 2012 at 5:26 am · Reply

    Hi Diccon, I am a Swiss/Kiwi- born in CH to Swiss parents, have grown up in New Zealand and lived in CH for a couple of short episodes. Your observations of Swissness are so perceptive! My family is a blend of the best of both worlds with most of us enjoying Kiwiness; however, the allure of Swizerland which you capture in your book, never fails to exert itself from time to time! Thanks for the brilliant read!

  15. Tory grimaldi November 12, 2012 at 7:40 pm · Reply

    I must say Diccon I loved your book. For me it was amazingly informative read. You see I have a Swiss girl who I now have recently moved to Interlaken (from Sydney Australia) to be with. I read your book before I made to move and wow it was great to read all about Switzerland.
    My main reason for writing a comment was to say that today I was sitting at a Starbucks near then Bern station where I could sit and Watch the Swiss.. I was absolutely amazed with how many pairs of red shoes I saw so frequently. What an amazing sight it was.
    Thank you for an amazing read and thank you for the informative insight to CH before I made the move.
    Tory Grimaldi

    • Diccon Bewes November 14, 2012 at 9:45 pm · Reply

      Welcome to Switzerland! I hope you like living here as much as I do. If you ever want your book signed, just get in touch and next time you’re in Bern we can meet for that.

  16. olivier November 28, 2012 at 1:09 pm · Reply

    it has been a fun reading and a very in-depth one… I could not retain from laughing out loud sometimes, especially at the Tips on certain topics… the one about the book on cheeses, was it ? is just one of these moments…
    Now as you told me you are to publish this book in French and were wondering about the title to give it, here are a few ideas I come up with :
    – En regardant les Suisses
    – Les Aventures d’un Anglais en Suisse
    – Les Suisses, ces Inconnus…
    Hoping you will find something out of it that might fit right
    Have a great day and keep writing such good pieces, can’t wait to read the next one !
    olivier Kleb

  17. David Witt December 25, 2012 at 2:14 pm · Reply

    Hello Diccon,
    As I travel to Switzerland regularly as a tour manager for Great Rail Journeys, I was delighted when I found your book, enjoyed it, and will enjoy passing on snippets of information on my next trip. Although it would be impossible to include every known fact about the country, I was disappointed that you hadn’t referenced the Appenzell advertising for ‘Switzerland’s Smelliest Cheese’, nor paid tribute to Hans Hilfiker, designer of the iconic Swiss railway clock. I’m wearing one as a watch right now!
    Best wishes,
    David Witt

  18. Véronique Zülli January 5, 2013 at 8:23 pm · Reply

    Hi there, I have just finished reading your book (on my kindle), with great interest and many a smile. The amount of research work you did is simply amazing! All this information (singular in English…), all those geographical, historical, economical etc details! It makes for a fascinating read, and you write so smoothly, too. I just might borrow a few lines from it to introduce my “English for watchmakers” course next year…
    I am really curious as to how a French translation of the book will be received, though. When reading your portrayal of “the Swiss”, I could definitely see that you live beyond the Rösti-Graben! Switzerland over here is not so neat and proper as you describe it, I’m afraid. And I also wonder how the chapters about language will translate… I know people here in Romandie who might strongly oppose the notion of schwiizertüütsch being “Swiss”!
    Now I need to buy your other book.
    Have a great Year 2013!!
    Cordiales salutations locloises et hivernales, Véronique

  19. Claude Almer January 13, 2013 at 3:38 am · Reply

    Hi Diccon,

    I wish I had received your book as a Christmas present a year earlier as I was over there in June / July last year, would have been brilliant to meet you in Bern.

    Like others who grew up in Switzerland, I am just flabbergasted by the amount of research you have done, your knowledge of all things Swiss is no doubt far greater than most Swiss citizens.

    To be able to inject such generous amounts of humour into what is basically a factual book is just pure brilliance.

    Having emigrated to Australia in 1971 your book has brought back a myriad of memories. Can’t wait for your next one to arrive Down Under.

    I said to my family that Swiss Watching was the most entertaining book I read since Catch 22.

    Cheers, Claude.

