Six questions about Switzerland

March 19, 2013, 16 Comments

FleischkäseEight years ago I arrived in Switzerland with a lot of questions about my new home. Would I have to learn all four national languages? Was it obligatory to read Heidi before arriving? Could I admit in public to not liking Roger Federer? Would I be able to smuggle Marmite into the country? So far I have managed to find out answers to all those questions, and many more.

But after eight great years of living in this wonderful country, I still have some questions about Switzerland that I have yet to find a satisfactory answer for. These are the six unanswered ‘whys’ of my Swiss life so far. Maybe you can answer them.

1. Why would anyone willingly eat Fleischkäse? It literally means ‘meat cheese’ which sounds as appetising as it looks: a pink slimy mass that is ‘50% pork’ according to the label; what the other half is, is anyone’s guess. In Romandie it’s called Fromage d’Italie, or ‘cheese of Italy’, but it’s neither cheese nor Italian!

2. Why do so many Swiss men wear a single earring? Apparently there used to be a common saying of ‘links cool, rechts schwul’, or ‘left side cool, right side gay’ but either that is no longer the case or the gay male population in Switzerland is huge. Either way there are an awful lot of men wearing one earring.

SBB clock3. Why can the Swiss run their trains on time and no-one else can? It shouldn’t be so hard in the computer age to work out the timetables but only the Swiss seem to have mastered it. There must be some magic ingredient that the others don’t know about.

4. Why can’t I develop a taste for Rivella? In theory it should be simple. I like sugar, I like water, I like milk, I like bubbles but put them together and it’s revolting. Eight years of trying and still no use. A sure sign that I will never be truly Swiss, I fear.

5. Why are painkillers so expensive? In Britain you can buy a pack of ibuprofen for a few pence. Here they cost a few francs (ie pounds) if you’re lucky. And most of them are made in Switzerland. Clearly the Swiss don’t get headaches or don’t mind the pain of buying the pills.

6. Why has no-one else noticed the resemblance between Alain Berset and The Hood? The Swiss Minister for Home Affairs looks scarily like the baddy from Thunderbirds but maybe no-one here watched that as a child. Who needs International Rescue when you are Swiss!

Hoodberset I

16 Comments on "Six questions about Switzerland"

  1. Martin Tuesday March 19th, 2013 at 09:24 PM · Reply

    Some inputs from my side:


    2) In the Appenzellerland it is a tradition that men are wearing earrings! see also: (by a German inhabitant of Switzerland, by the way!), or

    According to the second link it seems to be a kind of an acupuncture idea and those three statements seem to be interesting:

    – “Das gehört zum Bauernstand, man hat schon immer gesagt, wenn man Gold in den Ohren habe, so sehe man gut, dann sei dies gut für die Augen.”

    – “Ursprünglich von Sennen auf der Alp getragen, wird sie heute praktisch nur noch zu festlichen Anlässen montiert, und zwar im rechten Ohr.”

    – “Für was ist der Sennenohrring angeblich gut? Was die Tradition uns berichtet: für die Schärfung der Augen, gegen Jähzorn und gegen Schlaganfälle.”

    3) That’s actually a huge question and has definitely to do with our work ethics and generally high request on quality and that the railways were always regarded as the people’s own property. SBB used to be state-owned and since its “privatisation” in 1999 SBB still belongs 100% to the Swiss Confederation.

    And as you know, as direct democrats, we believe that we decide about what should be and what not. So, brief answer is that there is a strong connection between the Swiss people and its properties, may that be the country as whole, or just the public transport system. And finally, the direct democracy grown political will to solve several political issues by enhanced public transport systems, such as reducing the environment pollution, infrastructure costs (of motorways e.g.), environment protection, mobility for everybody, living costs in cities, etc. and so forth are strongly related to this question!

    For sure, you cannot implement such an approach just like that, it has grown history. Like in Japan.

  2. Martin Tuesday March 19th, 2013 at 09:35 PM · Reply

    … and do not miss this link about Fleischkäse:

    • Diccon Bewes Tuesday March 19th, 2013 at 10:20 PM · Reply

      Thanks but it doesn’t make it sound any more appealing. It’s a Frankenstein food that should never have seen the light of day.

      • Martin Tuesday March 19th, 2013 at 10:53 PM · Reply

        I clearly cannot agree. It can be excellent in fact! 😉

  3. Hans Tuesday March 19th, 2013 at 10:08 PM · Reply

    Why are painkillers so expensive? Very easy, the powerful Swiss pharmaceutical industry makes sure we can’t buy it cheaper. As simple as that.

    • Diccon Bewes Tuesday March 19th, 2013 at 10:19 PM · Reply

      Indeed, so isn’t it time someone stood up to them and reigned in their power and obscene profits? This is the land of direct democracy – time for the people to decide that they want cheaper medicine as clearly the politicians aren’t going to do it. As simple as that!

