Peter York On Ads: In the land of money, your lover is a laptop
Sunday 23 April 2006
How wonderful to be Swiss. The Swiss, I once read, spent more on the state subsidy for just one of their three rail networks for their 7 million population than we did on the whole of our system. And it shows. If you count down the leaving time of a Swiss train on your Swiss watch you'll see it leaving to the second. Not just from the terminus but from every subsequent station.
And clean! You could eat your dinner off the floor of a Swiss train. They've started cleaning it before it's got there. Trains, and chronology, cantons and cowbells, Switzerland is the most glorious retirement home imaginable. Forget Bridport or Bideford - lovely as they are - if elegant bourgeois inactivity is what you want, you can't beat Switzerland.
Wander up into Zurich's better end residential bit - and it's not as if the rough end's exactly festering slums - and you start hyperventilating from the smell of money. The apartment blocks are piled-up blocks of High Net Worthness. The madam shops are full of stuff for Nancy Reagan and Betsy Bloomingdale types and there's no one on the street. They're all in silver German cars with drivers.
The Swiss are strange, no question. In Europe, yet not really of it. French and German, yet non-partisan and convenient for Italy (at what precise point does the lakeland start to feel Italian?) - good at pharmaceuticals, and packaged foods, not exactly an outgoing, seafaring nation.
But they've known mild sorrow. They've had drug problems in the big cities for 20 years. (It's extra shocking to see graffiti in Switzerland). And they're not sure how long it can all go on - the money, the independence and the all-round 1970s weirdness of it all. Switzerland is above all a banking place, a private banking place, a place for valetudinarian money, money that doesn't want to go anywhere too exotic on its own, money that would rather go Swan Hellenic. Think High Net Worth - the banking word for people from comfortable to loaded - in its twilight years and you've got Switzerland. Think lakeland villas bought with the returns from selling your family's German Mittelstand business, and you've got it.
UBS - Union Bank of Switzerland - is known for its profound Swissness, its lovely crossed-keys logo. The country's the brand. They're there to help if you're about to cash out, sell up and be portfolio- managed for the rest of your life (don't Roger Moore, Julie Andrews and Petula Clark all live in Switzerland?). The new UBS commercial makes the world look lovely and fantastically clean - Japanese monorail trains, bright glass wall-climber lifts going up in the dark, a huge Modernist atrium with an internal bridge. A Lutheran-looking church, a pier, a smart new poolside with Eames chairs in the foreground, a glamorous New York canyon and some red sunsets. It's utterly irresistible and, by current standards, terribly untricksy; no more than a little slomo. Everywhere they go in this gloriously safe and wonderfully under-populated tour d'horizon, there are people in pairs.
Just the two of us. At a certain point in life you absolutely know who your significant other is, the one you daydream about, write little notes to then tear them up. It's your Financial Adviser, of course. The sleek person - they're often women now, reassuring for all the widows and divorcees - who comes to the villa and tells you about the Special Situations, the New China Fund and whether you should buy more gold.
There are only two locations that matter to UBS, they're saying - it's everywhere and anytime. They're there for you. You're looking good after the work in the Geneva clinic, Dr Zwingli does a lovely job, so you're refreshed rather than wind-tunnel stretched, you've got the best dental implants money can buy and you're off to Barbados to show it all off soon - exchanging a warm poolside for your cool one. You need your darling dream visitor with his/her lovely laptop full of figures - they're about sectors and businesses and places you don't recognise - to make sure you can keep turning left on those re-branded Swiss planes for ever.
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