Monday, November 30, 2009

Culture: Put the Swiss Flag on It

In a classic Swiss scene out the window of a train near Stans, Switzerland on 22-May-2006, a mountain loomed in the distance and a flag stood in a yard at center

TORONTO, ONTARIO - It's hard to make light of the referendum results in Switzerland yesterday. The 57% of Swiss that voted to ban minaret construction, and the 68% of voters that declined to approve a weapons export ban, have probably tarnished the international reputation of their country more than they realize. Yet, I'm so tired of heavy news about torture, war criminals, police killings, and troop deployments that seem so inappropriate for this season that I am going offer a flippant suggestion--the FOUR minarets in all of Switzerland would have prevented all this had there been a Swiss flag flying right next to them.

As the former employee of a Swiss company, I've spent a fair amount of time in Switzerland. I've been in all 26 cantons. I probably would have moved to Zurich had I been offered a position there. It may not be the most welcoming country culturally (proven this week), but much like Canada, it knows how to leave people alone, and thus attracts exiles from around the world. In fact, the cultural emphasis on personal freedoms rivals that of the United States in some ways. It may have expensive food prices, but it still enjoys a high standard of living, and is a clean, beautiful place to live. And, as a railroad enthusiast, it's close to heaven. I ended up passing through all the cantons in part because I was trying to ride all the legendary railways in the country.

In all those travels around Switzerland, one thing that was remarkable--even to a United States citizen who sees plenty of flags--is that the Swiss flag is everywhere. Even in the most remote area of the Alps, the classic scene out the window of a train is of a large home with a flag in front of it. (I could have taken many pictures like the example at the head of this entry.) It is hard to go a kilometer anywhere in the country without a reminder of what country one is in.

I was once wandering the main hall of the then-new corporate headquarters of my former employer in a Zurich suburb with a German colleague. Noting the five or six dozen Swiss flags of various sizes lining the passageway, he turned to me and said, "International company." I never felt more relieved in my life than when I was able to tell an elderly woman at an investor demonstration that indeed, the core of the product I was showing her was manufactured in Switzerland, about 20 kilometers away, and not where I worked in Boston.

So, really all the Muslim community in Switzerland needed to do was ignore the separation of church and state and fly a flag with their minarets. The Swiss People's Party wouldn't have been able to touch them.

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