If you are Swiss, know someone who is Swiss, or are simply interested in the Swiss and Switzerland, then this book is for you!
Delving into the truth behind ten prevalent myths about the Swiss, Irish-Swiss author and journalist Clare O’Dea tells it like it is. Although the details are not always flattering, the history and stories presented in this book helped shape modern Switzerland and are in themselves fascinating. Anecdotes range from 1291 to 2016, with a strong focus on recent national policies, referendums, and recent banking scandals. This book has something for everyone, whether you want to include a chapter as a reading for an English lesson, use a passage for an in-class activity, or just want to know more about what makes the Swiss tick (pardon the pun).
The book is divided into ten chapters, each debunking a common Swiss stereotype. What makes the Swiss “Swiss”? Why are the Swiss so rich? Are the Swiss xenophobic? Are they brilliant, sexist, neutral, or boring? Did they help the Nazis? Are they crooked bankers? Do they really have the world’s best democracy? In answering the above, the author has clearly done her homework: these hot topics are explored in a matter of fact (dare I say “Swiss”) way, with the right mix of humour and realism. Clare O’Dea, a naturalised Swiss citizen, shows that she understands the culture of her adopted country and is able to talk about its darker sides without judgment. Some chapters make for uncomfortable reading, and have left me with questions about Switzerland’s stance towards Secondos (the children of Swiss immigrants, born in Switzerland), Swiss banking ethics, and the place of women in Swiss society. Tidbits about the author’s own experience working as a journalist and raising three children in Switzerland enliven the narrative. This book is an informative and interesting read for Swiss and non-Swiss alike.
What particularly impressed me was how succinctly past historical events are meaningfully linked to the present Swiss reality. The question of women’s rights, suffrage, and childcare – and whether to avail oneself of it– are more closely linked than I had realised: reading this book has made me rethink some my own preconceptions. O’Dea also neatly refers back to previous chapters and underlines the impact of past policies on today’s (Swiss) mentality.
O’Dea’s writing style is inviting; the book contains a good mix of humour, anecdotes, and facts. The text is well organised and the ideas are clearly presented, with longer anecdotes, such as the cat-meat fiasco, presented in a separate “in focus” section at the end of the chapter. (Yes, apparently the unsubstantiated rumour of the “cat-and-dog-eating Swiss” lives on. For more details, see chapter 2). The author’s journalistic background is used to good advantage: interviews with key political and historical players, such as Pascal Couchepin (former Swiss president) & Marthe Gosteli (Swiss suffragette), afford the reader a glimpse into various “insider” perspectives.
I am also a fan of O’Dea’s use of images: sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words. Various media, such as newspaper headlines, paintings, and archival photographs, add detail to the text and help tell the Swiss story. Not to mention that pictures are a great teaching tool.
So to sum up, The Naked Swiss is worth reading and can readily supply material for the English language classroom. The fly in the ointment is the book’s thick, stiff paper, which makes it uncomfortable to hold and the pages hard to turn. That aside, I give this book a double thumbs up!
Pädagogische Hochschule Zug (PH Zug)