Sunday, 20 February 2011

A Social Network

I have been finding Switzerland a tad difficult to socially navigate.

And please, under no circumstances are you to read the above line and assume that I'm showing up on people's doorsteps with an apple pie and an eager 'let's be friends' smile, only to have the door slammed in my face.

Not at all. 

What I mean is that I can't even get an invitation to show up on people's doorstep with my apple pie, let alone get them to show up on my doorstep. This is not a statement that is meant to imply that the Swiss are unfriendly, uncivil, or unwelcoming. Not at all. In fact, I don't actually find Swiss people to be--as a general rule--any of the above, despite what other expats may believe. Encountering a rude person in Switzerland is no more rare or common than encountering one in Canada. There are assholes all over the world; why should Switzerland, Canada, Australia, Japan, exempt from having some of these jerky citizens? So with that little explanation out of the way, please understand that I haven't been finding Switzerland hard to socially navigate because of its people, more because of its social formalities.

I don't mean call Switzerland 'quaint'...but it sort of is. Even at the most basic level--language--there are rules for how you speak to people based on your relationship to them: if they are an elder, or someone you don't know, you speak to them in a formal manner as a sign of respect. Of course in English you can choose to use this same rule when speaking to an elder or a stranger, but truthfully (in Canada anyhow) these formalities, signs of respect, are not that common as increasingly we have become a more casual society. And as Switzerland is decidedly not a casual society, I've been having a hard time with that. 

There appears to be some unwritten code for the appropriate time frame in which you invite someone over for supper, or to meet for dinner, and I have not discovered this magic window. Three days notice is never enough time, one week also not enough notice, two weeks is iffy, and asking three or four weeks in advance usually results in 'too' much notice being given and they don't know what else will be going on so they can't commit.

I was seriously starting to develop a complex.

Do I smell?

Are we boring?

Is it because we have cats?


Then I wondered, am I supposed to be sending out a formal invitation in the mail? Because guess what Internet, people in Switzerland still send invitations in the mail for events other than weddings. As I said, I am coming from an informal society and I am not used to getting invitations in the mail. Especially an invitation received in January for a birthday party happening in August, where an RSVP is required four months prior to the party date. Asking someone four weeks in advance to come 'round for supper is excessive, but delivering a birthday party invitation eight months in advance isn't?

I don't get it.

I suggested to Dan that we should join a doubles tennis league or co-ed soccer club just for fun since I don't know how to play either, and then I could meet some people, but my Swiss informed me that to actually join one of these leagues and not play competitively would be seen as an insult. Great.

So after seven months of participating in a social dance where I wasn't learning the steps, and just seemed to be crushing people's toes, I decided it was time to sign up for German lessons.

Oh I know, I know, I should have you all believe that I had a pure and pining need to learn this guttural language just for the honest sake of communication. Right. The real reason I joined is because I wanted to make some friends that I could call on the fly and meet-up for coffee in one hour, instead of one week.

And guess what?


This has been the most social week I've had since moving to Switzerland!

First of all, I met up with Melissa who isn't in my German class, but actually lives in Zurich. We met through the Internet. We're going to be a 21st Century friendship. Melissa's from Chicago, and we had some coffees, good eats, and...and...and...WE SPOKE ENGLISH AND LAUGHED A LOT.



Major success!

I plan on harassing Melissa in Zurich in the near future when I go up there to pick up Dan's brother and his fiancee from the airport.

(Side note: though I for some reason never did blog about this, I met M'dame Jo for a casual lunch this summer, and she's also a doll.)

So anyhow, riding high on the realization I may have finally cracked my shell of shyness, I had the girls from my German class round for drinks and appies on Friday night. It was so great! Especially since (by Swiss standards) I gave the most minimal notice and they accepted!


I learned that I don't smell.

I'm not boring.

And that it's no problem that I have cats, since all the girls wanted their pictures taken with adorable Poppy and high strung Cosmo (though his efforts to bat our cupcakes off the coffee table and eat them weren't appreciated).

And also, we might do it again this Friday.

Or not.

We're going to wing it.

We won't send out an invitation in the mail.

We won't block out a time in our weekly calendars.

We'll just see how we're all feeling on Friday.

And that feels great.


Romy said...

You can always let me know when you are in town in Zurich, too - I'd love to meet up for lunch and/or drinks. :)

Ais said...

Yay :) Thats awesome Cait! That seems so crazy to have to invite people over for lunch, weeks in advance! I dont even know what Im doing a few weeks from now, let alone my friends! Haha, glad you had fun and met some nice new people :)

M'dame Jo said...

And we may go on a wine tour in Lavaux in April too ;-)

I can understand why it's difficult to make friends. But there are swiss people that are unswiss in that respect... I know. I'm one of them and most of my (swiss) friends are actually open to impromptu invitations and having friends of friends - or people from the internet - they barely know in their own home for an informal dinner and lots of drinks and... talking to strangers. Yes. I know. Bold.

T said...

YAY!!! I'm so happy to hear you're making friends again Caite :) I agree it is excessive to need 3 or 4 weeks advance to get together...but I'd also like to point out that we have a tentative date for May (if you're still coming back)...perhaps I should send you an invitation card?

Caitie said...

Romy--Absolutely noted! That would be awesome :-) And likewise, of course!

Ais--They don't replace you though, one third of the BFF trifecta. Miss you :-)

M'dame Jo--Ahahaha! So funny. You keep the hope alive for me!

T--I hope I'm still coming home, but now Dan and I are cooking up some travel plans that might interrupt going home. But when I do know for sure that I'm coming, I'm totally sending you a formal invitation in the mail asking you to keep an evening free. Maybe I'll sent it with lavendar?

Talley said...

Caitie -
You had me at "I don't believe in margarine." I am a fellow ex-pat, currently living in Z├╝rich and indulging in copious amount of butter, Floralp being my favorite. I would love to meet for coffee or a meal or have you to our haus for dinner, you can bring an apple pie! I'm currently in the stage of 'how on earth do I make friends' and you've inspired me to sign up for a German class. Thank you!