How to adjust to life when you're Swiss living in the US

01.08.16
3 minute read
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Made the move from Switzerland to the US? You're in good company: There are approximately 40,000 Swiss people living in the U.S.

Yet while the two countries have a number of things in common, such as a strong work ethic and love for sweets, there are several cultural differences that are not always so easy to grasp.

From manners to mealtime confusion, here are some of the challenges to be prepared for in your new life in the US.


Soup du Jour

Meal

The use of French is common practice in U.S. restaurant menus in order to sound fancier - or as justification to charge a bit more for that basic soupe de légumes.

Just don’t be confused that the “Entrée” list actually refers to the main meal, and not the appetizer.


How are you? Just kidding.

You may be surprised upon how, when arriving in the U.S., even the woman at the grocery counter asks, “How are you doing today?”

Expect to receive a stare or awkward silence when you tell her that things aren’t going so great, or are just okay. People are accustomed to just hearing, “Good. How are you?” - the standard response to this standard greeting.


What time shall we meet?

Clock

Adhering to Swiss punctuality, you may arrive at a meeting that begins at 9 a.m. at 8:45. Yet the actual meeting, and not the small talk that builds up to it, may not actually start until 9:30.

Your colleagues may also stay after hours in the office. One Swiss expat, in Mountain View, California, said:

“This is not because they are more productive than you, but because they’re more likely to break up their working hours with socializing.”


Tipping

Tip

The price of restaurant item may look like a good deal, but don’t make the classic U.S. expat rookie mistake: Forgetting that there is an additional 15 to 20 percent tip on top of the meal.

Most services, from a taxi ride to a haircut, also include tips of this scale.


Put your knives away

Meal

Unless a piece of food is difficult to cut, such as a Buffalo steak, Americans will rely purely on their forks to eat a meal.

Thinking of exercising a knife on that giant burrito? Calmly put it down, and eat it with your hands like your fellow compatriots.


Confronting the car culture

Car

Especially if you’re stationed outside of a major city, expect to become more reliant on your Auto.

Keep in mind that Swiss driver’s licenses are valid for a year in the States. Coverage of liability is not always mandatory for vehicles, but be sure to purchase a good insurance such as State Farm.

And seek a sturdy set of wheels. One Swiss expat from near Chicago advised:

“You may consider four hours to be a long road trip, but for many Americans it’s a commute to the next city.”


Healthcare

Healthcare

You may not be at risk to a heart attack right now, but perhaps you will be after looking at private U.S. health insurance costs. Swiss living in the U.S. for more than a year and no longer relying on the Lamal health care system might want to look into the affordable and comprehensive Expatplus Insurance.


Start a company with Swiss support

Company

Entrepreneurs, take note: If you’re looking to start a company, you can turn to Swissnex, which is conveniently situated on both coasts (in San Francisco and Boston).

The Swiss government-backed program helps get innovative science, education and art ideas off the ground.

And what if your idea does not pan out? Neither do 85 percent of those in Silicon Valley. Adopt American optimism and try again.


No, I’m not Swedish

Yes, both the Swedes and Swiss love sugary pastries and skiing but are quite different people otherwise.

So don’t become flustered when Americans gush, “Oh, I love ABBA!” when you mention you’re from Switzerland, or ask if you speak Swiss. Take a few minutes to educate them.


Opening a bank account… and watching out for fees

Bank

The U.S. is strict about many aspects of life for foreigners, but generally opening a basic bank account is not one of them. Many banks will allow you to open an account, even remotely, without a social security number, or just with a U.S. tax ID number.

However, watch out for the fees. ATMs will hit you with a $1.50-$3.00 charge for each withdrawal. And that check book you never thought you’d need? $25 please...


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