A few weeks ago a friend in his late 20s from New Zealand was walking across the traffic island at Zurich’s Bellevue talking to his girlfriend, also from New Zealand. They stepped out onto the pedestrian crossing, having first checked the traffic, but not checking the light. In their country (like many others) crossings with pedestrian stripes do not have lights as well. They quickly noticed their error and stepped back, but an oncoming car stopped and kindly waved them across, which they did.

Unfortunately, the next vehicle was a police car and in a movement worthy of Starksy and Hutch, the police car mounted the sidewalk and prevented my friends walking away. The police demanded identification, and when my friends spoke English, the police asked in English “Are you tourists?” My friends were in a good mood, taking a pleasant stroll round the town and could not understand what crime they had committed and were totally confused by the situation; the more so when one officer informed them that “We speak Deutsch in Switzerland”. My friends found it amusing that as tourists they were expected to speak German.

The conversation continued in English and the police became increasingly angry while my friends found the situation more and more bizarre. After all, this is the town they had read about where the police tolerated an open drug scene for many years and the authorities still handed out free needles at the tax-payers’ expense. They simply could not understand what the problem was with crossing the road that needed two police officers with guns and a police car. The police issued a fr20 fine to each of them. Payment was on the spot and change was given from an officer’s wallet. Coming from a country where the police do not handle cash, they found this amusing too. The officers’ prowess in English was comprehensive, but by no means complete; they assumed my friends were from England, when leaving the officers told them to "F*** off back to f***ing England".

If this is an example of how tourists are treated in Switzerland, then it is little wonder there are problems in the tourist industry. Swiss tourism is a massive industry with 14.5 million customers a year, who account for a turnover of Fr30 milliard and employs 165,000 people; more than the watch or insurance industry. But the figures are falling.

My bank manager told me he was going to the Austrian Alp for his holidays. I asked why he did not stay in the Swiss mountains. He replied that he liked Austria because the people were so friendly. Another Swiss friend went to Alaska this summer. What did he like most? The way he was welcomed wherever he went and made to feel special. He told me he was made to feel like a genuine guest in every hotel when he went out for a meal.

If even the Swiss find Switzerland unfriendly and go abroad for more Gastfreundschaft, what must tourists from these countries think when they come here? It is a mistake to assume that it is only those working in hotels and restaurants who are to blame for Switzerland’s unfriendly image. Everyone who has any contact with visitors from other countries, from pass control to ticket inspector on the train to supermarket checkout girl carries the burden of responsibility.

As a teenager on holiday in New York I asked a policeman the way to Central Park. He told me “Go buy a map!” My image of New York as a tough unfriendly town was sealed for life. Today I can see that this was perhaps New York humour and I should have then asked the way to a map store. Likewise with tourists who come here and meet Swiss culture head on. They have no idea of how things work here – and more importantly, they do not care - they are on holiday. Tourists do not care that the people in their mountain resort are a close-knit community, deeply religious, shy and often find tourists brash and having little concern for their local customs and traditions.

Some nations like the Greeks are natural hosts and have no hesitation in welcoming visitors to their country with open arms, it seems to be in their blood. But what does not come naturally, can be learned. Switzerland is world famous for hotel schools, perhaps we could be taught how to deal with people we do not know too?

It is not all bad news: on a recent day’s hiking in Nidwalden my wife and I missed a Postauto in the small village of Wolfenschiessen. We asked at the post office when the next one was. Seeing our disappointment at being told we would have to wait two hours, the woman behind the counter said she lived where we wanted to go and if we waited a few minutes she would finish her shift and drive us the 5 kilometres in her own car – which she very kindly did.

Gastfreundschaft is a great investment that costs nearly nothing.