Tell us your opinion on these reports and write to us! These reports are not in any way representative. They are merely the stories of a few selected interviewees. Therefore, we would be very interested in hearing how you experience our multicultural society. Are you Swiss? Are you an expat? How do you experience living in Switzerland as an expat? What stories do you have to tell about the Swiss? We look forward to your feedback via e-mail or via our Facebook page The Basel Journal. Your editorial
There are around 32,000 expats living in Basel and the surrounding area. In this report our Young Journalists wanted to find out more about expat lifestyles and how well they have integrated in Switzerland – or not.
Susan* and other women expats
By Camilla Wyder and Vera Schmid
Outside Reinach there is a big concrete building with a sign on it that reads “ISB – International School Basel“. A Porsche Cayenne with Swiss number plates pulls up. We expected a business man wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase or a fashionable young lady wearing an elegant dress with perfect make-up and beautifully styled hair to step out of the car. Instead, a middle-aged lady called Susan, wearing comfortable clothes and having slightly tousled hair hopped out of the car. We asked Susan what cultural differences she experiences living in Switzerland compared to America. She said she appreciated how quiet and peaceful Basel was compared to American cities that are often noisy and full of traffic. Apart from that she didn’t see too many differences. Susan is a working mum; she has a high powered position in HR and is responsible for nine countries.
As far as cultural differences at the work place are concerned, Susan noticed that the working environment in Swiss companies differs from other countries (and other expats confirm this too): the way people behave in the workplace is less formal than for example in the US, but also in the US, working from home is more acceptable, whereas the Swiss are less flexible where home office is concerned. Expats like working in a multicultural environment with people from different nationalities and cultural backgrounds; they see this as enriching their jobs.
Nevertheless, we sense that expats prefer socialising with other expats. Because most expats plan to move to another country within three to five years, they do not have very high incentives to integrate. The time and effort involved in integrating would be wasted as they would have to start all over again in their new “home”.
Sabine Lütte, who works for the Welcome Service and meets many expats every day, confirms this. She helps newcomers look for accommodations and schools in the first few months they are here. Also, she explains the health insurance system to them and accompanies them when they go shopping (if required).
When looking at the gender distribution of working expats, there appears to be some interesting differences. Around 70% of single workers are men and 30% women. Whereas looking at families, 90% of the time it is the man who is the breadwinner. In most cases it is the man’s job that is the reason for the family moving to another country.
Big Swiss companies treat expats well. Not only do they offer them a high salary and a good workplace with an extensive offering of free-time activities, but also they cover the cost of the International School, often including their rent as well in the job package. Many expats say one great advantage of living in Basel is the travel time to work. All expats that we spoke to enjoyed the short distances between their homes and the workplace. Lots of expats are also surprised by the great offering of public transport and by the cleanliness and punctuality of the trains, trams and busses. Despite the many advantages and the nice living environment Switzerland provides, most expats that we asked or that we talked to feel homesick. When asked where in the world they would like to work most, more or less all of them answered with one word: home.
Joris, Dirk, Beth, Eline und Emmaline
By Katinka Prikryl and Lina Luder
Travelling from one place to another, starting a “new life” over and over again may seem difficult for many people, but being exposed to different cultures, religions and languages is part of everyday life for some expats. It is their passion to discover the world and create “homes” spread over many continents. Dutch expat Joris says that because he has lived in so many different places, he no longer has one home, like most people, but has multiple homes. He has no sense of home as such, but is happy anyway. Young Swedish expat Dirk says it took him a while to fit-in in Switzerland; in fact, in the beginning he found it very difficult. Another example is Beth from England, who worked in Switzerland 12 years ago, was posted back to the UK by her company a few months later and is now back in Basel. She says this is her home – for the moment.
People who move here from different countries to work in international companies perceive Switzerland in different ways. It’s clear that many of the Basel expats we spoke to saw their move as a chance to leave their previous living environments to find new challenges. Generally expats travel around a lot throughout their careers. Take for an example Joris, who works for Roche. He says his parents were expats when he was born; that is why he grew up in Africa and later travelled back to Holland with them. Then he was offered a job in New Jersey, and that is where his two sons were born. Now he lives in Switzerland with his family and is rather content. He and his wife, Eline, say they could very well imagine spending the rest of their lives in Switzerland. Although, as soon as their sons have completed their schooling, they might go to India for awhile. Eline says she has always had a great interest in India. As she is dependent on her husband, she will follow him wherever he goes.
