The Swiss are often unfairly characterised as being obsessed with minutiae, yodelling, cuckoo clocks and having no sense of humour. Switzerland, one of the most beautiful and democratic countries in the world, actually contains a generously mixed, warm, modern, cosmopolitan society which knows how to enjoy itself. The cuckoo clock is in fact a Bavarian invention. The Swiss did however invent velcro, LSD and the standardised dustbin.
Swiss citizens, despite being painted as conservatives with both a large and a small “C”, whilst struggling with the burden of actually having to vote themselves on key issues, seem to make carefully liberal choices on the whole. Voters have backed joining a European passport-free zone and increasing rights for same-sex couples, and recently threw out secret ballots for immigrants seeking Swiss nationality, thus dealing racism a serious blow.
To say the Swiss have no sense of humour is to imply that they are not aware of their own foibles which they clearly are. During their otherwise excellent co-hosting of the Euro 2008 football competition, suffering the most dreadful weather conditions, coping with electrical storms and blackouts, SBC the Swiss national broadcaster managed to offend the entire German nation by by using long since abandoned verse “Deutschland, Deutschland über alles” as sub-titles during the German national anthem. Cue red faces, and sincere apologies all round.
A couple of comedic phrases the more daring among you might find useful in Switzerland, which should work well so long as you’re in the German-speaking parts of the country, and which will do much illustrate the admirable self-deprecating and honest Swiss sense of humour:
“Wer hat das ganzes Nazigold gestohlen?” – who stole all the Nazi gold? This is always a good one to trot out if you’re lost for a witty remark and among civilised company – especially to the older Swiss who know more about these things and understand the tortuous processes by which their forebears avoided occupation and remained neutral during WW2.
Younger comedians, especially if you’re at the cup final and close enough to the touchline, why not shout at the referee or either of his well-fed assistants, “Wer aß das ganzes muesli?” – who ate all the muesli? – this popular breakfast being something the healthy Swiss did invent, and of which they are rightly proud, down to the very last piece of dried fruit.