“Let everyone sweep in front of his own door, and the whole world will be clean,” so wrote Goethe, the famous writer and statesman. I think he has a point. Moreover, it’s a lesson in responsibility we can and should teach children from a young age.
Since moving to Gstaad I’ve seen first-hand Switzerland’s very progressive attitude towards giving children responsibility. When any major event comes to town it’s not uncommon to see pint-sized children deftly directing traffic and guarding car parks, their faces a study in concentration while kitted out in hi-vis jackets with sleeves rolled up and too-long, corrugated trousers.
A couple of years after we moved to the region we decided this kind of thing would be good for our boys. Not wanting to suffer another summer of my sons claiming “I’m bored”, I set about finding my eldest a job at the tennis. Without telling him, of course.
When you move to a new country as an expat, you need to put determined effort into learning the language, meeting people and making friends. “It’s easier for children,” is the oft-quoted phrase and while I believe this to be true, it can still be intimidating for youngsters to fit in, especially if their mother decides to kit them out in an unofficial school uniform at the uniform-less local school (see Expat Adventures, GstaadLife Issue 6/2017).
Having decided I’d look into jobs for children at the tennis tournament, I asked around and followed the links on the event website. I completed a simple application form and successfully signed my son up as a Platzanweiser (usher). He would be responsible for handing out wristbands, helping visitors find their seats, and guarding the players’ dressing rooms. For this he would receive the princely sum of CHF 200.
But while the financial remuneration was welcomed and he didn’t really mind the idea of working, he was initially very reluctant. Our conversation on the way to his first shift went something like this:
Him: “Why do I have to do this? I don’t know anyone.”
Me: “Then this is a good way to make new friends.”
Him: “They’ll all speak far better French than me.”
Me: “Then you’ll have to listen and try hard.”
Him: “No-one will talk to me. I’m going to hate it.”
Me: “Well let’s just wait and see.”
I left him with the group, standing sulkily to one side, arms crossed, looking miserable. Uh-oh. Not a promising start.
By the second day, however, it is no exaggeration to report that we barely saw him for the remainder of the tournament. He came home to sleep, but that was about it. When he wasn’t working his shifts he was hanging out with his new pals, visiting their temporary digs in Saanen and attending the event parties as though he’d known his new colleagues all his life. Needless to say he gave no objection to signing up the following year.
I understand the same is true of the beach volleyball championship. I have friends whose children do everything from raking sand to clearing rubbish to handing out the ever-popular ‘freebies’, with the same remarkable results. The experience makes them feel included and responsible.
So if you’ve just moved to the area with children, I thoroughly advise you to get them involved. There are a variety of jobs available for different age groups and the care and support from the event teams is superb.
Working at these tournaments is a brilliant way to integrate your children, to help them make new friends, gain confidence and get that all-important work experience for their CVs. It’s the turn of our youngest son this year. He’s excited to continue what he calls our “family tradition” of working at the tennis. Real broom in hand, he will learn that taking responsibility helps to keep the world clean. You see, I told you Goethe had a point.