Although German and Swiss German are spoken in Basel, many locals automatically speak English with expats, thereby reducing the expat’s incentive to learn German. Dirk thinks it is important to learn the local language or at least to understand it if you want to integrate. On the other hand, for expats who only spend a short time in Basel, learning the language is not necessary.
Beth recommends that expats learn the local language as much as possible and speak to their neighbours in German and do things that will help them integrate. Emmaline from America and Eline from Holland, however, suggest you only need to speak the local language if you are staying for a long time. Although, Emmaline also says that learning some basic Swiss German is something you cannot neglect. Also, one should be open to new traditions and cultural differences. Beth likes Basel‘s traditions and always marks all the local events in her calendar.
Here are some tips for people who are new to Basel from the expats we interviewed. Joris says Basel Connect is a great organisation which helps you integrate. It helped him, personally, a lot, especially the advice to be open and to take everything with a pinch of humor, as well as to study the history and geography of Basel.
They also wanted to give us some restaurant and shopping tips. Emmaline said she likes to dine at Lily’s, Noohn and Vapiano and loves shopping at Feldpausch and Manor. Beth likes many different restaurants in Basel and recommends the Birseckerhof, Teufelhof and the restaurant Oliv for special occasions. For families with children, the Tapadera and Piccobello are most suited, as well as ZicZac for family brunches.
Celimar, Alessia and Lilia
By Ginevra Ferreri
A hearty welcome and the scent of cooking overwhelm me as I walk in the door. Celimar who is 18 years old and her mother greet me with, “¿Quieres cenar con nosotros?” (Do I want to join them for dinner?). Celimar is half Dominican and half Swiss. As I step into the flat, I enter a different world, an exotic world far away from Basel. At home, Celimar speaks Spanish and eats late in the evening; she rarely cooks Swiss meals.
She says the Swiss have a very simple lifestyle, and sometimes the Swiss society is a little superficial. That is something she cannot understand. She thinks the reason for this is that working is the main part of the Swiss society. Also, she criticises how people live; she says people lead isolated lives here, as if in hidden chambers. Only a small part of her family lives in Switzerland. All her other relatives live in the Dominican Republic. She likes to visit them during the summer holidays.
Steaming plates are put on the table, and we sit down to eat “pastelitos”, which are made of puff pastry filled with meat or cheese. It is exceptionally delicious.
Alessia, a 20-year-old girl from Spain and Italy, lives in Switzerland with her two younger sisters and her parents. She belongs to the third generation of her family who live in Switzerland. Alessia always has the feeling that people in Switzerland have hardly any free time and are always rushing around. In Spain and Italy, people perceive time differently. For example, they take more time to eat together. Also her Swiss friends who are the same age as her give her the feeling that one needs to escape from the parents’ house as quickly as possible. She says her parents would never want to see her go, as well as the other way around.
Alessia appreciates Switzerland’s infrastructure, as it is a lot better than that of her home country. Here she misses the sunny weather and the sea most. She visits her family at least once a year, her favourite time to visit being the summer. Her eyes light up as she explains that it is then that “life is in full bloom”. Nevertheless, she says she would not like to live in Spain or in Italy; she is used to living in Switzerland, and, after all, it is different going on holiday to a place and actually living there.
Lilia is 28 years old and originally comes from Iraq. She moved here 23 years ago with her family for political reasons. Today she feels completely integrated in Switzerland and feels safe here. Lilia enjoys her life in a “fair state”, which has a democracy giving the people a lot of rights. She gets on well with the Swiss and appreciates that the Swiss society is open-minded. It is easier to live in Switzerland than in Iraq. Here there is always hot water, and the heating and power works. Lilia is Muslim and can practise her religion in Switzerland without any problems. She wears a head scarf, which she had to take off throughout her education. She did this for the good of her own future. She takes days off from work for sacred celebrations. Today she is a mother and house wife and is married to a Tunisian.
*All names known to the editorial team.