Today, December 8th 2018 the Residence representing the Consulate General’s Home of Switzerland in Los Angeles closed its doors for good. With the flag at half-mast and a very shabby “Estate Sale” a three-decade long history for us Angelino-Schweizer ended. This last rummaging in useless items was about as sad and odd as the political decision to transfer the Consular affairs of California’s Confederate representation to San Francisco.
A decision that’s disliked by every Swiss living in the LA basin. Who cares? It’s not like anyone in the history of the Mission actually listened and implemented what most of us expats expected from our Consulate. Even getting a passport renewed was an unnecessary ordeal that now is extremely complicated for us: We are expected to fly to San Francisco to consult with you. We ponder how this could have happened?
The Swiss Embassy made many feeble attempts generating cultural outreach, well – mostly laughable, rather embarrassing ideas about how to bridge Swiss values with a very lax California culture. Our Consulate has utterly missed the point of generating an understanding of how to boost qualities that would enhance tourism to flock to our country of cheese, mountains, chocolate & watches. With the generous opportunities provided, the honorable people selected to take a job in California have a duty to show-off Switzerland’s best values. (it’s a privilege to be named Ambassador to LA – or you “know” someone in politics that owes you big time). Well, most of these characters failed to advertise to Americans that the Swiss precision mechanical and electrical engineering is amongst world leading businesses; That the Swiss produce most turbines used in Aviation. We are leading Europe in hydroelectricity, and about half of all quartz-crystal watches are fashioned in this tiny Nation of 7 million, yet unknown by most everyone. Uh, yes – most Americans still think we speak Swedish and are confused about the Life-Guards uniform or the American Red Cross connection… In California none of my friends seems to understand there is no snow in Locarno, although it looks just like LA.
The Estate Sale just showed one last time – that besides tons of cheap glassware and antique Roschti shredders (yup, you call it a hash-brown grater…) – the beautiful Spanish style home lacked modernity and a sense for contemporary flair. Instead I remember attending lame weekend movie gatherings, invited for screenings of stories with German subtitles; because the selection was in a dialect most Swiss can’t even understand themselves. My American guests were left clueless for two hours and resorted to sipping the cheapest white wine served; the simple glassware seemed more valuable.
I offered to cook for special events – never heard back from the Embassy; Clearly, a qualified chef with Hollywood connections was to far stretched for the imagination of any Bünzli… (That’s a Swiss prescriptive word for a hick limited to simple thoughts, incapable of comprehending a world beyond what he chooses to hold truth…) Instead, some foods prepared for Gala events really left me infuriated about the quality we served to foreign guests, representing the Nation with the worlds leading culinary and Hoteliers schools!
These “efforts” perfectly represented the overall narrow mindedness of people in charge of Swiss international affairs that come here and dislike the “difference” and surely promoted relocating the Embassy based on reasons that are absurd. The notion that Los Angeles with over 106 world respected Consulate Residences is lesser central in comparison with the demographics of San Francisco/Sacramento with merely 30 National Embassies’, is not sufficient an explanation why to abandon Hollywood. The truth is that people with zero understanding of how to adapt to the California mentality were in charge – or felt important to pretend to be in charge – and decided to purchase an overpriced new location on the edge of California. It would have been totally within the budget to hold on to the perfectly located Residency in Hollywood. I’ll gladly point out where Swiss money is squandered elsewhere in the world… Just ask!
To understand why we Swiss folks in greater Los Angeles are numb about this “transfer”, one needs a little education in how different the mentalities are of people raised and heeded in a nation where etiquette, decorum and title are a basic doctrine. Growing up in this little nation tugged away between Germany, Austria, French and Italy we pride ourselves for punctuality, cleanliness and regulation (yes, there is a tiny speck called Lichtenstein, sorry – I nearly forgotten…). For anyone brought up with “narrow Swiss views” arriving in America for the first time, they immediately feel a sense of insult; having to adapt to the personal form of “You”, the lack of acknowledging inherited or the absence of married-into title: As a wife of a doctor, you would be bespoken to as Frau Doctor (Mrs. doctor) at home… People here in the US don’t care much about your education. Americans are commonly unpunctual, unapologetically underdressed for any event and seemingly to blunt about money, inappropriate gestures or violate unknowingly your expected modesty.
