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To Du or not to Du?
(originally published in the March 2009 issue of Expat In Switzerland)

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One of the most important keys to achieving happiness and success in Switzerland, I found, lay in learning the language. I remember so clearly in my early days here being told off by the lady at the bank: "if you want to live here you should speak German and not automatically approach me in English". Upon my next visit I hesitantly tried out the sentence I had been practising all the way there in high German only to be answered in English! I felt I couldn't win. But learning the language has been the most important step to integration, acceptance and empowerment - all of which have ultimately made me feel more comfortable and at home here, as well as broadening my access to a whole new world.

I found one aspect of learning German particularly difficult: the formal and informal use of "you" i.e. here in the German speaking part of Switzerland "Sie" and "Du". I used these incorrectly so many times in the early days, and even found strategies to avoid using the word "you" in German if I was unsure which would be appropriate. I have discovered over the years that whilst the Swiss aren't naturally forthcoming with informality and friendliness they do however respond well if you approach them with warmth and charm. As a photographer it is very important to me to make my clients feel relaxed and comfortable so that they can really enjoy the fun experience of their photo shooting to the full. These days, I automatically introduce myself to all of my Swiss clients with my first name and speak to them using the informal "Du" from the outset. A bit of a taboo really, but do you know what? They respond well, I can feel them immediately relax, a barrier comes down, there is in fact almost a sense of relief, a sort of "great, I can just be myself here". Also, as the Swiss don't tend to be very service orientated I find that this informality and friendliness coupled with good service and the willingness on my part to go the extra mile is greeted with surprise, appreciation and reciprocation. So, the perhaps more natural friendliness and ability to build up a more spontaneous rapport of someone not from Switzerland can be a tremendous advantage here; an advantage that we should use and enjoy to the full. Of course our behaviour must be appropriate to the situation and environment but as a general rule I have at last learnt to just be my self - but in their language!

So, to Du or not to Du? - to do, definitely!

Linda Atschreiter

Linda is a regular contributor to the ExpatInCH.com newsletter and runs the Foto eMotion photographic studio in Zug. See www.foto-emotion.ch for more information.

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