Ten years of The Local: How Switzerland has changed in a decade

 Another thing that hasn’t changed: the Swiss flag. Photo by Janosch Diggelmann on Unsplash
Another thing that hasn’t changed: the Swiss flag. Photo by Janosch Diggelmann on Unsplash
The year 2021 marked ten years since The Local Switzerland started publishing. Our Geneva-based journalist Helena Bachmann takes a look at what changes took place in the country during that time — and what remains the same.

Depending on how you look at the passage of time, a decade is either very long or just a blink of an eye.

And also depending on your perspective, Switzerland has either changed a lot in these 10 years, or not enough.

From a purely journalistic point of view, the news that was trending in 2011 was both totally different and eerily similar to today, except for Covid-19, as a global health crisis of this scope was not on anyone’s radar.

Among the first articles The Local published in 2011 were ones headlined Zürich zoo celebrates gorilla birth, Half of Swiss bats have malaria, and Swiss woman killed in elephant brawl.

But there was also one story that makes us realise ten years is indeed a very long time: Swiss government told to launch Bush probe, a story about a possible investigation into former US President George W Bush. 

However, other articles from 2011 remind us that some issues never grow old: How to find a Swiss home of your own and Finding a job in Switzerland are as pertinent today as they were back then.

The more things change, the more things stay the same

From my own point of view (both journalistic and personal), this quote comes to mind when comparing 2011 to the present: “The more things change, the more they remain the same”.

If changes in Switzerland are slow to happen, it is mostly due to local mentality and political system — neither of which ever changes.

In the former case, the Swiss prefer to take their time to debate issues, form commissions and committees to debate issues, and act (or not act) on them only after a long deliberation and due-diligence process.

In the latter case, Switzerland’s famous system of direct democracy brings all manner of sometimes-urgent matters to the ballot box, which could take a while as well.

If I have to weigh in (unilaterally, without creating commissions and committees to debate the issue or bringing it to a referendum) about what changes happened in Switzerland in the past decade, I would say the country and its people are now more open to technology and ‘digitalisation’ of their lives.

Years ago, I often came across people who didn’t even know how to turn on the computer, much less use search engines, purchase products online, or conduct all kinds of business on the Internet.

A computer repairman I know was often called into people’s homes to fix their computer. In more cases than one the ‘problem’ he found was that the PC was not plugged in. The cable was dangling a metre away from the electrical outlet and they were wondering why they couldn’t turn on their computer.

This has changed significantly, with most people, including the older generation, now routinely using digital services ranging from online platforms to mobile apps.

The same pertains to phones: most homes in 2011 (mine included) had land lines, and mobile phones were still not as common as they are today.

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Now, many households (mine included) only have cell phones, with landlines (like fax machines) being a thing of the past.

So yes, the Swiss have become much more technologically savvy than before, which is a huge thing for people who don’t really like to embrace change.

And now here’s what (in my view) remained pretty much the same since 2011 (and probably way before then):

  • Switzerland is still expensive, though more products and services from abroad are now more available.
  • On the whole, the Swiss still don’t care for foreigners, though they learned to tolerate them for economic reasons.
  • Making friends with Swiss people is still (in many cases) an enormous effort.
  • The mythical (and yet so real) mental divide (the so-called Röstigraben) between the German and French-speaking regions is still in place. Interestingly, Italian-speakers are most adaptable to both.

And all that brings me to what I said before: the more things in Switzerland change, the more they mostly remain the same.

Regardless of whether you’ve lived in Switzerland for a day, a week or a decade, we’d like to hear from you. Let us know in the comments how Switzerland has changed – or hasn’t – in the time you’ve lived here. 

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