Swiss Portraits – #1

After church this Sunday, we got to sit down for a nice meal with some of the younger members of our church. We sat with a couple from Florida, folks from Hong Kong, and London, and Serbia. It’s kind of amazing to have such an international presence at the church we’re attending, but it’s only natural to have that when seeking an English speaking church in a place like Switzerland.

One factor that connects the group is that we aren’t Swiss. Even though we have a few folks who’ve lived here for many years, or even for most of their life, there is a definable set of principles and characteristics that seem to set the Swiss apart. While at lunch, we were told a great anecdote by Johnathan, who’s been living in Switzerland for the past eight years. He informed us that it’s something of an urban legend, but he believes it’s one of those urban legends that’s rooted in the truth. I think it sheds some funny and interesting light on who the Swiss people are.

The story goes that a person was throwing a party at their house. Swiss tradition and housing rules dictate a few things about house parties. First, you should post something notifying your neighbors of the event you’re throwing. This is pretty standard across cultures. Second, it’s only polite to invite those neighbors to join you at the party. These rules were followed and the party’s hosts invited their neighbors. Now, a group of these neighbors attended the party. They enjoyed the festivities, drank, ate, and stayed for the better part of two hours. Around 10pm, they departed for home and thanked their guests for hosting them.

At 11pm, they called and reported the party to the police because it was too noisy. The police came and obviously the host was shocked to find out that the same people that had been enjoying the festivities just an hour before, were the ones willingly reporting them to the police.

I just find that story hilarious. I’m not sure what it says about the Swiss people. We determined two possibilities:

  1. They like to enjoy things so long as they’re the ones that are enjoying them. As soon as they’re not enjoying them, perhaps they think that no one else should be allowed to enjoy what they cannot.
  2. They believe that rules should be followed precisely. I can imagine that, in the original telling of the story, the party was listed as ending at 11pm. I also can imagine the disgruntled neighbors looking at their watches at 11:01 and saying, “But the party should be over. Come on, let’s give the police a call.” Bound by precision, this seems like an accurate depiction of everything else I’ve seen in this culture.

We laughed at the story, unsure if it was true or not. However, we realized that this might not only be true, but it might have happened more than once in a place like Switzerland. So if you need to know why Katie and I don’t ever run our washing machine on Sundays or why, at some points in the recent past, you weren’t permitted to flush your toilets after 10pm… then you need not wonder any longer. We follows these kinds of rules because we don’t want to be the noisy neighbor that gets reported for shenanigans, even if the reporting itself feels like shenanigans. Either way, I hope you enjoyed this glimpse of the Swiss, and I’ll leave you to judge for yourself how accurate a representation it is.

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