Shaikh Mohammad received the credentials of Maya Tissafi, Ambassador of Switzerland, last year Image Credit: WAM

Which stereotypes about the Swiss are true/not true?

Swiss are in general very polite, modest and calm. Even in big cities such as Zurich, you will rarely hear the sound of a car horn. Another stereotype that is certainly true is our punctuality. Our long watchmaking tradition has somehow deeply influenced us in this regard.

What is certainly not true is that every Swiss owns a bank. There are many Swiss who live a very traditional and simple life.

What makes you proud to be Swiss?

Switzerland is among the world’s most innovative countries. It is home to some of the leading technical universities and hosts the European research organisation CERN, which is known for being the birthplace of the world wide web. Another fact that underlines the high value of innovation in Switzerland is its ratio of Nobel Prize winners in relation to the size of its population — the highest in the world!

This year is a particularly successful year for Swiss innovation: Switzerland has celebrated the opening of the Gotthard Base Tunnel — the world’s largest tunnel, a development which will revolutionise freight transport in Europe. Following the same logic, Solar Impulse, a solar airplane which embodies Swiss excellence, will soon land in Abu Dhabi, thus completing its flight around the world.

What also makes me proud of Switzerland is that we can be neutral and assume responsibility at the same time; Switzerland is the depositary state of a large number of multilateral treaties, most prominently the Geneva Conventions.

What is unique about Switzerland?

Members of parliament and members of the Swiss government walk freely in the streets without any protection. They go to work by tram or bus, like everyone else. As a tourist, you may find yourself seated in the train or in a café next to a minister without even noticing that he or she is a VIP.

Another thing that is unique about Switzerland is its direct democracy — the people have a voting right on everything, ranging from fundamental interrogations such as membership to the UN to the question whether one’s village needs a new sports hall or not; it is the citizens who have the last say on everything. Also, every citizen can suggest amendments to the constitution, they just need to collect enough signatures, and then the proposal will come to a popular vote.

What is the Swiss cultural identity?

Due to its different linguistic regions and the multicultural background of many inhabitants, Switzerland has a very rich and varied cultural identity. In fact, the Swiss Confederation is not defined by a single language, religion or ethnicity, but rather by certain values. Therefore, the country is often referred to as a nation united by choice.

In addition, what many Swiss do have in common is their enthusiasm for sports; most popular are winter sports, football, cycling, and mountain climbing. It is no coincidence that Switzerland is one of the world’s leading countries in skiing, ice hockey, snowboarding, and — of course — tennis.

What is your hometown like?

I am from Bern, the capital city of Switzerland, where most of the country’s administration is located. Bern has a unique old town and is probably one of the few capitals in the world where you can swim in the river; floating downriver is actually a popular activity of the locals during the hot summer months. As the river’s water comes from the mountains, it is pure and refreshing.

What’s your favourite Swiss food, and why?

This might sound a bit cliché, but it is actually fondue. However, I prefer to eat the melted fondue cheese with pears instead of bread.

What sights or experiences in your country are not to be missed?

To get to see the most of the wonderful landscapes, I highly recommend doing a round trip by train. In particular, the train ride from Lausanne to Fribourg offers some spectacular views. Another highly recommended trip is to take the panoramic train Bernina Express through the south-eastern regions of the country.

Switzerland is — very rightly — famous for its mountains and lakes that are worth discovering in summer as well as in winter. The natural beauty Switzerland offers is exceptional. Apart from the wonderful natural scenery, some of the towns and villages are a must see, for example Lucerne, Montreux and Morcote, to mention just a few of them.