  20. Chad Felton February 19, 2013 at 2:11 pm · Reply

    Dear Mr Bewes, it was for the purposes of social responsibility and integration into Switzerland that I chose to read your book “Der Schweizeversteher”. Working amongst mostly foreigners it is a frequent topic of discussion that successful migration involves integration – and that integration demands an education. Of particular interest were your insightful statistics regards “Ausländeranteil” as only 6,9% after including all relevant statistics regarding “Einbürgerung Gesetze” form part of the calculations. Such a balanced view of migrant politics seems suppressed in nationalistic patriotic Swiss circles and I would love to see prominent persons as yourself bring more attention to this balanced perspective.
    Thank you of course for the entertaining and amusing tone of your writing which helps to make lighter reading.

  21. Hans Peter Marques March 15, 2013 at 4:46 pm · Reply

    Dear Mr. Bewes, I just read your book in English. I really enyoied it. But there seem to be lots of funny things in it. My wife and I lived here in Switzerland for 74 years (plus 3 years in B.C. Canada) and don’t remember having seen anyone wearing red shoes, exept perhaps some ladies of the night and of course the pope. Sorry for this comment. Otherwise we liked your book. The thing about cheeses would make an endless discussion, therefore we forget about that. We love our island but it does not stop us from cycling across Cuba and motorhoming in B.C. every year. Without leaving there would be no happy coming back.
    Thank you, yours Hans Peter and Ursula

  22. Julie Moscioni April 8, 2013 at 1:10 pm · Reply


    My 9 year old son has a project to hand in on Switzerland. He must cover questions such as…
    Who were the first settlers to Switzerland? What year did they arrive? Where did they originally come from? What were they in search of?
    Do you think this book would cover this info?
    Many thanks for any help.
    Best. Julie

  23. lily August 11, 2013 at 12:45 pm · Reply

    I bought the book on 6 august 2013 so that’s just 4 days ago from Zurich’s kiosk at the airport. I just came back from my Switzerland having spent almost 3 weeks there going from one city to another via their extremely punctual train system. But it was surprise to me when they had a train collusion on 29 July 2013 near Lausaane knowing how efficient their sbb train operation is.
    What amazes me is how Switzerland is able to modernize and yet able to retain the old buildings, a reminder of the past. It was able to progress very well despite of being neutral and not part of G20 round table and located in the midst of EU giants, not intimidated just doing what it is best at. That I consider a Feat !!
    I wanted to underatand more how they did it, what their culture is like and how they do things and their way of looking at things. Your books just fits nicely to what I am looking for.
    However, there several unanswered questions in my mind:
    1. It is true and your book also confirms it that cigarettes and grafittis are omnipresent specially near the train stations. Why is these tolerated by the government. I don’t see any notice boards prohibiting such acts ? Or imposing sanctions when such acts i.e. throwing ciigarette buts in train tracks or spraying graffittis.
    2. The Churches I visited is very beautiful ! I attended the Sunday masses in some of the Catholic churches, being a Catholic myself. I noticed there were not a lot of attendees but mostly senior citizens. So my question is where do ghe churches get its funding to maintain the structures. Some of the churches I visited were even under renovation i.e. St Gallen Cathedral.
    Maybe you can shed sime light?
    I am glad I bought your book. I love Switzerland. I was there since 12 years ago. It has modernized and has become more vibrant ! What an achievement despit not being part of EU. Maybe that is a plus point for the country.

  24. lily August 11, 2013 at 1:22 pm · Reply

    Sorry for the many typographical and grammatical errors. I was typing the comments from my very small cellphone. But I’ll be grateful if you can share a word or two on my questions. I look forward to reading your new book.

  25. Markus November 23, 2013 at 1:26 pm · Reply

    Actually, littering is forbidden as is spraying grafittis, hOwever the latter are only really seen on motor ways and train tracks…
    When it comes to the churches a tax is levied for the two big church organisations in Switzerland…u hv to opt out if u don t want to pay it…few people do…

  26. Alan March 31, 2014 at 8:11 pm · Reply

    Thanks for your marvelous posting! I certainly enjoyed
    reading it, you might be a great author.I will be sure to bookmark your blog and will eventually come
    back from now on. I want to encourage continue your great work,
    have a nice afternoon!

  27. kira April 29, 2014 at 7:22 pm · Reply

    Hi! Just bought the book ,started to read,like it very much! Would like to ask, is it pissible to buy it in russian translation as well?

    Thank you in advance!

    • Diccon Bewes May 5, 2014 at 12:55 pm · Reply

      Hi Kira. No Russian translation yet I am afraid. One day maybe!

