Friday, May 31, 2013

Not Doing It Yourself

In many countries, taking on small household tasks without professional help is not only cost-effective and at times pleasant, it is a marker of self-sufficiency and ultimately social worth.  Not so in Switzerland.  Why?

An Englishman whose fan belt breaks or whose drywall needs replacing is likely to make a trip to the shop, invite over a friend, and start bashing away at the problem.  For the Swiss, the first recourse is almost invariably to call in a professional.  As usual, there are a host of explanations for this, some with more explanatory power than others.  Swiss homes are notoriously difficult to work on – the solid concrete walls require hammer drills with diamond-tipped masonry bits just to hang a picture, and the inconsistency in the colours of electrical wiring is surprisingly, and dangerously, un-Swiss.

More important, though, is the Swiss attitude toward expertise. The Swiss education system does not produce generalists: students are streamed from an early age and most careers involve a long and in-depth combination of formal training and internships. The result is a remarkably skilled population who are uniquely well-prepared for their station in life, whether butcher, baker, or cardio-thoracic surgeon.  

The other result is that the Swiss often regard most endeavours outside of their own professional and Freizeit bailiwicks with wariness.  Further, Swiss perfectionism means that 'good enough' is never just that, and that plasterwork or car washing must never be approached in a casual manner, but instead be attacked with the vigour and expertise that the journeyman earns through years of careful training. 

Surely, then, re-wiring a light switch box is something best left to the professionals?

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