Living Swiss life

Long time ago, my father told me a joke about immigration and tourism. It was quite long and included hell, paradise, angels and demons. The thought that I was supposed to learn from it was that immigration should not be confused with tourism: the latter is easier and does not open any significant day-to-day concerns that become exposed once you immigrate somewhere. That is why before I moved to Switzerland in 2014 I dived into multiple Russian forums, where people were discussing life in Switzerland and Zurich in particular. And it scared me a lot: according to posts, neighbours could call police if you speak too loud on Sunday, washing clothes after 22.00 was not allowed, and your Swiss friend could demand money for giving you a cigarette. After reading these stories, I was quite shocked and was not sure that my free Russian spirit would get used to such conditions.

Well yes, partially those discussions were true. But I still fell in love with the country.

When you come to Switzerland as a tourist, you are amazed with mountains, lakes, tiny cute villages, omnipresent cows and hundreds kinds of cheese. Once you come here as an expat, you face bureaucracy, queues, in Zurich also strange language that has no official written equivalent (Swiss German), completely different way of living, to name a few. Especially the difference with Russia was incredible, as Russian culture and the way of live, in fact, are a bit further from European ones that we are used to think.

Nevertheless I surprisingly enjoyed some changes, and here I want to list five of them.

First of all, people here keep their distance. Mostly they do not intrude into your personal life or even ask questions about it, not until they learn you better. But they will happily discuss with you weather, sports, recent news and best hiking destinations. It was such a relief for me after Russia, where an accidental train neighbour could ask about a marriage status and why you do not have kids yet.

Secondly, some say, it is boring here. I say — no way! Of course, if you live in a mountain village that is connected by bus with the outer world only twice per day, it might be a bit difficult to party all the time. But in the big cities — Zurich, Geneva, Luzern, Bern — there is always something going on: festivals, parties, exhibitions, concerts, markets. At first, it is indeed unusual that at 20.00 on a work day many places are already closed, and the streets are empty. But it also forced me into having more “Swiss style” schedule — getting up and going to bed early.

Third thing is the Sunday shutdown. This is one of my most favourite “unusual” things in Switzerland. On Sunday all shops (rare exceptions are supermarkets at big train stations and little stores at some gas stations) are closed. Thus, everybody has to do chores on Saturday, and Sunday becomes a day devoted completely to family, relaxation and free time. That is also why it is very important to stay quiet on Sunday. In many cases, indeed, washing on Sunday is not allowed or not recommended — usually it is stated in the house rules. Mowing is strictly prohibited on Sunday! Friendly neighbours would ask you to stop doing it immediately, not friendly ones would call police straight away, and you will get fined.

Bureaucracy in Switzerland is not really a thing that I like, but I respect the way Swiss people approach it, and I enjoy it, so it is forth on my list of changes. With local authorities it is possible to make most necessary appointments online, check necessary documents and contact state employees with additional questions. Moreover, even though English is not a national language, some communication can be made in English if you request it. After Russian classical bureaucracy where officials themselves sometimes do not know what to do, Switzerland seems like a paradise.

And the last thing is the way of how Swiss people treat work. While most of the world is thinking about Swiss as being simply rich, they just work. They put in 40–45–more hours per week, and it is important that everybody works. Some time ago they rejected an initiative of an unconditional income, and most of my colleagues explained me this decision in a way that they were afraid everybody would have stopped working and the economy would have collapsed. Such a different approach from what some old Russian women (babushkas) told me: “How can you refuse such thing? They [Swiss] are just stupid. They are already rich, why not stop working now”.

International community is very diverse here. There are many people who (or their parents) left Yugoslavia when it was falling apart. There are many high-qualified expats who were invited by companies to live and work here. There are many students from all over the world. Integration of all these people is very different: some have being living here for 15 years and still speak only their native languages, some quickly learn German/French and try to find their place in the community. Some people I observed are very persistent in bringing their own traditions and customs here, although they might be quite strange and sometimes inappropriate for Switzerland. And what do Swiss people mostly do? They frown upon, but rarely intervene or say something directly. The topic of foreigners’ integration and obtaining citizenship is very hot in Switzerland, and the society is divided.

Without doubts Swiss people are very different, as well as all nations are. There are some stereotypes that sound hilarious once you’ve lived here long enough and met many Swiss. The things that tourists do not see are complicated political and social issues that every country has. Many Swiss people with whom I talked expressed their concerns that many outlanders praise their country as a world’s paradise and do not see that Switzerland is a country with its own issues.


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