It’s Hollywood. It’s about who you know (and why), what car you drive, how much money you make and how much you’re going to invest to make me feel equal. “What can I do for you…”
To be Swiss in America already sets the standard high. We have a reputation for being clean, born rich and special; no Ami really knows why – they just like everything Swiss! We are alpine exotic and liked by most, assumed to have inherited neutrality, blessed with wisdom and protected with free health insurance. Even our trains run on time! What a perfect preface to build relations from! Sending us a team of Consular mops that can’t relate with these expectations is about as useless as serving Maggie Sauce with Chamomile Tea. It’s frustrating trying to make a Swiss Embassy employee smile! This hereditatry world-view is not the result of Swiss efforts to advance our appearance; it is the direct result of expats balancing pride andour need to escape narrow-mindedness.
In reverse; after living for over thirty years in Los Angeles I find Swiss people prejudiced about everything different, stiff and opinionated. (Yes, I realize the hypocritical perspective while writing this blog…) From the Consulate General to the secretaries that are send here through Bern, they all seem disconnected from the culture and lifestyle needed to invite, impress and promote some of the best Switzerland has to offer. Their apparent modesty is actually counter-productive. Who is responsible for sending us these clueless characters? They are not needed in Los Angeles nor helping in Sacramento!
Whomever signed off on closing the Swiss Residency in Hancock Park a year after moving the Embassy to Northern California made a big mistake. Stop trying to convince us that cultural outreach is better in San Francisco or Sacramento. Hollywood is the place to be! The Swiss could have at least kept the Home here. With the upcoming Olympics it is painfully clear to us that you in Bern really lost your marbles. It’s a shameful attest to the naiveté of people in administrative power to lack vision and comprehending what is needed in representing 150’000 Swiss-American souls trying for decades to be heard. Gosh, some of these boring Consular peeps are now relocating to San Francisco like the lackluster pieces of furniture that were not sold… You have failed here; wherever you go, there you are!
Being a dual citizen puts me in a complex reality; I should not speak up as an educated and “norm oriented” Swiss, but my “American-mind” can’t just sit in silence either… I’m fully aware of this dilemma. I feel as if a part of my Heimat-pride is ripped away in Los Angeles; what little there was of an assembly – although never fully utilizing a perfect representation – now left us abandoned. A classical Swiss maneuver; when administration fails, pack up and disappear. Unqualified to even amend the Wikipedia pages, or updating the meta-tag search engine info on the Swiss Embassy pages: The first twenty internet searches about “Switzerland in California” pull up outdated information claiming the Consulate General’s home is in Los Angeles and the “Swiss events in the US”-page never had an activity… Yup, most of the people I’ve met throughout the last thirty years representing my interests here, demonstrated no understanding in how to utilize today’s internet (or their cellphones). I’m sure their resumes are excellent…
Good Bye. My Swiss friends whisper secretly how terrible this decision is. Our Swiss Consulate has missed many opportunities in the past; unable to entertain on the level of Hollywood, incapable of reaching across nations. Failed to align traditions with US holidays. So we plead: Switzerland please, send people to the US that helm our foreign relations with fascinating personalities who actually understand and care about living abroad. Include us Angelinos; we know a thing or two about living in California. Don’t have bureaucrats deciding on our behalf – they don’t have a clue what’s needed here. Give us your best; we deserve it!
We all have/need a driver license; ’cause LA is big! …the minimum we expect from our Consulate General (hint…). Send us enthusiasts that embrace differences and enjoy ethnic fusion. People that are gregarious, truly curious, that speak English & Spanish, that love to entertain, respecting good Swiss/Spanish/American foods, happy folks who embrace a world beyond “Swiss-Boarders” and foremost – souls that relate to the issues that are important to our Nation, todays world in general & can promote modern Swiss culture. Our Embassy must compete with ideas that make us Helvetics proud. Send us motivated leaders that will further build upon thirty years of established relationships…
Shoot – (I lost my thread on reality for a minute…) – it’s far too late for that last hope, I guess – now that you sold our last piece of Swiss-land! What a waste!
I need a Kirsch!