All in Good Fun

I guess every country has a group of people they make fun of and give special traits to. Switzerland is certainly no different in that aspect. The French speaking people in Switzerland pick on the close-minded people from Newcastle. The people from Basel pick on the loud mouths from Zurich. Those from Zurich pick on the people from Berne. The Bernese pick on the dumb and smelly people from Freiburg. It looks like each region has their own scapegoat. When the Swiss makes jokes about people from a different country it is usually the simple minded people from Austria.

I live in Berne, so most of the jokes I hear are of the people from Freiburg and Austria.

“Why do crows fly in circles over Freiburg?

Because they can only use one wing to fly with; they are holding their nose with the other!”

“What happens when the dumbest Bernese moves to Freiburg?

The average intelligence increases in both cantons [a canton is similar to a State. The canton of Berne has a city named Berne and the canton of Freiburg also has a city named Freiburg.]!”

“An Austrian mother writes a letter to her son, at the end she writes: P.S. I wanted to send you some money but I had already sealed the envelope, so sorry!”

There are also idioms that incorporate the characters of the different groups of people: to take a Freiburger shower. That means you probably didn’t shower at all or maybe just put on some perfume or some deodorant. Another idiom is to say goodbye like the French. That would be to sneak out the back way without saying goodbye to anyone (I have no idea if the French really do that, but that is what is said!). Smoke like a Turk, for someone who smokes a lot.

The people from almost every canton have some kind of peculiarity assigned to them. It is said of the people in Aargau that they can’t drive well – it’s even advertised on their license plates; AG stands for “Achtung, Gefahr” which translates into “Beware, danger” [in reality AG stands for Aargau]. The people from Thurgau, in the eastern part of Switzerland, are said to have “long fingers” meaning they steal things or shoplift. You would therefore never comment on the fact that someone has long fingers unless they were thieves! The people in Appenzell are said to be short. One joke is; “How do Appenzellers commit suicide? They jump off the edge of a rug.” Of course, none of these are really true, it is also said if you like someone you tease them. It’s all in good fun. Still, sometimes what is said about the people is a bull’s-eye. The Bernese are laughed at for being slow and unhurried. In comparison to Zurich the Bernese dialect really is spoken slower and life in Berne moves at a slower, less hectic pace. So maybe there is some truth to it.

I have a Swiss friend from Berne. One day while she was looking through some magazines before throwing them away, she saw a contest from a company in Zurich whose deadline was just a couple of days away. She was feeling lucky and thought, why not? So she cut out the coupon and sent it, figuring she probably wouldn’t win anything anyway but proud of herself for squeaking in before the deadline. A few weeks later she got a package in the mail and in it was a kilo of coffee, she was thrilled that she had actually won something. There was a letter along with the coffee that thanked her for taking the time to enter the contest and informed her that the deadline for the contest was the year before. They were sending her the coffee as a consolation prize! We figured that the people in Zurich were thanking her for the hardy laugh they got from her entry and being so true to the saying that the Bernese are slow.

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