A - Z 2020 Switzerland - Values

Welcome back to another instalment of my Swiss themed A - Z challenge. The letter V talks about Switzerland's Values. 

Looking at our country's history it's safe to say that we have worked hard to be independent and still very much cherish this freedom. We didn't want to be another province of Habsburg, we certainly didn't want to be part of that batshit crazy German leader who was actually Austrian, and whose name shall not be mentioned on my blog, we voted not to join the European Union, you get the picture. 

Ironically, though, We are not overly united within Switzerland. Remember the Röstigraben? The political views and cultural quirks couldn't be more opposite in the German and French speaking part, as well as in urban and rural areas.

As a society we are honest, punctual, reliable and conscientious, and growing up in this environment certainly spoiled me. Later in life I got in contact with all kinds of other people, and I had a hard time dealing with opportunist, sneaky and flaky individuals, especially if I depended on their contribution towards a project deadline. Or if they were my bosses. Let's not get into this here, though. Also I'm not saying, any quality is limited to a nationality. 

Let's have a look at some pillars I believe make us who we are in Switzerland:

Educational system

This is the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, "ETH Zurich". For comparison's sake, let's call it our MIT - I actually found an article stating that the quality of education is equivalent, if not broader. 

One of its most famous students was Albert Einstein. After graduating from the same college as I attended, he joined ETH in 1896.

Everybody isn't as smart as my buddy Al, though. Actually, most Swiss people don't even go to college. After nine years of compulsory school, a good 60% of the kids start what we call a Berufslehre, a vocational training with the goal to become a certified hairdresser, carpenter, mechanic, commercial employee, you name it. 

For the duration of 3 or 4 years they are apprentices within an enterprise where they learn their job from scratch, rotating departments every couple of months. Typically 2 days per week they attend Berufsschule, the respective school in their field for theoretical training and general knowledge. 

We have a Schulpflicht, the duty (not the right) to attend school, which makes it hard on teachers and authorities. They have to deal with the occasional unruly student, and since dropping out is a no-no, they somehow have to get them through the system.

Punctuality, Reliability

In Switzerland being on time is not optional, it’s pretty much a given. This applies to public transportation schedules as well as to people. No matter if you’re meeting someone for a business appointment or a playdate. 3pm is 3pm, you make sure of that. Yes, there’s gonna be traffic, yes, you’ll have to look for a parking space. Figure it out and leave on time. I have to admit I get pretty  pissy when I bend over backwards to leave the office in time to make it to my meeting only to pace up and down and check my phone for messages such as “running late, will be right there.” 

What does “right there” even mean? Five minutes? Half an hour? Should I run and errand and come back? Not happy about this development. I feel mobile phones have contributed to this entitlement. Back in the olden days people kept their appointment that they made earlier, using a land line. 

Public Transportation

Our public transportation system. is our poster child for punctuality and reliability. It's well maintained, it's clean, it runs according to timetable, and even a delay of a minute or two is being communicated by loudspeaker and video screen announcement (and frowned upon by passengers!) I don't know how many Swiss commuters' Facebook posts I have seen on occasion of the train being five or even ten minutes late. They will take a picture of the notification and post it, using the angry emoji, and fellow Swiss friends will furiously comment: IKR, this has been the second time this week!

No village too small or too far away to be reached by train, bus or boat. Or cog railroad or gondola! 

This is the cute little funicular that has been taking students from Central (a five minutes' walk from Zurich's main station) to ETH, our technical university since 1889.

And this is the view you'll get while riding this cable car:

The proximity to our neighbour countries makes it super easy to hop on a train and find yourself in Paris, Hamburg, Vienna or Milan within just a few hours. 

Underpromise, overdeliver and be discreet

Swiss people take their commitments seriously and will rather not make plans or promises than to break them. I greatly appreciate that. Things run pretty smoothly around here. Electricity, water, internet lines, are up and running at all times, even during a pandemic crisis.

Let's not forget our bank secrecy, which has been one of the largest offshore financial centres and tax heavens in the world since the mid-20th century. Deposit your bucks in Switzerland, and nobody'll ever know!

Unfortunately, oftentimes, medical institutions don’t feel they have to uphold that standard and will invite three “patients” (note, they’re patients, not customers) at the same time. First person goes into the doctor's office, the other two wait. And wait. And wait. I’ not talking about exceptions, the doctor having to take care of an emergency. I’m talking about a general habit. Not amused. I’m busy, and my time is valuable, too.

On the plus side, our healthcare (while a bottomless pit in terms of costs) is pretty amazing, especially compared to *other countries*. If you're unfortunate enough to become seriously ill or suffer a terrible injury, at least you're not going bankrupt in the process. Since you pay for healthcare out of your own pocket, it also means you can't lose it if you're being laid off.

Our social security benefits include loss of wages compensation during army service, maternity leave (even though this only came through some 15 years ago) and "Kurzarbeit". 

