Top News

Switzerland No. 1 country in the world? We disagree

As patriotic Canadians, we find it hard to believe that a tiny country in Europe could be better than ours. Sure the Swiss have given the world some great things – Swiss cheese, excellent chocolate, multipurpose pocket knifes, watches – but are they enough to edge ahead of Canada and take the top spot? We put our top TC Media columnist against a top Swiss columnist to get to the truth.

Russell Wangersky

Canada is No. 1, goshdarn it

Russell Wangersky

TC Media

So, a U.S. News and World Report study picked Switzerland as the best country in the world, and here in Canada, we’re supposedly second. Really?

Somewhere, someone is clearly confused. So let’s look a little closer — and you have to look close. If you want to take a good hard look at Switzerland, first you have to find it on the map. Canada? Heck, we are the map.

Switzerland’s just 41,000 square kilometres and change. Canada? 9.985 million square kilometres. We could tuck 215 Switzerlands in here, and still have room for, I don’t know, Spain and France.

[More: Read further for a Swiss perspective on Canada's claims.]

And look at the survey: Switzerland won without being the best in a single category, making it the consolation winner. The best it did was third place in “open for business,” which is a little like being picked “most spirited” in your high school class.

Canada, meanwhile, came first in the world for “quality of life” — and that should be the end of the competition right there.

For quality of life, the study included, “a good job market, affordable, economically stable, family friendly, income equality, politically stable, safe, well-developed public education system, well-developed public health system.”

Open for business? “Bureaucratic, cheap manufacturing costs, corrupt, favorable tax environment, transparent government practices” — their words, not mine. In fact, the winning country in the “Open for business” category was Panama, with a 5.7 out of 10 ranking for corruption. (The voters in this competition? Primarily “informed elites” and “business decision-makers.” Maybe that’s why the Swiss did so well, even after scoring zero on “affordability.”)

Sure, Switzerland might have things like chocolate, a skilled labour force, gold, top-secret hidden bank accounts and gorgeous backdrops for spy-villain movies.

But we’re world-renowned for being friendly.

Except at hockey. We’re very good at hockey. Switzerland? Less so. The biggest pluses for Swiss hockey? The symbols on their jerseys, and the NHL players who played in Swiss leagues during the NHL lockout.

The famed Swiss neutrality?

Anyone can be neutral. It takes much more thought and debate to switch back and forth, depending on the hawkishness of your current government.

Then, there’s national cuisine. How can you be the best country in the world and serve fondue?

Bread dipped in melted cheese? That’s not a recipe — it’s a happy accident.

Canada vs Switzerland. We're No. 2, We're No. 2!

Now, take that cheese, slip some french fries under it, and pour gravy on top — then you’re getting somewhere.

We already have it, of course: poutine.

Speaking of poutine, we have two official languages, English and French. Switzerland had to make things even more confusing, adding two more, German and Romansh. Being a Swiss bureaucrat must be a linguistic minefield.

Mountains? The Swiss have the Alps, we have the Rockies — call it a draw. Big lakes? Switzerland has two or three, and we have scores — five of them big enough to be called “Great.”

We should just put this all behind us, wait for a nice summer day, take our umbrellas and coolers and head for the ocean and a day at the beach. Oh wait – the Swiss have to drive to another country to even see the sea.

Canada? We’ve got 202,080 kilometres of coastline, the longest in the world, on three different oceans.

Switzerland? 0. (I mean, even tiny Monaco has more.)

I think we’re done here.

* Russell Wangersky is a veteran Canadian journalist and author, who writes columns for more than two dozen TC Media newspapers across Eastern Canada. He lives and writes at The Telegram daily newspaper in St. John’s, Newfoundland.


David Hesse

Canada is just too nice (and large) to beat Switzerland

David Hesse


Never trust a moose. They get drunk on fermenting apples and are very hard to milk. Swiss cows, on the other hand, are mild-mannered, co-operative animals. We should export them to Canada in large quantities before the moose drags that country down further: A recent U.S. News & World Report survey has named Canada only second-best country in the world. Switzerland came first.

True, the moose is not Canada’s official national animal. That would be the beaver. But what is a beaver but a large rat, turning forests into toothpicks? Switzerland has reintroduced the beaver at some cost but now considers it a nuisance again. Just like the wolf and the bear - we really are not too keen on large wild mammals here. They get in our way.

Canadians will not understand this, for Canada is huge, the second-largest nation after Russia (another second place here). Clearly, Canada is TOO big. You get lost there - or depressed, staring at the nothingness of Saskatchewan. Switzerland is tiny, and very satisfyingly so. You can own it. Hike her Alps but never stray far from the next bus stop.

Canadians love Switzerland. Céline Dion came and sang for us, even won us the Eurovision Song Contest in 1988. You can send us that Bieber guy. We’ll put him to work.

Those who stay behind in Canada have to make do with “Swiss Chalet”, a fast food chain operating some 200 restaurants. They serve Poutine there - French Fries, topped with cheese curds and gravy. Some may call our Fondue nasty, but we would never ever serve Poutine!

Canadians imitate Switzerland. They got the colours right in their flag, but that maple leaf? Hippie nonsense. A Swiss cross is much more resolute. No wonder you still entertain the Queen as your head of state. You are afraid to stand on your own feet.

The Swiss are uncertain what to make of your prime minister. Sure, he is smarter than Trump, but does he really have to wear those coloured socks? We have seven ministers instead of one president, and they all have the charisma of flower pots. That’s how we like it. We take pleasure in the drabness of our government. They are our servants, not our leaders.

Canadians take pride in their two official languages. The Swiss have four. That French- and German-speakers sometimes have to resort to English in order to understand each other is nothing but a malignant rumour.

Canadians are very popular. We call you the better Americans. Polite, unarmed, docile. Young Americans even dress up as Canadians when backpacking abroad. You are hard to dislike - despite the Poutine. Really, you should have made number one.

But you didn’t. We did. Even though the Swiss are not particularly well-liked around the globe. We are the Gnomes of Zurich, stashing away Nazi Gold and untaxed fortunes. We are the mad cuckoo-clock makers, even though that really is a Black Forest thing. Try being all that and still make number one. That’s class.  

Nobody would ever want to leave Switzerland. The 775 000 citizens who did leave and now live abroad spend their time complaining that things are greasier and shabbier than back home. Some 40 000 of us live in Canada, trying to milk moose. But no matter how many of us you import: Switzerland is number one. And will be until those Alps come down.

* David Hesse is a former U.S. correspondent with Tages-Anzeiger. He writes for the features and opinion sections and is based in Zurich.

Recent Stories