From the Potomac to the Aare: appointed by President Barack Obama, Don Beyer has travelled from Virginia to serve as the U.S. Ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein. For the first time in years, there's a whole family living in the residence next to the American Embassy in Bern. Swiss News caught up with the ambassador for a fireside chat.

AuteurVogel-Misicka, Susan
Fonction Politics


Judging by the ice skates and ski boots stationed in the cloakroom, it's clear that this is an active household. In the sitting room, I'm welcomed by a crackling fireplace and a friendly poodle who wants to cuddle on the couch.

Out the window, an American flag flutters in the backyard. But it's my beverage that proves that this is a slice of U.S. property in the heart of Switzerland. Having asked for plain tap water, I nearly burst out laughing when the butler brings it to me; it has ice cubes in it!

Moments later, the ambassador enters the room and settles into an armchair. At nearly 60, Donald S. Beyer Jr. looks younger in person than he does in photographs. Chili the poodle jumps onto his lap--and the ambassador doesn't flinch at all, despite being dressed in a dark suit. After all, the non-shedding dog also made the leap across the Atlantic.

A great adventure

"I love it here--it's a great adventure for us," says Beyer, who arrived in Bern last August with his wife Megan and their daughters Clara (17) and Grace (14). Visitors from their home state of Virginia have helped keep homesickness at bay; at Christmastime, the Beyers hosted 22 relatives and friends at the residence.

"Everyone wants to come to Switzerland," says Beyer, who is expecting more guests in the spring and summer.

As a successful businessman and former Lieutenant Governor of Virginia, the ambassador has put a lot of effort into preparing for his new role--including five weeks of intensive German before arrival. Beyer now has language lessons three nights a week plus homework.

"I have this rule that, outside the embassy gate, I only speak German. And the Swiss are so forgiving that I get away with it," he chuckles. Meanwhile, he's also getting familiar with the local culture and learning to like Rosti and fondue.

Sources of inspiration

Beyer has adapted his mode of transportation, too.

"We've gone from three cars to one. We barely drive because we walk and take the train," says Beyer, whose family owns a chain of car dealerships in northern Virginia. He admits that the United States is very much caught up in the concept of automobility, but he predicts that climate change will alter that.

In fact, long before he landed in Bern, Beyer recalls praising the Swiss mass-transit system. While serving on the Virginia Governor's Commission on Climate Change, Beyer chaired the Taskforce on Transportation and Land Use Planning.

"We came up with recommendations...

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