...Alpine White "My Surprising Swiss Miss Adventure"
My first magical brush with the magical nation of Switzerland was surprisingly through Uruguay. It was early 2007. I flew from my New York City home down to Montevideo with my job. I was working for the research division of The Economist magazine called the EIU (Economist Intelligence Unit). We were hosting a government roundtable, where I was slated to meet President Tabaré Vázquez, future Vice President Danilo Astori, a healthy contingent of Uruguayan bankers and business executives, and come to find out – a wonder of Swiss Misses.
From my sparkling blonde, blue-eyed “local EIU sales rep” to my hotel’s “front desk rep” to the flaxen-haired bevy of women on the cobblestone sidewalk outside my hotel – I had clearly landed in the dreamy world of hot chocolate and marshmallows. Add delightful imaginary yodeling, a chalet stockpiled with skis and firewood, and my imagination had truly drifted off into a sublime Alpine daydream. (I would mention Ricola cough drops, but I don’t want to steal thunder from lil’ Swiss Miss and her heavenly cocoa.)
Now having studied Spanish since thirteen, and having studied abroad in Spain during college, and done service work in Mexico, and not to mention taken many prior trips to Latin America with the EIU (big gulp, that's a lot of Latam exposure!), I felt confident in my understanding of Latin American history and culture. Like the USA and all of North America, South America, too, is a rich tapestry of immigrants hailing from nearly every pocket of the world. Of course South America has its well-known immigration giants – Spain, Portugal, Italy, Germany, and the Slavic nations of former Yugoslavia. But this? The immigration surge of Swiss folks to Uruguay in the 1860s? This little historical nugget was new to me – like a sweet, creamy, delicious white marshmallow.
The Swiss first came to Uruguay in the 1860s – groups of farmers, small business owners, and artisans looking for a fresh start and better economic opportunity. Since the USA was being ravaged by the Civil War, many ventured to South America instead – Argentina, Brazil, and even little Uruguay. In Uruguay, they settled in a place they appropriately called “Colonia Suiza” – today called “Nueva Helvecia.” This city, a fanciful bastion for Swiss ethnics, architecture, customs, and festivals, represents just a fraction of Swiss culture still thriving in Uruguay today. Unfortunately, as my Uruguay business trip was a quick one (“tengo prisa!”), I didn’t travel the seventy or so miles to visit Nueva Helvecia. But should I return to Uruguay for fun one day – I am there. Strap on my cross-country skis at the city’s entrance. I’m ready to commingle with Old World edelweiss flowers and New World palm trees. Now I can’t say I’ve always been fascinated with Switzerland. Usually, my wanderlust ways have leaned elsewhere – the tropics, or seaside countries, or giants on the world stage (Mexico, UK, India, etc.). But with age, I have come to appreciate the quiet, peaceful, less frenetic gems of our planet – like Switzerland. I imagine sweet pink flowers snoozing away on a cool, breezy, green Swiss mountaintop – or I envision the isolated snow-capped splendor of the towering Matterhorn (one of Europe's tallest mountains). Mix Switzerland’s awe-inspiring natural beauty with its renowned political neutrality and peaceable ways, then its skillful mastery of money (banking), time (watches), education (boarding schools), and transportation infrastructure (truly gasp-worthy train system), who wouldn’t want to experience this highly efficient, though non-bombastic bliss?
The nice thing is, I did experience a smidge of Switzerland while in Uruguay. Blasting forward from the 1860s, Uruguay in the 2000s is often called “the Switzerland of South America” – and not just for its Swiss heritage. Rather, Uruguay, like Switzerland, is known for its social and economic prosperity. It’s a small but proud example of South American success. Nestled between the two giants of Argentina and Brazil (not too dissimilar to Switzerland’s nestling in-between the much bigger nations of Italy, France, and Germany), Uruguay is a little pearl or ruby.
If you squint your eyes and imagination, it also offers the best views of the Alps this side of the Atlantic. Who knew when I landed in Uruguay that I’d be greeted with a cup of hot chocolate? I was dazzled. The beautiful interconnectedness of our world continues to inspire me.