      • Martin Tuesday March 19th, 2013 at 10:51 PM · Reply

        Consider this as well, just seen a few minutes ago. It is not a solely Swiss behavior, but rather a general attitude by any large/gigantic international group.

        For example, the American CocaCola group sells the very same Coke bottle for 57 cents to German customers, but for 97 cents to Swiss distributers. Now, you could say, well, then purchase it in Germany then. But CocaCola actively prohibits this. Swiss companies cannot buy the same products at German distributers, since CocaCola threatens the German distributer with sanctions if it does not follow CocaCola’s price definitions!

        The same with the American company QIAGEN which sells the very same product in Germany for only 50% of its Swiss price. They sell their products in Switzerland with a special “Swiss” price list!

        And so on and so forth.

        So why then should a by Americans executives leaded (Swiss) company (Joseph Jimenez, CEO at Novartis, and Daniel O’Day, Chief Operating Officer Pharmaceuticals at Roche) not follow the same patterns!? (Attention: sarcasm included!) :-((

        > as clearly the politicians aren’t going to do it

        Besides, there are in fact onging political discussions (called in German: Vorstösse) on the way, and will be discussed and decided about in parliament in the near future.

  4. Stella Thursday March 21st, 2013 at 12:52 PM · Reply

    1. Fleischkäse is from my childhood, like chocolate butte was; absolutely not for today.
    2. Copycats. The national costum of an Appenzell-Kanton has a little spoon in one ear. So one was accustumed to it, when fashion came to earjewelry for men.
    3. It’s the Swiss mistery.
    4. Rivella is made with wey. I found it disgustingly slimey & sweet, it made me thirsty. And the water bottle was attractive to gadflies.
    5. Perhaps Ibuprofen is considered a medicine, so you have to bleed for it. It’s not for a headache but for pains with infection and/or fever..
    6. Thunderbirds is from before your time, isn’t it? Switserland was some years behind the other countries. Ask the older people, but only if they looked much international television series in those old days.

  5. Evamaria Monday March 25th, 2013 at 02:15 PM · Reply

    1) Must be an acquired taste (see also Rivella).
    2) Because men want to wear bling, too, but two earrings are considered “girly” (and therefore automatically un-masculine and bad).
    3) I do find it amusing that we get antsy if public transport is 2 minutes late. I developped a much more relaxed attitude when travelling (except when in Germany, because c’mon aren’t they supposed to be super-organized?), but the habit still kicks in once I’m back home.
    4) I don’t like it either. A lot of my friends only drink the blue one, probably because of the sugar int the red original (and no one I know drinks green or yellow). It must be a taste you develop in early childhood, which I spent in Northern Germany (hence also my preference for mild cheese, because I grew up on Gouda).
    5) Yeah, what was said above – big pharma is REALLY big here, and they made sure parallel imports are forbidden for their products. I almost didn’t believe my eyes when buying panadol in London (which otherwise prior to the devaluation of the pound used to be almost 1:1 to Swiss prices).
    6) Umm, because most people don’t know it – I for one have never heard of that show.

    • Evamaria Monday March 25th, 2013 at 02:17 PM · Reply

      Addendum to 2) Also, see above the reference to the traditional spoon-earring.

  6. Catherine Harrison Saturday August 24th, 2013 at 09:04 AM · Reply

    I love Switzerland and I love Rivella, particularly the green version. If that could make me truly Swiss, I’d be delighted.

  7. Max Thursday May 1st, 2014 at 01:25 PM · Reply

    Its funny that people here get angry at SBB for beeing late and all. I dont mind it because its mostly on time. must be something like a first worl problem. Is it really so bad in other countries?

  8. Alex Sinclair Wednesday September 2nd, 2015 at 10:17 PM · Reply

    2) Swiss dairy farmers wear one or two dangling earrings which either have a pendant of a cow or a milk ladle. Supposedly it symbolizes their extreme attachment to their cows. Perhaps that is who you are seeing when you’re out and about.

    5) Perhaps the Swiss just don’t need the painkillers like you do. When you consider that much of physical aches and pains comes from food sensitivities, and wheat and dairy are the primary sources of such aches and allergies and sinus pressure and what-not, perhaps most of the Swiss who couldn’t tolerate those foods have just failed to thrive and have died out over time, leaving behind only those who can handle it without having pains. So perhaps the only people needing to take the pills are the foreigners, and I think we all know that foreigners have not so much ever been Switzerland’s top priority.

  9. Mark Tuesday January 23rd, 2018 at 02:04 PM · Reply

    Regarding men in Switzerland wearing an earring :
    I notice that middle aged men wearing an earring arouse less curiosity than in Britain. There is no curiosity or prejudice when I have worn an earring in Switzerland at age 48.
    I wouldn’t say that there is prejudice in Britain, but people do seem to form judgments about men with earrings, and this seems less apparent in Switzerland.

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