The keyword is functional. The Swiss Army knife is not just a tool but an apt description of a world viewpoint. Like the Swiss Army knife that packs multiple tools in the smallest volume possible, everything is over engineered to the point of perfection. This includes use of time (see the SBB website for the epitomy of travel arrangements), use of land (compare the town plan for any and all villages), use of square footage (not a single square foot wasted in the house plan nor the garden peysage), use of words (no superfluous fiction). This perfection and the expectation of perfection leads to impatience with anything that is less than perfect.
Yesterday on the tram a black woman was sitting in front of me with her two suitcases. An old lady on crutches came on board and wanted to sit, I thought and the black lady thought, next to her. As the black lady was trying to quickly move her suitcases out of the way, the old lady started yelling at her and almost pushing her and the suitcases out of her way: “I need both chairs to put my feet up! These seats are reserved for those with disabilities! I need both chairs!” In her confusion, the black lady said: “Can you please sit down?” but the old lady would not calm down.
Why couldn’t the old lady tell the black lady “can you please give me these two chairs, I need both to put my feet up?” when she approached her? Why would she immediately retort to rudeness? Why couldn’t she wait for an extra second while the black lady was trying to move out of her way? Was it because she was black? The old lady was on crutches. The black lady was sitting in the seats reserved for disabled people. So the old lady was correct. But why couldn’t she be nice about it?
There are a lot of rules. The expectation is that everyone knows and abides by these rules. Swiss people are quiet and reserved and I am always surprised when somebody honks because I am going too slow or if I hesitate for a second more. Oppressed by the rules, they are on the lookout to catch you break them and then yell at you. Are they angry at us foreigners? Are they this impatient with each other?
In our second week here, we were supposed to have a meeting with our relocation agent. A car had parked at our parking spot (it is next to impossible to find a parking spot in the city so you rent a reserved spot) and so we were late to the meeting. When we explained what happened to our agent, her first words were “oh I bet that was not a Swiss person”. (It was.) This prejudiced view of outsiders is common even amongst long term expatriates. Outsiders don’t know the rules and disturb the perfectly tended order.
Suffice it to say, as we conclude our six months on sabbatical, I am happy to be a part of the international community.