A Swiss living in Amerika, Koka Kola, Wunderbar
I am half-Swiss and half-American and was born in Switzerland.
I was born in the mythical land called Switzerland, (I’ve added a oh-shit-academic-stuff link to Britannica.com or a link to Wikipedia if y’all are so inclined, because I ain’t got time to cover everything, maybe I will cover the history one day because that shit is interesting).
Switzerland is tucked in-between Germany, Italy, France and to a lesser extent Austria (and itty-bitty Liechtenstein). A beautiful country known for its tourist destination, watches, Ski slopes, CHOCOLATE, cheese fondue, CHEESE AND CHOCOLATE, etc. you get the idea.
BUT JEANNE WHAT ABOUT THE BANKING SECRETS AND NAZ- *SLAMS DOOR*
We are not talking about politics or any of that, because Swiss Honey Badger don’t care.
I’ve been living in the U.S for almost 8 years now, well more specifically on the East coast… uhm, New York/New Jersey area.
Now scroll back up to these pictures you’ve seen and then scroll back down to me, now back up and now to me.
I can only think of one song to summarize that transition.
Can you hear the song: Just a small town/village girl living in – WE’RE ALL LIVING IN AMERICA, AMERICA IS WUNDERBAR. WE’RE ALL LIVING IN AMERICA, AMERIKA, AMERIKAAAAAAAA!
I was a small town and clueless girl moving to a new country with Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’ in mind and getting hit by a truck with Rammstein’s We’re all living in America [I’ve also inserted the English lyric translation here from YouTube].
This exactly encapsulated what cultural shock felt to me.
And yes, another form of cultural shock manifested itself through confusing customs. I know, tipping and also let’s not forget the sales tax not included in any goods until *drum roll* you’re in front of the cash register or your restaurant bill. With that surprise outcome, you are left wasting everybody’s time by rummaging through your wallet to find the exact change only to give bills instead, adding another few tons to your already heavy two-handed weapon of a wallet.
I never saw Skyscrapers in my life (maybe just a glimpse in Frankfurt)! Also I never saw national flags proudly flapping any day, 24/7, 365 days. In Europe, the only time we suddenly remember where we are from, our nation or patriotism, is during the FIFA, UEFA cups, the Olympics and other international sports. I don’t think I have to remind you why Europeans are more, uhm, reticent about displaying national pride *cough* World War I and II *cough*. But let’s move away quickly from this topic because I am feeling the dam of politics beginning to shake and crack.
America is HUGE OMFG!
From New York to L.A or San Francisco by plane it takes 6 hours give or take and by car DAYS AND DAYS AND DAAAAAAAYS! It truly boggles my mind after all these years of living in the U.S, that it is a HUMONGOUS country and not gonna lie you kinda become out-of-touch with what is happening outside over time.
In Europe just driving for 2~4 hours, depending on the traffic, you are in a different country speaking a different language altogether! In the U.S just a two hour drive you are still in New Jersey state where they all still speak English, maybe with a slight dialect, but other than that you can still find your beloved Starbucks at every gas station, town, mall, highway exit, etc.
You don’t know Switzerland until you live there
Switzerland is divided into three official languages, well, technically four, a dying and mountain based Latin called Romansh as well. The country was made where basically the French, German and Italian parts said “fuck off” to their mother countries and decided to make a nation combining the best-of-both world called Switzerland. And there are 26 mini States (cantons, prefectures, precincts, whatever you call them) in that country, most of them working harmoniously yet independently from each other.
Either way! To put matters in perspective, there are about 8 million people in Switzerland and there are 8.5 million people in New York, ya see, for a Swiss person like me, setting foot in the U.S was like wrestling naked with an American bald Eagle and my only weapon was my empty and light wallet which wasn’t filled up to its two-handed weapon potential, nowadays brimming with coins (especially the USELESS PENNIES).
But Jeanne, you’re half-American, surely it isn’t that bad.
