By Adrianna Rodriguez and Stefanie Claudia Müller
Whenever discussing a country’s domestic problems, one always compares to Switzerland. According to a segment on Fareed Zakaria’s CNN GPS, the country’s average income is $82,000 and the unemployment rate is at a mere 3%. The Swiss also have no issues when it comes to trusting their government and corruption is no where near a problem like it is in Spain. And with all the cheese and wine in the world, what could this possible utopia have anything to worry about? It actually turns out the country has the same problems that face most of the world.
What makes the Swiss different?
Switzerland is a fantastic place to work and live, most famous for its mountains, cheese, chocolate, cows, and watches. Beyond that it is the place with the best universities in Europe. But the Swiss and their country are far more complex than that. The biggest challenge is pinning down who exactly typifies the average Swiss: there are four different cultures and languages. Some 64 per cent of Swiss speak German. (They actually use Swiss German dialects when chatting and High German for writing). About 20 per cent speak French, seven per cent speak Italian, and less than one per cent speak Romansh.
Income inequality is just as much of a problem in Switzerland as it is in New York. According to Reuters, top earners in Swiss firms make about 6 times more than the bottom earners. Gaps like this have become intolerant in the face of the crisis as Swiss political groups have come up with a plan.
Only by living here does one learn the customs and etiquette that make the country so much more than its stereotypical image.
The Swiss, for example, pursue a policy of neutrality but also have a large army to defend the country. It’s not unusual to phone up a business acquaintance and find they have left for military service for a few weeks. And while the Swiss love their rules and order, you still find places where chaos reigns. Try figuring out when to cross the road at the crosswalks known here as “zebra stripes”, as the cars ignore the pedestrians and fly by. It is the same like in Germany, sometimes “chaotic” Spain is far more organized when it comes to quequeing or administration.
In the spirit of trying to get to know the Swiss better, here’s a cultural guide focused on the German-speaking part of the country.
This is an area you should try to get right or things could get uncomfortable. The Swiss, while not the most outgoing individuals on the planet, still like their formal greetings.
If you’re meeting someone for the first time, stretch out your hand and saygrüezi (hello). If you meet a friend, then you kiss them three times: offering first your right cheek, then left, then right again. The latter exchange is for women greeting women and men greeting women. The boys stick with a handshake or maybe a man hug. Remember to not actually plant a big smacker on someone’s cheeks: think air kiss instead.
When you go into a store say grüezi to the sales people, and when you leave say adieu (goodbye). People may also greet strangers with a grüezi when passing in the street, and always on hiking trails. Bitte (please) and merci ordanke (thank you) are also appreciated here.
This may be the hardest thing for North Americans and Brits to accept: the orderly Swiss do not believe in lining up. Whether it’s the cheese counter at the supermarket, the bus stop, or the ski lift, it’s every man for himself. Do not expect that the Swiss will honour or even acknowledge a line up. Instead be prepared to speak up and tell others that it’s your time to buy bread, and don’t be shy about using a little elbow to get ahead when there are hordes of people.
The Swiss also aren’t fussed about bumping into each other. Maybe it’s because there are so many people packed into a small country. If you find yourself bumped, don’t make a dirty face but instead say scho guet (that’s okay) to the bumper and move on. If you do the bumping, say sorry or äxgüsi (excuse me).
The Swiss tend to take a more arms-length approach when it comes to their personal lives. They tend to be quiet and discreet when they first meet you so don’t tell them your whole life story or ask probing questions about their family or job. It will probably require a lot of work and time before you are upgraded from an acquaintance to a friend.
“It is best to approach new people carefully and not be too forward,” according to a Canton of Zurich website
aimed at promoting integration.
Rules for Everyday Life
When meeting friends for a drink, there are strict rules when it comes to how the toasting unfolds. Wait until everyone has their beverage, look your toasting partner in the eye, clink your glasses, and say zum Wohl or prost (cheers). Repeat the same ritual with everyone in the group. Then let the drinking begin.
You don’t get this squeaky clean and organized without rules, and the Swiss have many to ensure life keeps running smoothly.
For example, you can’t just throw your trash into any old bag: instead you must pay for special garbage bags. There are also strict rules for recycling: paper must be bound with a string and put out in a special collection spot on the anointed day. Glass and aluminum are taken to a recycling depot, though it’s forbidden to do so during the evenings and on weekends. Plastic bottles are returned to the store, along with coffee capsules.
Switzerland has a unique education system. Children typically enter kindergarten at the age of 4 or 5. After grade 6 or 9, they can try an exam to enter Gymnasium, the school that allows them to go on to university. Many Swiss children, however, go through a stream that incorporates education with vocational training. Don’t be alarmed if you have an extremely young nurse, mechanic or childcare worker: they have been training for years.