Thursday, November 15, 2007

Hans and Heidi

Are we:

a). trying to convince the SVP that we are the type of foreigners who integrate themselves with Swiss society?

b). doing nothing out of the ordinary; this is how we dress now.

c). celebrating Halloween, Zurich-style?

d). falling into one of those tourist traps where they dress you up in traditional clothing, take one photo and charge you 40SF?

If you guessed answer c, you'd be right! But if you didn't, don't feel bad because I've actually done answer d before and if we were staying in Switzerland longer I'd probably do answer a as well.

Mickey's office hosted a Halloween party at a Zurich night club last month, and though we've never done this in the states, we decided to go all out and rent costumes from a shop this year. Mickey and I visited the costume shop on the Saturday before Halloween and were delighted to find hundreds of costumes from which to choose. A Minnie Mouse costume caught my eye right away. Ever since I'd met Mickey I've wanted us to dress up as Mickey and Minnie for Halloween; I would don the round black ears and oversized white gloves and he would wear his normal clothes. I reasoned, however, that I have decades of Halloweens to do Mickey and Minnie but perhaps will have just one October 31st in Switzerland. Yes, we absolutely had to wear traditional Swiss outfits and go as an Alpine Hans and Heidi duo. I did my best to select a Heidi costume that was fun yet not trampy and hoped that people would assume were embracing, not mocking Swiss culture (okay, maybe we were mocking it a little bit).

My employer wasn't offended by our choice of costume, but he was a little confused. 'Swiss outfits? Why aren't you dressing like Americans?' he said. This response was funny for several reasons, but I tried to explain that though Halloween is an American holiday, the tradition allows you to dress up as anything you like. At least, this is how it usually goes at the Google Halloween parties in Mountain View where the engineers try to out-nerd each other by dressing up in obscure, internet-themed costumes such as a facebook profile, a Google ad or a computer virus. I guess nobody told the employees of Google Zurich this, though, because Mickey and I were the only ones at the party with non-scary costumes. We were surrounded by monsters, witches, mummies, etc. and felt a bit out of place.

Paola mentioned that marketers have unsuccessfully tried to "sell" Halloween to Switzerland in recent years. She said the stores were flooded with costumes, but it didn't really catch on. I was a little surprised to hear this because I feel that Halloween is one of the finest traditions American culture has to offer; what other day of the year allows one to carve a gourd, dress up in a wild costume and collect free candy from neighbors? But maybe this latter aspect of the tradition is the reason why Halloween didn't work in Switzerland. It's easy to get young kids pumped about dressing up as fairy princesses and power rangers, but how do you get the old crotchety neighbors on board with the candy idea?

Perhaps the Swiss don't need Halloween. Fasnacht, a holiday linked to Carnival in February, gives the Swiss an opportunity to dress up in costume, while Räbeliechtli in early November is a holiday on which Swiss children parade down the streets carrying carved turnips impaled on lit candles. Besides, Swiss parents and teachers are probably too smart and health-conscious to welcome a holiday that involves bingeing on processed sugar. Oh, well. If the Swiss ever itch to initiate a 'Dress Like an American Day' holiday, I hope my host family will celebrate with sweat pants, tennis shoes and cowboy hats. And it's okay if they do it mockingly, just a little.

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