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Swiss Abroad surprised by lack of "swissness" at Expo.02

The Swiss Abroad got a chance to show off their activities in Biel swissinfo.ch

Almost 500 members of Switzerland's official expatriate community travelled to Biel on Saturday for Expo.02's formal Swiss Abroad Day.

This content was published on August 12, 2002 - 20:38

Dozens of stands were set up around the Expo.02 site in the city of Biel to demonstrate the diversity of Switzerland's so-called "fifth community".

Stands were organised along national lines - featuring displays of products, profiles and greetings from countries where Switzerland's largest expatriate communities live.

Swiss mix

On one side was the South African stand, where Cape Town businessman Peter Müller expressed his pride in being born of Swiss parentage in a thick mix of accent-perfect "Sarth Efrican" and "Bärn dütch".

"I feel Swiss primarily in South Africa and here I feel South African," Müller said.

Around the corner huddled the Italian and German stands, while on the broadest part of the Biel concourse stood the Australian display. Nearby were Canada, the United States, France and the United Kingdom.

The gathering confirmed once again that Swiss people speak more than just four languages (German, Italian, French and Rumantsch).

As a community, the Swiss Abroad defy their stereotypical origins. For many, being Swiss means chatting with a Vancouver or Queensland drawl, an Essex twang, Japanese or Latin American.

Cliché vacuum

Many of those same people expressed their surprise at the lack of obvious "swissness" at the Expo site.

Organisers have banished displays of the Swiss flag and avoided showing obvious clichés - no cheese, chocolate or clocks. Heidi is well and truly dead at Expo.02.

"I don't agree with not showing any Swiss flags at Expo," commented one visitor.

Sabina Silverstein, a Singapore resident since 1996, agreed. "I read before coming that it's more an experimental arty exhibition than the traditional Swiss folklore and banners and cows and alphorns," she said.

"But I think a tourist coming for the Expo to Switzerland would be a bit surprised and even disappointed not to find the Swiss clichés in every corner," she added.

Opportunity for reflection

Despite the bad weather, and lack of fondue imagery, many found Expo.02 in Biel a source of inspiration.

Another South African businessman, Rolf Schudel, who emigrated to Johannesburg in 1969, said Switzerland was struggling to find a new image in a globalised world.

"I think Switzerland has actually become not a leader anymore. We are becoming a follower. We are following the Europeans. We are waiting and I think I would like to see that changed."

Joe Broggini, an architect based in England, said he felt Switzerland had become far more cosmopolitan in the 32 years since his departure. But he says much still needs to change.

"[I want to see] Switzerland as a less defensive nation - a nation which can stand for its own right and achievements, but also a Switzerland which is more open to the world".

Around 600,000 Swiss live abroad, roughly one in ten Swiss.

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