Thursday, January 16, 2014

Clash of cultures!! Maybe one day I'll get this Swiss thing right...

A little over a week ago, I posted the following status on Facebook:
Just got back from a short trip to Lyon. It was fun and the food was great, but I was surprised by how dingy the city seemed. I think this was mostly because it was raining the whole time, so we hardly went out, and when we did explore the city, everything was cold, wet, gray, and miserable. But I think it's also because Switzerland has messed up my expectations of how clean and new everything needs to be.
A couple of days later, I got a reminder of the fact that the amazing cleanliness in Switzerland does come with a price...

I was sitting at home watching my kids and the kids of a friend of mine (well, passively -- I was also doing my skype German lesson).  The kids had recently come in from playing outside when I heard a knock at the door.  It was my neighbor, who had come to tell me that the kids had tracked mud in the hallway -- and to explain to me that I need to tell them to wipe their feet carefully before coming into the building.

You may be thinking that's kinda weird.  If you are thinking that, then you have never lived in Switzerland.  In Switzerland, this is totally normal, expected behavior.  In Switzerland, if you are doing something wrong (making a mess or excessive noise, for example), you can pretty much expect that someone is going to tell you, politely (usually), that you are doing it wrong, and need to knock it off.

This system has certain advantages.  Remember that problem with le merde in France?  I probably don't have to tell you that they don't have that problem here.  Plus there's something to be said for a direct approach.

From my own experience, Mormon culture encourages exactly the opposite approach:  conflict is to be avoided at all costs, so when there's a problem, it often festers and escalates and then comes out in passive-aggressive ways.  (See these discussions.)  In this case, however, this is the first complaint this neighbor has made in the year we've been living here, and now I feel fairly confident that I'm not doing anything else that's too big a problem.  If I were, someone would tell me.

And, of course, that was the next part of the story.  Can you guess?  My husband and I received an email from the same neighbor a couple of days later complaining that we hadn't vacuumed the hallway.

The funny thing is that it was simply a clash of cultural expectations.  There really wasn't that much dirt in the hallway (well, by American or French standards, anyway) and the hallway is cleaned regularly.  I had assumed that by apologizing and promising it wouldn't happen again, I was done.  But a Swiss colleague confirmed that when a Swiss person points out a mess that is your fault, that means that you are to clean it up immediately.

Now it's funny to me to re-read the post on Swiss etiquette I wrote after about a year of living in Switzerland.  I had mentioned a person silently hinting that someone was doing something wrong (failing to move to the "standing" lane on the escalator) as an example of Swiss politeness.  It was a funny scene, but clearly I was interpreting it through my own cultural lens of what constitutes polite behavior.  Now I think that guy was probably a foreigner. ;)

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

State of the Me: 2013 - 2014

I'm glad it is time to assess where I'm at and talk about goals!  Why?  Well, because I've had this weird malaise lately, and I feel like just taking the time to analyze it (in order to write this post) has been helpful.

My analysis in a nutshell is the following:  My day-to-day life is actually going fairly well, but I have a number of creative projects I'd like to spend more time on, and I'm stressed by the fact that it's not clear when that's ever going to happen.

Now for the details:

Home: We've been in our new apartment (condo, actually) for just over a year.  It's really perfect for our lifestyle (location, size, style) -- the only drawback is that I spend more time on housework simply because I've finally gotten to the point where I really can put everything away and have the whole place completely clean and organized, for the first time since I-don't-know-when!  I also spent a lot of time this past year building storage shelving in the basement; so much so that I've joked that organizing my basement is my hobby!  It's hardly a joke, actually -- the basement looks fantastic, and now I can find anything!!

Job: I've been working for Dybuster for almost four years now, making it my longest real job ever.  As always, I have a lot of responsibility and a variety of tasks -- it has basically been going well the whole time.

German: Learning German has been an ongoing obstacle for the six years I've been living in Switzerland.  The main problem has been that my motivation to learn has been more negative than positive, eg. it bugs me that I have trouble communicating and that people have to translate for me, but aside from that, I never really wanted to speak German the way I was thrilled to be able to communicate in a new language back when I was first learning French.  Well, that has actually finally changed this year -- I've gotten over this hump to the point where I enjoy speaking German. Yay!!  (I can recommend my instructor who practices with me via skype, weekly.)

kids:  The kids have ongoing problems in school (learning to be tri-lingual is easier for kids than grown-ups, but still it is no simple matter!).  Things could be a lot better, but we're basically on track as best we can be.  We have loads of fun just playing, and the kids have taken the lead on some pretty impressive projects.  Still, I would like to invest more time and energy into organizing Math, Science, and programming projects to share with them.

relationships:  I feel like I've had a lot of good friendships with people who have been important to me over the past few years.  This area is my biggest goal for 2014, to cultivate new and existing relationships -- perhaps because I've seen the importance of friendships in my life lately.  Ideally, I think it would be cool if I could find friends with whom I could speak French or German, or -- even cooler -- a friend who is interested in participating in my blogging and websites.  With my husband, I think things are going well, and we're on the same page with our home/life/family ideas.  We enjoy spending time together, but we don't share all of our hobbies -- nor do we expect to -- so I think it is reasonable to seek more friendships.

blogging:  I enjoy my work with Main Street Plaza and the Mormon Alumni Association, but I'm thinking I really need to find a friend who is psyched about sharing this hobby with me.  I've spent too long feeling like I'm annoying people if I bring up my Internet hobbies, and consequently I end up feeling like my Internet activities are too disjoint from the rest of my life.  Then I don't spend as much time on them as I'd like to.  If I had one friend to hang out with and talk about this stuff, it would make all the difference.

health:  I have been attending French yoga for as long as I've been at Dybuster, and it's great!  At first I had to force myself to do it, but now I can't stay away.  I've also been making an effort to eat more vegetarian and drink in moderation.  The fact that (at 42) I'm not nearly as pretty as I was 10 years ago has been difficult to deal with.  However, I feel like I've done a good job of looking and feeling my best.  I just hope that I can get a good portrait of our family in 2014 -- we've basically never had a good portrait.  Also, I really need to schedule myself a dentist appointment...

So, things aren't going so bad, right?  I had a nice, relaxing day today and I gave haircuts to all three of my boys.  Maybe with a bit of time-management, 2014 will be the year to really get some stuff done! :D