On being Swiss

Enter the word “Switzerland” into Google and then type “bor”. Its search engine will automatically suggest “-ing” to complete your search term. Not “bor-der” or “bor-n” but “bor-ing” – algorithmically legitimised. So that is what Google and the rest of the world think of us.

However, we gave birth to Dadaism and created LSD. Le Corbusier was Swiss, Jean Luc Godard and Roger Federer still are. We invented nude hiking, the Alpine horn and “Schwingen” (so-called Swiss wrestling). Even the Internet (yes, Google, even the Internet!) was thought up by someone in Switzerland. Quite a fertile land for ideas then, and not just for our 700,000 dairy cows. Essentially, we are a mixture of anarchists, nerds and “Heidis” – and apparently successful at it, too. The Global Innovation Index has listed Switzerland among the world’s leading nations for a number of years, including once again in 2014. Nevertheless, we still appear a little “smaller” than other countries. And because the best way to make light of a difference is to make it into a strength, “less is more” has become something akin to our national motto. It is as much a part of being Swiss as the Matterhorn or the summertime traffic jams at the entrance to the Gotthard tunnel. As we have no natural resources, we have to make more out of less. We have little choice in the matter. Our resources are our minds and hands, and we use them on long winter nights in isolated mountain chalets, where there is nothing to do other than think for hours, come up with ideas or perfect the construction of small gadgets, such as watches, for example.

Or take our chocolate. It is typically Swiss, despite the country not producing the main ingredient, namely cocoa powder. Milk, however, is one of the few things that we do have in abundance. When mixed with bitter cocoa powder, it becomes that sweet chocolate product that everyone enjoys indulging in: milk chocolate. We simply love combining things in new and original ways. That is our secret. Mustard is another example. On one of those long winter nights, a Swiss entrepreneur came up with the ingenious idea of packing mustard in a tube. This was unheard of at the time, but seemed like an incredibly practical idea. So Mr Thomi produced it and the rest is history. Pens are another case in point. We at Prodir believed that we could combine three simple things in order to produce effective pens: good design, good and replaceable refills and a good price.
It sounds as simple as mustard in a tube, but someone always has to first have the spark of inspiration. By the way, sugar cubes are another typically Swiss invention. We don’t have any sugar cane, but we had the great idea of giving sugar the perfect shape. People who have learned to live with scarce resources pay great attention to functionality, and they also tend to produce things that last a long time. For us, these qualities belong together.

That is why we were already minimalists long before anyone thought that form has to follow function and that the focus should be placed on the essentials. As we have not only lived within but also from nature for centuries, taking an environmentally-friendly approach is also in our blood. We don’t throw anything away that can be reused, which is why we are the world champions when it comes to recycling. “Reduce to the Max” also applies here.

Back to our creative streak of combining things in innovative ways – this also applies to our mentality to a certain extent.

We combine courage and precision like nobody else. We all know the story: a father called William Tell placed an arrow in his cross-bow and used it to shoot an apple from his son’s head. To Tell’s credit, he had good reasons to risk his son’s life, plus he believed that he could rely on his own self-made crossbow. This primal scene aptly epitomizes how the Swiss blend courage and precision. The Swiss may be a lot of things, but boring is not one of them.

Diccon Bewes, “Swiss Watching: Inside the Land of Milk and Money”, 2012