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The foreigner

Is me.

My small village is smothering the life out of me.

I know I will never fit in this village.

People in this village know each others families even two villages over.

Swiss that move here from other areas of Switzerland (even the French speaking parts) are treated like foreigners.

Here. In our village, I have no friends. None.

The mothers of the kids that go to Sweet Bear’s school are super nice but each time I think they are warming up to me I am reminded that I am a foreigner.

Swiss are comfortable chit chatting and don’t feel comfortable with deeper conversations. Deeper conversations that I would consider chit chat, but for a Swiss in our village it is the equililant of walking around naked.

They are very hard to get close to or know. It would take me years to make one single friend here.

The fact that I am not completely fluent in French does make it harder to make friends here in our village when it did not in Strasbourg, France.

The Swiss in our village are very distrustful of outsiders. My language limitation doesn’t help in the least.

Each time, I try to have a conversation with someone it is like I am walking on eggshells. It starts out nice enough and then…CRUNCH. The person I am talking to clearly felt as if I had taken the conversation down a slippery slope without a helmet.

It isn’t like we are talking about our favorite sex position.

We are talking about our kids, vacations, or any other normal semi-boring topic that is allowed. Yet, I will more times than not flub it up.

Finally, I decided to keep my mouth shut unless someone asked me a direct question.

It seems to work.

If I ever speak beyond what I am asked I get the shut down from others.

I can never expand on a topic because that is just going over some unwritten rule that I never knew existed. I can see panic in their Swiss eyes as they turn away from the foolish foreigner.

I will get the cold shoulder for a week or two never knowing what I had done.

In the States or in France, I never felt this invisible conversation line. Everyone chatted away about whatever and no one felt or made me feel like the conversation had taken a dangerous turn.

Here, I feel like I must monitor every single word that comes out of my mouth or some poor unsuspecting Swiss mother will have to run for shelter.

It is tiring.

We would like to move to a city. In reality, I think we will end up in another small village on the other side of our mountain. I will not make the same social mistakes that I have here in this village.

I have learned my lessons about socializing as an American in a small Swiss village in the Jura.

You must first and foremost be overly polite and formal, try to be humorous when possible but NEVER ever take the wheel in the conversation.

Let the Swiss do all the driving.

Then, you will never walk away from a conversation feeling like you have just gotten slapped for asking someone to show you their breasts.

It is better for everyone.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • christina April 17, 2008, 2:19 pm

    Been there, done that. All I can say is “Welcome to life in small-town Switzerland/Germany”. It IS tiring, I’ve been dealing with it for years now and it’s really hard to break through the wall. Language ability has little to do with it, actually.

  • Penny April 17, 2008, 5:28 pm

    Wow, that sounds really hard.

  • sissi April 17, 2008, 6:58 pm

    OMG I do not like what I am hearing.
    I always felt unfit in my small village in France and I am a social misfit cause I have no friend, the people are very closed minded, everybody knows everybody and they are a little on the hillbillie side…

    I thought in Swiss it was different…
    This post sounds like you are a bit depressed and not happy in your location and this scares me and I am going to send this post to my husband and give him a ear full.

    We will be on the other side ( you know where) maybe we can be closer?

  • sissi April 17, 2008, 6:58 pm

    By hearing I meant reading…

  • Pumpkin April 17, 2008, 9:26 pm

    At first, I thought it was me. You know how you get a first impression and then doubt it. The mothers are nice and I have been invited twice to homes for play dates. My daughter goes to birthday parties. Still there is this conversational line that I don’t understand. I am constantly sticking my foot in my mouth and I am usually pretty good with people.
    I don’t know how you have stuck it out so long. I hope that you have been taken into the village you live in by now!

    It is. I do love living in Switzerland but I think all small villages are similiar. I read in a forum when I did a search about this that someone recommended foreigners to stay out of rural Switzerland because it is harder to blend in and integrate.

    Since you are French I don’t think you will experience it as much as I do. You should be able to navigate verbally without any problems. My husband doesn’t have the problems I do with fitting in. But, then again even if he did he wouldn’t notice. :)

    The Swiss in our village are really big on you speaking French and speaking it well. They do not like it when someone doesn’t speak fluently. I can speak French but I make a lot of grammical mistakes and have trouble with the verb tenses. I can tell they get uncomfortable talking to me. In France, no one ever was uncomfortable by my French level. They just worked harder to communicate with me or spoke to me in English. The Swiss will not speak to me in English even if they can which I like.

    You will find the Swiss very friendly but they still are reserved. It is hard to become good friends with someone here. But, I have read that once you are friends with a Swiss you have a great friend for life.

    I can see that is true because the mothers are very caring and sweet. It is just that they don’t like conversations to get too personal even if for me as an American I don’t consider it so personal. That is the problem. I don’t know where the line is.

    So, I let them lead the way and it works out best. They trust me more because they are comfortable.

