Thursday, September 29, 2016

Leisurely Efficient

The church tower in
our village of Aarberg

The Swiss are known for their punctuality and efficiency. The clock tower on every village church, usually on the highest geographical point, dominates the landscape. It rings every quarter hour. One for quarter after, two for half-past, three for quarter to, and four for the top of the hour. After the four chimes, the bells more loudly toll the number of hours. Nearly everywhere you are in Switzerland, you can hear the tolling of the bells echoing through the valleys. The sound is beautiful and peaceful, except when you hear them in the middle of the night while trying to sleep.

Swiss public transportation has long been famous for its punctuality. Normally you can set your watch to the arrivals and departures. We have a bus stop right in front of our apartment. Every hour at the scheduled time, we hear the roar of the bus leaving for the next stop. Several times after boarding a bus at the route’s origin, a buzzer would go off, and the driver would immediately start his engine and take off. All the buses have computers programmed for the precise time to begin and to end, and all the schedules inbetween. If there is a known impediment to keeping the schedule, for example, construction or an accident, a huge sign is posted at the bus stop warning riders that not to expect the usual efficiency and punctuality.

So with all their obsession with punctuality, you would think that they, like US Americans, would continually be looking at their watches, hurriedly ending a conversation in order to run off to their next activity. You would be wrong.

I recently went with my brother-in-law to an insurance agency to investigate health coverage for our time in Switzerland. The person with whom we were to speak was tied up with another client. A manager, who was somewhat acquainted with my brother-in-law, invited us to enjoy a cup of coffee while we waited. He stayed with us the whole time chatting away, curious about my story, and deepening the acquaintance with my brother-in-law. He was with us for nearly a half hour. In our view, he “wasted” valuable time that should have been used for getting things done. But did he?

On an earlier visit, I was working for a Swiss construction company being paid by the hour. We were remodeling an office building. The owner of the building visited one day, and heard about my being from the USA. He invited me for coffee during coffee break time. After the normal time for break passed, I kept nervously looking at my watch, feeling that I was stealing from his time and should be getting back to work. He seemed totally unconcerned. I finally returned to work after an hour of conversation. Did he waste his valuable time talking to a laborer?

People gather for an afternoon of coffee,
relationships, and people watching at a
Café in our town of Aarberg
I have been on the lookout for a café here in Aarberg where I can do my writing. There are wonderfully quaint cafés all over town packed with customers, but interestingly enough, none of them have Wi-Fi, a requirement for any café in the USA. The Swiss don’t usually go to a café to work; they go with friends and family to hang out, talk, and watch people. And lingering over coffee after the noon meal is not unusual. Are they wasting their time?

I have experienced many such leisurely conversations in my visits to Switzerland; during the work day, evenings and on weekends. Relationships seem to be as important as getting work done. Because of a more leisurely pace of life, people generally seem to be more relaxed. I believe that taking such relationship breaks actually enhances efficiency and productivity rather than taking away from it. These breaks are daily; I wrote extensively about the leisure of European vacations compared to ours in The Spacious Heart. Spending time just being is a foreign concept to most US Americans.

I think we could learn something from the Swiss about balancing work and life. Although there is indeed stress and burnout among some Swiss employees, I am convinced that it is not nearly the occupational hazard that it is in the US. And their efficiency and productivity hasn’t been affected that much by having more time for relationships. In this study, they are only a little behind the US in the productivity of its workers.

Leisurely efficient. Getting things done while having time for relationships. Sounds like a good combination to me.

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