A guide to the diverse ways of the Swiss

Author Paul Bilton takes an irreverent look at the Swiss. Paul Bilton

By the laws of economics, begins Paul Bilton's irreverent but informative book, Switzerland should not be doing so sickeningly well.

This content was published on August 14, 2000 minutes

He continues: "Land-locked, a home market smaller than London, speaking four different languages, no natural resources - other than hydroelectric power, a little salt and even less fish - no secured markets for its products through either colonies or being part of a trading bloc, Switzerland should have come down to earth with a bump a long time ago.

"Instead of which, the Swiss are the only nation to make the Germans appear inefficient, the French undiplomatic and Texans poor."

The opening paragraphs of a "Xenophobe's Guide to the Swiss" set the tone for the rest of an irreverent, amusing and highly informative portrait of the Swiss people.

Its British-born author moved to Switzerland with his Swiss wife 11 years ago and almost immediately began writing a diary about life in his adopted home. This, along with letters to his family in England, was the basis for a first - and successful - published book entitled "The Perpetual Tourist" (Bergli Books).

Bilton was then invited by a London publishing house to write about the Swiss as part of a series of books, which takes a dry and offbeat look at various nations. Each author is given a set of guidelines, which rule out offensiveness - and which aim for something informative, amusing and entertaining.

Bilton duly provided the goods. Since it was first published in 1995, his xenophobe's guide has been reprinted and updated five times. Over 30,000 copies have been sold and that doesn't include the translations into German, French, Italian, Dutch, Japanese and Korean.

"You might think a book in English about the Swiss people would be confined to an English mother-tongue readership," he told swissinfo. "But the real market, which we hadn't envisaged, was the Swiss. They love reading about themselves."

The book covers just about every aspect of life in Switzerland, from government and bureaucracy to table manners and rubbish sacks. About the imaginary divide between French and German-speakers, known as the "Röstigraben", Bilton writes, is a word "which loses something when translated as 'fried potato ditch'".

As for the diversity of the Swiss, Bilton says this is apparent in the degree to which they worry: "The German-speakers do little else. The French-speaking Swiss are great visionaries and philosophers with noble thoughts and global dreams. They worry that their German-speaking compatriots do not share these dreams. The Italian-speaking Swiss have a terrible tendency not to worry nearly enough."

«Xenophobe's Guide to the Swiss" is published by Oval Books and distributed in Switzerland by Bergli Books (

by Richard Dawson

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