Eve in a self-policing paradise
Eva Ziltener from Vancouver
When your name is Eva, you are supposed to live in paradise.
When your name is Eva Ziltener, you are supposed to live in two paradises: Canada and Switzerland.
Eva was born in Switzerland and grew up in Canada, her parents emigrated to Vancouver (with a two-year-stopover in Australia where they did not learn to play the didgeridoo although it is similar to a Swiss “alphorn”).
At home Eva spoke Swiss German and her mother Susanne cooked Swiss meals. Her “Röschti” (coarsely grated potatoes, fried in butter and then shaped into patties) is legendary, I was told.
At high school, Eva was considered European. She had to go to work in Switzerland to realise how Canadian she actually was…
Culture shock was unavoidable.
In February 2011, Eva followed her husband Orcun to Zurich where he got a job at ETH (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology). Orcun grew up in Turkey and had come to Canada. Eva caught him right away (ladies, that is how you have to do it with eligible men!). And then she did not let go of him. Good job, Eva.
In Zurich, it was not easy for her to find a job although she had a master`s degree in education. She was a German teacher in Canada. The Swiss did not buy it.
O-tone Eva: “If you want to teach German in Zurich, you need a teaching diploma of a Swiss university which I did not have.”
So she chose a private school. She works at a French school but she teaches English. Babylon in Zurich.
I had to find out how a Swiss-Canadian survives in Switzerland!
An UPC (Urgent Phone Call) to Eva Ziltener from Vancouver, residing in Zurich
Eva, why on earth do you overwhelm the Swiss?
I don’t know. Maybe I am too Canadian after all!
Do you shock the Swiss with Canadian habits?
I do! When I am waiting at the bus stop or in a lineup at the supermarket, I strike up a light conversation with people like I do in Canada. Oh boy, that does not go down well!
The Swiss don’t like to be spoken to or approached by strangers!
Having Swiss born parents, did you think you know the Swiss?
Yes, but I don’t know them really. They are not like Canadians at all. I noticed that they are very much self-policing.
When you break a rule or you just bend a rule, then they reprimand you. Or they report you!
Did the Swiss reprimand you, too?
No, but friends of mine did not park their car in the designated spot because they had forgotten something and just wanted to run upstairs to the apartment to get it. A neighbour reported them to the parking attendant.
Will you ever break the rules in Switzerland?
No, because you become so scared to break the rules – like you never recycle glass bottles on Sunday or after 7 at night. You fall into a pattern of policing yourself. It stops people from having a sense of humour!
Eva, you speak German, you have three university degrees – how did you eventually convince the Swiss that your German was really German?
It was quite rigorous! I kept having to prove that my German was good enough to teach. I was subjected to written tests, face-to-face interviews. I felt a little humbled. That was not what I was expecting! I was always a language girl!
After that initial shock, was it back to normal then?
No, not really. The thing is: I speak German and I look Swiss. When I went out and asked people how to recycle glass or how to buy a tram ticket, they would look at me in astonishment.
They would be impatient with their replies. People probably wondered where I had been the last few years!
But when my husband asked the same thing in English, they would be much more patient.
Are you coming home to Canada now?
No, there are a lot of positive things here. Switzerland continues to impress me.
Especially the efficiency and that things get done very quickly.
The post office is my favourite efficient institution! You send a letter and 2 days later, the letter has arrived! The post is very reliable. Just like the transit system, trains and buses and trams.
When it says, the tram arrives at 3.05, it arrives at 3.05!
So obviously it has its perks to live in Switzerland?
Oh yes. We really love living here! This country has everything, nature, city. And when you go somewhere, you are home so fast!
I used to live in Kamloops and I drove five hours to Vancouver and was still in the same province!
Although it is a small country, Switzerland has so much to offer. We haven’t really begun to discover it properly yet.
When you come back to Canada for a visit, do you shock the Canadians now with your Swiss habits?
You bet I do! When I last went back to Vancouver to visit my family, I surprised myself with some very un-Canadian behaviour: I forgot how to line up!
In a hurry one morning, I rushed into Tim Horton’s, spotted a free counter, made a beeline for it and ordered. It was only as I was paying that I felt the eyes boring into the back of my head: I had cut a line of about 15 or 20 people, which, in my haste, I just hadn’t noticed!
I was rather embarrassed to discover since living in Switzerland I have lost the reflex of lining up!
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