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‘There’s no search for dialogue at all’, says Swiss expat in US

Alain G* and one of his sons enjoying US life Alain G*

Alain G* has been in the United States for about as long as Donald Trump has been president.

This content was published on November 2, 2020 - 11:00
Tony Ganzer

“Trump got elected in November. I arrived in America in January or February, and my family arrived in July,” Alain says from his office in Phoenix, where he works as an executive for a Swiss company with headquarters in Arizona.

Alain considers himself a typical Swiss guy, having grown up in Fribourg with a French-speaking father and a German-speaking mother. He has great memories of visiting the United States in his youth and for business trips, but it’s a new experience to be an expat during an election year.

“When you live here, you suddenly realise so many things that you don’t see as a tourist,” he says. “Coming to the US for the holidays, it’s fantastic because everything is great and the people are just so kind. And then when you live here, suddenly, you have another view on things.”

Lack of dialogue

Alain says viewing the US from abroad, through the lens of Hollywood or other media, doesn’t fully prepare you for the reality of American culture. The personality of Donald Trump, in Alain's view, is an exact representation of the differences between American and European sensibilities.

“This guy just is not interested at all in finding consensus – that’s not what he wants. What he wants is just to go through his agenda,” Alain says, pointing out that Europeans generally and the Swiss specifically are more interested in compromise.

“This is probably the most shocking thing, is that there’s just no search for dialogue at all,” he adds, expressing surprise at the fact that Trump’s administration still has ambassadors to other countries given its lack of interest in other perspectives.

‘People are sweet. The countryside, nature – it’s crazy beautiful. But I think there’s something wrong at the root.’

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“Why would he need ambassadors? He has very strong arguments. He has very strong views. There’s no dialogue on that.”

‘It’s crazy’

Alain has four children, aged 19, 17 and 11-year-old twin boys. The time in the US is providing his older children with insights into serious issues in American society like access to healthcare, or the ability to attend and pay for a university education – none of which is discussed in most election rhetoric, he says.

“You just have two [parties] fighting each other on tiny details. I mean, did [Speaker of the House] Nancy Pelosi get a new haircut or not? I mean, who cares?” Alain says. “But then all the fundamentals, they’re not even discussed: schooling, insurance, poverty, access to water or to electricity. It’s crazy.” 

Alain still sees value in living with his family abroad, allowing them to live in a state with a unique identity such as Arizona, which has fostered strong opinions on gun rights and immigration. The time abroad has also allowed Alain's family to experience American multiculturalism and connect to neighbours from Central and South America.

Being a minority

“Of course, we still miss Switzerland,” Alain says. “We still miss this peaceful country where everything is closed on Sunday, you know – those super boring Sundays that you love as an adult but you hated as a kid.”

But he says he and his family have suddenly realised fully what it means to be elsewhere and to be in the minority.

“Sometimes it’s scary because we hear people saying stuff against foreigners.”

Only this year was Alain's residency permit converted to a Green Card, officially known as a permanent resident card, which has removed some of his stress as immigration reform, and crackdowns, remain a high priority for the Trump administration.

‘Something wrong at the root’

Regardless of what happens in the upcoming US election, Alain thinks Swiss companies and Swiss people could offer Americans a different way of thinking about education and the economy. He’s proud of championing Swiss-style apprenticeships in Arizona but thinks more can be done to combat the wealth inequality gap.

“It’s all about consumption. It’s all about having. It’s less about being. And I think there’s so much to do because it's a lovable country,” Alain says of the US. “People are sweet. The countryside, nature – it’s crazy beautiful. But I think there’s something wrong at the root.”

“The omnipresence of money is insane,” Alain says finally, adding that education is a key part in moving America in a new direction. “I would love to be active in more education, because the way it works today is not OK.”

Alain G* [name withheld]

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