The Land of Cheese, Chocolate, and Directions


So, you’re riding your bike in Switzerland and a random couple tells you to stop riding on the sidewalk. Your eyebrows turn inward, but you continue your leisure ride anyway. The next person you pass shouts, “Hallo!” and tells you to use the bike lane. Sidewalks are for walking only.

Like me, you might fight the urge to say something sarcastic. Instead, you ignore it and move on.

Next, you find yourself in your car waiting for a train to pass. An older gentleman knocks on your window and motions for you to turn off your ignition. As soon as you do, the train has already zoomed by and the cars behind have started beeping for you to go.

Later that same day, you are at the store getting a few last minute groceries and a clerk approaches you. She tells you the store is closing, points to her watch and directs you to the check-out line. No chance to grab that liter of milk.

After a few of these experiences, you realize there is something different about the way people behave in Switzerland. If you are doing something wrong or out of the ordinary, they will tell you. Now, you can be like me and argue with everyone who tells you what to do the first few months you’re here or you can accept it as a major culture difference.

You can call it bossy, authoritative, or even pushy, but the fact is that there is a lot of pressure on the Swiss. If they had to suffer in the pressure cooker and put in the work to do everything correctly, then shouldn’t everyone else?

If you’re going to visit or live in Switzerland, then you will have to learn how to use this authoritative behavior to your advantage.

Where I come from, if you don’t know, then you don’t know. However, in Switzerland, if you don’t know, then you will figure it out.

For example, you are riding your bike (in the bike lane of course) and you realize you’re lost.

A thought passes through your mind, “Hey! The Swiss like to tell people what to do.” So you ask the next person you see, “Excuse me, can you help me find the next town?” Suddenly you see a glimmer in their eyes as if you’ve just asked them to name your first born child. They warm up their hands, scan their surroundings, and take in a deep breath.

Chances are, they will ask if you have some kind of map or they will open a navigation system to show you exactly where to go. They will speak slowly and go from point to point, making sure you understand before moving on. If all fails, they will ask you for a pen and paper or even offer to go with you to make sure you find the place.

BONUS: they will usually speak English, especially in the cities.

Growing up in the states, I’ve been given all kinds of directions. Some have been spot on while most have gone a little something like this, “It’s really simple. Just take a left at that building down the road, take the next right, take another right at the blinking lights, when you pass the railroad tracks take a left, go down that road a couple minutes then take a sharp right, drive down that road for half a mile, take another left, drive straight for about one minute and then you can’t miss it.”

Really man? You lost me after ‘it’s really simple’.

Now I haven’t been a direction giving goddess myself. I usually realize I’ve sent someone on a wild goose chase when it’s far too late.

A recent experience showed me one way of how living in Switzerland has affected me.

I was taking a walk and a vehicle slowly pulled alongside of me. Normally, I would have pulled out my pepper spray and dashed off, running through bushes and thorns to get away from danger, but this is Switzerland, a place where danger only exists in the ozone.

A gentleman got out of the vehicle and politely asked where he could find a specific auto garage. A lightbulb went off in my head, and then it happened. I warmed up my hands, scanned my surroundings, and took in a deep breath.

After five years, the pressure of being correct had finally Swissified me.

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