What’s the difference?
“What is it that makes the difference to Switzerland?” That’s one of the first questions being asked, when I tell Basque people where I come from. They’ve heard about the banks and the clocks with the cuckoos coming out every full hour. Some of them have travelled to Switzerland and tasted the famous cheese and chocolate. Recently I played a game with a Pole and Czech guy, when everyone had to speak out the three first associations that one had with the other countries. Switzerland was Matterhorn, Geneva and Victorinox. The first one is a famous mountain with the shape of which the Toblerone chocolate consists of, the second one a Swiss city and important finance place in the western situated French part of Switzerland and the third is a pocket knife made in Switzerland and used all around the world – actually quite useful when you would like to make a fire in the forest or something and would like to prepare a wooden stick or something like that.
So I encountered many prejudices and interesting associations, but my personal difference has nothing to do with anything material. That’s because I think that the difference is something emotional and not a measurement of one’s export industry or income per head. So what I tell the Basque people when they ask me about the differences to my own country I tell them: “You.” It’s the people that make the difference. And even though this is an answer that might be standard, it’s true. I will give you an example in form of a direct comparison:
In the Basque country, as far as I can assess it from what I know so far and without wanting to judge it, people work to live. Life and its pleasantries are valued very highly and people are aware of it. So they make festivals just to enjoy the moment, they sit with each other for long hours of talking, eating and drinking. They know a lot of people and meet knew people in the streets, just like that. Basque men and women can talk to a clerk in the kiosk as if they had known each other for years. It is the most normal thing in the world to talk with whoever you meet. I don’t know if it’s the sun that makes people automatically stay out longer hours, but it’s nice. I experienced this myself during this stay. Never in my life have I met more people in this amount of time – I already feel like I know half of the city. Yesterday when I went out I just naturally talked with everyone who was around me and had a hard time greeting everyone I knew. I think that in my situation as an Erasmus student I also appear more open for other people but I’m sure that it’s also the people here. I met a guy who was in Erasmus in Lausanne, Switzerland, and he said the Swiss people he encountered were rather cold and distanced – we consider the French part in which Lausanne is situated in more open than the German part in which I live in, by the way.
On the other hand there is Switzerland, which is without doubt a wealthy and successful example of a country. I love it for being beautiful and providing its people a lot of different possibilities. But being wealthy also means to work very hard. This is what I realise especially when I’m abroad. I would say most Swiss people live to work. We identify ourselves a lot with our work and enterprise and we don’t mind working long hours. During the week most people don’t go out because they think about the next morning, wanting to leave early for the mountain of work that is awaiting them. As a consequence social contacts can’t be maintained intensely. In addition to that it is unusual to talk to people you don’t know or aren’t introduced to by somebody you know. The own privacy is held high. So in Switzerland I would never bother the person sitting next to me in a train for example, as I think I might disturb him or her. But aren’t it the accidental clashes that can produce the most interesting talks?
So I definitely want to take these positive experiences of meeting and chatting with whomever you encounter. There’s nothing to lose!