It must be fascinating to ask the American how different Switzerland and Europe are from the US, because I get this question all of the time. I usually shrug and say “the biggest difference for me is the language.” This may be because most of my international travel experience before this year had been to rural Central America. Now that my appearance doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb, language is what most obviously says ‘we have different normals’ for any given social interaction.
I remember wanting to go Europe for study abroad. I don’t think I even considered another continent. Maybe I thought it would be interesting to experience a culture largely parallel to my own, in order to see where the subtle differences lie. But I think most subtle differences would take years to fully appreciate, as well as a mastery of the language.
For now, I’m more intrigued by the similarities between the mentalities of people from the US and people from Europe, and sometimes northern Africa. What I expect from a conversation with an educated European is basically the same as what I expect from a conversation with an educated person from the US. I guess I think that the spectrum of mentalities I’ve seen in Europe is not really offset from the spectrum of mentalities I’ve seen in the US, especially considering I grew up in a liberal community in Minnesota.
I read one study abroad blog post by a girl who studied in Japan, where she said she finds the same ‘types’ of people anywhere she goes. Maybe this is the five aspects of personality thing. I would largely agree with her, but I would add, bluntly and maybe harshly, that education makes a difference. If you assume we are talking about educated people, then I agree that there are similar ‘types’ of people everywhere, or at least everywhere I’ve been. For me, this most clearly manifests itself in how easily I get along with people. Assuming weak language barriers, nationality does not seem to be a factor as to whether or not we will become friends.
And then there is the most obvious similarity between Europe and the US, and I’m guessing most of the world. I believe Ingrid Michaelson eloquently put it ‘girls chase boys chase girls.’
Just for fun, some surface-level differences that stand out most to me, in a convenient, non-exhaustive list. Some you already knew or suspected:
- Coffee. Coffee shops. ‘Murica is doing it right.
- Oh, but dressing well. Europeans aren’t perfect, but they do beat the US here. Especially by wearing boots as go-to footwear for girls.
- Les bisous, or the greeting kisses. Right cheek, left cheek, right cheek in Switzerland. It changes depending on where you go in Europe. I love les bisous.
- Yet, ironically, the US has a friendlier culture, in my opinion.
- No one knows who Dr. Seuss is! Don’t ask me how they made it this far. I have no idea.
Voilà some things specific to l’EPFL:
- Only about 1/3 of students pass the first year, and students suspect EPFL likes it that way. I think this might be similar to high tuition rates in the US, because it is supposed to show prestige.
- As a mechanical engineering student at EPFL, you always have your protractor, ruler, and assortment of colored pens with you, just in case you have to make a graph when taking notes. Of course.
- And then, of course, there was the secretive ‘fermeture de la bibliotheque’ this week, so our library aka the Swiss cheese building was closed this week in order for a press conference to be held there following negotiations of Iran’s nuclear program. Naturally. Welcome to the Olypmpic capital of the world.