National days and national heroes

August 7, 2012, No comments

Alphorns, cervelat and the Swiss Psalm. It was a normal National Day except it was by the Thames. No fireworks or mountains in sight, but there were plenty of Swiss – some with their cowbells, most with their flags – and even a couple of celebrities, not that any British person would recognise them in the street. These were Swiss VIPs, almost unknown outside Switzerland but stars of this show in London.

The challenge for me was to interview the King of the Schwingers, who speaks no English, in front of an audience that was half-Swiss, half-British-and-everything-else. Translating and explaining at the same time, not to mention trying not to feel very small next to the largest man I have ever met. He may be a man-mountain but Kilian Wenger is certainly not an Eiger, luckily for me. And he was the star of the day, with so many Swiss wanting a photo with the great man that it took him a while to get anywhere.

By the time the next VIP was on stage, there had been a full day of yodelling, alphorn-blowing, sausage-eating and beer-drinking. Just like back at home. And just like in Switzerland, there was a speech from a Federal Councillor, although this one was in English. The Foreign Minister, Didier Burkhalter, spoke of sport and honour, Britain and Switzerland, democracy and freedom, and then everyone sang the Swiss national anthem. Or not, as the case may be. The Swiss Psalm is usually mumbled rather than rousingly sung, even in Switzerland, and it was exactly the same in the Red Zone.

The only thing missing was a medal. That came on Saturday when Nicola Spirig became a Swiss hero by winning the first medal of the Games for Switzerland: gold in the Triathlon by the thinnest of margins. And then came another a day later, thanks to Roger Federer in the tennis singles. Not gold, as many might have expected, but he was as gracious as ever, saying that he came to win a medal and silver was a fantastic achievement. One of the nicest parts of the House of Switzerland is that Swiss medal winners get their own celebration, completely separate from the official Olympic one. So Nicola’s gold and Roger’s silver were cheered by a sea of red and white.

It has been said that a Swiss person only really feels Swiss when he is outside Switzerland; until then he is Bernese, Ticinese or any of the other 24 cantons. If that is the case, then the 29,778 Swiss living in the UK must be feeling very very Swiss at the moment. In the past week it has felt as if every single one of them was in the Red Zone to celebrate Switzerland’s national day and national heroes in true Swiss style.

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