Swiss Saturday: The Passive Aggressive Note

by Evil HR Lady on February 9, 2019

A couple of days ago, a neighbor placed the above note in our mailbox. Here’s a rough translation (as I’m not a professional translator).

Dear Lucas Family,

Is it too difficult to walk through the house before you go to bed (and turn all the lights off)?

Neighbors, animals, and the environment (subject light pollution!) thank you! 🙂

And more money will stay in your wallet.

Electricity is not infinitely available. Your son will also need energy in 50 years.

Friendly greetings

[unintelligible signature]

Now, the unintelligible signature isn’t an accident. It’s part of the Swiss art of passive aggressiveness. You see, there’s nothing the Swiss like better than rules, and if there isn’t a rule about something and they want there to be, they’ll pretend there is and shame you for not following it. We’re foreigners, so obviously we need to be told what to do at all times. But, they don’t actually want confrontation, so the note works!

Now, if our light was actually bothering someone, they could have knocked on our door and spoken to us directly, but that defeats the purpose, because they might find out there was a reason for the light being on in the night. (There is.)

Many expats share stories of their Swiss neighbors doing the same to them. Not parked right? Anonymous note. Laundry not done to the proper Swiss sensibilities? Anonymous note. Child’s toy left in the back yard “too” long? Anonymous note.

Passive aggressive anonymous notes aren’t unique to Swiss culture, of course. As far as I know, lots of cultures engage in this, and it’s a terrible thing to do. Don’t try to manipulate people into behaving the way you want (are you so lazy you can’t walk through your house and turn out the lights?). Just be direct and straight foward. “Your light bothers me at night. Can you please turn it off?”

The same thing applies at work. “Can you run your emails through spell checker before sending them out?” is a lot better than, “I know you went to a state university, but many of our clients are Ivy Leaguers who expect better quality emails.”

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