Strange Things in America

Technically these aren’t strange things in America, but things that seem strange to me when I go back and visit. I’ve been here in Switzerland so long that quite often the Swiss way or thing seems normal and the American thing unreal or awkward.

Money, Money, Money, must be Funny…

One of the first things that seems strange when I go back to the States is the money. I have gotten so used to the Swiss money that the American money seems like play money. It’s like something you might use in Monopoly. After a while I get used to it again. The next time I go to the States, it might seem stranger because some of the currencies will have changed.

Something I can’t emphasize enough is in Switzerland the fact that VAT is included in the price. The price you see is the price you pay. No adding whatever the tax for that state happens to be. Life is so much easier here because of that.

Tips in Switzerland are really an added gratuity. People in Switzerland are paid fair wages and tips are included in the price. Of course, if you are happy with whatever service, feel free to add a little extra or round up the bill. That’s always appreciated. Remember in America tips make up a good part of the salary. You are expected to pay 15 to 20% of the bill as a tip. The people in these jobs need the tips to have enough money to support themselves and their families. Being stingy with tips in America is frowned upon.

Tips and VAT are two things I could do without. I find it strange that America makes things difficult when they could be so easy.


In Switzerland people in a hurry on an escalator use the left side. People who don’t feel like walking on a moving escalator always stand to the right. Quite often there will be two footprints on the right side of each step to show the people who don’t get it, what they have to do. You get used to this orderly behavior and it seems so natural. Stand on the right, pass people on the left.

In America no one adheres to those kinds of rules. You stand on whichever side you feel like and if you are in a hurry you zigzag around the standing people. Inevitably you will reach two people standing next to each other blocking your fast getaway. So you either wait as patiently as possible or say “excuse me” and squeeze pass. Strange, it doesn’t seem to bother anyone but me.


The Swiss aren’t really big on smalltalk, Americans are. Generally speaking, when a Swiss asks how you are doing, they’re interested in knowing the answer. Quite often in America I find myself wondering why all this chit-chat when they don’t mean it. It never used to bother me, I even did it myself. Now it seems strange how often they are used as if they are just filling in quiet. “How are you?” Face it, they usually don’t care and certainly would be surprised if you delved into your health problems. Southern hospitality dictates that you say “Y’all come back, now.”

Beware, the “Call, if you need help” is by no means an invitation to call.

I appreciate the Swiss reserved-ness and if I ask someone how they are doing, I’d like an answer. Really, the only place I do a bit of chit-chat is in my e-mails. I usually start by asking how they are and then a bit of trivia before I get to the reason for the mail. But I am interested in and enjoy hearing what they are doing. It is quite normal for a Swiss to cut the blab and ask whatever it is that they want to know. I’m okay with that and that is totally acceptable in Switzerland. Still, it might be considered as rude or even impolite in America. They might even be left wondering what they did to make you mad at them. I always write my e-mails that way, I think it is polite and personal. Believe it or not most of the e-mails I get back are written that way, too.

I guess I’ve just been in Switzerland so long that in many ways I think more like a Swiss than an American. But not always. Have a nice day!

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