Round Swiss Flag


A Useful Country

I lived and worked in Switzerland for a decade or so, starting in 1985. Working as a secretary for the World Health Organization in Geneva (Généve), I was an International Civil Servant. On this page, I offer personal observations instead of the usual presentation of facts available generally.

SWiss Army KnifeTool to get at knowledge

Roamings of an Ex-Pat

Swiss Cantons Swiss Railroad Map Swiss Terrain Swiss Languages

You see the map of Cantons upper left, and they are somewhat like States in the USA. Below that you can derive an idea of the terrain, and on the right the language distribution. Best of all is the Railroad map. Therein lies my principal enjoyment of living in Switzerland.

For several years when I lived in the actual city of Geneva, every Friday I would bring my suitcase to the "Gare," the train station where I normally got the bus going up to the International Organization district. I would get my ticket and check the bag into the railroad system. After work, I'd bus to the Gare, board a train to some remote mountain village, collect my waiting luggage, and trundle it to my hotel. Hiking and sightseeing occupied Saturday, and Sunday morning I checked out of the hotel, took my bag to the train station, and enjoyed myself until time to entrain for Geneva where the luggage waited for me. Never once did they lose my bag, and everything worked.

I remember chatting with a visitor from one of the regional offices who lived in an under-developed country. He said at home nothing worked reliably and wished fervently he could contrive so that his career would bring him to work and live in Switzerland with his family.


Mountain to Mountain

Alpenhorns and Flag Throwing

Festivals remind everyone of the centuries when Switzerland's resources were mainly pasture. Poor pasture. Mountain pasture. Somebody would take the cows up for the summer grazing, milking them and making cheese (the only way to have a marketable product). These solitary people communicated with alpenhorns and flag waving from one mountain side to the other, across the steep valleys. Simmental valley, for instance, only gets four hours of sunlight a day because it's so deep.
Alpenhorn Cows on Parade toward summer pastures Swiss Flag Throwing

Person to Person

International Organizations

Because there are four official languages in Switzerland, almost everybody is multilingual to some degree. A professional almost certainly will be, and many if not most shopkeepers speak English, which was very useful to me, who struggles with languages. In Geneva, where there are so many international organizations, about 40% of the population is non-Swiss, not least because the Swiss prefer to live where this is not so. Commonly, internationals use English as a mutual language even though French is the official language of the Canton.

My cousin, Susan, lived in Switzerland for most of her life as a professional simultaneous interpreter. She contracted to serve at meetings all over the world, but usually in Geneva and Brussels, for the International Organizations. To be a simultaneous interpreter, it isn't enough to be fluent; you must be able to listen to one language and at the same time speak the interpretation in another. She said many people were more fluent than she was, but couldn't master the simultaneous knack of it. Her languages were English, French, and German, officially, but she could manage in Spanish. Although she worked at it for years, she never managed to bring her Russian up to professional standards. Once, when we traveled, together, a hotel clerk mistook me for her, and apologized, saying, "I thought you were the lady with the excellent German."
Some International Organizations in Geneva