Cuckoo for Switzerland


John Fund has a piece in a recent issue of The American on how under-appreciated Switzerland has become the envy of Europe. It’s good fodder for those of us who love Switzerland.

The country is consistently at the top of quality of life rankings. Its people are among the most productive in the world. Its culture is fascinating (four official languages!). And as Fund emphasizes, its smart economic policies have led to a high level of prosperity and innovation.

The summer after my junior year of high school I left America for the first time to participate in a student-exchange program in Zurich. That trip opened my eyes to international travel…and the rest is history.

I’m excited to be going back to Switzerland in less than a month. I’ll be in St. Gallen for a week, as I was a winner in the St. Gallen Symposium essay contest. Then I’ll be in Zurich for a few days visiting friends, and then Massimo and I will go to Prague for a few days. Drop me an email if you live in any of these three cities and want to meet up, or if you have tips on Prague.

8 comments on “Cuckoo for Switzerland
  • Prague tips:

    I was there for five weeks over the summer in 2004, getting my TEFL.

    A) I had some problems with the air quality–it seemed to bug my eyes. I ended up buying lots of eyedrops. If you have a fave eyedrop, like Systane, bring it! If you wear contacts, good luck.

    B) They have some amazing yogurt flavors. If you like yogurt, have fun experimenting–I don’t know what I was eating half the time. I do love black currant anything…

    C) The women are gorgeous and will probably love you. Do with that what you will.

    D) The trams are great, but the Czech language has a bit of a different alphabet, so when they announce the stops, they don’t ‘sound’ how they’re ‘written’ if you’re an English speaker.

    E) If you buy a tram ticket and don’t punch it and get caught by the tram police, I think you have to pay like 50 EU on the spot. I recall something like this.

    F) Some of our folks didn’t like bubbly water, and most of the bottled was. I think we ended up saying ‘con bubblinek’ and ‘sin bubblinek’ a lot, or something like that.

    G) If you go shopping for food, you bring your own bag. Sometimes they have bags, which you pay extra for.

    H) Prague is freakin gorgeous–dark spires and bridges and music–and of course the famous astronomical clock tower. Folks gather all over the ground to see the clock strike, but I found a second-story tea house directly across from the tower, and was able to get a private bird’s-eye-view of the clock and take some great pictures of the characters that emerge from the clock at the hour for the price of a great cup of tea.

    I) Lots of folks speak English, and in fact will enjoy trying out their English on you. You may find you’re giving free lessons to your taxi driver and whatnot.

    J) There are some wild clubs where expats get down–I can’t remember what they’re called now, but I don’t think they were hard to find. You generally know you’re at one if you hear a load of Czechs singing 80s music really loudly and exuberantly.

    K) There will be many Brits there on bachelor parties. They can be amusing, but often obnoxious. They are there to “have fun” with the Czech girls before getting hitched. Expect to see some raunchy Brit behavior over weekends.

    L) I took one of those Ryan-Air type flights and was charged a load of having extra bags and heavy bags, thus making the flight not a good deal after all. If you end up on one of those flights, and you have a bunch of books (as I did), you are actually better off mailing some home.

    M) Enjoy Prague!! It’s an amazing city.

  • You call them smart economic policies, I – and many others – call them morality-free choices. Switzerland is in the situation today by remaining neutral in the war and by accepting quietly Nazi wealth that it knew to have been looted from Jewish people.

    Women got the vote in 1971, and in my entire time being a Geshaeftsfuehrerin (Boss Lady or Country Manager in other words) in Switzerland, I met only one woman, who was not a secretary or receptionist. That woman was German. The other women constantly looked behind me to see if I were a secretary to a man who was really the Boss Man. This was the weirdest experience of my life, yet unparalleled anywhere else. (I recently saw someone cite a few Swiss women CEOs on Penelope’s blog, so I am glad some progress is being made). Schools close for lunch hour because kids go home; the underlying presumption is that the mother is waiting at home with hot lunch. I am not sure those practices belong in the 21st century, really. But then again, many others’ mileage may vary.

    In business matters, a more incestuous corporate governance system is yet to be seen – by me. But I am open to being enlightened.

    At a socio-political level, they do a better job of integrating their immigrants. But their communities are segregated along racial lines, albeit more peaceful than we have in the UK. Then again, a country of 7M is easier run than one which may be 10 or worse, 200 times as big. Managing diversity is a relative thing.

