As the transition to a Trump presidency became a reality in 2016, many US passport holders in Switzerland (and even some in the US) were wondering: How do I become Swiss?
Just days before the election, I had the pleasure of sitting down with “The Swiss Whisperer”, Diccon Bewes. This author has climbed to the top of the Swiss literary scene with the release of his 2010 book, Swiss Watching.
Just in time for post-Brexit and election stress, the astute observer of the Eidgenossen has released a new and humorous book entitled How to be Swiss. The book covers a gauntlet of topics in a satirical form, from socializing to history, and from cultural perceptions to politics. For anyone wishing to become Swiss, or just understand them better, this is a book worth reading.
A valuable insight from Diccon Bewes
My conversation with Diccon over coffee covered an equally broad variety of topics. During an hour and a half, I got insights into the life of this prolific writer. Six years after the release of his first book, the author is now able to make a living from his writing and speaking engagements. (Though, it still comes in waves.)
The life of a creative is seldom stable but rather one of feast or famine. In Diccon’s view, it forces you to be fiscally responsible and to plan your budget with more precision, knowing that there may not be another paycheck for months. Despite that, he is greatly enjoying his life with the creative freedom it affords him.
”How to be Swiss” is not a reactionary book
Speaking about his recent trip to the United States, Diccon felt anxious about the still upcoming presidential election. Diccon believed that Donald Trump would win. After my trip to the US this past summer, I shared this feeling.
A fierce opposer of the Brexit vote this past June, Diccon said that there is a trend towards populism and the rightwing politics across the Western world. Though right-leaning politicians and their supporters have failed to draw clear plans for how they will make things better, they resonate with those who feel unheard by politicians. During his travels through the US, Diccon saw this discontent firsthand.
A playful blending of old and new
The book How to be Swiss was not a reaction to the votes and elections of the past year. (Diccon is quick to remind me of a few rather controversial votes in Switzerland’s recent history.) Instead, the idea was to create a book that is fun to read – yet not necessarily cover to cover.
It also allowed him to pool together some material from his archives in a new and creative way, blending it with the latest findings. You might remember the Swiss greeting tradition at parties from Swiss Watching…
When the Swiss Watcher goes Airbnb
Like any good conversation, ours meandered from topic to topic. And suddenly, we were speaking about Airbnb. The so-called “home sharing platform” has cities around the world in an uproar with traditional hotels. They are fearing the downward pressure on prices for lodging, yet tourists are rejoicing over more unique and less expensive accommodation experiences.
Diccon owns the flat above his in Bern, and after his last tenants moved out, he is about to embark on a six-month trial of renting the apartment on Airbnb. He likes the flexibility of claiming the flat when friends and family are in town.
”There is no insurance for that.”
Being well connected with the city of Bern and the tourism office, Diccon was not going to run a covert operation, but wanted to register with the city.
Specifically, with the tax department, the tourism office (Kurtaxe) and of course, with his insurance. The Swiss obsession for insurance has worn off on Diccon: What happens if a guest causes damage to the apartment? The Swiss answer to the question: The guest’s insurance will pay for it. This is fine for as long as the guest is Swiss or lives in a Germanic country where personal liability is the norm.
But Anglosaxons do not have personal liability insurance, therefore leaving the landlord with a hefty repair bill for damages. The insurer did not seem to have an answer to the predicament.
This dilemma highlights another Swiss trait, though indirectly: A lack of flexibility and willingness to adapt. Though, as a part of the book shows, the Swiss can often be quite innovative, and I am sure some enterprising Swiss will soon offer insurance to cover Airbnb hosts and their property, as well as one to protect guests and theirs.
A balanced book
Flicking through the book, Diccon tells me how much of a pleasure it was to work with cartoonist Michael Meister. Also, he confesses that some of the chapters were more difficult. He published a book that is both satirical yet non-offensive – as well as creative and informative.
The chapter on politics was perhaps the hardest for him, as he pokes fun at left and right wingers equally. The average Swiss is somewhere in the middle, someplace between uninformed and overwhelmed. (This is my favorite section.)
“How to be Swiss” is an enjoyable read that can be ploughed through in a short time or dipped into whenever one gets a moment.
If you are unsure of the politics in your home country and think of moving to Switzerland, this book is a good first step on your way to citizenship as an Eidgenosse. And if you need a place to crash while you decide, you might be able to rent a flat from the Swiss Watcher himself and see how the Swiss do politics in Bern…