How did your childhood prepare you for a life abroad?
Very well. My father was also in the British Foreign Service, and I was born in Munich on a diplomatic posting. It's funny — even in the same family you can have kids who react differently. I was hooked on travel but not all of my siblings were. One in particular never wants to move anywhere again. Not because of not liking the countries, but just wanting to be in one place. Whereas I have been very happy to move every few years.
If you move often, it can be a challenge that you overcome or it can be a pleasure. For me, most moves generally involve a mixture of both but the pleasures always outweigh the challenges. I think that is part attitude, part experience and part the places I end up going.
You have lived in Kenya, France, Russia and Switzerland among other places. Where do you consider home?
A little bit of each country I've lived in is home. My approach has always been that you've really got to find something in each country that you like and really use the experience positively — because it is three to four years of your life.
Each place has something unique to offer, whether there is a lot or relatively little in common with your home country. It's not too difficult to find something about a place that makes you feel at home, and in many countries there is an enormous culture of hospitality which also makes it easier.
How do you feel about the Swiss culture of hospitality?
I have to say in terms of adjustment and settling, this has been one of the easiest places I have ever moved to. Everywhere has had many pluses, but Switzerland I think is ‘Brit-compatible.'
We're two different cultures, two different personality styles but have many things in common. One is a pragmatic streak and another is a slight sense of difference — without taking it too far! We both engage with the rest of the world proactively but we are also aware of our self-identity. I think that we value that in each other, as well as in ourselves. We also laugh at each other's jokes — I have to say not always! But quite often the British and Swiss senses of humor are compatible.
Given your experience, what tips do you have for expats settling into a new country?
I hesitate to make specific recommendations because everyone has their own way of adjusting. However, what I tend to do is explore a country through areas I am particularly interested in. That then provides an insight into the country as a whole.
I was a musician, I suppose I still am, and so I have been really pleased to find a high quality of music here and a very large number of festivals with good musicians from all over the world. So it's been great fun understanding Swiss culture through the prism of music.
Finally, with forthcoming changes to Switzerland's immigration law, what's on the mind of the international business community here?
The world is an unsettled place these days, and there are plenty of things one can worry about. Insecurity and conflict in the regions outside of Europe, and the implications for Europe of the refugee crisis. There is also the state of the global economy. We are in a period of uncertainty. I say that kind of widely — changes in the EU, perhaps changes within Switzerland, the strong franc... . The business community remains very focused on the various economies where they are involved — British, Swiss, the Eurozone. Prospects for the first two of these are generally better than the third. This owes much to the commitment in both our countries to openness, competitiveness and innovation, as well as an awareness that engaging proactively with the rest of the world is a better strategy for prosperity than looking inwards.
I think that the international business community in Switzerland takes a very global approach. For example, in general, many of the British here do not just think of themselves as British expats. They work in global companies and think about things happening in the Far East or in Latin America. Given what is happening in the Middle East and North Africa their questions to me can range very widely indeed.