Second-Class Commuter – The Concept of Status in egalitarian Switzerland

by Angela Weinberger

In Switzerland, the trains have a first and a second class. Second class is usually for the “normal” people, while first class is often full of business executives and professionals on their daily commute. We love our public transportation system here in Switzerland. It’s very efficient, the trains run on schedule and are exceptionally safe and clean. So really, there is no reason to travel first class other than status.

I have only traveled first class on a few business trips. Now, I am a second-class commuter. By choice. I don’t care about status (or at least I think so…).

Often, expats and local foreign hires come from a high social status and an elaborate lifestyle in their home countries. Many of my clients tell me that they had at least two maids and a cook, sometimes a driver. They are not used to doing housework or handling their children the whole day. They come to Switzerland thinking they will thrive in the land of milk and honey (or cheese & chocolate).

But the Swiss reality is different.

Life is beautiful in Switzerland – for professional men. Women carry the full burden of running the home, educating the children and if they are professionals, they often take a step back in their careers once the first child is born. Even if you might be able to afford a cleaning person, you will not always be happy with the quality you get for the price you pay. Childcare is expensive in Switzerland and we do not have enough qualified educators around.

Modesty is a value.

Another culture clash comes from the differences in the definition of  “status.” In Switzerland, it is not uncommon for CEOs to take the bus. They do not necessarily drive big cars or wear expensive watches. Their houses seem small. The Swiss tend to be modest. They do not like to show off.

They rather define status with the luxuries they can afford such as traveling the world, a large number of children and a cottage in the mountains. Luxury is also a longer period of time taken off work to follow a dream, being able to volunteer, support an NGO or support the “commune” by being in the fire brigade or in a “Verein.” Luxury in some families is that one person (usually the woman) can stay at home raising the kids.


What can happen is that once you arrive in Switzerland, unpack your boxes and get used to your new life here, you might feel like a “second-class” commuter. You might feel like you are struggling, working too hard and not going to the mountains as much as you would like to.

You might also notice that you had underestimated the need for learning German / French. Often in this phase expats and foreign hires doubt if Switzerland is the right place for them. Some of them move to the next place.

This is normal when you build up a new life in a new country. It takes time.  Real integration in my view only starts after about two to three years. That is when you build a social circle outside of the expat community and when you really feel “at home”.

Tell us about an experience where you felt like a second-class commuter in Switzerland in the comments.


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SIETAR EUROPA Webinar “Negotiating Across Cultures – The 7 most costly mistakes companies make” with Matthew Hill

We are happy to announce the next SIETAR Europa webinar of 2015 on12th May at 7.00 PM CET:

Negotiating Across Cultures – The 7 most costly mistakes companies make

Where do your corporate customers need to improve? Their Negotiation skills or their Cultural awareness? Are they accomplished technical negotiators who would benefit from increasing their intercultural awareness and sensitivity to the values of other people? Or are they multi-culturally competent executives wishing to brush up on negotiation skills?

In this short webinar, we will highlight the 7 most expensive mistakes that many companies are currently making and that are costing them millions.

We will cover:
1. The cost of cultural stereotypes – the false assumptions people make about their power and the power of the other party.
2. Risk – each culture experiences risk differently and behaves in a unique way which must be understood to achieve long-lasting and ethical outcomes.
3. Dirty tricks – either party makes the assumption that the other won’t notice, mind or remember! Wrong Wrong Wrong!
4. Legitimacy and justification – few of us realise how culture impacts this critical area of negotiation.
5. Trading – we will look at haggling in the bazaar at one end of the scale and lawyers talking across a desk at the other.
6. Communication in negotiation – the intention to send a message is sadly undermined by the ability of the receiver to interpret the message as sent.
7. Trust and difference – various cultures have a different expectation of what constitutes trust.

Whether you are a coach, trainer, teacher or researcher helping executives and students to understand negotiation and culture, this high-energy broadcast will give you plenty to think about and a couple of invaluable tools to take away and use for the benefit of your organisation, yourself and the outcome ofyour next negotiation.


