Cultural Differences

Painting with the children at EVAM

Since I have been working with asylum seekers in Switzerland my interest in cultural differences has grown. This is mainly because how I go about organising an event and I what I prioritise as important to me, does not always fall into the same ranking for the people I am working with at the EVAM asylum seekers centre. As I learnt when studying a couple of philosophy units at uni, culture and beliefs are two very different creatures. Beliefs can change with understanding but culturally embedded habits and ways of daily life usually have a fairly strong hold over how we think and our behaviour.

I don't consider myself to have ever been in the same position as a refugee who would suddenly find themselves in Switzerland. My arrival here with Jodie was highly organised and by choice, all neatly aligned with an income and somewhere to live.  We also had people on the ground in Lausanne to help us make our first steps and that included a large collection of plastic cards with our photo on them.

But all the same there were many differences to Australia culturally. These differences included the language, food, the weather, the attitude to work, shops closing for lunch (just when I had caught a train to another village to buy something), money, the retail system and foreigners. Obviously I fitted into the foreigners category and there were three things that I had to learn about being a foreigner.

1. I wasn't Swiss
2. They do things differently in Switzerland
3. I was the one that needed to change

Having been here a year plus now, I have to say that I still don't fully understand why the Swiss do things in the Swiss way, that I now know how it works and I can work with it. Jo and I also have Swiss and French friends and I am sure that when we have a better handle on the language we will begin the journey into understanding the cultural differences which will make the current fun experience an even greater one.

My friend Giles forwarded this short Youtube clip to me on some young Sudanese men moving to the United States of America in 2006. The clip is from a documentary called God Grew Tired of Us. Looking at life  going on around them in their new home from the eyes of their culture, I can understand their confusion.

I think it is a great thing to be able to walk a mile or two in the sandals or bare feet of someone else's grandfather or grandfather, if only to be able to smile and say thank you in a new way. I have been made very welcome by all the people I have met at the asylum seeker's centre. I've shared many bananas and glasses of coke over conversations as we have got to know each other.

What I have found really interesting walking around our new home here in Pully or Lausanne is that when people passing by give me a random 'Bonjour Monsieur', I truly feel a sense of welcome and belonging. Try it some time in the town where you live. You'll help make their day a better one.


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