April 17, 2012

CULTURE SHOCK: Swissness

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Swissness is a word usually used to describe what makes the average Swiss citizen tick. It may be what motivates lawn care workers to climb into each tree at the end of the fall to remove all the remaining leaves. It could also be what drives the police to search through garbage to track down those who dared to throw out a plastic bottle (don’t even try to jaywalk here). My favorite stereotype, and perhaps most contradictory, is that of the Swiss military.

When you think of the Swiss army, you may think a couple of Vatican guards, armed with some spears and a couple Swiss army knives as side arms. In reality, the Swiss military involves obligatory service, rigging the entryways to the country with live explosives to slow any invading armies and mandatory bomb shelters for each Swiss citizen. The college in which I am studying abroad actually houses all of its library books in one giant bomb shelter under the campus.

While Americans are known to search for the American Dream, the Swiss generally strive for a life full of security. The 10p.m. community-wide quiet hours, making it illegal to walk barefoot on the street, and the social taboos of wearing any workout clothing in public are all upheld in an effort to create a secure living environment. At times I get the feeling that the country seems like a creepy futuristic utopia, or like one large retirement community. Then I remember that Switzerland is a direct democracy, with many laws established by the voters themselves. And with all of the wealth, resources, and swissness at their disposal, it only makes sense that they would attempt to create such a perfect society.

Kyle Ward is a junior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He may be reached at kward@cornellsun.com. Notes from Abroad: Culture Shock appears on Wednesdays.

Original Author: Kyle Ward

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