  28. Margaret May 1, 2014 at 8:12 am · Reply

    I am English/Dutch by birth and spent my first 23 years in England (yes, England). For the last 45 years I have lived and travelled in Europe, including Switzerland.

    I enjoyed “Swiss Watching” very much but I feel the necessity to point out that some of the examples of Swinglish and Swiss ways are in fact more European than Swiss.
    Examples of examples: Handy, smoking, wellness, old-timer, pudding and church spires.

    I particularly enjoy the (mis)use of English in Europe on menus and public notices. One of my favourites is that you may only sit up front in the Panorama train to Montreux if you pay an OVERCHARGE.

  29. Susan December 8, 2014 at 6:29 pm · Reply

    Hi Diccon

    Just wanted to say how much we enjoyed your book and your witty observations. Having only spent a short time in Swizerland it was great to revisit with your book and to see more of the country and its people. We’re soon to do a booktrail on the site and would love to do it for real one day. Great book!

  30. Thebooktrail December 8, 2014 at 6:30 pm · Reply

    Hi Diccon

    Just wanted to say how much we enjoyed your book and your witty observations. Having only spent a short time in Swizerland it was great to revisit with your book and to see more of the country and its people. We’re soon to do a booktrail on the site and would love to do it for real one day. Great book!

    • Diccon Bewes December 10, 2014 at 9:36 am · Reply

      Thanks! Hope you get a chance to enjoy the new one too sometime.

  31. team massimo rocchi December 11, 2014 at 8:19 pm · Reply

    swiss is massimo rocchi too.

  32. The only Englishman in Giswil? January 11, 2015 at 10:00 pm · Reply

    I have just finished reading the book and loved it!

    Having been in Switzerland for five and a half years, firstly in Zug, then Geneva and now recently moved to Giswil, Obwalden, everything struck a cord and made me smile, laugh, smirk and snigger (possibly a form of laughter known only to comic-reared Brits).

    I have some bad news for the Swissies (as expats invariably refer to the indigenous population) though. My French colleagues assure me that fondue actually originated in the French alps, as did raclette. Shock, horror!!! Of course, the French like to claim that everything of any worth originated there, so I’m not sure there is any substance to it, but given the other examples of Swiss pillars of identity turning out to be false who knows. I certainly don’t have the time to research it and don’t want to upset my new neighbours with such controversial revelations!

    The book was actually a Christmas present for me, as I had expressed an interest in learning more about my (new) local history. I was therefore more than a little bit disappointed to find next to no facts, figures and satirical observations on my new home; Obwalden (‘Obbi’ to those in the know, as opposed to our great rival, and half canton partner, ‘Niddi’). Given the history of being one of the original founding cantons I found that rather frustrating, although it didn’t actually spoil my enjoyment of the book. I will have to look elsewhere for the desired enlightenment, but I’m sure it will be nowhere near as entertaining.

    Anyway, many thanks for lightening my life over the past couple of we.eks Diccon, it has provided some welcome respite from the ridiculous Calvinist work regime in Geneva

    I look forward to reading the next one.

  33. Esther March 16, 2015 at 3:32 am · Reply

    Dear Diccon,

    laughed a lot and learned a lot while reading your book, even though I was born and raised in Switzerland. Back after 30 years abroad, I was in desperate need of a bit of a ‘Swiss-support’ – got it and couldn’t be better.
    Keep watching. The world needs people with a sharp yet kind eye.

  34. Paul Hough August 25, 2016 at 7:34 pm · Reply

    Hello Diccon – Congratulations on writing such a wonderful and interesting book. I was in Zurich last month with my wife for a sporting event and bought your book the night before we left. Too bad I hadn’t read it before my trip. We are from Florida and enjoyed Switzerland immensely, although my wife had commented many times about the rude bastards cutting in line everywhere we went. Now I know why. Likewise, we were walking along the River Limmat and I commented to her about 3 teenagers all wearing red sneakers. I said I wouldn’t be caught dead in red shoes but I should have been saying “How typically Swiss!” On the flight from Tampa to Zurich, I had watched the new Heidi movie and the little girl with her black hair was so cute. And it was her picture that was plastered all over signs when we visited Heidiland, So apparently, Shirley Temple has met her match. Finally, I bought my two grandkids My First Victorinox so I had to laugh when I read your comments about that. We look forward to another trip to Switzerland in a few years and hopefully are better prepared to understand the culture. Best regards. Paul

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