Thursday, September 11, 2008

Discrimination is ugly - on anyone

I'm not sure how well laid out this post will be. I hope I make sense in it. I hope it doesn't offend. I know my blog posts tend to run all over the place sometimes.

Here goes:

Living overseas can be really cool and exciting and fun. Sometimes, it is filled with homesickness and difficulty. One day you are on the mountaintop (literally - c'mon, we ARE in Switzerland) and another day you are down in the dumps. Maybe I could say 'kompostplatz' and include a picture complete with steam rising over mountains of, ummmm, cow and horse droppings.

There is a cleanliness and beauty here that is hard to beat. It's considered one of the best countries in the world to live in based on culture, safety, quality of life - also why it's so expensive.

There is another side though. Switzerland also boasts one of the highest suicide rates in Europe. When, seemingly, they "have it all."

They are not necessarily the happiest people you will meet either. My Swiss neighbor was told by her pastor that they needed Missionaries to come to Switzerland, not the other way around, because the people here are "poor of Spirit."

Americans are considered too open and intrusive for many Swiss. They take a long time to open up to people and as an "Auslander" there's no point in developing a relationship with me as I'll only be here for 3 - 5 years anyway.

I take exception to that. I think basic common courtesy and patience goes a long way no matter who you are or where you live. Thus it can feel oppressive at times - being the outsider.

Recent incidents: ** 2 friends were talking by their car and one friend is slightly in the street. A man starts to drive toward them. Friend 1 checks to see that he can get by - plenty of room - so she doesn't tell Friend 2 to get out of the way. The man is now yelling (we all understand enough German) that they are standing in the street and actually brushes Friend 2 with rear-view mirror (lightly but still!) as he races by waving his hands.
**Korean friend who speaks good German is downtown and has car stopped while waiting to pull out of car lot. Bicyclist deliberately runs into her front panel (she has a dent) because she was part-way in the bike lane (to pull out) which runs in front of the car lot. He is yelling about her being in the lane and then furious when she speaks because it's not Swiss German - and he tells her so in very rude English words. Words that get your mouth washed out with soap - in my house at least.
**Several of us were made fun of when speaking High German and not Swiss - it's worse now that we can understand some of it.
**Several friends have children who are 1/2 Swiss and are in either Swiss or Bilingual school. They are still shunned by many Swiss families because they are not full Swiss - still considered Auslander.

I don't usually get to bothered by these things because I know that every place has it's issues with differences. And Switzerland is no exception. Just part of the Swiss education you get here on this blog.

It makes me very aware of how people are treated - in all circumstances. This week, while all of the above things were kind of running around in my head, I got an email from someone very close to me. Following is an excerpt from the email:

As I dashed into the new "Diamond Lane" located in baggage claim for frequent fliers, checked in online with no baggage, I noticed a young slim black girl (foreign) but obviously dressed in her Sunday best dress with a mismatched nylon jacket too heavy for the weather. There were only a few of us and I watched as she was singled out by an older crabby TSA man, ordered around for double screening, yelled at because she didn't push her baskets through the screening machine until they caught on the rollers. (The other TSA guy pushed mine through as I was taking off my jacket, no one yelled at me) Though the entire time she calmly smiled a weak smile and showed no reaction. As I passed through my screening she was standing in the plexi glass penalty box and I smiled at her. She looked like a scared rabbit.

A bit later I was looking at the schedule board to check my gate and she tapped me on the arm and showed me her ticket and was obviously puzzled as to where to go. Since I was going to the C gates I told her to come with me on the "people mover" and I would take her there. Her English was very limited but she did tell me she was from Ethiopia and thanked me numerous times as I left her at her gate.

Things like this just break my heart. I expect some discrimination living in Switzerland because I am not Swiss - trust me, discrimination comes in ALL forms - they are having their issues with all the foreigners coming into their country. It's just a fact.

But it's hard when it happens on your 'home' turf. I've been yelled at in airports by grumpy personnel in the US of A. It's an especially lovely feeling when it happens as you're going through customs.

Such a welcoming feeling. When you get yelled at coming into your home country. What a welcome for all the visitors.

How scary for someone who had probably never been out of her country before and was getting her first taste of the USA.

I am not perfect. I have my own forms of discrimination.

Business and Economics are all going Global. The world is smaller in many ways. Cultures and languages are clashing.

But I still really think it's important to have patience and kindness towards those who are different from us. Right?

Hopefully this all made sense. It's hard to put emotion into words.


Shaun Groves said...

Thank you for the comment on my blog today. It gave me a chance to discover yours.

And, yes, God bless America's chocolate chip cookies.

Makila said...

Thank you for sharing Susan. It's a good reminder for me and for all. :)

Linds said...

I have passed through LA in transit, and believe me, I have never been treated the way we all were anywhere in the world before or since. I will not be repeating that route again!
You are so right. There is discrimination wherever you go, and this is a great reminder to us to watch our own actions a little more carefully. Great post, and beautifully written!