    I have heard that our village is a little more special than the rest around here. So, I may just be in the wrong village. :)

    Unfortunately, we won’t be closer to you. But, we will have to get together once you have settled in. We take at least one train trip a month and would love to meet you guys somewhere. We have never had the chance to be around another Franco-American family.

  • Pumpkin April 17, 2008, 9:31 pm

    Oh, and don’t worry about writing hearing because I do the same thing on blogs. It is because you are in a big sense listening to me.

  • Cathy Y. April 17, 2008, 10:57 pm

    Pumpkin, I’m really sorry to hear of the pain you are experiencing. It really isn’t fair, because you are a nice person, and I’m sure any one of them would benefit from your friendship. It’s their loss, but I know that doesn’t make it any less lonely. Glad you have the internet at least to keep in touch with the outside world.

    Oh, and remember you HAVE been around one Franco-American family, us! :-) Well, I’ll admit it was a very brief visit, and we are not fully Franco-American since Philippe is half American himself and speaks English with an American accent. I guess you could say we’re Franco-American/American (does that make us 2/3 American? LOL). He and Sarah do have French citizenship, though. :-)

  • Pumpkin April 18, 2008, 6:54 am

    Cathy, Thank you for your comment. It is nice to have support.

    When I wrote about being around another Franco-American couple I meant living close to one.

    Of course, we loved meeting you and Philippe! For, me Philippe and Sarah are French as much as they are American just like my kids. :)

    My five year old still asks about your daughter. The kids really liked playing with someone who was like them. Your daughter is the first.

    It would be nice if we lived closer. It is interesting to see the kids interact together. :)

  • patdem April 18, 2008, 7:11 am

    Why don’t U (in casual talk) give them your blog adress ? If they can read english they would know you much better.

    They could also understand u and the way u feel in such moments.

    Peut être quelqu’un pourrait te tendre la main.

    Just an idea…

  • Pumpkin April 18, 2008, 8:39 am

    You know I almost did give it to one mother but am now glad I did not. I use my blog sometimes to vent and would not want these mothers to read the posts about my neighbors or my daughter’s teachers. It would just be really awkward and may cause hard feelings.

    I actually may take down the post about my daughter’s teachers because if someone found it I think they could use it to further isolate me or even my daughter.

    There are so many times I wish I had started a blog that was not so personal. A blog that shared who I am but not my vents about others.

    I guess I could always stop venting here on this blog and start a private blog for that. It is tempting and may be worth it in the end.

  • Cathy Y. April 18, 2008, 9:49 pm

    Pumpkin, That is so sweet that Sweet Bear remembers Sarah. Tell her that I hope we can see her again one day in the not too distant future. Maybe in another few years we can come back to Europe for a visit, we hope. By the way, would you believe it was a year ago that we saw you guys? It was April, 2007!

  • SwissGuy April 18, 2008, 11:02 pm

    I’m so sorry for you.

    Although the Swiss are more reserved than other people I think there is still a big mentality gap between small rural villages, especially in the mountains and the rest of the country.

    On the other hand, I’m not so sure that you are disliked by those people; I guess it’s just an issue of intercultural misunderstanding.

    Concerning these things, somebody once compared Switzerland to Japan. In both countries, many things related to interpersonal behaviour are determined by a complex and seemingly erratic set of unwritten rules which make it very hard for an outsider to learn this code without any explicit help.

    So my advice would be this: I’d just speak openly about this “impairment” to you townsfolk and maybe ask them to explain it when you feel like having put your foot in the mouth. You might be surprised that people will actually be eager to help you understanding this…

    As closed-up as many Swiss seem, many of them actually like the straightforwardness and joviality of Americans (it’s just the wording that might be a constant source of irritation).

    Or maybe you should just learn how to make chocolate (as Juliette Binoche does in the movie)…

  • Pumpkin April 19, 2008, 8:37 am

    I can’t believe it has been a year already! I bet Sarah is big now.

    I really appreciate your comment. I even thought about emailing you to ask about this since you are Swiss.

    I don’t think it is because they dislike me because I have been asked into their homes for playdates. They are always very nice to me.

    You are right that it is a cultural misunderstanding and the rules are invisible to me as an outsider.

    The mothers are very kind and even if I do say something they take offense to…and, again, I have no idea what I said, they will generally forgive me in a few weeks.

    I will take your advice and ask them what I did as soon as I see the wall go up.

    I have read alot about Swiss culture online but I am going to find book about socializing in Switzerland. I hope there is one out there.

    I think the Swiss mothers are some of the nicest people I have met. Honestly, I have never had people be more kind to me. It is just my constantly making these mistakes in conversation that flubs it all up.

    It is the hardest thing about being an expat. If you really want to live in a country you have to understand the people and you have to change the way you think and socialize.

    There are many expats that don’t do that and are happy to live in a country ignoring the people of that country and surround themselves with fellow expats. I am not like that. For me it is important to integrate not only for myself but my children.

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