Little Bits of Culture

Rather than writing about one single difference in the culture, I thought I’d wax poetic about a few smaller ones:

  • Stoves are set up differently. Instead of the burner knobs starting at the bottom left and going clockwise, they start at the top left and go counter-clockwise. It’s a small thing that makes a big difference when you’re opening the gas and trying to spark the wrong burner…
  • Buses have to be flagged down! They don’t stop just because you’re waiting at the bus stop. And, like Australia of all places, the majority of people use a tap-on card instead of a ticket like we do in Switzerland.
  • Speaking of public transportation – there are no trains, only buses and some boats. The public transportation is also rarely used, since almost everyone learns to drive at sixteen and then subsequently drives everywhere. Few people use the buses, but that’s also because they are few and far between, with unreliable timetables.
  • Then speaking of cars – there are cars everywhere. The number of cars per 1’000 people is the third-highest in the EU as of 2018! They are parked up and down streets almost everywhere you walk, and it is a rare occurrence to see an empty road.
  • As heaters and fireplaces are a staple of Swiss society, ACs and fans are a staple here. This might seem unsurprising, but this was my first time ever seeing an AC in the corner of ceiling. I was even more surprised when the weather cooled and I was informed that the AC acts as a heater as well.
  • Pop-up street vendors are the norm. I can walk down a street in the morning and when walking up the same afternoon a vegetable cart will have appeared. It’s perfectly normal to pop by and pick out what’s needed for dinner. When shopping there, everyone yells – a lot! The customer tells the vendor how much they want of which item, so the seller gets it and weighs it. Then the item is left on the table while the customer picks the next thing, and maybe a different customer is helped. There’s no self-service like I’m so used to in Coop and Migros. It’s chaotic. It’s loud. There is boundless shouting and interruptions. It’s stressful, and I am too socially anxious to handle it, but it made me smile.
  • There are few crosswalks, and fewer with lights. When the pedestrian is running out of time, instead of turning orange, the green light blinks before turning red.
  • People walk slower, and they walk on the left side of the sidewalk. I didn’t realize it until a friend from the US visited me. Whenever someone was walking towards us, I would automatically shift to the left so the incoming person could likewise dodge to the left. My friend, however, would always tug me to the right, afraid that the incoming person would walk into me. Only once he left did I realize that he’s used to dodging to the right in the US – just like we do in Switzerland. I, meanwhile, had subconsciously adapted to the Maltese walking left. This is a fun and easy way to tell at university if someone is a Maltese student or a new exchange student.
  • There is a distinctly Mediterranean way of managing time. Many have a siesta in the afternoon to sleep during the heat of the day, and wake up to continue working and living when it’s cool. Little kids can be seen outside at parks at 10 pm, because that’s the culture here due to the afternoon nap. It’s the same with older folks, who can be seen sitting outside talking until near midnight.
  • The drinking culture is vibrant. It’s the essence of work hard/play hard. During the week they study like madmen, then on their evenings off they party like wild creatures. It’s not really for me, but I love it just the same.
  • In Switzerland, there’s a sense that you always have to be in control of your emotions and pay attention to how you act. Here, it seems easier to let go. No shame, no worrying about what others think – you dance to your heart’s content, go off on midnight swims, wear whatever you want. There’s a freedom to it, a refreshing loss of control.

Kaylena Steiner

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