Highlights of Geneva, Switzerland – and thoughts on European workplace culture

Geneva, Switzerland header

Above: view of Jet D’eau from Cathedral St-Pierre.

Geneva is not a tourist town and doesn’t really have to many highlights as such. It is a pleasant city though, situated on Lake Geneva (also called Lac Leman) with mountains all around. More than that, Geneva is vibrant; lots of different nationalities, a reflection of all the international organizations headquartered here. There’s lots of money and everything is expensive. I usually buy a fridge magnet everywhere I go but I blanched when I saw that a simple magnet here cost more than $10.

We took a walk, seeing the famous “Jet D’eau” and  and visiting Cathedral St-Pierre for impressive views of the city. These are the tourist highlights of Geneva. It’s not a place to spend much time as a traveler, especially with the prohibitive pricing. We had other reasons though for being in Geneva.

buildings in geneva, switzerland

I was here primarily to meet one of our customers. I’m used to visiting places as a backpacking tourist – but it was actually great to be taken around by locals with expense accounts. Our evening out also ended up as a bit of an eye-opener to the cultural differences between North Americans and Europeans in the work place.

Our customer is very wealthy and spared no expense. We were taken to an a fashionable restaurant in Carouge. When we showed up all of his employees were already seated on one end of the table. They got up as introductions were made and then sat themselves back down. The bosses, including our customer and his wife, sat on one side of the table and we were in the middle between them and the employees on the other side. As the evening progressed, we noticed there was very little conversation flowing between the two sides. The employees spoke amongst themselves (or to us on occasion) while the executives did likewise. On the few times the boss did make a comment or ask a question of an employee you could actually see the atmosphere stiffen up. At one point in the evening the boss’s wife talked about a $500 bottle of wine that they had recently purchased. I noticed one of the employees snicker while the others either looked down or away. The contempt was very thinly veiled. These employees didn’t want to be there.

We were treated to 5 courses of incredible food and wine and it was interesting to experience the international flavor of Geneva. At a table next to us were several Sikh men wearing their colorful turbans. Muslims in white dress sat at another table. It was a very interesting night out and a free meal (which I’ll never turn down) so it was almost perfect.

Back to cultural differences though; my dad is a man of few words. When I told him the story of our Geneva dinner it got him going: “the reason I left Germany was all this class, hierarchical bullshit. I hated it. You don’t have that kind of crap here in North America”. That’s a lot of words for my dad. But it basically summed up the vibes we felt around the table that evening.

Below: “Jet D’eau”. Don’t call it “the fountain” as I did – I saw my host clench up and hold his knife tighter when I said it.

Geneva and the jet d'eau, Switzerland

Below: Inside of Cathedral St-Pierre.

Views of and from Cathedral St-Pierre, Geneva, Switzerland

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We stayed at the Hotel Edelweiss Manotel. Fantastic hotel. It was beautiful but pricey at 350 CHF per night. The amazing thing is that our hosts kind of looked down their noses at us when we said we were staying there. It gives you an idea of how expensive Geneva is.

 

I’d be curious as to how others feel about this, especially anyone who’s had the opportunity to work on both sides of the Atlantic. Is the difference in workplace culture as pronounced as what we experienced above?

 

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