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Life in a divided US ‘a roller coaster ride’ for Swiss expat

Sophie Chevrier and family
Sophie Chevrier and family at home in Scottsdale Sophie Chevrier

The US election has become part of daily life for Sophie Chevrier, a Swiss-Italian mother of four living in Scottsdale, Arizona.

“Even my seven-year-old talks of Biden, and talks about Trump,” she says. “What amazes me: it’s part of your family. I can see families don’t talk about certain subjects because they get so upset with each other. They just prefer not talking about it.”

Chevrier, 43, is originally from the southern Swiss city of Lugano, but has spent the last four-odd years in Scottsdale, Arizona. Her husband works for an American multinational, so she’s lived in many places, including China.

She feels that Donald Trump is not representative of the United States, and that his election has irked people across the political spectrum.

“I think what the Swiss above all have to understand is that Americans are not dumb,” Chevrier says, pointing to doubts about Trump’s style and substance from Democrats and some Republicans alike. Even some of her Republican friends disagree with Trump’s rhetoric, she says, and prefer to cast a blank ballot rather than endorse the sitting president.

“I think it’s a difficult choice for everyone. Regardless who will be elected, my only fear is that this will divide the country even more. And I’m scared there might be riots after the election,” she adds.

The best comparison Chevrier could make to Switzerland is that the division between Republicans and Democrats is akin to the split between the French/Italian and German regions of Switzerland.

“It’s like a Röstigraben here, it’s just so deep,” she says.


Damaged pride

Chevrier feels Trump has put a strain on a uniting factor in America: pride of citizenship, as seen with the Pledge of Allegiance to the American flag that children often say before beginning their school day.

“I think many people don’t understand that. The first thing they taught my kids when I moved here was the Pledge of Allegiance. Before school, you say the pledge – even on Zoom! You have this promise that you make to this country wherever you’re from … If you’re American, you will make this pledge.”

With the divisions in the country, Chevrier says it seems some Americans are finding it difficult to show the same pride.

Son Maël (7) saying the pledge in the morning on Zoom
Son Maël (7) pledging his allegiance on Zoom Sophie Chevrier

Only two choices

“I think this is hard. It’s hard for the Republicans, but it’s hard for Democrats as well,” she says. “You have a binary system, and suddenly you’re in the middle and you don’t know who to vote for.”

Chevrier considers herself in the political centre, or centre-left, so the two-party American system seems particularly difficult.

“Another thing that drives me mad about this election is that they just accuse each other all the time,” she continues. “Instead of just saying, ‘OK, this is what I want to do for my country, this is what needs to be done’, they just say it’s Joe Biden’s fault. They are so mean to each other.”

Chevrier’s family now has Green Cards, or permanent resident cards, so she feels a little more at ease being in the United States amid a tightened immigration policy of the Trump administration.


Two cultures

“There are many good things about this country. We live here, and for my children, it’s home,” she says. “What I always tell them is we embrace American culture, but we’re not Americans. So we try to keep our roots alive.”

‘We embrace American culture, but we’re not Americans’

That includes fostering their French and Italian learning or reinforcing that some parts of American society aren’t representative of other countries. For example, Chevrier teaches her children that American gun culture isn’t reflective of gun culture elsewhere.

Chevrier says life in the US during the election and during the pandemic is like a roller coaster – and not just because she’s an expat experiencing the world through that lens.

“I think it’s a roller coaster ride for everyone,” Chevrier says. “What I really want to tell [other non-Americans] is that we’re all struggling. That Americans – no matter their race – and all people are in the same boat.”


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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR