Tag Archives: sexism

Daily Life auf Deutsch (& wanting to pull my hair out)

Like any other couple, Kay and I share the responsibility for maintaining our household together. We usually consult each other before making decisions regarding travel, large household purchases or social events, but aside from that we trust each other to get shit done.

Since we have switched to German during the week and because we live in Switzerland, much of this coordination is done in German. I am still by no means fluent, but we talk about things so regularly in German that sometimes I struggle with the English expressions for some things.

Still, sometimes it seems SO difficult to organize things here, either because of the German miscommunication or because of the traditional husband-wife stereotypes still prevalent here. Sometimes I wonder if more of my problem results from the latter…

One morning while Kay was in the army I had a surprise ring at the doorbell in the morning while I was finishing up to leave for work. I was caught off guard and didn’t have a lot of time, but I invited the guy up to answer the door and his questions.

Kay had emailed the bathroom guys (per their request) to cancel the appointment that day because they had already fixed our grout and delivered the extra bathroom tiles, so I had completely forgotten about it and was wondering why they came. Apparently they had a double delivery of extra tile scheduled and wanted to know where to put it.

Fine. I can deal with that. Extra, extra tile is never bad.

But the guy also pressed the grout issue. I told him it was fine, it was fixed, but he wanted to go to the bathroom to make sure. I humored him.

I showed him to the master bath and explained that the problem with the grout was beneath the towel hooks, which I had already remounted by myself in Kay’s absence. You couldn’t see any difference when they were remounted. The guy seemed a little unsure about my explanation, but I assured him it was fine and that was the last thing for the bathroom portion of the house to be “done”. But he didn’t trust me. He actually asked me,

Say what??

Yep. He was questioning this poor housewife’s ability to know what flaws we outlined during our home inspection and which ones are repaired. Considering that I am the one that found out about both grout problems and complained, I am confident that I am perfectly capable of signing off the agreement slip without phoning my husband for permission.

So I told him, “No, I don’t need to call my husband. Everything is fine. And anyway he is in the military so even if I wanted to call him, he is unavailable. Where do I sign? Are we done now? I have to go to work!”

But I was still so annoyed that once again someone thinks that I’m helpless or inferior to my male counterpart, when usually Kay is the one asking me if all the mistakes are fixed or if we are missing any details.

Later, the same week, Kay messaged me asking me to call and coordinate with the window people to come fix the window issues in the flat. After playing phone tag while the company sorted out why I was calling in the first place, I was speaking with a woman about a time when the guy could come take a look at the windows.

I told her that it needs to be early in the morning or late in the evening because I work during the day, so she asked me, “How about 10am?”

Well, no. Because I work 40 minutes from home so I cannot leave for a 10am appointment without taking a half day. I told her that doesn’t work since I work from 8-5 and asked her if I can have an appointment after 5pm.

“How about 5pm on Tuesday?” she responded.

I don’t think she really put two and two together with the working 40 minutes away and working 8-5. I asked her if we could push it later, at least until 5:30pm, which is a stretch for me but I could do it.

“Sure, 5:30 is great! We’ll see you on Tuesday at half past five!”

Only I totally forgot about the appointment because I missed my ical reminder and Kay was gone so I went to work a little later at 8:30am and came home at 6:00pm, thirty minutes too late. Oops.

But the worst part is that I rescheduled the appointment for 7:30am the next week and the window guy surprised me at home the night before, at 6:10pm. 6:10pm! He gave me a whole schpiel about how 7:30am was sooo early in the morning for him and me and wouldn’t it be better to just do it now if I had time. It was bizarre.

If 6ish was a better time for the guy anyway, why didn’t the lady on the bloody phone just work with me when I told her my working hours were 8-5?! Was she trying to make life as a DINK harder?

I might not be able to express myself fully or completely naturally in German, but I know enough that I hope I can get my point across without terribly offending all of Switzerland. I know it’s awful that I’m not at home all day cleaning the house and letting workers in and calling Kay to ask if everything is OK, but I could use a little more faith from these people.

My mother raised me to be a strong, independent woman and I am perfectly capable of taking care of things by myself while Kay is gone.

Do you ever feel like people treat you like the smaller half of your marriage?

Sexism in Switzerland

Everyone likes to think that Switzerland is the land of neutrality and therefore also equality, and for the most part, we do live in a country with great jobs, wonderful healthcare and top quality of life standards. But Switzerland still struggles with the concept of equality between men and women (among other things).

In general, the entire society is set up for men to work and for women to stay at home with children. After awhile expats will notice this traditional sentiment in both community policies and in the actions of residents.

One small example is how banks and post offices are open from around 8am-12pm and 2pm-6pm, which coincidentally happen to be the same hours people are expected to be working in an office. For many, the bank and post are closed when they go to work, closed at lunch time and closed by the time they get home. But for the Swiss, this is no problem if your wife would just stay at home and sign for your packages for you!

Maybe you think that’s a stretch, because single men still have the problem with the post and bank hours like anybody else. I agree, so let’s talk about money. (Oooh, the Swiss hate doing that!)

Although I graduated from university before my husband, I am both female and younger, which puts my salary well below his. Of course we have  different work experiences and we are in completely different fields, but if you look on the salary calculator on the federal administration website, or any of the salary records books available here for job research, you will find that in most jobs, men earn around 1000CHF more per month for the exact same work experience as their female counterparts.

Not only are men are generally earning an average of 10,000-15,000CHF ($10,728-16,092) more for the same work, but they are usually the ones receiving promotions and earning management level positions, which pushes their salaries even further above female workers.

Lots of people cite the so-called “pregnancy excuse” that women deserve less money because they take off time for pregnancy leave. Let’s be clear here: pregnancy leave in Switzerland is 14 weeks. The military requires* all Swiss men to complete 18-21 weeks of boot camp and the general rule is 3 weeks of military a year until around the age of 35, depending on the officer’s rank and how fast he completes his hours.

Roughly calculating how many weeks Kay had to spend in the army training and how many weeks he is serving the military each year, it comes to around 100 weeks in his case. This means that if I want to “get my fill” of women’s cushy maternity leave benefits, I would have to have one baby per year for 8 years. But considering that daycare starts around 2500CHF ($2682) per month, I probably would not be able to afford to keeping working after child number two.

OK, I’m getting a bit carried away. Most Americans already know about the bull shit surrounding maternity leave in the US and how it is a poor excuse for paying men more, but here in Switzerland the whole “let’s pay men more money and send them to the military for a month each year” just pushes the issue even further.

I’ve already talked about how marriage increases your taxes if both partners work and how I lost 11% of my income to taxes when we married. We could “fix” this tax problem if I quit my job and had some children, but obviously that is not on the agenda at the moment. I’m totally fine being a DINK couple, but when we do something like buy a flat together, we do it TOGETHER. As in, I will own 50% of the flat and my husband will own 50% of the flat. He is not buying it on his own, as our contractor seems to believe.

I haven’t mentioned who our contractor is until now, but I am so tired of the sexist, traditional ways they work that I’m not keeping it a secret any longer.

Allreal is a typical Swiss company. We were assigned a general contractor when we bought our flat who we’ve been “dealing with” for the past year and a half.

Usually Kay deals with emailing and calling the guy because he is obviously the native speaker and it does make more sense for him to do it. But Kay travels a lot and it’s not like I am incapable of communicating in German. Allreal ignores Kays emails most of the time and they ignore mine too, but they do something particularly annoying when they DO email Kay back.

They “forget” to copy me.

And it’s not like Kay forgot to cc me. Oh no. He includes me on all of our emails to Allreal because he needs my input for all of our joint decisions. We are a team after all. But instead of hitting “reply all”, our contractor always replies only to Kay, without fail.

At first I thought he was just stupid or daft, but after Kay asked the guy several times not to forget to include me on the email because Kay would be abroad for work, I now suspect this is some Swiss sexism at work.

I mean, why should he include a wife on the emails? It’s pretty obvious that in Switzerland only men have any money or any balls to make decisions about buying property. This is man business! And an American woman? Good lord, she must not know anything about this.

What really sealed the deal for me was when I wrote an email to the contractor while Kay was abroad and I deliberately excluded Kay because I wanted to force the contractor to reply only to me. I honestly thought he would ignore my email, but you know what he did? He took the time to cc not one, but TWO of Kay’s email addresses so that he was on copy for the reply.

I am furious. FURIOUS.

If Allreal’s employees can take the time to include my husband on emails about our business, they could take the time to hit “reply all” and stop excluding me from all communications. It is poor judgement on how to handle clients and frankly, it disgusts me.

Maybe all contractors in Switzerland hold similar views, but with business practices like this, I am certainly not going to recommend Allreal to anyone I know. And maybe it is a small thing, but it echoes a big sentiment that is felt all around the country in all aspects of life here: Women should stay at home with the children where they belong.

*Military requirements are changing in Switzerland and people are no longer jailed for refusing to participate. In some cases, men can fulfill civil service roles, do their service all in one go, and pay to stay out of the military.