Swiss Culture Shock [en]

We sometimes feel like the German-speaking part of Switzerland is almost another country. Indeed, we often feel culturally closer to France, which is within eyes reach on the other side of the lake, than to our fellow countrymen who live behind the Röstigraben”.

Maybe “culture shock” is a bit strong to describe what happened to me in Zürich University library – but I was told “welcome to Zürich!” when I told the story back in Lausanne.

First shock: no bags or jackets allowed in the library, compulsory lockers, and a guard in front of the entrance. I used to like guarded entrances in India, because they usually guaranteed “safe space” where I could relax. But in Switzerland, it gave me an uneasy feeling. What is there to guard against here? In Lausanne, the only “entrance guards” I’ve seen are in front of night-clubs or bars in evenings (and preferably in the—relatively—worst areas of town).

Second: no Internet connection at all in the library building (apart from very limited access to the library research site). How do these people do any research? Anyway. It was very bad news for me, because I had forgotten the carefully written-down list of articles I had to photocopy at home, and was hoping it could be quickly scanned and emailed to me. No luck.

(Actually, I had the list dictated to me on the phone, and it was a lot simpler. That shows how web-dependant my thinking is becoming.)

Third: I was allowed to go into the library storeroom myself to retrieve the volumes I needed. (They’d never let you do that in Lausanne, no way!)

Fourth: I was actually allowed to borrow these publication back issues and take them home with me! (I’m almost positive you can’t borrow publication back issues here… I’d have to check. I wasn’t expecting to be able to, anyway.)

Fifth: after having signed up for an account (online!) I asked how many books I was allowed to borrow at the same time: fifty! In Lausanne, I can take 16 (which is really not enough, honestly, especially when you’re doing your dissertation). You get to borrow fifty if you are doing your PhD or teaching.

So, in summary, what seemed to be starting out as a very unpleasant experience indeed ended up being pretty positive. Maybe this strange mixture of “worse than at home” and “better than at home” is characteristic of cultural variations…

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1 thought on “Swiss Culture Shock [en]

  1. at CSU Sacramento, a student OF the university could check out 20 books at
    a time, and keep them for 4 weeks. a graduate student from neighboring UC
    Davis can check out books from the CSUS library… they can check out 50
    (!!!) and keep them for 6 (SIX!) months (!!!) but… CSUS has internet
    access, and won’t let you take publication back issues home. there’s no
    guards, just an alarm system, that seems to be broken, as it goes off if
    you have a bunch of CD’s in a backpack (define a “bunch” as 3 in this

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