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Positive thinking helping New York to cope

Images of September 11 remain fresh in the minds of Swiss living in New York. www.bcent.com

The people of New York are remembering last year's attacks on the World Trade Center with a mixture of grief and positive thinking.

This content was published on September 11, 2002 - 18:46

Among them are thousands of Swiss who have also had to come to terms with the impact of September 11.

The image of the blazing, then collapsing, towers is still painfully fresh in America's collective memory.

And it has been made yet more vivid by the virtually blanket coverage that has been devoted to the anniversary by the news media.

Many memorial events have been planned in New York, and while they will serve to demonstrate the city's continuing solidarity, many residents will be too grief-stricken to attend.

Policy of silence

Images of September 11 and debates about what to do with the empty 16 acres now dubbed "Ground Zero" are omnipresent, but there is a reticence among many of those affected to speak about their ordeal.

Companies based in the financial district have adopted a policy of silence with regard to last September and the impact it has had on their business.

The two big Swiss banks, UBS and Credit Suisse, which have a strong presence in New York, refused to give interviews on the subject.

"We have decided not to speak about the attacks. We feel it would be inappropriate," a UBS spokesman told swissinfo. The bank lost a number of employees in the attack.

"The financial community has responded to the attacks remarkably well," says Roland Bandelier, a Swiss financial consultant who was in the smaller 7, World Trade Center building when the attacks occurred.

"But even today, banks are still trying to get everything back to normal."

No diplomatic immunity

The attacks had an immediate impact on the work of the Swiss consulate general in the city.

Extra staff were drafted in from the embassy in Washington and the consulate general in Montreal.

"Our staff put in place an emergency infrastructure. They called Swiss people who we knew lived near the World Trade Center and businesses that operated there. They visited hospitals and morgues looking for Swiss. It was a hectic time," says Norbert Arnold, duty consul general in New York.

Arnold was out of the country at the time and arrived back in New York on the first Swissair flight into the city, four days later.

"There were no people on the streets. There was a cloud of dust. It was like a ghost town," he recalls.

Today, he says, a semblance of normality has returned, even if the consulate is now subject to the security restrictions placed on many key buildings by the New York authorities.

Manners return

New Yorkers have always had a reputation - at least to outsiders - of being a little rude.

But, according to the Swiss who live in the city, there has been a noticeable change in attitudes since the attacks.

"People are more polite," says former fashion designer Annemarie Gardin, now president of the Swiss Society of New York.

"Before September 11, we all forgot our manners. No one said 'excuse me'. But after the attacks, people became nicer," she says, adding that the power of American positive thinking has helped the city to deal with the trauma.

"The positiveness was there from the start. It pulled everyone forward. The attitude was: we can conquer this and come out of it even better," Gardin told swissinfo.

Family and friends

The retired fashion designer recalls watching events unfold from the balcony of her 26th floor apartment in midtown Manhattan.

She saw the black smoke that formed a "banner across the sky", the collapse of the towers, and the dust that lingered for days afterwards.

There are an estimated 20,000 Swiss living in the Tri-State region, which encompasses New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. Because they are well integrated, it is not as cohesive a community as other expatriate populations.

Each of them will have different memories of that fateful day, and all will be marking the anniversary in their own personal way, be it privately or by participating in one of the many communal events.

"Family and friends are more important now. People are less materialistic," Bandelier says.

Gardin says she is unaware of any Swiss person who has decided to leave New York as a result of the attacks.

After 40 years of working in the city, she is shortly to leave New York to spend her retirement in her homeland.

But she made the decision well before the attacks on the city, for which her affection remains undimmed.

"Manhattan is the love of my life. I could never fall out of love with New York," she says.

swissinfo, Roy Probert in New York

Key facts

More than 3,000 people died in the September 11 attacks.
Two Swiss citizens lost their lives in New York.
Switzerland's UBS bank lost a number of its employees.
An estimated 20,000 Swiss live in the Tri-State area.

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