A dark wet night and swirling fog made effective but cheap sets for British movies. It also left the world with an indelible image of London. Thanks to those Sherlock Holmes mysteries, half of Switzerland is convinced that England is nearly always bathed in fog and of course that it often rains.

The reality is that Zurich has over 75% more rainfall of London (1079mm per year compared to London’s 611mm). Statistics for fog are harder to come by, but having lived in both cities, I can assure you that Zurich has as many, if not more than London.

Many people believe that winters had much more snow when they were children. The reality is that we forget the grey days but remember the ones we played in the snow. Our parents too are responsible: they did not take photographs of us in the rain, or on dull days, but instead with our sledge in the snow.

Image is so often different from reality. So it is with Switzerland as seen from Britain. The World Economic Forum in Davos received good media coverage in Britain last week, mainly on what was said by international figures like Kofi Annan and Dick Chaney. Meanwhile most TV viewers in the UK were more fascinated by the depth of the snow in Davos than what was said in the conference halls. England rarely sees snow and when it does it causes chaos. The British can only stand back in admiration at a country which can run an international conference in a blizzard. With scenes of heavy snowfall, the British had their image of Switzerland reinforced yet again. Doubtless on my next visit to the UK, people will once again ask how I cope with "all that snow". Just as the Swiss cannot separate Sherlock Holmes movies from present day London, so most British do not realise that Davos is not 'Downtown Switzerland'.

Switzerland's image abroad is confused, but positive. The reality is that Switzerland is small and unimportant in world affairs and attracts little attention. Facts about this land are so fuzzy that last week on a peak-time BBC Television quiz show the question that decided whether contestants won the top prize equivalent to fr72'000 was "What is the capital city of Switzerland?" They got it right, but many a Brit would have answered Geneva or Zurich.

Mountains, cheese with holes, banks, chocolate, and gold are well-recognised symbols of Switzerland internationally. After that it becomes more confused with Bavarian cuckoo clocks and Lederhosen being imputed to the Swiss. The British are convinced that Switzerland is hideously expensive. But anyone who has recently been to London will wonder how the British can believe this.

The Swiss-German dialects are one of the world's best-kept secrets. Most British cannot understand how you can have a German dialect that cannot be understood in Germany and then not have a written version of it – so they dismiss it as impossible and believe that French is Switzerland's main language.

This leaves Switzerland in the enviable position of having its quality image still very much intact internationally, despite a number of incidents that might have changed this over recent years. Nazi gold and what or what did not happen here in the Second World War, the collapse of Swiss Air, Swiss bank secrecy, the mid air collision within Swiss air traffic control and the list of misfortunes and problems that have hit Swiss businesses in recent years, have made little impact on the British concept of Switzerland. Certainly these were all reported in the UK media - but not in great depth and not for long. The British media's attitude to Switzerland is one of schadenfreude: only stories that show Switzerland to be less than perfect get coverage. To be able to do this, ironically, proves how positive Switzerland's image is.

When over in the UK in 2003, I was asked on a number of occasions in conversation what I thought of the Swiss attitude to suicide. A subject that here has attracted little attention, has been a hot topic in the UK. The British are of the opinion that there are many “suicide clinics” in Zurich, where terminally-ill Britons queue up in a neat line to end their lives.

It is no mystery that internal and external image are very different. Margaret Thatcher was the most despised British Prime Minster of the twentieth century in her own country, yet her resignation in 1990 came as a shock to the rest of the world who regarded her as a strong and positive leader. In the UK her resignation was greeted with cheers where she was held responsible for every job loss and factory closure during her reign.

The Swiss are very image conscious and worry what the rest of the world thinks of them. The reality is that the world knows little about Switzerland and holds on to the few clichés it does know, whether they are correct or not. I often wonder if the Swedes have their country confused with Switzerland.