The start of February marked the second anniversary of our arrival in Switzerland. This milestone seems to have come around extremely quickly, largely because we're enjoying living here so much.
During this time we've tried hard to integrate, and with quite a lot of success. Our language skills have improved, our knowledge of Swiss culture and geography is getting there, and cheese and chocolate consumption has gone through the roof. There is, however, one thing we still struggle with – "the Swiss kiss".
Before you get excited, this is nothing too raunchy but merely the way in which two Swiss people of different genders greet each other with three pecks on the cheek. Sounds simple, right? Wrong! It's fraught with opportunities to mess up. Here are the three main ones:
1. Overcoming your native customs: Shaking hands is as British as tea and biscuits. Save for the lucky few that I embrace with a hug (inclusive of masculine pat on the back for the lads), offering a hand is the go-to greeting. Whether wth men or women, you go with the right hand. Simples. Resisting this and offering a cheek instead of a palm requires serious focus.
2. Going the right way: Like an English keeper against a German penalty taker, unless you pick the right direction it's game over. There must be an unwritten rule for which way you go for the first cheek to cheek movement, but I haven't learnt it yet. And if you go the wrong way it ends up, in the best case, with an uncomfortable face-to-face moment. In the worst case scenario you end up kissing your colleague or your mate's sister on the lips.
3. The culture clash: Swiss people are, in my experience, very accommodating to us foreigners. As such, they anticipate these greeting difficulties and adapt to your own native hello. But this brings with it a whole new problem. When you think you've finally got your Swiss kiss prepared, a hand that is thrust towards you meets your stomach (or worse!) on the way in. Or you get a hug and end up kissing someone on back of their head as if you are giving them some kind of elaborate blessing.
We aren't the only ones that find this tricky either. This week's immigration policy discussions between the President of the Swiss parliament, Simonetta Sommaruga (left) and European Commission President Jean-Claude Junker (right) ended up being entirely overshadowed by the very awkward face-eating incident above.
Zurich's international community adds another dimension to this headache. Spanish ladies think it's hilarious if a bloke offers them his hand instead of a kiss, even if he's never met them before. Germans do two kisses, as do most others. Americans love a hug. It's a minefield!
I did recently think I had the answer: the fist bump. Not only could it improve my street cred, but I recently read that it's the most hygienic greeting (that I see this as a benefit is probably proof I need to be more "street").
My only concern is that there's probably a culture out there where the introduction of the fist bump to a confused greeting could see me inadvertently punch someone in the face. If that happens it'll be the kiss of death for my integration chances. And even a failed Swiss kiss would be better than that!
Handshake it is then.
Mike Stuart moved to Switzerland in 2013 when his better half Zoë landed a job in Zurich.