Within the first month or two of my arrival, I chanced upon the “Typically Swiss” seminar given by Kathy Hartmann- Campbell, co-founder and chair of BaselConnect. She talked about the natural mistrust that Swiss have of strangers (even among themselves) and how this mistrust, combined with their effort not to invade anyone’s privacy, can mean that they view any foreigner moving into their building with suspicion.
...even if I don’t need anything
“The Swiss don’t like foreigners. They are not very open and it’s hard to get in contact with them.” I was warned before we emigrated to ‘die Schweiz’, but not afraid. Most of the people who warned me had never spent a lot of time in Switzerland. Additionally I am also used to hearing stereotypes. I am from Holland (“The Dutch are rude and too direct”) and I am married to an Englishman (“The English are always drunk”). We have moved internationally a bit already, so when we arrived in July 2014 with our two young kids in Basel I was expecting everything and nothing.
Open, funny, curious and proud
But wow: what a warm welcome from the locals. We had not experienced anything like this before. I find the Swiss funny, open and curious and proud of their country. Of course I put some effort into making contact with my neighbours and neighbourhood. However, if you try (and you don’t have to try that hard), you will surprised what you get back.
Were you born in Basel?
I was born here in 1946, and immediately (at three months) bundled into a train to Rome. The story goes that my Dad was already in Rome, where he had a job as a Foreign Correspondent for the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, which is like The Times of Switzerland. That was the beginning of my “bi-lingualism”, as I was speaking two languages already, Swiss-German and Italian!
My Mum came from a family of very successful wine merchants and I am still the proud proprietor of a vineyard, in Muttenz, which is on the outskirts of Basel.
When I was four, my Dad was called back to the Head Office in Zürich and he was offered a job as Political Foreign Correspondent, in charge of reporting about the UK and the whole British Commonwealth. So we’re talking about the Fifties, and when Her Majesty (Queen Elizabeth II) was a young lady and got crowned, I was there – I still have the ‘coronation spoon’ each schoolchild received on that occasion. In England, my brother and I spoke fluent English within a few months, but at home my mother insisted it was immer Basel-Dütsch – always the Basel dialect of Swiss German.