    Their version of direct democracy is one of the modern day curiosities but then again, the scale of operations inevitably comes into the picture. The UK or the US just could not do a referendum on everything.

    It is a great country to visit but Blandsville, if you have to live and work – worse if you manage a profit centre or a business – there. Even personal life is highly regulated and rule-breakers are neither welcome nor excused.

    Exceptionally the best thing about living there is the weekends – because the transport links are amongst the cheapest and most integrated. I spent weekends hiking and travelling around the admittedly minuscule country.

    One of my favourite Roesti bars in Zuerich is now no longer in business, but if you like vegetarian Asian food, try Hiltl Vegi in Zuerich (off Bahnhofstrasse). The Opera House is worth a visit. If you like hiking, a half day trip up Uetliberg may be fun. The views of the city from there are fantastic.

    Enjoy your trip! 🙂

  • Prague is lovely, architecturally stunning in a very European sort of way. It is organised well into ‘quarters’ which make it easy to navigate and focus on specific areas with their special features.

    But as a transition economy, there are some egregiously difficult characteristics. Notably that it smells to high heavens of cigarettes (since you mention smoking smells in one of your posts about Switzerland). People smoke everywhere including in hotel lobbies, in taxis, on streets, in restaurants, everywhere. I suffered a constant headache throughout my visit, because of stale smoke hanging over every place.

    Prague is a greatly walking friendly city, failing which the trams are very good as the other comment says.

    Good things not to miss include Castle, the Old Town Square (the Astronomical Clock is quite amazing), Charles Bridge (which I think features in a Bourne film but where all the sculptures are fakes so nobody can steal them), Wenceslas Square (which boasts many stunning, many thought-provoking pieces of art and sculpture; the thought-provoking ones include some Holokunst or holocaust art). A boat ride along the Vltava is nice too, for photo opportunities at very slow speeds.

    The city has some interesting, modern sculptures in unexpected places. I recall seeing a man hanging by one hand off a pole which appears above you on one of the side streets. I also recall a supine Statue of Liberty in blue with a motorised crown of stars on its head, and it rotates. This was in some garden somewhere.

    Pravda restaurant was one of the nicest in the city, although a bit pricey. Many open-air restaurants in the Old Town square also serve good food, decently priced. As you can guess, they have the best beer but where there is beer, there are hen and stag parties. Schade!

    Prague is a city to be explored. You can get by with Russian or German, which is great. I found it tiresome to comprehend their English so I switched to and stuck to German.

    The city authorities warn of pick-pockets and ‘fake police’, which means there is a need to be extra careful with your wallet and passport etc.

    Enjoy your trip!

  • Ben there is actually a case to be made for Switzerland being the world’s most innovative country. The Conference Board of Canada tracks a number of economic indicators for OECD countries each year and publishes an annual report. Between 2006 and 2007 the innovation metrics were changed from (2006) input based metrics to (2007)output based metrics. Here is a blog post that summarizes the data:

    The interesting point of all of this is that if you look at the 2006 (Input based metrics) Switzerland was ninth in spending, however, in 2007 (Output based metrics) Switzerland is first in production.

  • You must try fried cheese in a bread in Prague. You can buy it in those fast-food stands on Wenceslas Square. It is popular local fast food alongside with hot-dog.

    Go to some cake shop, czech cakes are the best.

  • I aggre with Dani about that the low morality standarts in Switzerland are probably a strong factor in its economical well-being. And the cause for the current political dispute between Germany and Switzerland is probably more, that Swiss Banks are supporting tax evasion from Germany as much as they can and not the envy of Switzerland’s achievements.

    Ben, if you are planning on meeting some people from the exchange programm, I’ll probably see you in Zurich.

  • Christoph, you are visiting my sins upon Dani… 🙂

    And if I am not wrong, the fight is between Germany and Liechtenstein, and not Germany and Switzerland. And it involves some decidedly underhanded ways of obtaining information. Which once again is moral relativism.

  • Shefaly, there has been a dispute between Switzerland and the EU (well actually the whole world, but Germany is probably the strongest opponent in this argument) about Swiss banking laws for years.
    The youngest case of Germany’s harsh way on fighting tax evasion (the Germany-Lichtenstein fight you were talking about) led to a big revival of Swiss banking laws dispute in the German and Swiss media.

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