Alexandra Dufresne moved with her family to Zurich from the United States only six months ago – but she already knows what she needs to better integrate into Swiss culture.
Like many immigrants, we are taking our integration duties seriously in Switzerland. So this year my New Year’s resolutions are simple: become more Swiss. I resolve to achieve this by embracing these five rules of Swiss culture.
1. Greet everybody
At first the Swiss duty to greet everybody felt awkward. Friendliness wasn’t the problem. The problem was getting up the courage to greet everyone regardless of whether they looked friendly. Did I really have to say ‘Grüezi‘ to the 19-year-old with piercings? (Yes). Did I really have to greet the flawlessly chic mother at parent events? (Yes). But once I accepted the inviolability of the duty to greet – and treat – everyone equally the stress arising from social ambiguity disappeared.
It turns out the good manners practised in Switzerland exist for a reason: to make sure everybody feels like they belong. In 2017, I will greet everyone equally.
2. Don’t rush the goodbyes
In the US, we tend to say goodbye quickly. We are a busy people! However, in Switzerland saying goodbye is an elaborate social dance; skip a step, and you’ll step on someone’s toes. To be graceful – and grace is valued here – you have to slow down. In 2017, I will practice slowing down.
3. Take the kids out in bad weather
My younger son’s kindergarten class took an all-morning field trip to the forest in late December, where the children happily played in the ice, mud and fog. My older son’s class met in the forest at 6:30am on 23 December where it was so dark they needed torches. To an American this is crazy – crazy in a wonderful, exciting way but crazy nonetheless. But the children were thrilled. In 2017, I will embrace my inner Swiss and make the kids go outside in bad weather.
4. Don’t double book
In the US, it is not uncommon to schedule two or three social activities in one day. A common response to the ubiquitous ‘How are you?’ is ‘stressed’, ‘busy’ or ‘late’. Here, in contrast, when you are invited to someone’s house, you are expected to stay a while. When someone asks how you are, you are not allowed to brag about being stressed or overwhelmed. The social pressure not to rush is strange at first and then… liberating. In 2017, I will not double book.
5. Go for a walk
Most importantly, in 2017, when I feel like tired, stressed, sad, joyful, grateful or like punching someone, I will do what Swiss people do: take a walk. Going for a walk doesn’t solve big or even medium-sized problems – but it almost always solves the little ones and often helps you figure out how to handle the bigger ones.
We are new in Switzerland. When I speak, the sentences come out backwards. The tiny coffee cups in our apartment mystify me. I get nervous when I do the recycling and I still forget to bring a bag with me to the grocery store. In other words, I have a long way to go on the integration journey. But greeting everyone, not rushing or double booking, taking the kids outside, and going on a walk? These are good modest first steps – regardless of where we live.
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