Two decades ago, Adrian Hoesli followed his father to America for a fresh start. Though they don’t see eye to eye on guns, both share Swiss values.
His shaved head and straight-talking manner are no-nonsense, but there’s mischief in his eyes. Meet Adrian, a 38-year-old Swiss whose near-native-sounding English includes expressions like “holy cow”, “hunky-dory”, the “greatest thing since sliced bread” and “what-not”.
“Law enforcement? Never crossed my mind! If you’d told me that I’d be a cop 15 years ago, I’d have said ‘no way!’” says Adrian, who initially wanted to repair bicycles for a living. After some years as a professional car mechanic in Switzerland and Minnesota, today he’s a small-town police officer in South Dakota – which he describes as “much more conservative” than its neighbor, Minnesota.
“As a cop you’re almost expected to be a conservative, a Republican,” he says, describing himself as a conservative independent. “I’m upholding the law as an arm of the government, but I don’t want the government to have too much control.”
Especially when it comes to firearms, says Adrian, who enjoys shooting. “If you want a gun, more power to you. It makes my job easier because you are less likely to be a victim of a crime. But there should be more stringent background checks.”
His father Markusexternal link says there are too many guns in the United States. The 63-year-old computer network support manager lives near Minneapolis, where swissinfo.ch meets him and Adrian.
“Why does a homeowner need an assault rifle?” asks Markus, frowning under his white mustache, and recalling how he had used one while serving in the Swiss army.
Adrian points out that individuals can’t legally buy automatic assault rifles, and that certain criminal charges will block them from having any firearms at all.
“Well, there are so many shootings – there’s something wrong,” insists Markus. “And the gun lobby pays the politicians so much that nothing happens.”
Regarding last year’s vote to reform Swiss gun law, Markus was “very surprised” that Swiss voters approved it. “A lot of men love their guns.” He himself was disappointed when he couldn’t bring his father’s old rifle into the US without a federal license.
The Hoeslis are originally from St Gallen in eastern Switzerland. Markus and his wife split up in the 1990s, and son Adrian moved in with his father a couple of years later. When Markus decided to immigrate to the US in 2001, Adrian – then 20 – followed him.
Markus got off to a smoother start than his son, though his Swiss qualifications were seen as inferior to American degrees. Potential employers told him that his two-year course in electrical engineering was the equivalent of an associate’s rather than a bachelor’s degree. But his current boss didn’t mind, and Markus has now been with the company for over 15 years.
Adrian had some bad luck due to a mistake in his immigration paperwork and had to return to Switzerland after just two years of living and working in the US. Luckily, he won a Green Card in 2005 and went back to the US that same year.
Both men know they are fortunate compared to many in their adopted country.
“I see people working three jobs and unable to afford healthcare,” says Markus, who volunteers as the IT director at a free clinic. He points out that poverty in the US is a growing problem due to recent cuts in food stamp and heating assistance programs.
Adrian, a volunteer EMT in his spare time, predicts that “sooner or later there’ll probably be class warfare because of government cuts. People who can’t afford the basics are in danger of bankruptcy, with no way to put money in savings”.
Yet Switzerland now seems expensive to the Hoeslis.
“On my last visit I was shocked to pay CHF120 ($123) for a simple lunch for two – nothing fancy!” recalls Markus. “I’d like to go back to Switzerland, but I can’t afford to retire there.” However, he still contributes to the Swiss Old Age and Survivors Insurance scheme, and can look forward to a good pension after 65 thanks to that and US social security.
Markus serves as the vice president of the Twin Cities Swiss American Associationexternal link, and together with Adrian, he manages the club’s social media. This helps them keep in touch with many other Swiss expats in the area. He’s adapted to US life, but he misses Swiss food.
“I have a ton of cookbooks. I make pies and other things, but American baking is completely different from Swiss. Carrot cake, for example,” says Markus with a smile. And he’s baking for two, having married an Iranian-American woman.
Adrian regrets how the distance makes it harder to get together for a birthday or even just a beer in Switzerland.
“You do lose the connection with friends and family, which I didn’t understand when I came,” says Adrian, noting that apart from his mother and younger brother, only one friend and one ex-coworker have visited him in the past 20 years. “There’s a sense of ‘he left us – why should we keep in touch?’” But of course he’s made new friends, including his girlfriend. He refers to her three children from a previous marriage as “our kids”.
Perhaps it’s a memory from his own childhood that accounts for his persistence when pursuing a new life and a new career in the US.
Adrian remembers his father studying for his engineering degree at the St Gallen University of Applied Sciences – on top of work, military service as an army sergeant, and family life.
“When I was 10, he kept me up many nights printing his papers,” laughs Adrian. “For me, being Swiss means being disciplined, organized and detail-oriented.”
In 2014 Adrian earned both his dual citizenship as well as his degree in law enforcement – with high honors. He’s carried a badge since 2015.
As the conversation wraps up, Markus nods at Adrian approvingly: “I’m proud of him and what he’s doing – what he’s achieved. What more can you expect from a son?”