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New Yorkers retain clichéd image of Switzerland

New Yorkers got the chance to see an alphorn in action

(swissinfo.ch)

An impressive array of Swiss artists, writers, designers and thinkers have been showcasing their talent in New York over a two-month period.

The idea behind the Swisspeaks festival was to present a modern, diverse and creative image of Switzerland, but it appears New Yorkers still hold a negative or clichéd view of the country.

The festival generated respectable media attention, despite coinciding with the war in Iraq.

One event which attracted unbridled enthusiasm from the "New York Times" was an exhibition of works by outsider artist Adolf Wölfli at the American Folk Art Museum.

The "Wall Street Journal" ran an article about an exhibition of Swiss photography at the Grey Art Gallery, called "Not Neutral", and NBC's Today Show televised Swiss skater Lucinda Ruh making 105 continuous upright spins on ice, breaking the world record.

The high quality of venues like the jazz club, Birdland, the Brooklyn Academy of Music and the Film Society of Lincoln Center, combined with press coverage, certainly helped draw the crowds to Swisspeaks events.

Clichéd images

But the responses of people randomly interviewed at a café in Brooklyn suggest that attitudes towards Switzerland haven't changed much.

Asked what images Switzerland brought to mind, people spoke of mountains, chocolate, Heidi, a regulated society and the scandal involving dormant bank accounts of Holocaust victims.

Swiss consul Raymond Loretan told swissinfo that it was not a goal of Swisspeaks to try to repair Switzerland's image following the scandal.

Fabienne Abrecht, head of Communication and Corporate Fundraising for Swisspeaks, agreed: "Swisspeaks wasn't a reaction to the Nazi gold affair. And if we had to react to it, we would have done things differently."

For Urs Eberhard, director of Switzerland Tourism, North America, the event was "a non-political manifestation of Switzerland in New York".

The festival's non-profit-making status and its partnerships with the national carrier, Swiss, and US organisations meant organisers could pull it off for a modest $3 million.

"Investing that money into real events where people can see, smell and feel Switzerland, we start building bridges and hopefully surprise some people," Abrecht said.

Vital relationship

There is no question that New York and the entire northeast of the US is vital to Swiss business. And it's a two-way relationship.

According to the trade section of the Consulate General of New York, Switzerland was the third largest investor in the United States in 2002, after Canada and Britain. About four per cent of total direct US investment abroad is directed to Switzerland.

It's too early to tell whether Swisspeaks will actually generate real investment and tourism for Switzerland, but airline ticket sales are going up, according to Eberhard.

He told swissinfo that bookings to Switzerland were made every day through a travel agent set up at Grand Central Terminal, where about 200,000 commuters were exposed to an exhibition of Swissness over 22 days.

Whether New Yorkers actually make it to Switzerland or not, Abrecht said Swisspeaks would ensure that "people know what Switzerland is all about. It's not just chocolate or cheese".

swissinfo, Carla Drysdale in New York

Key facts

Swisspeaks, a non-profit organisation, took two years to produce, with a budget of $3 million and a staff of four.
Over 600 American firms are located in Switzerland, employing over 70,000 people, while over 700 Swiss companies operate in the US.
Approximately 300,000 American jobs depend on Swiss companies doing business in the US.

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