Thursday, October 24, 2013

Doing Breaststroke in the Swiss Freestyle Lane, Oh my!

Lately, The Frau has been disturbing Swiss order in a big, fat unintentional American way.

First, if you’ll remember, she had the nerve to think that banana bread could be a substitute for Zopf at a Swiss daycare birthday party for her daughter.

Then, she ventured to do one length of breaststroke in the freestyle and backstroke lane at the pool in Zurich. How dare she think she could get away with that, yodelers!

Finally, after these two incidents within a week, when buying a couple of train tickets for her parents, she asked two different SBB clerks in Baden to double check that she could use a both a Mitfahrbillet and a Mitnahme GA together with her own GA (Swiss train pass).
SBB Rules: One conductor had
her own version of them.
Photo: Brian Opyd

Ja ja, was the reply, after much research and phone calling on the SBB ticket agent side—because who the heck would try to combine two SBB promotions other than a cheapskate American expat…

But nevertheless, three train connections into their Mitfahrbillet, Mitnahme GA, and GA journey, The Frau was told she broke the rules (how dare she use these two ticket combinations together!) by an SBB train conductor. The Frau argued her way out in crappy Deutsch, finally ending the 10-minute discussion with a, “Dass ist nicht mein Problem that in your eyes the rules are different than the SBB ticket agents in Baden.”

Go Frau!

“Well I'll let it go this time,” said the SBB train conductor (finally!), “but don’t go doing something like this ever again!”
(A classic example of Swiss customer service.)

All of these experiences made The Frau realize how she never, no matter how long she lives in Switzerland, quite fits in. No matter how hard she tries to follow Swiss rules, she always ends up interpreting them in an American way.

In other words, she always assumes more leniency, customer service, and friendliness than she receives. She can’t help it. And it doesn’t matter that her American husband plays the alphorn or that they both play Jass. After 7+ years in Switzerland, they still can’t seem to play by what’s most important: the rules.


Dominik said...

I don't think that was your fault.
It's common knowledge here that SBB is very customer-unfriendly. I have at least a dozen of similar personal experiences with SBB.
In fact, the SBB's reputation is THAT horrible that they officially had to admit that they need to work on that. So - it can only get better.

I personally would also have tried to combine both promotions in your situation.

It's just normal Swiss rudeness, it's normal life here, haha... sigh..

Amanda said...

Oh my, Chantal! You have been living there quite a while now. I guess once you're in so deep, there's no turning back, huh? To be honest, we're trying to figure out a way to go back. My husband's old job in Liechtenstein is open again, so who knows? ;)

Keith said...

Great post Chantal! I've had similar experiences with SBB conductors. Once I had my folding bicycle in the train, which doesn't need to be paid for, unlike normal bikes. However, I didn't know that you can only bring it for free if it's in a cover in case it should dirty the spotless Swiss train! The conductor tried to charge me, but when he heard my accent he let me off with a warning, gave me a paper copy of the rule and told me not to do it again - sounds familiar huh? However, I must say that I usually find the conductors friendly.

Anonymous said...

Well, probably SBB
completely understandably assumes that the customer is smart enough to read their easily understandable rules (written in your own mother language for the matter of fact!):

- "The offer is not valid in combination with reduced 1-day travelpasses (e.g. municipal 1-day travelpass, special 1-day travelpass)."

--> "Mitnahme GA" obviously is a reduced 1-day travelpass - what else.

- "Each eligible traveller may be accompanied by only one person using a companion ticket."

--> So your misuse was even given for two reasons!

I must admit, I would not have accepted your wrong excuses, not at all.

And an advise for a more convenient future: instead of frequently whining about the undesirable, but nevertheless correct behaviour by officials, which are only based on your own faults, what about to start to become more self-critical for a change?! Would eventually improve the over-all situation, I expect.

Anonymous said...

God I am impressed with the Frau!!! I could have never succeeded!!!!!You are kind of my hero now!!!!
ps. I never try to do this kind of things because I am too scared to be fined!

Hattie said...