What's Kurzarbeit? Short-time work. A period of time in which an industry's order situation is diminished, and workers cannot be utilized to capacity. Employees get 80% of their usual salary. Guess when this slightly hibernating benefit immediately came back to life? Right. Last month. 

We like it neat and clean

I have been talking about waste management and recycling before. There are trash cans and Robidogs (do they exist everywhere? Green bins, reserved for dog poop, scooped up neatly with a plastic baggie?) everywhere, and even if people are littering, it gets picked up by city workers. If you ever witnessed a carnival parade (confettis everywhere) or the Zurich Street Parade (beer bottles, soda cans, ice cream wrappers and - sorry - bodily fluids) - the city is a mess! 

Come back the next morning or even just a couple of hours later, and everything is spick and span!

We let our Kindergartners walk to school on their own

OK, he's in second grade in this picture, but it's still true. You had four to five years to teach your kids stranger danger, you accompany them to Kindergarten during the first week(s), they get instructed on how to cross the road by a police officer, and they're good. Our village is not very heavily frequented by cars, but it still takes a bit of letting go for us Moms!

Safety is high, criminality rate is low in Switzerland. I guess this has to do with the fact that we also have high wages, low unemployment and a wonderful social securities system. So even if you've lost your job that came with paid vacation and other goodies, you file a few papers and collect unemployment benefits (70% of your last salary) as long as 24 months to find a new job. This may greatly contribute to not giving people reasons to steal and kill each other. 

Conservatives claim our labor laws make it too easy for frauds and lazy people. Granted, if you have a job but don't feel like working, it's relatively easy to get a doctor's note saying you're sick, and boom, you collect benefits while keeping your job, and you can't even get fired. At least for a while. If that deadline comes up, you can always fake a new illness. I have worked in HR for too long, I could write a book :-( 

In one way or another, society always pays for its less fortunate people. Interestingly an increasing number of crimes are committed by minors. That's why we should not cut budgets at schools and job counseling offices. If young people successfully graduate and get jobs, they're too busy to get into drugs and crime. 

We have many rules - even alleys where Moms with kids are not allowed:

Only half kidding. Someone who hasn't lived here long asked about this in a Facebook group s while ago. A ton of funny comments ensued:
  • I think it's tire tracks over them, so you are allowed to run over mothers with small children.
  • Because they walk too slowly?
  • Information overload. Is ANYONE allowed in that street?
  • It means drop your children right here and go shopping alone!
  • I need this sign in my life.
  • OMG, if I go there, my kids can't follow? *Furiously booking flight*
  • I also don't get the red sign below with the arrow up the biker's ass, but that might just be me.
Of course the black and white stripes simply mean the pedestrian zone ends. This is what the beginning of said area looks like:

This entire road sign is actually a gem of Swissness ;-) Here's what all of it says:
  • Pedestrian Zone (which, btw includes rollerblades, scooters and skateboards)
  • Handling of goods (like delivery trucks) and picking up / dropping off is allowed between 5am and 12pm
  • Hotel guests dropping their bags, taxis and authorized persons with a permit may enter at all times
  • Bicycles allowed, however need to maintain walking speed and yield to pedestrians
So, all in all us Swiss may be borderline OCD and on the reserved side, but once you get to know us better, you'll notice that we can be fun to be around, and we may become a trustworthy and loyal friend for a lifetime!

Have you met or worked with someone from Switzerland? What was your experience like? 

Let me know in the comments below and be back on Monday for our last week of blogging from A - Z. The letter W will be about Swiss watches. Of course, right?


  1. Most of all, I think your best values are punctuality and reliability.
    Another great post today!
    V is for Visual Texture

  2. Great post... we all could learn a lot from this. I wish people would follow your values. Underpromise, overdeliver and be discreet was my favorite part.

  3. I like things neat, clean and orderly and am extremely punctual. I think I'd do well in Switzerland although I would struggle with reading those street signs. I'd need a translation book. Weekends In Maine

  4. I walked to kindergarten alone when I was 5 back in 1950s Detroit. I never had a problem. I don't think I have met anyone from Switzerland. Oh, I'm sorry to hear that doctor's appointments are the same there as here! Wait and wait.

  5. I hate to be late - it embarrasses me. I tend to suffer from time blindness - so I always think a task or a trip takes less time than it does. Sometimes I over compensate and arrive 30 minutes to an hour earlier but usually, I'm always about 10-15 minutes late. But I do admire punctuality. Time is so very precious and any wasted cannot be retrieved.

    Love how everything is neat and clean. People are so messy over here. I think it's become a little less as we've become more and more aware of the effect of pollution and litter on the environment, but we still have a long way to go.

  6. A long list of very good values. Some things are similar to New Zealand. Yes, I have heard everything runs to Swiss precision time.

    Suzy Someday Somewhere Letter W


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