Monday, May 26, 2008

About the Swiss

My aunt has been living 12 years in Switzerland. Although she is much wealthier she could have ever been in Colombia (she probably goes 3-4 times in a year on holidays, including the sacred skiing week), she still has problems to speak German. Don't get me wrong: she does know all the words, but her level of grammar is so basic, I probably beat her 4 years ago, i.e. 3 months after I arrived to Germany.

To be fair to my aunt, I would not like to be in her situation. Unlike the Germans, the Swiss speak two varieties of German (the Swiss and the "Oxford" German), which means I would definitely go crazy if I had to learn proper German (which is only learnt in school and seen on TV) if everyone speaks Swiss German. Nonetheless, I still think she could do much better. 

I visited her recently and, after listening for 15 minutes how she massacred Goethe's language, I asked her: "Why don't you inscribe to German lessons?". Her answer was as simple as incomprehensible: "I have no time". Wait a second, let me process this: "I .. have .. no .. time". Are you serious? What do you mean by that? I thought you were a housewife in a country were food is taken out of the freezer onto a dish! I didn't tell her that, but after recognizing my expression of horror, she went on to tell me that her children were still young, which meant that she had to wake up every day to send them to school, clean the house, prepare their lunch, send them back again to school, pick them up, take them to extra-curricular activities, prepare dinner for her husband, and so on.

Well, I guess she has a point, but... is that an excuse not to speak proper German? Well, today I found an article in BBC News which might explain the problem with my aunt, and many other housewives in Switzerland. As incredible as it sounds, the country with the highest quality of life suffers from a very bizarre problem:

But the school timetables [in Switzerland] are not just strict, they are Byzantine in their complexity. A regular nine-to-four day is unheard of. Instead children come and go throughout the day.

Here, for example, is a snapshot of my two sons' timetable.

On Monday, one starts school at 0730, the other at 0820. One comes home at 11, the other at 12, one goes back at two, the other is home for the afternoon. It goes on like that all week but not in the same way, of course. Each day is cleverly different. The only thing that is sacrosanct is the two-hour lunch break. Forget about school dinners. Switzerland still operates on the principle that Mum is at home, so children are always home for lunch.

I have a friend with three children who tried for years to get a job but never succeeded because - and she worked it out precisely - given the school timetable, she could never be out of the house for more than an hour and 43 minutes.

Source: BBC News

The article by itself is very entertaining (if you are into quirky humor), but more importantly, it makes me feel a bit of empathy for my aunt, a hero of the absurd Swiss system, and to wonder whether such system has been ever considered as a criteria for the international rankings on quality of life.

1 comment:

Marcelo said...

Another reason to fear the Swiss:

"Swiss laws on naturalisation are already tough.

Candidates for citizenship must live in Switzerland for at least 12 years, they have to pass tests on Swiss language and culture, and those born in Switzerland have no automatic right to citizenship.

The final hurdle is approval by the local community at a town meeting."

Approval by the local community... can you believe that?