What I really like about Switzerland

When asked what I really like about Switzerland, I recount some anecdotes, each true, each different, but each with a common thread - the emphasis being on the word 'common'.

In a short item I saw on Swiss TV news a few years ago, the then president, Adolf Ogi, was interviewed as he arrived at the parliament buildings in Bern. It wasn't what he said, but how he arrived that was wonderful.

The interviewer waited with cameraman and sound equipment by the president's parking space. Sure enough up rolled the president at the wheel and alone in his Audi. Not only could viewers see the number plate, but when the car stopped, the President, hopped out, unlocked and folded down the pole that blocked his parking space, and neatly parked his car – giving a short interview afterwards. There can be few if any other countries where the heads of state drive themselves without body guards and armour plating. That's Switzerland.

Another example of the 'cosiness' of the country came to me from a South African new to Europe and working for an international company in Horgen. Flying back to Zurich from London the passenger in the seat next to him in business class was unusually chatty and inquisitive for a Swiss as he spent most of the journey asking how our new resident found Switzerland; what he liked and what he didn't like. The Swiss man introduced himself as Kaspar and handed over his business card before they parted. It was only after Kaspar had gone that the South African studied the card and realised that he had shared the journey with the then Swiss Federal President Kaspar Villiger.

An English friend living in Rüschlikon was invited by his neighbour who he had only previously said 'hello' to, for a Christmas drink. The neighbour asked what he did for a living and my friend said he worked in a bank. Then when my friend asked what his neighbour did, he said he was the CEO of Swiss Life – the country's largest life insurer.

Times are changing in our post 9/11 world, but in Switzerland you can still find film stars and politicians in the phone book and in the supermarket. In fact, one was not allowed to have a telephone and not be in the directory until a few years ago.

If you make an early start during the ski season at Klosters you may find yourself sharing the journey up with an aging Prince with his name painted on the cabin. It has long been a mystery to me why the famous are treated with such casualness in Switzerland. Some have explained this as part of the classless nature of Swiss society without a royal family, where democracy is king and all are equal. Others have been a little less egalitarian in their explanation and suggest that the Swiss are simply too reserved to approach or interfere with the famous in public.

Whatever the reason, life here is still safe enough for all to live side by side.