Monday, 23 May 2011

On Switzerland

Let's talk about Switzerland.

So I've mentioned it here before, but apart from knowing firstly that the Bernese Mountain Dog originated in Switzerland, and then later, so did Dan, it was a country that I never gave any thought to and I don't think it would be unfair to say that a lot of North Americans that lack a Swiss connection probably think the same.

In fact, my point might be proven by the fact that Dan's biggest pet-peeve in Canada was when people would meet him, then meet him again and say, "Oh right, you're the guy from Sweden."

Switzerland is a country that keeps itself to itself, and wants to remain that way. Therefore, I like to think it's a bit forgivable that on my first trip here with Dan it was not the country I wanted to spend most of my vacation in; in fact, I was really just planning on 'grinning and bearing it' while I waited for our time in Switzerland to end so that we could get on with exploring Italy.

And I'm not alone in that mentality for I have spoken with a few expats who tell me similar stories that family and friends plan to visit them, and their plans are usually like this: Yeah we're going to stop in and see you in Switzerland for a couple of days, but then we really just want to see Europe.

It's forgivable, really it is, because Switzerland doesn't have the same international PR as romantic Italy or charming France, and people don't usually know what they're in for when they arrive here. However, the expats that I talked to all tell me that once arrived, their guests usually cut other plans short in favour of exploring more of this modest little country and its quiet charm.

So, what is so great about Switzerland?

Well, obviously a lot if Dan and I decided to uproot our comfortable Canadian lives in favour of trying out a new adventure. BUT: vacation and real life are two different things.


When we knew for sure that our Swiss dream was going to become a reality, I immediately began to do what probably all soon-to-be-expats do: I started doing some internet stalking of other people living in Switzerland. I logged onto expat forums and discussion boards about Switzerland to get other people's take on CH. Should I have done this *before* we pushed all our chips to the centre of the table and told the dealer all or nothing? Probably not, because the majority of words I read by other expats were so discouraging that it might have prevented me from wanting to seek my own first hand impression of living in this country.

At the risk of making a gross broad assumption, I think that the people who spend time on the forums that I visited were expats that didn't actually want to be expats. These seemed like people who were more interested in complaining about Switzerland than going out and living in Switzerland. There were conversations devoted entirely to questioning why Switzerland didn't have Target, or Wal-Mart, or some other big box giant that offers cheap goods at all hours of the day and night; there were threads devoted to how ridiculous it is that stores close at five o'clock and that you can't go shopping on a Sunday, except at the Bahnhof, because store owners actually close their doors; there were entire forums dedicated to how expensive it is to eat-out, how expensive the groceries are, how expensive the transit can be, how expensive going to the cinema is, etc....; there were warnings to wannabe expats saying that Swiss people are cold, uncivil, and unfriendly to foreigners as they are standoffish with their own countrymen at the best of times; there was ridiculing about the Swiss rules, about the OCD cleanliness, and even about the punctuality of public transit.

Every time I read a negative comment, I was absolutely gutted. These people's complaints were their experience, were their feelings about tiny Switzerland, and the people on these forums all sounded miserable to be living here. I felt frustrated because there was no guarantee that I too wouldn't feel this way. Vacation and daily living are two different things, and what if over time I also would be unable to accept the fact that I'm living in a DIFFERENT country, and instead wished it came with all the shallow conveniences of my old home?

I can say that it was because of these negative comments that for the past year, I have been living with the purposeful intent of seeing the positive and trying to understand 'Why' when I imagined that the people on the forums would instead chose to yell 'WTF' before sinking their rabid and angry teeth into poor Switzerland.

If people can bitch, why can't I be bright?


June 1st is going to be my one year anniversary of living in Switzerland, and so over the week I will do a series of posts dedicated to the biggest stereotypical Swiss grievances that I read about on the forums, with my own thoughts on the topics.

I will also preface this series of posts by saying that I KNOW I'M MARRIED TO A SWISS GUY. My experience as an expat in Switzerland is still my own, but I also acknowledge that it is a different one from those people who have arrived here and basically been told to sink or swim. I want to acknowledge that I know this because while I don't think that my experience here is an exception, I also wouldn't classify myself as the rule. Just as I also wouldn't classify the experiences and comments by those despised forum trolls as a rule.

And as we'll get to later, rules are very important in Switzerland, but I am going to be tongue-in-cheek now and dare to incur the wrath of any Swiss rule makers and followers, and state you really should only treat the posts to follow as a guideline as to what you yourself might expect upon arrival.

Of course if you choose to read these posts as The Rule, that's cool too.  I've always wanted to create my own binding law and think I could successfully manage a handful of followers. Just know that I won't mediate any disputes or pick sides in the custody battle over the last Toblerone bar.  Consider me more of an untouchable law maker, sort of like the people who run Parliament or the nameless faces who have given the totalitarian decree that fashion law must now force us back into high-waisted jeans and to make us toe the line they have removed all other pant options from store shelves.

Yes, I'm like those people.


Melissa Sue said...

So, I'm excited for this, ha!
Expats tend to drive me bonkers. Well, the negative ones anyway ;) I don't know how anyone can complain about these little things while living in such an amazing and beautiful place.

M'dame Jo said...

I'm looking forward to reading this series.

From talking with you, I can confirm that you do have a positive attitude towards Switzerland and the will of not letting stereotypes ruin your experience. And that's why I like your blog :-)

Virginia said...

I get so annoyed by the stereotypes. First of all, they seem to think Switzerland is only made up of the German-speaking part, and secondly I've never met a Swiss person who fits the stereotype. I don't think it would be possible for that person to exist in three dimensions. Hmph!

(Obviously you have struck a nerve with me.)

I'm really looking forward to this!

Caitie said...

Thanks ladies, I'll try not to disappoint :-)