Yes and you are quite right, I am lucky in that regard. (If you are purely Swiss moving to the U.S, God Bless your soul). We spoke English at home, a bastardized form according to relatives and my rare visiting American friends. We spoke a mix of UK and US English, probably hailing from ye old colonial times, but by God in Swiss public schools, my family was seen as the cool kids around the block because we were “American”.
However, because were not typically Swiss my family stuck out and painfully so. My family was an anomaly, because even though we were Swiss on paper and maybe culturally too, we didn’t fit in because we spoke English, French and German. To put it into a simplistic and narrow-minded perspective, when a Swiss tells you you have an “accent” especially among students, it was an insult, a source of mockery because it meant you were not capable of blending in with your Swiss peers.
Yes, while Switzerland is that beautiful fairy tale like country, it is homogeneous, lacks flexibility in its School system to accommodate multilingual kids like me and my family. I mean, that is why foreign families with parents working in international companies send their kids to international private schools rather than dealing with the stiff and elitist Swiss public school shenanigans. As someone who was average in school (I excelled in art, music and languages) but not in Math and sciences, the two most important subjects in ye old Switzerland, yeah the Swiss school system got tired of me.
Shit really hit the fan when we moved back to the French part, I jumped into a French School 8th grade from a purely German school 7th grade. Yes, I still knew French because I was born in the French part but then moved to German part then later back to the French part. I also had childhood friends there, but the jump, it disemboweled my confidence.
I performed average in school in my blissful years in the German part (best childhood memories of exploring forests, rivers, hiking, camping and good friends), but when I moved back to the French school, I was consistently failing my subjects, because hey my peers lived ALL THEIR BORING AND STATIC LIVES in the same location without interrupting their school or changing languages. Additionally, with me being so insecure about everything and mixing up English, German and French grammar into a lovely fruit salad, it’s like I had self-induced learning disability that made the French school scratch their head in confusion. After being chewed on like tough beef jerky by the Swiss School system, their delicate stomach could not tolerate me any longer so they spat me out and classed me as a hopeless case.
Well, who’s laughing now, bitches
As a result, I enrolled into a private international school that vaguely looked like Hogwarts where they spoke English… everything changed when the fire nation attacked.
The clouds parted, I saw, well metaphorically speaking (but I do recall it was a beautiful day when we visited that school) the most brilliant blue sky in my life, this was it, I was home and this was where I was meant to be.
I remember almost crying when I first opened my Biology book on my first day of class to find it all in English, MY mother tongue! Myriad of English words sprawled over hundreds and hundreds of pages, my eyes feasted eagerly over the letters as I had to remind myself I wasn’t dreaming. I was in an English school, with different subjects taught in English! As I absorbed the new English words into my system I did not feel pain, anxiety or fear but rather unimaginable relief and utter joy. Then a sudden awakening occurred, it unleashed a barrage of insatiable hunger for knowledge.
I excelled in all my subjects, I created wonderful friendships, discovered my love for history and creative writing, had teachers who actually supported me and I picked up all the broken parts of my confidence and began to super glue that shit together while giving the Swiss School system the middle finger. All the nasty shit, doubts, accusations, they threw at me, I proved them wrong as I built my life, my confidence back together with every high grade I got.
This international School saved my life and gave me hope. It opened doors for me. It lead me to study abroad in New York. I have a wonderful husband, a beautiful daughter, a family now and I graduated college with two bachelor degrees in History and Creative Writing!
And all it took to find my confidence was for the Swiss school system to reject me and I walked away with my held up high, arms raised with my middle fingers signaling the world that the beacons of Gondor are lit!
I find stories about overcoming difficulties so empowering and fascinating, it is as glorious as taking down a monster with a heavy two-handed wallet.
I would love to hear what you have to say and would love to hear any story of successes and overcoming the odds in your life.
Thank you for reading and have a wonderful weekend 😀