The Swiss way or the highway?



Swiss politics are usually a sure-fire cure for insomnia. However, things recently hotted-up when more than 50% of the Swiss population voted for a proposal put forward by right-wing groups in the country. 

To make a long story short, the construction of minarets in Switzerland is now banned.  I’ll spare you a full analysis as you can find all you need to know from this BBC article.

Was I upset with the results? Frankly, yes. But was I completely surprised by the outcome? Honestly, no.

I don’t think it would be too far from the truth to say that I lead a “charmed life” in Switzerland and I would not trade what I have here for all the tea in China.We live in an apartment that has a stunning view of the Alps on a clear day. My husband and I travel often, visiting places around Europe, by ourselves and with our friends, sampling good food and wine. All this because our  jobs have given us allowed to have a quality of life higher than in most other parts of the world.

However, I don’t ever hide the fact that my first few years in Switzerland were difficult, brought on mainly by linguistic and cultural factors.Working in an English-speaking environment in Geneva there was little opportunity to progress in French. The frustration of not being able to communicate easily with people around me, took its toll after a few months.

The biggest surprise, however, was to find that many Swiss are deeply conservative in their views and outlook on life. In particular, some mainstream views on women, especially working mothers, caught me by surprise and then proceeded to irritate and frustrate me.

If you are new to the country you will probably find many aspects of Swiss life ‘odd’ for want of a better word.There are often unyielding rules governing communal living and social etiquette. You will find a multitude of blogs and websites on Switzerland complaining about the ridiculous opening and closing hours in this country and the equally ridiculous hours assigned to doing your laundry, showering and yes, even flushing the toilet.

‘Breaking-in’ to a community is very difficult here and you’re often required to join a ‘club’ to integrate. These clubs range from groups of gung-ho mountaineers to lovers of donkeys (I kid you not). Being part of Swiss society means infiltrating one of these many clubs – a difficult thing to do especially in older, more established associations.

So when you come to Switzerland you will hear about all this and no doubt, a lot more. I know for a fact that many people among the large expatriate population in Geneva often felt like they had missed the boat, never really managing to scratch the surface of this country.

Admittedly I wasn’t going to give this place a chance in the beginning. But from personal experience I can tell you that it is worth the effort to try and see beyond the foibles of the Swiss.

Each canton has its own traditions, culture and culinary specialities. Discovering them all takes time and I assure you, is always a great deal of fun!

If you persevere with getting to know the Swiss and understanding their social codes, you will also find yourself surrounded by a loyal set of friends. They can be brutally honest, but in turn are good sports and can take most of what you say on the chin. It’s refreshing to have a heated discussion with a group people, knowing full well that regardless of the differences of opinion everyone will part ways as friends at the end of the night.

Questions about where you’re from and what you’re about will then come forth. You’ll find that the Swiss are as curious about you as you’re about them – but you’ve just to give them time.

What will be the external impact of the anti-minaret vote? Who knows. I just hope that the outside world will give Switzerland a chance to redeem itself.


One response to “The Swiss way or the highway?

  1. Thank you for this post. I keep trying to remind myself that the last year and half I lived here, before the move to NY, I was actually pretty happy and well-adjusted.
    But it took me 6 years to get there.
    And try as I might, I cannot remember that feeling. I can only remember feeling like a stranger, like I didn’t fit in.

    But I know I was there at one point, I just have to be patient with myself and with Switzerland until I get there 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s