The Dubious Hausfrau: How to confuse the Swiss - a practical guide

The Dubious Hausfrau: How to confuse the Swiss

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Canadian expat Tatiana Warkentin discovers that not complying with Swiss rules and etiquette is the easiest way to confuse the average Swiss.

Remember in Fraggle Rock how Uncle Travelling Matt used to refer to humans as 'the silly creatures'? You don't? Well he did, and yes I probably love the Muppets on a much deeper level than you do, too. Moving on.

The Swiss are a wonderful, efficient and bureaucratic people – but this can also cause 'silly' behaviour. For example, our mail carrier would not allow me to sign for a package that was for Johnathan because I was not Johnathan. It didn't matter that I was home. It didn't matter that I showed him ID with my name and Johnathan's name on it. He physically took the package out of my hand and said my husband would have to come to the post office to get it and present ID. They make Germans look a little lazy and as if Germans play fast and loose with the rules.

Despite the rules – the old ladies telling me to zip up my coat because it's cold and the young people who are respectful and well behaved in public (that still weirds me out) – we love it here. We do seem to have what we like to call 'hmmm' moments quite often. Moments that cause us to laugh hysterically and immediately call someone and say, "You'll never guess what just happened?!" Such experiences have influenced this practical guide to confusing the Swiss.

How to confuse the Swiss a practical guide

  • Have four items when it's a three-items-only fitting room.
    About a month ago I headed into town to do a little clothing shopping. I had four items to try on and the sign above the rooms said three items only. Totally cool, lots of places here and in North America have similar rules with varying item number allowance.
    So I asked the girl if could I take three in, but perhaps hang my fourth item outside of the door or perhaps she could set it aside so I could grab it later. Makes sense, right? Done it a bazillion times.
    Well, the girl looked at me like I had three heads. She seriously looked like she had no idea what to do in this situation. So she consulted a co-worker. The co-worker had no idea what to do so they called a third person. They had a staff meeting. Whatever would we do about this fourth item? They finally decided I would have to put back the fourth item and try on the three items. Then, should I decide I still wanted to try on the fourth item, I should go retrieve it and rejoin the line for the fitting.

  • Jaywalk.

  • When buying a Bodum product, tell the lady at the cash register that 'no it doesn't match my set but that's okay'. I think she had a mini stroke when I told her no, my kettle was purple, my hand mixer was green, my coffee press was red and now my pepper mill would be black.

  • Have friends send mail addressed to 'Team Ham-Tin'. On one such package, we received a pink slip of paper clipped to the envelope. It said, 'Does this mailing belong to you?'

  • Go outside wearing a hoodie when the rest of the Swiss seem to be dressed for -40, when it's really only about -5.
    One of the little girls that lives in the building next door recently came running up to me while I was walking past her. She was positively frantic. In German she asked me if my mum knew I wasn't wearing a coat! I processed this for a moment and then said, "Well I'm from Canada, and this is the kind of coat we wear in this weather because this really isn't that cold." I then asked her how old she thought I was. She looked at me and said, "17." I'm keeping her.

  • Tell them that in Canada you don't have to pay to throw your garbage out. We get a look of horror, disgust and wonderment when we say that we can throw out our garbage in any bag we choose and we don't need to buy them at the same place at the grocery store where you buy your smokes.

  • Speak fluent German to them and then turn to your husband and speak fluent English to him. And proceed to translate your entire conversation. This confuses the Swiss, particularly when I tell them I'm from Canada and that I've been fluent in German my entire life but know no French.

  • Tell them you can turn right on a red light in Canada.

  • Mention that bowling is not exotic nor rarely done. Go on to explain 'all you can bowl' glow bowling nights when you were a student and how it was a cheap family activity when you were growing up.

  • Tell them your husband grew up in a town of 200 people and that the next closest 'big city' was about two hours away with basically nothing but flat inbetween. A friend of ours lives in an apartment block that houses more than a small town population.


Reprinted with permission from The Dubious Hausfrau

The Dubious HausfrauTatiana Warkentin is the writer/blogger in residence over at The Dubious Hausfrau. She moved to Switzerland from Manitoba, Canada with her husband in July 2011 so he could take a job with a special department of the UN and she could make writing a career rather than a hobby. Her goal as the Dubious Hausfrau is to make trailing spouses think, "Oh good, I'm not the only one!" When she isn't writing she is an explorer and adventurer finding time to hike, kayak and learning how to make truffles at a Swiss Chocolate factory. 

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