I smell curry, chapati and the dust from the streets. I see the huge traffic jam right in front of me – a man with his wife and their daughter on a scooter, a horse carriage loaded with a dozen gas containers and a lorry crammed with rice bags. I feel the midday sun burning on my skin and other people around me pushing from every side while walking down a crowded alley. Yes, this sounds like home to me. There I feel comfortable. Which place could this be? Do you already have a guess?
It is India, to be more precise the capital city New Delhi. I did not experience a cultural shock there; I experienced a typical cultural shock in Switzerland. But let me start from the very beginning:
As my parents were offered to move abroad for work, I had no other choice than to go with them, as I was only a few months old. My first four years of my life I spent in New Delhi and afterwards another two years in Africa. It was a great time and I always like to reminisce about it. Growing up in a foreign country with a completely different cultural background had a big impact on my later life. My childhood was jaunty and filled with lots of joyful moments. I was a perfectly happy child until I came into the Swiss kindergarten…
The kids were mean. The kids laughed at me. The kids teased and ignored me. I felt alone and sad. In India and Africa, I was confident and liked to take part in different activities, to participate in social life. In Switzerland, I had lost all my courage to get engaged with other kids, as they always mocked at me, be it because I still had an English word order even if I spoke German or be it because some English words slipped into my conversations. I have no good memories associated with this time of my life. It was hard for me integrating into society. It took me about six years that I could honestly say, that I felt welcomed.
Not only the kids were mean, but also the adults as they tend to have a very patronising way to express themselves. Unfortunately, this is something I experience almost on a regular basis. There are several stereotypical attributes linked to the Swiss people, like for example being punctual, correct, polite and uptight. These characteristics can also be seen as somehow positive, but acting patronising is the one that never gets mentioned although in my opinion it is a very widespread trait. And often this behaviour is paired with a snotty tone.
Last week in the supermarket I was buying some soy mince (no, I am neither a vegetarian nor a vegan, but I like to bring some variety into my cooking). Out of the nowhere, I heard an arrogant woman’s voice: „What are you doing with that?” I beg your pardon?… What the heck does she mean? I will feed it to my neighbour’s cat… Duh! Obviously, I will be using it for cooking myself a nice dinner, what else woman?! Of course, as polite as I am, I asked her friendly what she meant. Later, I found out that she was just curious about the product and had no clue how to prepare it. She could have asked me these questions right away and in a more appropriated tone…
Within time, I got used to this patronising way of the Swiss people. But whenever I come back from my vacation, I realise this behaviour more clearly again.
Integrating into a new country is difficult. And having experienced this, I have another perspective concerning foreign people in Switzerland. Whenever I see that somebody gets excluded solely based for example on their skin colour, it hurts me. Unfortunately, I have the notion that the Swiss people are not that open-minded as globalisation demands from a society. Just to make things clear, I am not of the opinion to open borders for immigrants completely, I also appreciate the typical Swiss values and think that we should preserve them. But what I do not get, is why some people behave in an arrogant yet superior way towards different races. Why not accept different cultures and cherish immigrants who are well integrated. I am not saying, that only Swiss people tend to have this attitude. Not at all, I think that also other nations are not very tolerant. But why not being a role model? I am not demanding that the Swiss should abandon their traditions and take up foreign ones, but they could at least try to accept others. Not only other religions and skin colours but also other opinions. I have the feeling that we have a nation that is quite stubborn and sure about their own views and beliefs. To put it bluntly – a nation that is self-opinionated.
So, I had a difficult childhood here in Switzerland and it took me several years to feel confident enough about myself. But there are obviously also very tolerant people living here. And to my astonishment I met a lot of broad-minded people who actually never left Switzerland. It surprised me because I always thought that seeing different countries and cultures would be kind of a requirement to an open mind and an outgoing personality. However, I was disabused by the Swiss people, that a tolerant spirit has nothing to do with your travel experience or contact with foreign people. It has something to do with your personality and character. Now I know, that it was naive to think that it has to do something with your experience and encounters. Nevertheless, I still meet a lot of new Swiss people who are very open concerning nationality, religion and cultural background.
For the future, I wish that more people could be unburdened and free of prejudice towards others. I wish that every kid could have an untroubled and light-hearted childhood; like I had in my years in India and Africa. I wish that fewer people would deprecate and despise others. I am aware, that we still have a long way ahead and that there will be fall-backs due to changes in society, perspectives and last but not least laws. You are now probably wondering why I have mentioned laws. As a political active law student, I observe the development the Swiss nation undergoes regarding votes. And as the Swiss are able to have a great impact on the political process and laws, it is interesting to keep an eye on the decisions made as they influence the legislative and therefore the development of the country.
Now, going back to the initial subject of this post: Like this gate of Rashtrapati Bhawan, which is the official home to the President of India, on the one hand, be stable, protect your own thoughts, beliefs and traditions but on the other hand, be also transparent and open towards other influences and new impressions.
To come straight to the point and summarise my wish: I want there to be more tolerance in society.
Take care of yourself and others,