US News & World Report ranked Switzerland this week the “best country in the world” on its annual Best Countries report. The ranking does not surprise me–life here is pretty good–but it’s far from perfect, so I thought I’d delve into what Swiss life is like for an outsider.
More on the report
The report analyzed 80 countries on attributes that are “relevant to the success of a modern nation” such as: Adventure, citizenship, cultural influence, entrepreneurship, heritage, movers, business, power and quality of life.
“Switzerland debuts as the world’s ‘top’ country, in part because of its progressive social systems, protection of human rights and business-friendly environment,” the authors wrote in their report. Overall, Switzerland scored nine out of ten points on metrics such as “cares about the environment,” “religious freedom” and “cares about human rights.” Switzerland also scored a perfect ten for “safety” and “economically stable.”
My take on the report
If I had to pinpoint my top “quality of life” metric about living in Switzerland, it would be safety. Violent crime is basically non-existent in Switzerland, so I feel safe everywhere here. Every street I walk down, every bus I ride, every poorly-lit park I walk through as the sun sets. It is as if I’ve been holding tightly onto something inside of me–like I might hold onto my purse on a crowded D.C. metro–that I’ve finally released while living in Switzerland. I’m not looking over my shoulder. I’m carefree. And that feeling is worth so much more than I can quantify.
Switzerland cares about the environment more than any place I’ve ever lived and I was literally the poster child for composting in the 90’s (my one and only modeling gig). Recycling, composting and using public transportation has been ingrained in the Swiss mindset for generations. The Swiss do not brag about solar panels or eating farm-to-table, because it is simply something everyone does every day thanks to the government’s commitment to green initiatives. This country is the perfect example of how small, every day habits can slow climate change. Switzerland is committed to making big changes, too.
As far as economic stability, Switzerland certainly lives up to its ultra-wealthy reputation. National debt and unemployment do not often make Swiss headlines…if ever, come to think of it. That said, the Swiss rely on foreign businesses keeping money in their banks and their lenient tax laws may not be sustainable for much longer. But for an expat family who is paid in dollars, it is challenging living in one of the most expensive cities in the world. An average coffee is $8, a McDonald’s meal is $15 and a movie ticket is $25. We didn’t move here to eat Big Macs, but even grocery shopping can be appalling. Thank goodness the best Switzerland has to offer is free: Nature.
Too good to be true?
Switzerland’s “top ranking comes from consistently high scores in ‘soft power’ areas, such as providing an inclusive society and a high quality of life for its people,” said US News contributor Christopher F Schuetze, adding that this perception doesn’t take into account Switzerland’s growing issues such as nationalistic populism, dependency on EU trade and difficulties foreigners have finding jobs.
Oh Mr. Schuetze, how right you are!
Being a Swiss citizen is good. Very good. If you happen to have been born in Switzerland, you’ve won the jackpot. But even being born here like our son will be does not mean he’s a citizen, since Switzerland does not grant citizenship to babies of foreign parents. He will always be an outsider like us and the Swiss are not kind to outsiders, thanks to rising “nationalistic populism” which is being used as an excuse for the government to enact xenophobic policies.
So, you still want to move to Switzerland and become a productive member of its society? Don’t hold your breath. If a Swiss company wants to hire a foreigner it has to first prove that it advertised to and tried to hire any Swiss citizen who was interested in the position, despite his or her qualifications for the job. And having a job offer on the table first is the only way to obtain a temporary visa to live in Switzerland. It took us stacks of paperwork and countless hours to prove that we deserved a coveted one-year visa to live and work in Switzerland. Each year, we do it all over again.
Luckily, we are not seeking asylum from a war-torn country or trying to receive some of Switzerland’s top notch health care for a debilitating condition. We are living here to “have an experience,” which is something only privileged citizens of a first world country would do.
Living in the world’s “best country” is good, but that “good” comes with an asterisk. It is good if you have enough money to afford living here and it is “#1 in the world good” if you are a citizen. Otherwise, Switzerland can be a very unwelcome place.
We’re going to enjoy the ride as long as we can!