The Unspoken Swiss Trust

Updated: Jan 9, 2020

Trust. I remember breaking the rules and my parents explaining that it was going to take a long time to earn back their trust. As a child, this was a very abstract concept and I was never really sure at which point I had earned back their trust. Would it take a day? A week? A month? I was never sure.

But I knew trust was important in my small Iowa town as well. I could see the trust when I filled up with gas at Hoppy’s. After pumping the gas into the family Honda Civic, I would make eye contact and wave at the kind blue jumpsuit clad man through the large plate glass window. This small gesture meant that after I pulled away from the pump, Hoppy would read the meter on the gas pump to see how much I had taken and then put that amount on my family’s bill.

The same thing happened at the local hardware store. McNeill’s was one of the most beautiful and stuffed to the gills buildings in town. Every floorboard creaked as you searched for the item your mother or father had sent you for. The hardware store had everything imaginable and it also had a policy of sending bills out to the locals once a month rather than charging at each visit. Albert and his sons were quick to help, but doled out a hefty dose of trust as well. Looking back, I had always assumed that was a phenomenon reserved for small towns.

It is this concept of trust that my family has experienced in Switzerland that has brought back all of these small town memories. What I had assumed stopped functioning in the late 80s, is alive and well in Switzerland.

Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger on Unsplash

Our first experience with this level of trust occurred with the benign act of ordering something online. I don’t even remember what we had ordered, I just remember the sequence of events seeming unbelievable. Step one: choose the item to be purchased on website. Step two: pay for item on website...wait a tick...there isn’t anywhere to pay for the purchase online! However, there was still a way to complete the order. We clearly thought we had not understood (Our German wasn’t very proficient at the time) and decided to wait and see what happened. To our utter shock, the purchased item showed up in the mail WITH the bill attached. We had just received a product that we had not paid for with the understanding that we WOULD pay the bill in our own time. Jaw. On. The. Floor.

The next example of trust occurred when we decided to go out for Sunday dinner at a lovely winery nestled in a small section of Switzerland that is surrounded on three sides by Germany. My daughter and I sat down at our outdoor garden table while my husband decided it best to choose the dinner wine by having a quick taste. A quick taste turned into 45 minutes and the purchase of 6 bottles. After some of the best Spätzli we’d ever had and a couple glasses from the chosen wine, we asked for the check. To our horror, the waitress told us they only accepted cash. We blushed when we told her we did not have enough cash to cover the cost of the meal and wine. No problem, she told us, just take this payment voucher and send us the money through the bank. Again, our jaws were on the floor. This couldn’t be real. They were allowing us leave without paying for our meal AND without paying for 6 bottles of wine?

After much thought, reflection, and dinner conversations, my husband and I have decided that trust is the most noticeable difference between our home country of the United States and Switzerland. One trusts that their neighbor is going to put their garbage in the correct shared receptacle. One trusts the people walking down the street to watch out for small children on the sidewalk. And even the government trusts its working force to save money to pay their taxes in one fell swoop at the end of the year rather than garnishing wages throughout the year.

I still am not sure how long it takes to regain a parent’s trust, but I know that trust is what makes a well functioning society tick!

April Remfrey is an American special needs consultant living and loving life in Switzerland. Please feel free to share this blog post by giving credit to the author and the website link:

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