When you think of the Swiss, you might think of a country filled with wholesome, rich, slightly dull people yodeling in the mountains, but it’s just as possible you’ll think of chocolate, cuckoo clocks, and cat recipes. Oh, and Nazi gold, of course. How much truth is there in the stereotypes about Switzerland? How many are outright lies? These are the questions that Clare O’Dea asks in The Naked Swiss: A Nation Behind Ten Myths. O’Dea, an Irish journalist, has lived in Switzerland for more than a decade and a career working for the public broadcaster Swissinfo has allowed her the chance to meet and talk to figures from all walks of life. These encounters (and a great deal of research) inform her book: a lively cultural and political examination of Switzerland’s greatest achievements (wealth, healthcare, democratic pride, multiculturalism) and its greatest weaknesses (xenophobia, the problematic history surrounding World War II, the fact that women only gained the vote in 1971.) As O’Dea writes, “When the Swiss are not busy being wonderful, they are busy being awful.”
O’Dea sees Switzerland’s position (in the middle of Europe but not a part of the European Union) and recent vote to curb immigration as offering a foretaste of the difficulties Britain will fact after Brexit. The book was recently launched at the Irish Ambassador’s residence in Bern, and last week O’Dea visited her hometown to promote it. At the Dublin event I asked her what prompted the book. “The beginning point was that having lived there for several years, I felt the Swiss were poorly served by the cliches, both the positive and the negative, that have become cemented in people’s minds when they think about the place. The true nature of the people was obscured by false assumptions and fixed ideas. I wanted to paint an accurate picture; that meant going through both their dirtiest laundry and their finest achievements.” The Naked Swiss is published by Bergli Books.