The 'Swissness' starts to creep in

I've read lots of books about Swissness, as part of my 'integration'. I learned very early on that I would never be Swiss, even if I get a Swiss passport and eventually speak perfect Swiss-German. However, this doesn't stop me from trying. Of course, the stereotypes don't always hold true, but most people I know have an elderly neighbour that likes to spy on them, and inform them when they have broken some sacred, often unwritten rule.  My friend's neighbour even took photos of her putting the recycling out at the 'wrong' time.

This morning I had a funny occurrence that made me think perhaps I have graduated from my first phase of the 'newly arrived'.  I was riding the tram to the shop, and there were a pair of accordion players singing Christmas tunes and asking for coins in the tram. It was a rather horrible version of jingle bells, off-key and heavily accented, but actually the first thought that came to mind was, are they allowed to do that? Surely this is forbidden! (not the off-key singing, but rather playing music on the tram).

I'm not the only one who is having moments of Swissness - I was strolling through the Christmas market with a friend, who arrived in Basel around the same time as me, and she stopped to look at some bookmarks. It was a package of 8, marked for 7 CHF.  She politely asked whether the price was per bookmark, or the whole package. Luckily the price was for the whole package, but I found it quite funny that she would even ask the question - clearly, she has learned from experience that some things are truly extraordinarily priced. I still cringe when I think about the fancy pillows I wanted to buy at Globus when I first arrived. They had a couple of tags on them, and I assumed the one for CHF 25 was correct. You can imagine my embarrassment when the cashier rang up a bill of hundreds of francs; it turned out that the CHF 25 was for the inner pillow, and the pillowcases were priced at several hundred francs each. Needless to say, I fled.

In North America, we have a phrase 'sticker shock', which the Merriam-Webster dictionary describes as 'astonishment and dismay experienced on being informed of a product's unexpectedly high price'. This happens frequently to new arrivals in Switzerland (and can last for many years - I know people who have been here over 10 years who still struggle to gauge what is reasonable).

I often think about this for the pricing of items in the shop.  Our aim is to sell furniture at prices that seem reasonable to people that have just arrived, otherwise folks will just go to the flat-pack stores and buy something new. Often, this means that people who have been here awhile, or are from here, ask why the prices are so low. I suppose that is where the difference between a traditional business and a social enterprise comes out - we aim to reduce the amount of new furniture purchased, so we measure our success in terms of avoided impact, rather than profit. We're selling things at a price that incentivise purchase and generates enough to operate the business. As I always say, good for you, good for the planet!

With best wishes


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