Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Why the Swiss don't smile and the Americans do

The Frau’s American experiment is teaching her a lot about the Swiss.

Namely, why the Swiss are like they are.

To understand this, she has been studying Americans for the last three weeks.

Americans are very effervescent in public. Perfect strangers bubble over with smiles and life stories. And then they disappear into their big cars and their big houses, lost forever to the person they just met. They don’t walk anywhere. Two steps into the car. Two steps into the grocery store and two steps back into the car to go through…the Starbucks drive-through. Or the ATM drive-through. Or the library book drop off drive-through. Therefore, Americans dress as if they aren’t going to see anyone for more than a few seconds and they are generally pleased to talk to anyone they see.

By contrast, most Swiss live in small apartments in buildings with many other people. They walk down pedestrian streets. They ride public transport. They go into coffee shops and stay two hours. They go into banks. They live a public life. So they dress like they’re going to be in public for a while. In other words, compared to Americans, they look really nice because they are on public display. But with all of this public life in Switzerland, The Frau is really beginning to understand why the Swiss keep to themselves. If they smiled at everyone they saw in a day, their faces would hurt. If they bubbled over with enthusiasm every time they saw a neighbor, it would be over the top.

All of this also explains why people in New York City might not be as friendly as people in a small US town. They can’t be. They would go crazy because there are too many people around to be nice too.

The Frau’s conclusion? The more life one leads in public, the less friendly one will act towards the public. Any yodelers agree or care to disagree?


Anna said...

great post - that's a fascinating thought. I'm about to move to Geneva from Australia and I'm a bit sad that your Swiss time has ended, because I was enjoying reading...but keep the cross-cultural comparisons coming! A Swiss woman I met here said that Australians are too friendly and the Swiss keep to themselves (she was advising me not to speak to anyone in the supermarket when I get there), so you've just given me another perspective!

Chantal said...

Hi Anna,
I don't think my Swiss time will ever end. Even if I don't return. Switzerland has a way of staying with you. Good luck with your move, you'll love Switzerland. At least after the culture shock settles. Give it five years!

Dominik said...

I think I can agree with The Frau. If the population is more dense, people tend to smile less. During my years living in Tokyo I can definitely confirm this. It would just be "too much work" to smile at everyone. I've nver counted - but on an average day I'm passing probably around 300 people. Imagine if I would have to smile at each of them...

Ice Charades said...

Great insight on this post. I'm back in the states myself after six years abroad. I had to trade in my metro pass for a Honda.

I'm trying to walk as much as possible, but not much is possible.

I'm dressing so sloppy now.

I see more deer than neighbors.

There are many, many positives too, but it's going to take some time for me.

Hattie said...

I live in Hawaii where the dress is very casual and people smile a lot. In Seattle and Vancouver, people in the urban center dress in black and seldom smile. They usually have a cup of coffee in one hand and a small device in the other hand which they are staring into. They are very serious and busy.

Anonymous said...

Funny to read this because I'm Swiss American and what The Frau says is so true! I agree with that there's a direct correlation between density of living and personal isolation, which makes sense. Since I'm also American though, it's only a matter of time before I get bored of being Swiss and let my real personality shine through and engage in conversation with people on the bus or train. At first they will be shocked when you do this, but most of them can't wait to talk once you start and then the rest all listen in and stare, while they wish someone would talk to them haha! Switzerland is a cold place, climate wise and in personality, but our warm smile can be the trick to melting away their cold ways. And remember, you're never fully dressed without a smile :)

Chantal said...

Ice Charades,

The Frau is with you. The other day she actually went to the library in yoga pants and a hooded sweatshirt, can you imagine? She hasn't dressed like that in 8+ years. It was strange but she fit right in…

Thanks to all for the comments. Glad many of you find this true as well. Maybe The Frau isn't crazy after all.

Mary said...

I Love this article and have bookmarked your site for future updates. Keep doing wonderful work.

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