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.