Matthew Hill is a senior facilitator, author and broadcaster working in the field of culture, negotiation, conflict and leadership. He has published a 5 CD box set on Negotiation and has authored a book on Leadership. Matthew has been a president of SIETAR UK in the past.

Webinar Negotiating Across Cultures – The 7 most costly mistakes companies make conducted by Matthew Hill on Tuesday, 12th of May 2015, at 7.00-8:00 PM CET.

To participate, please register from your computer, tablet or smartphone.

Please note that in registering for the SIETAR Europa webinar you accept to be included on our mailing list

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There is no such thing as “common sense” in the intercultural context

by Christina Kwok
I remember being back home with family in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia a year back. My older sister suggested that I get some new house keys made downtown at Mr. Minute, inside a large shopping mall called The MegaMall. I said, “Sure, no problem.”
When I got home and handed the new keys to my sister, she asked me casually
how much I’d paid for them. I told her and she literally freaked out. It seemed that I’d paid way too much to mint a new set of house keys (4 in all). When I reminded her that she hadn’t said how much they normally cost, she retorted with: “It’s common sense! You should know how much they cost!”
Lively discussions
I was ready to explode at this comment but I managed to restrain myself. My dear sister who has lived a safe and sheltered life all these years, never venturing beyond the city and family home where she was born, couldn’t possibly begin to conceive of anybody else’s notion of common sense but her own.
Would it even make sense to explain that having lived abroad all these years, I had lost touch and was partly using the Swiss index of living costs to guide my purchases? Should I proceed to lecture her on the uniqueness of common sense, how it’s closely tied to one’s life experience and the cultural frameworks one has been immersed in, how common sense effectively varies across cultures just as ways of reacting to events and situations are guided by instinct bred in one’s dominant environment of immersion?
Read this blog post from Cultural Detective for further insights into “common sense”.
No doubt you’ll find lots of contexts familiar to you in daily life, that resonate with your experience. What is your take on common sense in the intercultural context? Let us know in the comments.
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And so it began – SIETAR Switzerland AGM on 24 March 2015 in Bern, Switzerland

by Marianna Pogosyan

Board SIETAR CH 2015 - AGMOn one of the warmest inaugural days of the spring, a roomful of eager faces gathered in Bern from all over Switzerland to witness an important first in the life of SIETAR Switzerland – the first ever AGM (Annual General Meeting).


As with all firsts, the evening was full of poignancy and excitement. The legal protocol took center stage. There was the president’s speech, the passing of motions, the approval of financial statements and annual reports, and the election of the president, the board and the auditors. But perhaps the real momentousness of the evening was reserved to the rewarding culmination of the behind-the-scenes efforts of the past seven months.






To be present along with the other members for the first AGM, to witness the deepening of existing networks and the birth of new connections on this new platform of SIETAR Switzerland, ushered a palpable anticipation for the countless nexts that will follow this first.

PanelPANELDuring the panel discussion that proceeded the AGM, four experts weighed in on the topic of why we need intercultural competence in a multicultural Switzerland from different perspectives. 20150324_sietar-19Lamia Lively discussionsBen Hamida explained the importance of the cultural dimension in knowledge transfer in multinational organizations. Michael Büchi described the migration patterns that have made Switzerland multicultural. Alain Max Guénette spoke about intercultural management, while Petra Bourkia informed the audience about the multicultural challenges of nursing and healthcare in Switzerland.20150324_sietar-2320150324_sietar-22

The evening of the first AGM of SIETAR Switzerland was in itself an invitation for collaboration and to continue the dialogue on culture and its encompassing role in the Swiss society. As Dr. Christa Uehlinger, the president mentioned, there is plenty to look forward to as we work alongside our members to grow SIETAR Switzerland together, not only for the good of society and professional merits, but also for our own personal enrichment.



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