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Switzerland

To many Americans, Switzerland is either a) Sweden, b) a European theme park, or c) not real. To very few of us is it known as a small Alpine tassel adorning Italy’s boot. What we don’t know about Switzerland says as much as what we do know. For example, the fact that we don’t know Switzerland for its rampant gang-related violence – or for producing androgynous Europop stars – is a very good thing. With little to go on in the way of cold, hard facts, many Americans are forced to rely upon stereotypes to fill in the gaps. Now, I would as lief form judgments on a people group based solely on broad stereotypes as the next guy, but even Swiss stereotypes turn out to be vague and uninformative, and sadly, my countrymen go about their lives blissfully unaware of the awesomeness that is Switzerland.

Not from Switzerland

We know from common Swiss stereotypes that they make chocolate, cheese, clocks, army knives, banks and neutrality. In fact, according to a 2009 UN report, Switzerland is the number one neutrality producer in the world, accounting for 43% of earth’s neutrality. That’s more than Canada, Ireland, Sweden and Vatican City combined! But what does this tell us about Switzerland? That they can tell time? That they have currency? And how does making chocolate set them apart from any other European nation? Or for that matter any nation with access to cocoa and sugar? Or any nation founded after the advent of Dessert? We need more to go on!

There’s so much more to Switzerland than what products they export. Like the people who live there. The Swiss people speak four languages – French, German, Italian and Yodeling, reflecting their location between four countries we can prove exist – France, Germany, Italy and Austria – and one we can’t – Liechtenstein[1], as well as their eclectic mix of ethnic groups and lonely goatherds. The Swiss people may come from many different people groups, but they all have one thing in common: they make mediocre post-Cold War Bond villains.

One ethnically ambiguous Swiss banker on the wrong end of Mr. Bond's Walther.

Switzerland is also home of the Matterhorn, which, legend tells us, the last President of the Confederation will blow when all peace is lost in this world, when Swiss neutrality no longer protects them and their borders are overrun by foreign hordes. When the Matterhorn sounds, the last remnant of Switzerlanders will know to flee to the highest mountains to make their last stand.

The Matterhorn at the Annual St. Berchtold's Day Parade

Okay. Look, I’m going to level with you. I may have made some to all of that up. Swiss stereotypes really are all I have to go on, but you see, that is exactly what makes Switzerland so awesome. The less anyone knows about Switzerland, the longer it survives. It’s nearly impossible for a country as small as Switzerland to remain neutral when its next door neighbour is Germany, a nation which tried to take over Europe not once, but twice in the last 100 years. Italy, France and Austria don’t exactly have spotless records themselves. It’s far too risky to invade a country when you don’t know how many weapons they have, what kind of weapons they have or where those weapons might be. It’s even riskier when no one’s even exactly sure where the country is located. Sure, we all know Switzerland’s crammed in the middle of France, Germany, Austria and Italy, but finding it would be like looking for the proverbial needle in the haystack. The Alps form an impossible labyrinth, not mention the country’s less than twice the size of New Jersey, and I bet most of you couldn’t find that on a map either.

Which one of these is Switzerland again?

If Germany tried to invade Switzerland during World War II, Hitler would have spent half the war digging under the couch cushions of Europe for it. Then he would have yelled, “Eva! Have you seen Switzerland?”

To which she would have replied, “What?!” from her room.

“I said, ‘Have you seen Switzerland?’ I could have sworn I saw it next to Austria this morning, but it’s not there anymore!”

Then Eva would have said, “Have you tried next to Austria?”

And Hitler would say, “That’s what I said! I already looked next to Austria!”

“Oh, well look on Italy!”

“It’s not on Italy! Don’t you think that’s the first place I would have looked?!”

And the next thing they would have known, the Allies would have invaded Berlin, and they would have been on fire in a ditch before the Americans even knew what was going on in Europe.

You see, Switzerland grew up around bullies. Now, I’m a big fan of Germany, Italy and France. They’re our allies and our friends, but let’s face it: they’re bullies. To survive in a schoolyard full of bullies, the littlest kid in school either secretly takes karate lessons after school or he learns to hide really well. I suggest to you that Switzerland has learned to do both. Even if I’m wrong, even if Switzerland has no might to back up its neutrality, its existence is just vague enough to have kept more than one dictator from invading. That is no small feat, and it has earned Switzerland a permanent place in the annals of awesome.

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[1] The last Liechtenstein sighting was on July 27, 1978, in the form of a grainy photograph taken from the Austrian border by Swedish mountaineer and amateur cryptoethnologist, Erik Blomkvist. The so-called Blomkvist Photograph has gained its proponents, but it has yet to be verified by leading cryptoethnologists and is considered by many to be a hoax.

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