Swiss Precision

One of the things I’ve noticed about the Swiss is that they are a very precise lot.

While they’ve always been known for their trains, their watches and their expertise in precision engineering, it was something else that really drove home the point for me.

It’s how they greet people. Or rather, how they bid their adieus.

I have to mention here that the Swiss are generally very polite. Yes, they are indeed very reserved and value privacy above all else, but they will usually greet you – even complete strangers – with a Gruezi or Guten Tag when you pass them on the street. Cashiers and sales assistants will normally look you in the eye and say Gruezi before they start scanning the barcode on your items. They will also wait until you’re done keeping the change in your purse and you’ve taken the bags from the counter before attending to the next customer in the queue. And even then, not before they’ve bid you adieu. I could give other examples from other areas of the service industry, but I hope you get the general idea.

All this may sound trivial, but if you cross the border into any of the three large countries bordering Switzerland, you will immediately notice the difference. Sales assistants chat loudly amongst themselves. Cashiers mumble a sullen Hello (in their local language) without bothering to look at you. Sometimes they don’t even bother saying anything, because they’re too wrapped up chatting with their colleague in the next aisle. Brilliant multitaskers, though.

But I digress. My point in writing this was to explain why I think they are so precise in their ways.

It’s how they say goodbye.

Their version of “Bye! Have a nice day!” will correspond to the time of day, and to the part of the week you’re in.

In the mornings, they’ll cheerfully bid you, “Schoenen Tag!” (“Have a good day!”).
In the afternoons, it would be, “Schoenen Nachmittag!” (“Have a good afternoon!”).
In the evenings, you’ll get a “Schoenen Abend!” (“Have a good evening!”).

So what, you think? Back home we have Selamat pagi, Selamat tengahari and Selamat petang/Selamat malam too.

True.

But come Friday evenings, you’ll hear, “Schoenen Wochenende!” (“Have a good weekend!”).
Saturday mornings and afternoons will be a toss between “Schoenen Tag/Nachmittag” and “Schoenen Wochenende”, but come Saturday evenings and Sunday mornings, what you’ll get will be a, “Schoenen Sonntag!” (“Have a good Sunday!”).

And on Sunday evenings? “Schoenen Woche!” (“Have a good week!”). Sometimes they say that on Mondays and Tuesdays, too.

It isn’t just the cashiers and the sales assistants and the waiters/waitresses who do this; it’s also the neighbours and the school kids and the random strangers in the tram.

Back home, I don’t think I’ve heard anyone wish me “Selamat hari Ahad!” or “Selamat hari minggu!” I guess it wouldn’t be technically wrong, but it sounds very clumsy and odd. And it would probably elicit a few laughs.

So do you see why I say the Swiss are very precise? It’s not enough that they wish you goodbye and hope your day will be a nice one; they must specify which part of the day (or week) they wish you to enjoy. Anything less wouldn’t be polite, I suppose.

I don’t know whether this is a Swiss thing, or a German thing (as in whether it’s inherent in the language), or whether it’s a Swiss-German thing.

I do know it makes exchanging pleasantries a bit harder. It’s not enough that I have to remember my manners, but I have to remember what time of day it is, what day of the week it is, and whether there are any significant festivals/public holidays coming up. Once I’ve got that figured out, I’ll have to remember the appropriate greeting. And then I have to translate it into German.

All this while I:
– count my change and gather my grocery bags; or
– gather my jacket and walk out of the cafe; or
– fervently try to remember the neighbour’s name.

Who says being a housewife here is easy?

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