Checking your mailbox is like opening a blind box

It’s my third time visiting Switzerland. I was here during an around Europe trip 10 years ago with my mom, and attended a one-week winter study program at the University of Fribourg in 2019. However, a long stay in a new country is a totally different thing. You have to get used to distinct systems of payment, transportation, waste collection, insurance, etc. These have made my first month a bit messy, but thank God I’ve finally got all the necessary things in place by now.

What I needed to do in the first place is to get a residence permit. It is required for all non-EU arrivals, and all application materials need to be sent by post due to the covid epidemic. Unlike Zurich, the Bernese government does not provide temporary certificates for opening a bank account, contract SIM card and medical insurance. So, I had to pay with cash all the time and use a prepaid SIM card at start. That’s also why I didn’t receive my Groupe Mutuel insurance policy until the beginning of December, which made me feel unsafe. And in the process of applying for all the essentials, there is one important thing that cannot be ignored: the mailbox.

Actually, the mailbox is something that is gradually dying out in China. I mean, we have a very mature courier industry, with thousands of parcels being sent to every household every day, but mailboxes? With utility bills going electronic in recent years and fewer people subscribing to newspapers, it feels like nothing gets dropped in the letterbox except for adverts, admissions letters and court leaflets. In fact, before I came to Switzerland, my family probably only checked the letterbox once a month.

But here in Bern, one receives everything in paper form by post in the mailbox if you didn’t specifically order them electrically. I got the letters from Einwohnerdienste and Amt für Sozialversicherungen, the credit card and PIN code from banks, the invoices from the insurance company or communication company, SBB bills, Christian flyers, Coop and Migros discount flyers, postcards from friends, all kinds of stuff. At first, I thought this way of doing things is slow and unreliable, but as time passed by I got accustomed to it and it felt like opening a blind box every day when checking the mailbox, which is interesting.

No offense, I would say that Europeans do process things a bit slower than China, my insurance agent told me that the Swiss are not in a hurry, especially the Bernese. I think the existence and usefulness of mailboxes is a good indication of this fact. Swiss people take time to finish their tasks carefully, and they take time to enjoy their lives — slow lives.

The slow pace of the Swiss is reflected in numerous ways, most notably by the sign that shops close at 7pm and don’t even open on Sundays. This is unimaginable in China, where we have plenty of convenience stores that are open 24 hours a day, and the shorter opening hours are until 12pm, the streets are still lit up in the early hours of the morning, and there are always cars racing down the road. In Switzerland, when I go out at night, I only see a few passers-by, but the good thing is, sometimes in the more rural areas I can see a starry sky, something that I haven’t experienced for years in China. But there are two sides to everything, and it’s very annoying when, for instance, the shops, government and companies are open when school is in session, and they are closed when I get out of class, so I can’t always find time to get things done or have just an hour to shop. Another example is that the library here closes very early, and when I was an undergraduate in China there were even overnight study rooms in the university, which makes it more efficient than studying in the dormitory.

Anyway, I think I’ll get used to this culture and blend in. Maybe one day I won’t be able to stand the fast pace of life anymore, who knows? It’s not a bad thing for China to develop quickly, but that can also create a huge void and irritation to the human heart, and desire is a bottomless pit with no end. To be able to spend the next two years in Bern, a city rich in culture and with a beautiful, quiet nature, should be an inseparable asset in my future life.

Shunyu Wu

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