Swiss perspectives in 10 languages

Critical patriots

Jakob Schegg took his wife and 12 children to Argentina in 1937. Philipp Dreyer, Über den Tellerrand hinaus, Zürich, 2003

Whether for love, adventure or career - the reasons for leaving home are many.

Around 600,000 Swiss already live abroad and 20 of them are portrayed in a new book.

“I wouldn’t describe myself as a patriot. But when I hear the national anthem in the embassy on Swiss national day, I feel a tightening in my throat and have to hold back my tears.”

Irma Mishellany-Isenegger has been living in East Beirut for almost 30 years, one of many Swiss to have left her birthplace for a new home abroad.

The 20 Swiss depicted in Philipp Dreyer’s new German-language book, “Über den Tellerrand hinaus” (Over the edge of the plate), vary in age between 10 and 96 but all have some kind of connection with Switzerland – even if they define the word home in very different ways.

No place like home?

For one person home is something abstract. For another it is the place where one lives. For yet another it’s the place where we start out from.

Seventy-five-year-old René Boser moved many years ago with his wife to the south of France. He still misses several culinary delights from Switzerland, such as Swiss sausages or fondue. “Patriotism for me comes in a way from the stomach,” says Boser.

Erich J, 61, lives in Latvia and occasionally finds himself longing for a piece of Swiss cheese or a Landjäger sausage. But that’s not all: “I even miss the sensation of stepping barefoot onto a damp and warm cow-pat and feeling it run up through my toes.”

The author Philipp Dreyer, who has previously written books about young Jews and Muslims in Switzerland, says it wasn’t easy to choose his subjects from more than 100 emails and letters which he received.

Young and old

“I wanted to show young and old expatriates, people who left Switzerland for different reasons,” Dreyer explains, “whether because they wanted to escape the narrow confines of their home or out of love or just to start an adventure.”

The result is a book of exciting and poignant life stories from around the world – a rough slice through Switzerland’s ex-pat community, the so-called Fifth Switzerland. Dreyer shows particular interest in the theme of identity and the definition of “home”.

Although all of his subjects are happy to reflect on Switzerland while many still return there or dream of doing so, many also express critical opinions about their former homeland.

A different view

According to Kurt W Eicher, who has been living in Istanbul for 16 years, the Swiss abroad look at Switzerland in a different way from those who still live there.

“I would call myself a critical patriot – someone who would like to change Switzerland and bring it to the heights of modern times.”

Warda Bleser-Bircher is 97 years old and has spent 40 years of her well-travelled life in Cairo. She appreciates the security and order to be found in Switzerland. “But it troubles me a little that so many Swiss consider their country as the role model of Europe. They often think that they know best.”

Dreyer says he often found himself wondering if the Swiss exiles in his book were happy. Above all he was fascinated by the random nature of events that caused people to leave Switzerland and begin a new life elsewhere.

“I think each of them, in their own way, have found a sort of happiness,” the author concludes.

swissinfo, Gaby Ochsenbein (translation: Mark Ledsom)

Around 600,000 Swiss currently live abroad.
The largest expat community is in France where 158,000 Swiss are based.
Some 70,000 Swiss live in the United States.

“Über den Tellerrand hinaus” by Philipp Dreyer is published by Orrel Füssli. The book documents the life stories of 20 Swiss who live or have lived abroad.

In compliance with the JTI standards

More: SWI certified by the Journalism Trust Initiative

You can find an overview of ongoing debates with our journalists here. Please join us!

If you want to start a conversation about a topic raised in this article or want to report factual errors, email us at

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR