When I first learned I would be moving to Switzerland, like most of us expats, I quickly went online and began bouncing around German-way.com and its many message boards, trying to find out more about the country and its people. During my years as an expat I have come to realize though that what is said in message boards must be taken with a grain of salt; not every generalization about a culture should be applied to every individual, of course. But after moving to Rapperswil, in the Lake Zurich region, I quickly learned that one particular characteristic I had read about regarding the Swiss people, was in fact very true.
Upon my arrival to the land of majestic snowcaps and melodic cowbells, I made a quick friend. She was a lovely bartender from the restaurant down the street from my new flat. She was my age, and we shared a passion for wine, Chihuahuas, and ice hockey. Over my third (or so) glass of sweet Swiss wine at her bar, I told her that my fiancé is a professional hockey player for the local team (hence our reason for being in Rapperswil), and that I could surely get her some free tickets to the next game. In all honesty, the fiancé and I tend to say this a lot. If we meet a fan, a general lover of the game, or really any new friend or neighbor, we offer free tickets if they are interested. Some persist and so we provide. Some don’t mention it again, and so nor do we. In North America, this seems to be how things work. “Plans” made over drinks, or in quick passing: “Oh hey nice to see you, let’s do lunch next Thursday”, are not always taken seriously. They are just nice words; a common way to say hello and goodbye; the customary, “let’s catch up”, but hey, maybe not. A follow-up call, email, something, is normally required for such plans to actually be plans. So when I told my new friend that I would get her tickets to the next game, ten days from then, and that “oh sure, let’s meet for a bite before hand”, I didn’t think much more of it again. I hadn’t heard from her. But then I did . . . one hour before the game. The customary (but in reality quite rude when you think about it) habit many of us North Americans have of making flaky plans is not understood in Switzerland.
“Hello Jessie. Yes I am here at the restaurant, are you coming?”
I was at a different restaurant with some fellow “hockey wives”. At first I wasn’t even sure who was on the phone, or what she was talking about. Then it dawned on me: My new friend, the one I was so lucky to have found in this foreign country, is waiting for me and I had ditched her. I tried to explain that I wasn’t sure of the plans since we hadn’t confirmed, but this made no sense to her. She figured we said it and so we do it. This is one generalization I can personally attest to being true. The Swiss people whom I have had the pleasure of knowing, they mean what they say. There are no fake plans, or even fake pleasantries. I suppose when you come from one of the most beautiful and thriving countries in the world, there is just not very much necessary to lie about. This very committed way of being can take a bit of getting used to of course, but in the end it really makes relationships far less tricky. There is no guessing, no grey areas. I feel very lucky to have made the Swiss friends that I have. Our relationships are very loyal and honest. (Just don’t forget about dinner!)