Alexandra Dufresne moved with her family to Zurich from the United States only six months ago. She describes what she will do this year to better integrate into Swiss society.
Like many immigrants, we are taking our integration duties seriously. So this year my New Year’s Resolutions are simple: to become more Swiss. I resolve to achieve this by embracing five rules:
5. 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 that the good manners practiced in Switzerland exist for a reason: to make sure that everybody feels like they belong. In 2017, I will greet everyone equally.
4. 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’ve stepped 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 December 23rd. It was so dark that 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 take the kids go outside in bad weather.
2. Don’t Double Book
In the US, it is not uncommon to schedule two or three social activities in one day. A common response 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.
1. 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: I will take a walk. Taking a walk doesn’t solve big or even medium-sized problems. But it almost always solves the little ones. And it often helps you figure out how to handle the bigger ones.
We are new here. 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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