Well, there are rules, and then there is nitpicking!

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Caitie said...

That's really hard to have had a domino-effect of stinging encounters. Also doesn't help when angry 'anon' readers decide to kick when you're already down, rather then having a little sympathy for how hard it is to integrate into a new country.

They'd probably have no troubles at all, right?

Susan said...

First, I'm wondering if anonymous is a regular reader and acquaintance, or a "troll" as they say in the comment world.

I've had my own nitpiky experiences on SBB - it's the flip side of a great system. Once in awhile it bites you in the butt. One instance, in particular: my mistake had to do with a ticket that was printed at my nearest station with "Wollishofen" on it (a few years back before they switched to using zone codes instead) that I used when boarding in Enge - I was heading towards Thalwil, and my ticket was invalid for that 1 minute portion.

I tried to reason with the controller that it was all the same zone but he would have none of it.

When I asked for further clarification by the really nice friendly folks at SBB travel office in Enge (they truly are) they could see my point, encouraged me to write SBB(I did, no use) and said these words that helped me to understand how I was treated: "they expect everyone to lie". So there you go.

In general, customer service is not generous or helpful here. End of story.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Hattie said...

Switzerland is unusual in that they don't want you to learn their language and their ways, and yet they criticize you for not fitting in. This is hard if you have vulnerable points, such as having a child or not being rich.
I learned to be pretty insensitive, which I don't recommend to the Frau, actually, because it took me a long time to become a nice person again after I returned home.
I do have a couple of friends who weathered it all and remained their sweet selves. This is what I hope for you.

Anonymous said...

Well, Frau, I don’t understand two things: first why did u delete the comments of anonymous? Just because they were critics to your behavior? Second point: why do u insist in breaking the rules? Because the whole post was an odd to breaking the Swiss rules! Just if you are questioning I am not Swiss! But what I don’t understand is your necessity and pleasure in trying to outstand in the crowd. You are an American and not a Swiss this is already outstanding enough in this country. I think you can stop trying so hard to be different. I really would like to understand the point in baking banana bread if the rules and instructions were clear enough that it should be a zopf? What you wanted to achieve? The same with the swimming example and now, more recently, with the SBB tickets. You think that if you break enough rules the Swiss will change? Or not following the rules will show that you were not turned into one of them? Really, what example are u trying to pass to Baby M? The Swiss rules are for nothing? The right thing to do is not integrating? And critics to your behavior are not welcome? Try to think a bit more before acting! All the best for you!

Federica said...

Wow, Anonymous, take a chill pill!
Seriously, there are rules, but there is also common sense and there is also friendliness/good customer service. And, you would assume that the people who sell you the tickets would know what they are talking about, no?

I personally never had a problem with SBB, however, I had a similar problem with Orange. Someone at the store told me X was true, did not put it in writing nor did I request it because I was (naively) in good faith, why would I doubt what they were telling me? Turns out that they were wrong (or, according to my other half, deliberately misleading, but I give them the benefit of the doubt) and 700 CHF later and a lot of frustration, I have learned to always assume people in stores/counters/etc. have no frigging clue and I don't believe them unless they show me the written evidence of what they are saying.

Chantal, write it off as "I've been Switzerlanded" experience and smile away...

Phil said...

Wow, Anonymous, wooow!

Come down! Nobody got hurt! Get a life!

I'm Swiss and I'm happy that people like Chantal live here. I think they contribute a lot to the country and if you have been here for so long, you have every right to question and even challange rules! Are we not always complaining about how the Ausländers don't integrate? Well, maybe this is because we give them the feeling that they can only integrate if no one is bothered by their integration.

I enjoy reading Chantal's blog very much and I think we lost a lot if we didn't have people like her.


btw: you message that she may be a bad example for her daughter is just rude and there is no excuse for statements like this whatsoever. I totally understand if she deletes comments like that one.

American in Lausanne said...

Just started reading your blog and have already laughed aloud numerous times. Thanks for providing a validating and humorous perspective on this great (albeit confusing) country!

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