I find myself two and a half months now in the overly beautify country of Switzerland. The food is good, air is clean and the views are absolutely stunning. With a month of experience now I also got to know the people a bit more. What makes a Swiss national so… Swiss?
What I found mostly is that the Swiss are struggling with their real identity. About 27% of the population is from foreign heritage and in the part where I live it even goes as high as 40%. So determining an average with such a large proportion mixed in heritage can be really difficult. I have however found some things that are really Swiss in origin and can be found in every layer of life here in Switzerland.
The Swiss are very proud of their country, and rightfully so! They have a beautiful country, nice local products and a high standard of living.Going into a grocery store many products have a big label saying the product is being made in Switzerland. Even in restaurants products are stamped with a CH if it is a Swiss product. The pride of the country is also visible in the way they threat nature, a relatively green mindset is visible everywhere. Trash cans are not just one bin for everything but there are separated by type of trash. Electric vehicles are more common than in other places and in general the use of cars is being kept down. Biological food is also a lot better represented in the shops compared to other countries.
There is a down side to all the Swiss pride. If it is not Swiss it is not good. This goes for almost every thing. Try to find any product from a company like Unilever and it will be below the one from Nestle. French and German cars are preferred over Asian and American brands. The foreigners might be a large group but they are also purposefully kept out of certain benefits. It is harder to rent an apartment and it is even harder to get a bank account (even with a permit). If it ain’t Swiss something must be a miss…
The city village
The cities are really cities. They have theaters, cinemas, libraries, universities, metro, warehouses and all the other city typical facilities. One thing that is really different is the scale. Everything seems to be build for a village type of place. The shops are big but not over-sized as in most larger cities. The height of the buildings is relatively low, 6 stories and your at the roof. In Lausanne there is one Building that is taller than all the others and the people do not like that building. A lot of small shops do well next to the larger brands. There is a vibrant night life that is much bigger than I expected from such a village type attitude to the rest of the places. I probably understand the reason but it did strike me the first time I encountered it.
There are only a few places where I’ve seen so many foreigners in one city, and we’re not talking economical refugees. The numbers really are around 40% of the population carries a foreign passport. This is mainly due to the large international corporations and organizations that have their office here in Lausanne but the number is still kind of high. Advantages are of course that English is a very common language here and although I encountered a few French only speakers the majority of people speak English fairly well. The government and local businesses also are doing fine when it comes to speaking English but they still prefer French and will talk that to you if they get any chance to.
Actually this 40% foreign explains the nightlife also, I imagine a lot of singles in the city that are just here to work a couple of years and have some fun. The amount of nationalities I’ve seen in the clubs is just astonishing.
The political system is also interesting as the country on itself almost operates the same way the European union does with Europe. These levels allow for the inhabitants to directly influence local politics and have an impact on decisions made on a local, province and state level. It’s quite fun to see political advertizements all the time. Seems like there is always something to vote on. I really like the way there is direct input from the people into the process.
The down side of course is that things are slow. The Swiss have been talking about electrical scooters for the postal service for 10 years and just the last year they started to slowly replace all the scooters they had and replace them with electrical ones. Large community centers take years to plan and build because everybody wants to have a say in it and everybody is involved. Every advantage has its disadvantage so to say. And it’s not like it’s not the same as where I come from. My hometown in the Netherlands took about 20 years to build a train station…
Friendly and hard working people
Most of the people I met here in Switzerland are friendly and are generally up for a chat. The Swiss work hard and enjoy life as much as they can. Family is important and a lot of time is spend with them. The hard work and dedication really shows in products like the watches, the strive for perfection is always there. Even the work hours are among the longest ones in Europe at a standard of 42 hours a week.
Although the people are friendly they are also closed down in many cases. Even in the city and town streets that is very visible as almost every house has a fence that is at least chest high. The metal spiked fence seems to be the more popular where I live. It is not that the neighborhood is not safe, the fences all have gates and they are almost always open. I think it is symbolic for the way the Swiss are socially. Open outside of home and closed when one comes close by. This closed attitude also comes back in many other places. As an example innovation and cultural changes are a difficult subject when talking to someone Swiss. From what I’ve experienced here is that people do talk about private matters and open up but homes are seen as really private.
What about me?
Me? I’m doing fine… working way too many hours on something I think is worth working on. Still did not get the boxes unpacked so I cannot say I’m actually settled here. Did not really have time to do so anyways. I’ve been back to the Netherlands already and I’ll be there again very soon (conference) so that is also going sort of according to plan. What’s up next? I cannot tell yet, we’ll see what happens!