Asterix in Switzerland (French: "Asterix chez les Helvetes") is the sixteenth volume of the Asterix comic book series, by René Goscinny (stories) and Albert Uderzo (illustrations). It was originally serialized in Pilote issues 557–578 in 1970 and translated into English in 1973.
Roman governor Varius Flavus of Condatum has been embezzling the taxes he collects, sending only a pittance to Rome. When Quaestor Vexatius Sinusitus is sent to investigate, Flavus poisons him by putting poison in his vegetable soup. To avoid being discovered, he said that the soup was indigestable. Dissatisfied with Flavus' doctors, Sinusitus sends for the druid Getafix. Getafix can brew an antidote for him, but an essential ingredient of the potion is a flower called the silver star (edelweiss), which only grows on the highest mountains.
Getafix sends Asterix and Obelix to Helvetia (Switzerland) to retrieve the flower. He also insists that Sinusitus remain in their Gaulish village as a hostage in order to guarantee Asterix and Obelix's return. This is actually a ruse to get Sinusitus away from Flavus, whom Getafix suspects is the would-be killer.
Asterix and Obelix reach Helvetia but soon run into difficulties set by the Romans, as Varius Flavus has warned his colleague in Helvetia, Curious Odus, of their arrival. Being incredibly corrupt himself, Odus is only too pleased to help get rid of an honest Quaestor like Sinusitus. Thus the Gauls find themselves continually chased by the Romans, but they manage to get help from some courageous Helvetians, including the hotel manager Petitsuix, Zurix the bank manager (Asterix and Obelix spend a night in one of his safes) and some Helvetian veterans who hold a celebration at Lake Geneva.
After some difficulties — including Obelix passing out from draining a whole cask of plum wine (he has a very low tolerance for alcohol) — the two Gauls manage to secure an edelweiss. A few days later, Varius Flavus comes to the village and asks how Sinusitus is doing, dropping hints that he should be executed. But Asterix and Obelix have returned to the village and Sinusitus confronts Flavus. He is cured, has consumed some magic potion (being the first, and so far, only Roman who has taken the potion without deceit), and punches Flavus into the sky, also telling him that his accounts will be exposed with his next orgy at the circus at Rome with Curious Odus. The story ends with the usual banquet, with Sinusitus being the first Roman ever to participate.
Introduction of more adult themes
Following the protests of May 1968, Goscinny started introducing more "adult" themes such as the opening "orgy" scene which parodies Federico Fellini's debauched Roman film, Satyricon. The painted faces, feeling of ennui, mechanical gorging of elaborate food and sado-masochistic punishments are nicely counterbalanced by the annoying (to the Romans) fastidiousness of the Swiss servants who keep cleaning up messes, washing whips, etc.
This volume is a rare dark episode in the Asterix series in that the plot involves the heroes' efforts to save an innocent from being murdered. Quaestor Vexatius Sinusitus' potential death offered a jarring but refreshing sense of drama to the otherwise frivolous comedy strip. Stories featuring similar moments of deadly menace include Asterix and Son, where the village is decimated, and Orinjade's execution in Asterix and the Magic Carpet.
Humour in "Asterix in Switzerland"
- The idea to send Asterix and Obelix to Switzerland might have been inspired by a casual suggestion by future French president Georges Pompidou, who had been a banker. The authors and the president sometimes admitted to it, but sometimes denied it.
- Bibendum (the Michelin man) makes a brief guest appearance as the chariot wheel dealer in certain translations, including the original English translation. The original French version used the Gaulish warrior-like mascot of the French service station company Antar. The 2004 English re-print from Orion Books uses the French illustrations, making the later localized jokes referring to Bibendum's weight nonsensical.
- The pirates do not appear in this story although Sinusitus mentions them as arguing and sinking their own ship (an apparent reference to the previous story Asterix and the Roman Agent).
- Throughout the album the Swiss reputation for cleanliness is satirized.
- The precision of Swiss watches and cuckoo clocks are spoofed with Petitsuix shouting "Cuckoo!" when the hotel guests have to reset their hourglasses.
- When Asterix and Obelix hide themselves in a bank vault, Asterix tries to tell the owner what he wants to put in the safe. The owner says it doesn't matter to him and that discretion is assured. This is a reference to the famous Swiss bank secrecy.
- When a Roman centurion and his troops search the bank vaults, looking for Asterix and Obelix, the bank owner says that his bank is "as safe as any bank in Britain." The Roman centurion, who himself has a vault at the bank (the vault in which Asterix and Obelix are hiding), is appalled when he sees the door of a bank vault (previously torn off by Obelix) lying on the floor. "As safe as any bank in Britain, eh?!" he yells at the bank owner. At the time this story was published (1968), the British banks of Lloyds, Barclays, and Martins were going through a complicated merger that was being blocked by the Mergers and Monopolies Commission. The survival and security of these three British banks was in question.
- On page 33, the neutrality of the country and their special military service system are referenced.
- The palace of international conferences where Asterix, Obelix and Petitsuix hide is an allusion to Geneva where many international conferences are held, most famously the European Headquarters of the United Nations.
- Yodeling, alpine horns, cheese fondue are referenced.
- When Obelix eats a whole pot of cheese fondue and then drinks alcohol to make sure they can leave the fondue feast early, he falls asleep. One of the Swiss people remarks that he did this so fast and that it would take them hours to do it at the same speed. Goscinny and Uderzo satirize the stereotypical slowness of Swiss people (which has to do with their way of speaking).
- The scene with the bow and the boy with the apple is a direct reference to William Tell.
- A reference to mountaineering is made when Obelix is tied and dragged by Asterix up a mountain. When Asterix and Obelix slide downwards through the snow they resemble a sled. These jokes about typical Swiss sports are referenced once more when a Roman complains: "Swimming, climbing mountains,...," whereupon their centurion exclaims that they "aren't taking a holiday."
- When one of the Swissmen hits a Roman, he starts bandaging the Roman's head. The baffled Roman doesn't understand this, but the Swiss explains that they have the duty to nurse everyone, even if they're enemies. This is a reference to The Red Cross, which was founded by the Swiss Henri Dunant (he also wears a red-and-white checkered shirt).
- Geriatrix still has the club that he obtained from the legionary Magnumopus in Asterix and the Roman Agent.
- The sign on pages 21 and 22 says "GAUL ROMAN EMPIRE" in one direction and "HELVETIA ROMAN EMPIRE TOO" on the other. But on the next page, the sign just says "GAUL" in one directions and "HELVETIA" in the other. One possible explanation is that on page 23, we are shown the other side of the signs and it's possible that they say different things on the two sides The short versions are visible from the road and the longer versions are painted on the side, only visible from the grassy area and could be construed to be graffiti or vandalism.
- There is a barrel marked DETRITUS beside the sign on pages 21 and 22. On the next page, the barrel has disappeared.