Swiss Punctuality

Every appointment was an opportunity for my cultures to collide. How did I overcome?

What do you think of when you envision Switzerland?  I hope it is not Sweden.  My southern friends still seem to confuse the two countries.  Do you think of (w) holy cheese?  Or does the thought of those delectable round chocolate Lindt morsels make your mouth water? Could it be a quick glance to your wrist and the ticking and tocking reminds you of Switzerland? Maybe snow covered alps?

When I ask the "Very Integrated Person’s" what they like most about living in Switzerland one answer tops all the lists. Regardless of the VIP's nationality, regardless of their age, everyone agrees that living in a country that runs like a Swiss watch is the best. 

Everything runs with Rolex precision as do the Swiss themselves. Do you need a notarized document?  Go to the town hall and you are in and out in fifteen minutes. Waiting times for doctors appointments are about the same.  Oh no my car broke down. No problem, take the bus or the train but be on time - they are.

What makes this Swiss perfection tic? If the big hand is responsibility, the little hand is punctuality. 

Three elements are crucial to Swiss precision,  claims R. James Breidling in  “Swiss-Made – the Untold Story of Switzerland’s Success"; trust, dependability and equality. He maintains that when a Swiss makes an appointment with you, he trusts you to meet your end of the deal. If he can depend on you in the little things, he can trust you with bigger ones. The Swiss way of life  is built upon a foundation of equality. No one has a status that requires others to wait, step back and bow (oops).  Swiss do not waste theirs or others time. 

I never meant to upset or waste anybody’s time, but somehow I always screwed up appointments. Each appointment was an opportunity for my cultures to collide. Swiss punctuality precludes you arrive at least ten minutes early to any event. Southern ladies know that arriving ten minutes late assures all attention is on you. Tardiness is not only socially acceptable, but a sign of breeding.   Let me just call this a 20 minute chance for failure.

Now add to the punctuality equation the problem with the language. Whoever wrote the German language put the numbers backwards. Instead of 22 (20 + 2) the Germans say two and twenty.  Algebra was, is and never will be my strength but we are going to make this into a “3 Satz”equation. 

When writing the date, Swiss write the day first then the month and year.  For example, 5.6.2016 is not May 5th but the 6th of June.  See what I mean – backasswards.

To add “Y” to the equation, they tell time differently too. If the show starts at 8.30 pm the Swiss say either “half 9.00” instead of half past 8.00 or 20.30 in military time.  The rule of thumb in my family was to remind me to be there at 10 til half past. HUH - 10 minutes early.  If I was late – it was usually five or ten after half past.  Are you confused? I was. 

My screw up was predestined.  If I showed up on time, it was usually a month early.  I did have one chance. When I transposed the numbers I upped my chances of being punctual.   

My number one tip to all newcomers is to write the date and time of every appointment on your phone. Show it immediately to the "appointment maker" to confirm.  If this is not a possibility – use military time, it is less confusing. Whatever you do, have them write the appointment down on a card, take it home and figure it out while no one watching.

Just remember, most of us have no intention of screwing up, we just do.  We have so much to learn sometimes a little pride and years of doing things diffently, get in the way.   Please be patient with us – we are trying.

My tip for Swiss dealing with us foreigners is exactly the same – write everything down and give it to us.

This just goes to prove how much we have in common. What works for one works for the other! 

Check out my Blog on 25.5. Or better yet on May 15th to check out what time it is now - its asparagus “Zyt” (time) in the Rhine Valley.  Join me as I dig, cook, and prepare the taste buds for the treasured white gold. See you then. Vic 

 © Copyright Vicki Gabathuler, 2016


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