After a long work meeting in Cern one day, Clare O’Dea, an Irish journalist and writer, sat down in her seat on the train to go home when a man sat down next to her and started up a conversation. Not Swiss himself, he mistakenly took Clare for Swiss and was eager to get to know the locals. Exhausted from an intense work trip, Clare answered his questions for a few minutes before telling him she didn’t feel like continuing the conversation, to which he replied, “Typical unfriendly Swiss.”
Every country has its stereotypes, and Switzerland is no exception: when one hears the word “Switzerland” one might imagine both money-grubbing bankers and an idyllic chocolate-covered cheese-filled paradise at the same time. But what is the truth beneath the façade? On Wednesday May 17, Clare O’Dea visited us in Basel to be our guest speaker for our May Main Meeting to discuss her book “The Naked Swiss,” which aims to dispel myths and uncover the realities of Swiss culture.
Clare’s varied background includes research in a news division, work in a regional news program, a graveyard shift honing broadcasting and writing skills, and half a year in Moscow as a freelance reporter. Upon her arrival to Switzerland, she taught business English before working for swissinfo.ch where she wrote for the politics, business, culture and society sections.
When she began writing fiction about 9 years later, she started a blog during the fiction-writing process through which she learned lessons on the craft of writing; it was this non-fiction project which ultimately led to “The Naked Swiss.”
The path to assimilating Swiss culture wasn’t immediate for Clare, as she described how adopting Swiss culture at first felt like ditching her native Irish culture. This “step-parent relationship,” as she calls it, can only last so long before one finally stops resisting assimilation, and Clare is now a proud Swiss citizen.
So what is Switzerland beyond cows and chocolate and Heidi? Clare describes Switzerland as the “what if” country – what if:
- WWII hadn’t happened?
- If there were no church / state interference?
- If everyone had equal access to education, heath and job opportunities?
- If people had more power than politicians?
Switzerland has the highest life expectancy in Europe (2nd in the world); the lowest obesity rate in Europe; a strong and stable economy; the first in the world happiness index; the highest average wealth per adult in the world.
As a seasoned journalist, Clare knows that Switzerland plays a role in the image it portrays of itself to the world – with her book “The Naked Swiss,” she hopes to provide context to what we know about Switzerland, to present facts objectively, and ultimately to set the record straight.
PWG thanks Clare for taking the time to come to Basel to be our guest speaker – you can purchase her book “The Naked Swiss” here. Check out the photos below!