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Poised between a cliché and an indiscretion

Published on 14 March 2011
Updated on 19 March 2024

When it comes to the number of clichés attributed to it by foreigners, Switzerland is right up there at the top of the league table. Think Swiss, think chocolate or watches, or knives, or banks, or cuckoo clocks or…. Even the prestigious magazine The Economist, a publication usually praised for its objective and analytical journalism, has not escaped the cliché paradigm. In a recent issue, the magazine discusses the migration of financial business from the City of London to Geneva. With the luring title ‘Careful what you wish for: bored and frustrated traders are homesick for grimy, high-tax London’ the article is rife with clichés, half-truths, and questionable quotes. So blatantly does it discourage financial business to leave the City of London and move to Geneva, it might be more at home in the advertising section for UK Ltd. The first cliché out of the box is a quote from Orson Welles’ character Harry Lime, who notes the cuckoo clock as the only tangible cultural legacy of centuries of stability in Switzerland. The facts, if somebody cared to delve a little deeper, are quite the opposite. With 29 Nobel Prize laureates, Switzerland has one of the highest numbers of ‘Nobels’ per capita in the world. One of them, Albert Einstein, who did most of his work at the Patent office in Bern, rather appropriately commented that ‘it is easier to break an atom than a prejudice’ (or, perhaps, a cliché). After marshalling the mix of half-truth arguments on accommodation, office-space, and schooling, the article arrives at the cliché-loaded paragraph which was like a red rag to a bull, at least where I’m concerned:

Kit, the head of a trading outfit, tells of a visit from a policeman one morning. He was threatened with a fine because his maid had put out the rubbish before 7am. Toilets cannot be flushed, or washing machines used, after 10pm without provoking strife.
Not once in the nine years I have been living in Geneva, have I either experienced this type of problem or heard about it from friends and colleagues. To the contrary: my neighbours are very tolerant of occasional house parties when the decibel level may creep up beyond the red line in the early hours of the morning. But let’s not take my word for it. Let’s be a little more scientific. I’ve set this small survey that should only take a few minutes of your time. In adding your comments, you may even contribute to wiping one cliché from the global collective unconsciousness.

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