Small country, long reach: How Swiss expats took a slice of home to New Zealand
On Swiss National Day, guest contributor Nina Green looks at the Swiss community that has established itself more than 18,000 kilometres from its origins – in New Zealand.
As a landlocked Central European country with a population of 8.3 million, it’s hard to imagine there would be such a strong Swiss presence in the faraway Pacific Island nation of New Zealand. But look carefully and there are plenty of Swiss influences among the Kiwis.
The Swiss passport is one of the most powerful in the world in terms of ease of travel due to visa-free or visa-upon arrival accessibility. Being such a European power, it seems Swiss citizens are spoiled for choice for where they can travel to and work – but do most know about the country almost a world away from theirs?
My partner Kevin – from Murgenthal, in the canton of Aargau in Switzerland – and I have moved to Auckland, in the North Island of New Zealand, to pursue our careers and take advantage of working on the other side of the globe.
Downtown Auckland, where the author lives. Photo: Nina Green.
Swiss citizens are able to work in New Zealand by obtaining a Stagiare visa. As an American citizen, I was granted a working holiday visa thanks to an agreement between the two nations.
Being so geographically far from each other, we didn’t expect to find any kind of Swiss influence in New Zealand, but quickly discovered there’s a significant Swiss presence when you start to look for it.
Historically, Switzerland and New Zealand have had a positive relationship and hold certain bilateral relations when it comes to work privileges. As Kiwis are keen on improving their economy, there have been Swiss case studies used in New Zealand in attempts to develop an environment where businesses are globally competitive and create highly paid employment, much like Switzerland, reports the New Zealand Herald.
A country like Switzerland appeals as an economic model in that it has one quarter of New Zealand’s land mass but twice the income per capita.
Emphasizing this trend, there are about 45 Swiss businesses operating in New Zealand, contributing to the generation of over 5,000 jobs, according to Immigration New Zealand. In a country with a population of only 4.6 million, that’s a significant economic contribution.
The Swiss have left their mark culturally too. The Swiss Society of New Zealand operates in four different cities and each branch puts on special events. One involves an annual Swiss Market Day where you can get raclette, bratwurst or some Appenzeller cheese and enjoy traditional Swiss entertainment.
Swiss National Day finds the Pacific
Big things are also planned for August 1st, Swiss National Day, as it’s the biggest holiday of the summer among the Swiss community.
“This year the Swiss Military Small Band is visiting New Zealand for the first time ever, and will perform at different locations from Auckland to Wellington," former Swiss Society Auckland President Daniel Wiederkehr told The Local.
“I feel that we are just as much or even more Swiss in New Zealand than the Swiss in Switzerland. We seem to uphold Swiss traditions more than the younger generation,” adds Wiederkehr, emphasizing the importance of sustaining the legacy of Swiss culture in New Zealand.
Daniel is a Swiss national, born just north of Zurich, and moved to New Zealand in 1999 to learn English. Following his presidency with the Swiss Society of Auckland, he now participates as a member of the Swiss Farm Committee and enjoys the variety of events put on by the society.
Swiss Cafe and Bakery in North Auckland. Photo: Nina Green.
When asked if being far from his origins impacts his cultural practices, Daniel explained: “The distance to our home country doesn't really matter anymore as we are able to utilize modern technology. The only time one experiences the full extent of being on the other side of the world is when one is going back for a holiday or for family matters.”
For Swiss citizens missing a little flavour of home there are treasured Mövenpicks scattered around Auckland for authentic ice-cream, as well as specialty import stores where you can get Rivella and Aromat.
A taste of home
Walking into any typical supermarket can be Swiss-flavoured too, with a surprisingly large range of 'Swiss Deli' products. The well-known Swiss brand started manufacturing quality meat products in Auckland in 1982 and supplies cervelat, known as the national sausage of Switzerland, to supermarkets, restaurants, and cafes.
With so much Swiss influence here, it’s a wonder that more young Swiss citizens aren’t going the distance.
When I asked Kevin if Swiss nationals are aware of the travel agreement between the two countries, he said: “No, most people don’t know this even exists”.
In terms of challenges, Kevin explains that the accent can take some adjusting to at first.
“Most Europeans, I think, are used to the British and American accent because you hear it through movies, music, and in school” he says. “Even though Kiwi’s speak English, it’s actually a lot more foreign than what I’ve heard before so it took me time to adjust."
Even though New Zealand is a relatively isolated nation, the distance doesn’t seem to discourage expatriates when you look at its diverse population. With 25.2% of its population born overseas, New Zealand is a cultural melting pot. The amount of foreign residents makes it undeniably welcoming with such a friendly atmosphere.
Obstacles aside, we are doing quite well in terms of living a Kiwi lifestyle. With every rugby game, sheep sighting, and hokey pokey ice cream scoop, we’re embracing every bit of our time here.
Cathedral Cove, New Zealand. Photo: Nina Green.
Swiss travellers planning on making the 18,750-kilometre journey from Switzerland will enjoy a warm Kiwi welcome, a taste of home, and beautiful outdoor scenery comparable to Switzerland's own.
Guest contributor Nina Green works in PR in Auckland, New Zealand.