Earlier this week, I had lunch with an expat friend from Vaud at one of Geneva’s leading hotels overlooking the Rhone River. He has been living in Switzerland for nearly 30 years, including a nearly decade-long stint in the German-speaking north. So he is very much aware of the divides that exist within Switzerland itself, and how many ordinary Swiss do not understand their own country.
He is also acutely aware of the role foreigners play in Switzerland. The hotel restaurant, where we were lunching, can barely maintain enough waiters to ensure the quality that a five-star needs to provide for lack of personnel, he explained.
While Europeans and Americans may often regard Geneva as the “real” capital of Switzerland, he noted half-jokingly, numerous German-speaking Swiss act as if Suisse romande does not exist. And if they do acknowledge it, they perceive the Lake Geneva region as that Latin enclave in the south. Many have never even been to Lausanne or Geneva. So clearly, there is a dire information gap affecting both Swiss and foreigners.
At the same time, my friend noted with embarrassment, he barely gets by with his terrible French. It’s a similar situation with many foreigners living in Switzerland. He has tried many times to learn the language, but most of his work with international corporations, including Swiss ones, is done in English. So, apart from going to the bakery or doing his shopping at Migros or Manor, he doesn’t really need French.
What he does need, however, is an overview of what’s happening in the Lake Geneva region, and Switzerland itself. This includes listening to WRS and reading Le News. These, he maintains, are his principal local information sources. It was tragic, short-sighted and even racist of Bern, he added, to close down the original WRS and then deliberately deny the new operation access to an FM signal. This means that without DAB+ at home and in their cars many thousands of potential listeners still do not have access.
“No Swiss politician is going to raise a finger to protect the rights of foreigners in their country, even if they desperately need them,” he noted. This point of view is shared by a surprisingly large number of Swiss, who are also among Le News’ readers. As one civil servant in Bern told me, “I now rely on Le News to give me a different perspective – one which you will not find in the Swiss press.”
As the editor of Le News, I consider this information role a crucial one, regardless whether our readership is Swiss or foreign.
Some Swiss have criticized me for being “anti-Swiss’, which is a curious allegation given that I am Swiss. We are living in a far more interesting country today than 30 years ago, when, quite frankly, it was a pretty dull place. Switzerland now commands exceptional diversity and innovation with its position as the world’s most competitive economic country according to the World Economic Forum. Much of this has to do with traditional Swiss ingenuity and exceptional governance combined with highly skilled and imaginative immigrant resources.
A few others have blatantly informed me that the country does not need an English-language newspaper, because Switzerland does not need – or want – foreigners. At the same time, such Swiss have no compunction about making money off their backs. One café owner in Vaud, whose establishment relies heavily on English-speaking parents stopping by for their morning coffees after dropping off their kids at the international schools, steadfastly refuses to allow Le News on its premises.
Of course, what such poo-poohers really mean is that they do not share Le News’ responsibility to explore critical issues, such as immigration, cutting edge technology or more constructive relations with the European Union, that are very much in Switzerland’s interest. And in the interests of the international community here.
What we wish to ensure is that Le News can help provide the sort of information that will enable residents and visitors, regardless whether Swiss or foreign, and including those on the French side, to understand the region better by becoming part of it – and enjoying it. This means being informed about what is happening with the arts, business, tourism events, wildlife and local politics.
And maybe one of the Swiss language schools will come up with a formula to help linguistically impaired expats, such as my friend, find both the time and will to order more than a coffee in French. And why not in German, Italian or Romansch as well?
Edward Girardet, Managing editor firstname.lastname@example.org