Switzerland is not much of a culture shock. Maybe because I moved from academia to academia rather than real world to real world. But when I first came there were a few things I found really strange to me. Now I see new people coming and seeing the strange things I do, because I’m getting weird (or integrating).
1. Not Clapping.
First thing I notice that threw me was not clapping at the end of talks. I came for my job interview and gave my presentation, and everyone started banging the table with their knuckles. ‘Oh no’ I thought ‘I knew it wasn’t great, but I didn’t think it was that bad!’. Turns out that’s how the Swiss clap.
I put it down to the fact that the Swiss do not like to show to much emotion. And beig English this suited me down to the ground. It’s so much more restrained and dignified. I think clapping has been spoiled for me buy the American overuse of it. ‘The pilot landed the plane, let’s celebrate’. Urm… that’s not only his job, but his life too. ‘You are kissing someone, let’s celebrate’. Urm… first of, get a room and secondly, why are all you strangers ogling someones private moments. It’s almost like they are stuck in infant mode, when mommy clapped like you won a Nobel Prize ‘cos you did a poo in the potty.
Anyway…… knocking the table is much more civilised and I love it.
Well, it’s not frenman, it’s Swiss German, which is actually nearly a couple of dozen dialects, mostly German, but with a few different words and french thrown in.
I came with not a word of German, and though I am learning, it’s High (or German) German, not Swiss German I’m learning. There is a reason for that. Swiss German is not a written language. Why you ask? Well, choosing one of the dialects over the others would probably cause an unending civil war. So they just stick with High German.
Of course, this does cause problems. Many Germans (OK, the couple that I know that have no connection to Switzerland) think that Swiss German is not that different, that it’s just a funny pronunciation and a few French words thrown in. No, this idea comes from the fact that when Germans read the Swiss media, it’s all in ‘proper’ German, and when Swiss people come to Germany (excluding the border towns…. but we’ll get to that later) they speak High German with Swiss accents.
Swiss German is as different to German as Dutch is. In fact Pennsylvania Dutch is actually derived from Swiss German, not Dutch, so if you want to hear how real Swiss German sounds listen to some Amish people.
I say I’m learning High German, but I’m learning Swiss High German. Which means no pesky that ss letter that looks like a B with a tail, see I have to type that because it’s not on my Swiss keyboard. It also means that I say Hello and Goodbye the Swiss way, not the German Way.
English Hello goodbye thank-you please Sorry
Formal Grüetzi Adieu Merci veilmal Bitteschon Pardon / Exgüsi
Informal Hoi choss Merci bitte Entschuldigung
My favouate is Merci veilmal. Thank you very much, in both French and German. Cool huh?
Of course, I had a problem with Swiss High German when I went to Germany the first time, soo many odd looks when I say Grüetzi rather than GrüetGod as the Southern Germans say.
3. Shopping Abroad.
‘Wow, you work in Switzerland! You must earn a packet!’ Oh yes, but then I live in Switzerland so I pay a packet too.
Seriously, do not get a headache in Switzerland. You have to go to a pharmacy for what in the UK is over the counter medicines, like paracetamol and ibuprofen. I think this is very sensible, because when you find out the price you need something for the heart attack you are having.
The Swiss are a very clean nation, VERY, I don’t know how they do it when cif power spray is CHF7 here and £1.50 in the UK. Yep, just looked it up.
So how do the Swiss do it? Simple, they pop over the border. Constance is an hour from Zürich, and that is where people buy mediciments and cleaning material, and meat, and…. well anything they can fit that doesn’t go over the allowable import. (There are many reasons why Switzerland isn’t in the EU, and I think that limiting the import amount of steak (or any fresh meat cuts) to 500g is one of them).
I have never, of course, gone to Germany to shop….. I do it in the UK, I have a stockpile of adult and child painkillers, as 25p for 16 paracetamol is much better than CHF1 each.
4. Relaxing on a Sunday.
Switzerland is a religious country, parts have a strong history of purtianism, Calvin ran Geneva and Zwingli ran Zürich. Amish come from here. Shops are shut on Sunday, work is not allowed to force you to come in on a Sunday, it is a day of rest and peace. Of course, that means you can not do your laundry, mow your lawn, wash your car, do your recycling either. I personally think you might be able to get away with doing the recycling on a Sunday, as long as you time it so the church bells are ringing……. Peace and quiet does not count for the churches and they seem to have a bell off every Sunday.
But, some people do work, public transport does not have a reduced Sunday service, that’s family day, when people go places. Museums, galleries, zoos etc are all open too.
I was really worried when I moved, working a 42 hour week, when the shops shut at 19:00 in the week if you are lucky, and are closed on Sundays, when will I get my shopping done? But now I like that I have one day a week to just BE with my kid, no errands to do, Just me and her, and the best public transport system in the world (IMHO).
Think of Switzerland and what comes to mind? Cheese, chocolate, cuckoo clocks and Nazi gold. Well, cuckoo clocks are actually southern German, and, like Basel Faulty said ‘Don’t mention the war’. So that leaves cheese and chocolate.
Yep. Its true, the Swiss do a lot of cheese and chocolate. I personally find the cheese very samey, and either import British cheese or go to a British cheese stall to buy cheese for sandwiches, crackers and just general eating. (something that made my boss consider not renewing my contract about when I told him….. see the Swiss do make jokes….. I hope). But melted cheese is a whole other matter, Swiss cheese is made for melting (it’s too melty for cheese on toast for example, I use British cheddar or I end up with cheese on oven and toast). The Swiss have fondue without a trace of irony (but only in Winter, fondue any other time is just for tourists), raclette (only in Autumn), and even rosti is normally served with a slice of cheese melted on it (all year).
I LOVE cheese, and I LOVE cooked cheese. It’s great when I have guests because I get the fondue pot out and go mad. Even in Summer (I use the excuse it’s because I have guests, but to be honest I normally buy enough cheese for two lots and have some when they’ve gone too).
But it’s not just cheese. The Swiss take eating very seriously, You must eat three meals a day and snack on chocolate in between. I have put on nearly a stone since I moved here, because I am eating….. and eating well (I must never look at my cholesterol level). I am finally safely in the normal BMI range.
What is weird, however, is the lack of fat Swiss people. I’m shocked when I go to the UK at how many overweight people there are, and I’m sure the Swiss diet has far more calories than the UK. Maybe it’s fewer carbohydrates, maybe it’s better exercise, maybe it’s the smoking, maybe it’s because the food here is better quality (something has to justify the price) or that most people only eat meat once or twice a week (too expensive) I don’t know.
But the Swiss EAT and are a healthy weight. Just like me.