• Switzerland's news in English

'Learn Swiss history': US diplomat’s advice

Morven McLean · 13 Nov 2013, 22:11

Published: 13 Nov 2013 22:11 GMT+01:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

What have you found to be the best thing about being a diplomat here?

I think it’s just the quality of life. It’s so easy to live here. In two postings I had (previously) I was not allowed to take public transportation or it wasn’t even available. I very much appreciate the incredible public transportation here.

In the summer there’s so much to do out of doors; in the winter too. Switzerland is a very liveable country and Bern is a very liveable city. That’s probably the nicest thing. Switzerland is just a fantastic place to live.

And I have found the Swiss people to be very open, pleasant and welcoming, which is not a stereotype of Swiss people.

Where were you previously posted?

My first posting was in Dhaka, Bangladesh, which I don’t think you can compare with Switzerland. I also served in Germany, in Berlin, which when I was there was still very much two cities, East and West.

I also did my time in Washington, and from there I went to Israel. I was actually resident in Jerusalem and responsible for a lot of the Israeli-Palestinian joint programmes that we do towards reconciliation and peace.

And that is the most intense place I’ve worked both in terms of the political atmosphere and the work itself.

In my first two years there the secretary of state visited 28 times, the president visited twice. Then I came to Switzerland . . .

Where the pace must seem a lot slower?

I think there’s more happening than you realize. It’s in Europe but it’s not a member of NATO or the EU. That makes our work with Switzerland when it comes to multilateral issues very, very important because we want to make sure we’re engaged with the country the way we’re engaged with EU and NATO countries.

What things took some getting used to?

For me it was the planning. When I first got here my wife and I decided we were going to have a party, so we invited people three or four weeks before and that just was not enough time for most people. So that was a shock, especially coming from Israel and the US where you don’t need this lengthy planning time.

The Swiss are probably the most pragmatic people I’ve ever met, which is a good thing. But it can sometimes be a lengthy process to think through things and you have to adjust your expectations as to how quickly someone’s going to react. But I’ve learned that a little bit of patience goes a long way in Switzerland.

Any Swiss rules or regulations that have caused you problems?

(Laughs) Nothing that has caused us problems. But I do think people make excuses for us as foreigners. I was told you couldn’t flush your toilet after 10 o’clock at night, which isn’t true. Although I grew up in an apartment building, so living in a high density environment is something I’m accustomed to.

How do you get on with your neighbours?

We’ve been very fortunate with our neighbours. I live in the old city of Bern and the downstairs neighbours invited us down right away. They have the ground floor with a garden that goes all the way to the Aare river and they gave us a key so that we could use the garden. It’s so different from what people had told us coming to Switzerland that ‘you won’t get to know your neighbours, you won’t get to know people’.

Story continues below…

What advice would you give to a diplomat coming to this country?

I would definitely encourage anyone coming here to get a book on Swiss history because history and tradition are very important to the Swiss and it’s very important that you can show them that you understand that the Swiss context is special.

My second piece of advice would be to have some patience. Take your time and don’t rush into things.

Will you be sorry to leave?

I’m not looking forward to leaving. I’m very fortunate that I’m going to Paris (after a brief stint in Washington).

But Switzerland is a very special place. The only good news about leaving is that I’ll only be four hours away by train! 

Morven McLean (news@thelocal.ch)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Villagers asked to help fund bridge renovations
The bridge links the two villages of Veltheim (pictured) and Holderbank. Photo: Lutz Fischer-Lamprecht

The crowdfunding campaign by the two communes is the first of its kind in Switzerland.

Police discover body buried in Orbe house
File photo: Bas Leenders

Police have opened an investigation after finding a body buried in a house in Orbe, in the canton of Vaud, on Saturday.

Valais shaken by 4.2 magnitude earthquake
The earthquake hit in the canton of Valais near Sierre. Photo: Alain Rouiller

It's the biggest earthquake to hit the country for two years.

Swiss Indoors kicks off without champ Federer
Federer celebrates with ball girls and boys after winning the event in 2015. Photo: Harold Cunningham/Pool/AFP

Stan Wawrinka is top seed as injured Federer sits it out.

IOC hires Russian doping whistleblower as consultant
IOC President Thomas Bach confirmed the news. File photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has hired Vitaly Stepanov as a consultant and is helping his runner wife Yuliya.

‘Scary clown’ craze hits streets of Zurich
Photo: Pedro Pardo/AFP

Police in Zurich have warned so-called ‘scary clowns’ that they could face charges, following a number of incidents in the city.

VIDEO: driver chases runaway car on Swiss motorway
Image: Neuchâtel police

Shocking footage shows the moment a man dodged lorries to chase after his runaway car on a Swiss motorway.

Saas-Fee crowdfunds low-cost season ski pass
Saas-Fee is hoping to attract 99,999 season pass holders. Photo: Denis Emery/Photo-genic.ch

Skiers could get their hands on a whole season pass for just 222 francs ($223) in the Swiss resort of Saas Fee this winter – if enough people want one.

Swiss billionaire fined for dodging import tax
Urs Schwarzenbach owns the luxury Dolder Grand hotel in Zurich. Photo: Wilhem Rosenkranz

Urs Schwarzenbach faces a $4 million fine for failing to properly declare some 200 artworks imported into Switzerland.

Muslim woman wins headscarf court battle
Photo: Jack Guez / AFP

A Swiss court has ruled against a company that fired a longtime employee after she began wearing the Muslim headscarf.

Photo: Richard Juilliard/AFP
Man makes Geneva airport bomb threat ‘for a joke’
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
Photo: AFP
Solar Impulse team reveals plans for unmanned plane
File photo: Martin Abegglen
Swiss to vote on passport rules for 3rd gen foreigners
Photo: AFP
Swiss wingsuit hotspot Lauterbrunnen won’t impose ban
Photo: Swiss Tourism
Six reasons Switzerland isn’t as boring as you might think
Photo: Swiss Tourism
Report: Switzerland one of world’s best places for girls
Photo: The Local
Thief returns Swiss cow bells worth thousands
File photo: Wikimedia Commons
One in three rapists isn’t locked up: statistics
Photo: activistin.ch
Tampon-tax protest turns Zurich fountains red
Photo: AFP
Geneva police to lift ban on bearded officers
Photo: Marcel Gillieron/AFP
Suicide chef’s restaurant keeps Michelin stars
Photo: Lara de Salis
11 things the Swiss get tired of hearing abroad
Photo:  Ivo Scholz/Swiss-image.ch
Survey: expats in Switzerland have money but few friends
Photo: AFP
Swiss press criticize Bern’s 'capitulation' on immigration
Photo: Jura Trois Lacs tourism
German ex-policeman is Swiss city’s new hermit
Photo: Dmitry A. Mottl
Ticino votes to favour local workers over foreigners
Photo: file
Some deodorants could cause breast cancer: Swiss study
Photo: Royal Savoy
In pictures: Inside the latest Swiss luxury hotel
Photo: AFP
Geneva airport bomb hoaxer faces 90,000-franc bill
Photo: Schaffhausen police
Mother leaves toddler son alone in car to go clubbing
Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP
Swiss populist attacked by knife-wielding pensioner
jobs available