August 26, 2005

Culture Shock – Switzerland to America

August 26, 2005

Another odd culture shock. The transition I go through when I return home from missions is generally always from a poorer place than mine. This time I spent the last 3 months in a richer place, and now I return to a poorer place. Driving wrecks for cars on the road, oil all over the parking lots, 99cent burgers, and where ‘old’ can actually pass for fashionable. In Switzerland I saw no old cars or pot holes, and McDonalds burgers were roughly $7, ketchup costs extra.

Notable comparisons between Switzerland and America

America is eccentric, diverse, wild, loose, and cheap. Switzerland is conventional, conforming, safe, clean, harmonious, scrupulous, quality. Americans (in comparison) are indelicate, slack, direct, and confrontational, even rude. Swiss are definitely not confrontational. They have a broad array of polite manners and customs and are indirect, and to an American can seem to be very considerate people. They are smart and orderly; do not waste time, hard workers, not lazy. One person living in Switzerland thought that the Swiss were perfectionists. A book on Swiss culture and customs I read said that “Swiss want to be respected more than they want to be liked, but Americans want to be liked more than they want to be respected.”

Of all the countries I’ve been to, Switzerland is the ‘safest’ place. Safety permeates the culture. There is insurance for everything. Insurance is required for every bicycle on the street. I could not get much behind the scenes in Switzerland, since I didn’t know the language, yet I felt there was a huge amount of pressure from society, though it wasn’t clear why. And that things were very well hidden, buried, whitewashed. What was hidden? Well I dunno…

For some reason (I have researched this too) Switzerland has had for decades one of  the highest suicide rates among youth in the world. I pondered this a lot while I was there looking around for possible reasons. Swiss people are blessed with wealth and land and goods and fruit even beyond America. And so when I fellowshipped at a local church known as CLZ ( and found genuine hunger and thirst for God I was quite impressed. It seems they know what it is to have everything and yet have nothing without God. There was also a beautiful spirit of community there.

I spent a day in London before returning to the US. I took the opportunity to visit something I’ve always wanted to see which was the Bunhill Fields where George Whitfield, George Fox and other famous non-conformist Christians are buried. We are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses. I knew I would be overwhelmed from visiting this place. And I was. I paid homage to John Wesley at his statue across the street first, and then entered the graveyard. I was surprised when I saw that John Bunyan was buried here. I found his tomb, and broke down as I thought of this brother’s life. Truly a man of whom the world was not worthy.

I felt like a grasshopper among these spiritual giants.

God bless.