Work Ethics

The Swiss have a work ethic that is second to none. There is next to no traffic on Sunday evenings not because there is soccer game or a ice hockey game on TV but because the majority of people are in bed so they can get up early the next day for work, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Workers are treated well too, getting 4 weeks paid vacation along with lots of holidays off. Depending on which canton you live in you have either Protestant or Catholic holidays, I believe the Catholics have more days off, but who’s counting?

Work ethics are different all over Europe. We have a friend from Sardinia (you never just say Italy, you say “Sardinia”, “Napoli”, “Milano” or “Cinque Terre”). Although not really that far away, the work ethic there is quite different. Our friend lives in an apartment in Switzerland and once he reported to the building administration that his refrigerator was broken and needed to be fixed. (The administration is responsible and pays for the upkeep of fixtures in a rented apartment). When he told us this, he said in Sardinia it would take at least 2, maybe 3 weeks before anyone came out to fix the problem and only after you had called at least 3 times. Then, in amazement and if a miracle had happened he told us that the very same day, 3 hours later a repairman came and fixed his fridge! We said, what? It took them that long to get there? Maybe he called over lunchtime.

An Italo-Swiss friend (Italo is pronounced ‘eat-a-low’, that’s what second or third generation Italians are called who live in Switzerland) who has a vacation home in Toscana says the problem in Italy isn’t necessarily the Italian work ethic but the fact that everyone lives off credit and nobody has cash. No one is in a hurry to do work if they know they aren’t going to get paid anytime soon. He says when he has something that needs to be done to his vacation home that requires a handyman, he tells them on the phone “I’ll pay cash when the work is finished.” That gets them there before he can hang up the phone and they are even ready to do overtime if necessary to finish.

Once, when we were still living in Berne we had to have an electrician because an electrical socket wasn’t working correctly in one of our rooms. In Switzerland only electricians are allowed to install electrical wires, that way they know it will be done correctly. When the electrician took off the socket cover everything looked good; he saw the tubing with the wires coming out of it, just as it should be. He took off a second cover and again, everything was as it should be. He should have been able to just pull those wires out of the tubing but for some reason they were stuck. He pulled, tugged and jerked on them but nothing happened. He apologized and said he was going to have to open up the wall to see where the problem was. When he did, he couldn’t believe his eyes. The tubing should have been continuous throughout the wall from socket to socket with all the wires sitting comfortably inside them, but the tubing was only put in at the beginning and end to make it look right. The wires were plastered directly into the wall in between the two sockets and because the wire had been too short an additional wire had been twisted together in the middle of the plaster! The electrician couldn’t get over it, he said he had never seen anything like that in Switzerland, Italy, yes, but never in Switzerland. He just stood there and shook his head in bewildered amazement. Then he said something about getting his camera to take a picture because no one would believe him otherwise. It looks like we found the Italian connection. He fixed it up so the sockets worked again, plastered up the wall with the new tubing and we were good to go.

Ben and I have only had good experiences with workers here. A couple of years ago we had a lot of renovation done on our home where we live now. It involved a handful of companies so we had a “kick-off” meeting to make sure all the different puzzle pieces would come together and everything would happen without any delays. Everything we wanted done got done to perfection and in record time. We did, however, have to drag ourselves out of bed EVERY MORNING to let all those bright-eyed and bushy-tailed workers in at 6am. We served coffee and chocolate at the 9 o’clock break and ice-cream and Coke or water at the 4 o’clock break. The great results more than paid for our having to get up so early. I’m not sure if it is this way all over Switzerland or if this is the small town effect. After all, most of the workers live in this area and you see them all the time at the grocery store and post office and they even honk their horns when they drive by.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: