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Been there, done that

A Swiss perspective

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I have undergone one of the biggest adventures of my life thus far. I moved 5,000 miles away from my hometown of Polson to Lausanne, Switzerland. Not being the ultra-adventurous type, this was a huge jump to take. I had visited when I was younger with my family, so I was aware of a bit of what I was getting myself into. The whole process has been a very eye-opening and transformative experience, and I’d like to share some of what I have learned.

The first realization happened long before I boarded any plane. We North Americans collect a lot of stuff. After all, many people have a garage sale almost every year. After about two suitcases, it becomes extraordinarily expensive to fly things over, so this became my space limit. As I sorted through my things, I realized how much stuff I had and how little of it I use regularly. Ten percent of my things were used 90 percent of the time. There is a certain almost liberating feeling to pair things down and not have as much to worry about. I would highly recommend de-cluttering, even a small amount.

Secondly, I have learned North Americans are obsessed with getting bigger and cheaper options, think Costco or Walmart. In Switzerland, no one really stocks up on food as we do at home. Instead, people grocery shop several times a week for mostly fresher foods they will consume in the next couple of days. The idea of buying a whole side of beef and putting it in the freezer or getting a Costco pack of paper towels would get some puzzled looks over here. In general, homes and living spaces are much smaller and people don’t have space or price-based incentives to stock up. 

Price is also not as big of a driver with shopping habits. The Swiss put a heavy emphasis on quality, especially around food. The average Swiss family of four spends $283 per week on food, according to the Swiss Federal Statistical Office, which is more than double what the average US family of the same size spends. 

As you might expect, portion sizes are generally smaller. While this might be anecdotal evidence, I have yet to see an obese person since arriving here. Findings by the World Health Organization corroborate these observations. Switzerland is ranked second in the world for average life expectancy, just behind Japan, with 83.4 years. Just for reference, the United States is 38th with 77.8 years on average. So, maybe there is something to this lifestyle?

Lastly, I have learned about having a long-range perspective. In the Mission Valley, the oldest buildings we have don’t go back even 300 years. Here, it is not uncommon for people to live in a house that is well into triple digits. The cathedral in Lausanne was completed in 1275. Columbus’ great grandparents were not even alive yet. Because of the extreme age of the things in the environment, the Swiss have a much longer perspective on things. They look at things in the scope of centuries, not decades. They take care of things so they will be around long after themselves. People take out 99-year mortgages on homes, lay down cobblestone streets, and put slate roofs on houses that will last for 200 plus years. 

I have mixed feelings on the long-range perspective. On one hand, the Swiss have been able to accomplish some remarkable things, but on the other, there isn’t a lot of social mobility outside of education. I find Swiss culture lacking in the boom and bust strike-gold-esk entrepreneurial spirit of the American West. Instead, the Swiss fulfill the status quo by working a career in the same company for 40 years and retiring. Perhaps a good middle ground is to be found between the two schools of thought with neither one being perfect.

Anyway, I hope you have found this interesting. Even though I have moved, “Ben There Done That” isn’t going anywhere any time soon. If there is anything you are curious about over here? Send me an email at ben@valleyjournal.net. Your questions or comments just might be the subject of my next column.

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