Archive for the 'Expat musings' category

Swiss nonconfrontationalism.

 | June 2, 2014 12:37 pm

I have been living in Switzerland since September of 1996. At time of writing I have been living in Switzerland for 17 years. I would estimate I have lived in the United States for 14 years, and Canada for 12 years. So alltogether I have lived in the Canmerican culture for 26 years, some 9 years more than I have lived in Switzerland. This gives me an unusual perspective on the three cultures.

I have frequenlty heard the complaint that Swiss people are averse to confrontation, and as a result never say anything directly. This can manifest itself in wierd ways, like leaving notes in the laundry room saying “So bitte nicht!” (not like this!). I hear this criticism from Swiss people as much as I have heard it from fellow foreigners. People often make a conceptual connection to Switzerland’s political neutrality, which I never came to myself. I’m a big fan of Switzerland’s political neutrality. That national characteristic is a large part of why I feel at home here. I actually get a bit resentful towards foreigners who live here for the money, but despise Switzerland’s neutrality.

Until recently though I have still been critical of Switzerland’s aversion to confrontation at a personal level. For an American it makes navigating relationships with a Swiss partner fraughtful. Sometimes it seems the characteristic is taken to some cartoonish extreme — a case where this characteristic is possessed to such a cartoonish extreme as be unbelievale (at least to someone from without the culture). This can lead to some pretty bizarre relationship stories. As a result of collecting some negative experiences I could quite relate to people expressing resentment of this trait.

Now I find myself in a wonderful, happy relationships with a Swiss woman. While she is an impressive woman in her own right as an individual, some of the things that I love most about are quite “typically Swiss”. In fact she takes a real pride in being Swiss, and cherishes Swiss culture in a deep and meaningful way. She is wise in her love of her culture. She doesn’t love her country and culture indescriminately. She confronts many of the very real problems that Swiss culture does possess in a very head on and responsible way. Besides making her a remarkable human being, this characteristic makes her a remarkable teacher. The integration of Switzerland’s overwhelmingly large immigrant population is a real and pressing issue, and her ability to love and critisize her country simultaneously and intelligently, is a real gift to her students.

So my love and respect for my wife makes me look at certain aspects of Swiss culture in a more loving and respectful way. While Bettina’s tendency to avoid confrontation is afrequent topic of discussion in our family, my tendency to dive directly into conftration is of equal concern. I believe though that I have more to learn (and have learned more) from the Swiss characteristic. By now I have worked with a number of Swiss managers, and I believe that the most effective of these also pursued this path aversion-to-conflict.

The problem is that saying “aversion to conflict” isn’t really precise enough. At a cultural level the desire is avoid emotions flaring up durign a conflict, which would disturb the problem solving process. As I write that I find that I can’t help but think of Swiss political neutrality. So now that I am able to love them both, I see these traits as beeing two aspects of a single trait. When I resented one and loved the other I was unable to see the connection. I find that fascinating.

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