the outsider's view from the inside -- still boring
I support this forum's topic very much and I was never one to write and complain in an expat forum about a culture, until now.
I'm Canadian, recently married to a Swiss (we met overseas - they say the most interesting Swiss actually leave Switzerland). I've lived in now 3 of Switzerland's "bigger" cities and although you can it is boring everywhere, as expected it is less boring and the people are a little savvier in the cities. But this is relative. I still feel the haughty curious-reserved stares even in the big cities. It's a laugh really - recall that no city in Switzerland even approaches a million people, much less half a million. This is a tiny country made up mostly of tiny villages. The village mentality is supreme.
It was a hard decision to move here, but my husband's job was less portable than mine. I have lived in 4 countries for my professional work, in Asia and in Europe, and I was stunned how hard it was, and still is, to adapt here. I thought I could manage the culture shock as I have done in the past quite easily in non-westernised countries, but Switzerland took me by awful surprise, maybe because I thought it would be the easiest of all adaptations. It took me months to figure out what were the differences, they are at first subtle. I agreed to immigrate because I too have images of Switzerland as the neutral haven, postcard perfect, cute "smallness", cheese, chocolate and international UN organizations. I thought it would be easier adapting with an "insider" husband but actually, it was worse. Only I went through the shock. I remain an outsider in HIS inside world. Observing the Swiss culture in their inside world is not much different - they are still reserved, formal and based on old ties. I have read nearly every book available on Swiss culture (and there are not surprisingly MANY books dealing with the culture shock from this strange lot).
I cannot see this place ever be welcoming or feeling like home and it is going on more than 2 years now. I actually have two Swiss friends on my own, yes they take the friendship seriously, yes it will be permanent which is wonderful, but my situation accelerated local friendships because I am married to a Swiss and I tried hard. Learning to speak German has helped but it does not change a culture! I have now good quiet friends. My first impression of one was not very good - cold, hesitant, reserved, cautious etc... she now is warm, hesitant, reserved, cautious. It is not like the personality is completely 180 degrees different once you break the shell... all the qualities you want for say, a secure bank/banker but it doesn't exactly make you want to dance on the table with them does it. And it does take a long time for them to crack a smile at any joke (just forget any english wordpuns). I tell my husband often how I miss a good laugh. First time as an expat in any country that I am watching Youtube and DVD comedy shows just for a laugh, because I seem to be starved of a good laugh here.
Yes there are 101 examples of the unfriendliness, the narrow-minded insularity, the smugness, the male chauvinism, anti-Semitism, anti-Turk, anti-Balkan, anti-EU - you name it, it's anti-so-leave-us-in-our-mountains mentality. I've come to explain the Swiss that it's their lack of experience and fear of change - those who don't experience any upheaval have intense fear of facing anything new! The Swiss as a bunch are conservative, tight-knit and suspicious of foreigners. One commented on the male chauvinism - I wholeheartedly agree. I feel like I am in a time capsule and women here have mindsets like the 1950s. Remember women's right to vote was only in 1971 and the last remaining canton was forced to allow women to vote only in 1990! This says a lot. I too have never experienced such disrespect and chauvinism until I came here. I think my problem is that I am working in a Swiss company under male Swiss dinosaurs and this makes my exposure to society here very narrow and the first time in my life I see a glass ceiling and it is painful. I am planning to leave this company for an international one and I do not want to work again under a Swiss boss. The boring rigid environment is not improving my impressions and negative generalisations about the Swiss (which are becoming fixed!) and it is not improving my marriage.
I will end up as one of the expats who enjoys a nice rich safe bubble in Switzerland but stops trying to "integrate". The Swiss don't really want you to integrate, they see even 2nd or 3rd generations here as foreigners or newcomers.
Switzerland has a completely different approach than Canada's embrace of multiculturalism and equality. My aim now is to surround myself with expat friends - not at all what I wanted when I came here. I find most of my husband's friends "nice" but uninspiring and conforming. If you want inspiration, look outward and internationally and you'll see there are a lot of newcomers here with the same impressions. The Swiss are too busy looking inward and protecting their "good life".
I too appreciate the safety and the fact that trains run on time and the products are good quality. That's just about it. This does not make a "paradise", as many Swiss seem to believe. I don't know how people can claim theirs is the best country in the world when they've had no experience living in other countries (much less got out of their little Swiss valley) to make such a comparison. David Hampshire in his book "Living and Working in Switzerland" call this country a ROBOTIC paradise, which seems a lot closer to reality.
I'll add one more thing. Be cautious to whom you complain about Switzerland. I don't appreciate zealous nationalism of any kind and I was surprised to learn how flag-waving the Swiss are. I recently talked about my impressions about Switzerland with a visiting Canadian friend. We were on the train and nearby us, two Swiss were listening unabashedly. They made snorts and looked deeply offended by our quiet comments. They were really straining to listen and straining for the chance to be offended. What is interesting is that these were two young adults, rather hick Swiss. The young Swiss are just as nationalistic, it's not just the old farts with all the rules who call police for any noise past 10 pm etc. If an immigrant complained about Canada and I was eavesdropping, I would see it as his or her right to do this, that I might learn a new perspective. Here they just think we expats are ungrateful and those who don't like it should leave (because they're not interested in changing). The Swiss are fiercely proud of the sterile lackluster (BUT rich cosy) environment they've created. It is best to complain to other foreigners because you'll greatly offend a Swiss by giving your honest appraisal.
I know now I am not the only one to have these experiences of Switzerland as a foreigner. Good luck making a happy expat bubble!just an expat 14 Feb 2008, 10:08 - Verstoß melden
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