I’m going to go out on a limb and say I cannot be the only person who really didn’t know much about Switzerland when I moved here. I mean, I knew about Rolex, Cartier, the Alps, Heidi, The Sound of Music and cheese but apart from that, what did I REALLY know about this place? Embarrassingly, very little.
To the Swiss, I am sorry. To everyone else, feel free to ask questions if there is something you’d like to know.
So, I decided to compile an early list of things I have learned thus far.
1) This country is GORGEOUS! I mean, I knew that coming in but to be here daily with Mont Blanc standing in all her majesty across the lake, I feel like Switzerland never fails to take my breath away. In addition, the rolling hills of vineyards, the lake, the cities…it is all so beautiful. However, I encourage that you don’t just take my word for it, you should visit it. For more information on travel here, check out the MySwitzerland website. It is amazing portal of information.
2) Switzerland is expensive. Yeah, yeah, yeah. You think you’ve heard that before but aren’t a lot of places expensive? Yes, they are but not like this. The price of things here set my brain on fire the first month and I was coming from Paris where a box of Kraft Dinner/Mac and Cheese would set you back about $10CDN($7US) but there are two things here that help with that. Salaries here often more than make up for the price and the price adjustments that started this summer to combat the Swiss Franc inflation cap disappearing is making a big difference. So, when you DO come here, remember it is just going to be expensive and the Swiss really don’t care that ‘back home’ things cost a lot less. It’s not endearing to hear that over and over!
3) To combat number 2, I have discovered some amazing places to shop and ways to work the system. My favourite on the top of the list is Aligro. Aliwhat??? Aligro. This is Switzerland’s answer to places like Sam’s Club and Costco. The membership is free, the benefits are amazing. If you live here or are planning on a move here anytime soon, bookmark Aligro and check it out. You can thank me later (and a big thank you to my running buddy for pointing me in the Aligro-direction).
4) Cow bells are EVERYWHERE! So, we live in a pretty happening mini-city but you can imagine my surprise on a recent run when I heard all this clanging and chiming up ahead. It sounded like a group of people practicing how to ring a church bell. What was it? Oh, it was the local cattle hanging out that had recently returned from their summer grazing period in the mountains to the warmer and less harsh environment near the lake. So, the dog and I are learning to run to the sound of cow bells now and I really like it. It is almost hypnotic. Also, I have learned the reason for the bells coincides with the liberty the cows have to roam. Since they are not cooped up in factories or confined to small spaces, the cows often wander off on their own and can get lost. The bells act two-fold at this point. 1) it helps the farmer to possibly hear what direction the cow walked off in and 2) it helps hikers, VTT/mountain bikers and joggers hear if a cow is potentially going to cross their path. Cows rule here, us humans just have to go around. No one wants surprise face-to-face with a lost cow! The bells are an appreciated warning.
5) I knew this one before but I just wanted to reiterate it here: there is no such thing as Swiss Cheese (i.e. the stuff you see in cartoons where the cat is trying to catch the mouse). It is called Emmental after the amazing area it is from. There is, however, an abundance of amazing cheeses here which I am happily testing out.
6) Efficiency is really, truly not just a stereotype, it is a way of life. My biggest complaint of our 10 years in Paris was the inconsistency and absolute disorderly conduct in which everything was apparently run. Ask any expat in Paris how they feel about a trip to the local préfecture and watch their body language change and their eyes roll. It’s a make-work project at its finest. Here, I could cry with how efficient it is and maybe, just maybe, I have once or twice already. I doubt I would appreciate it as much if I had moved from somewhere else that handled things with a degree of effectiveness but I did not and for that I say I even MORE grateful when I go the local commune with a problem and leave 20 mins later with the problem solved and a ‘bonne journée’ from the person serving me. It’s the little things, y’all!
7) The people are NICE. Before moving here I was warned by people and by countless hours of research online that the Swiss are guarded and unfriendly. I am happy to report I haven’t seen that. They have their way of doing things and it is very very much governed by the need for this to be succinct and controlled but that works for me. I’d rather know where I’m standing than not. We moved in and received flowers, cupcakes and a box of apricots (because they are very Swiss and were very ‘in season’ at the time of our arrival) from our neighbours. My children have been thanked by our neighbours for being helpful with carrying back the communal compost bins and I have been thanked for keeping our garden/lawn looking nice. Our elderly neighbour, a Swiss German now living in Suisse Romande, even asked if I needed help with learning how to plant in extremely rocky soil. She actually also asked if I needed to borrow anything like pots or pans before we had fully unpacked. So, maybe the unfriendly Swiss are coming but they haven’t come my way yet and this post IS about what I have learned so far…
8) The wine is great. I don’t need to go too deep on this one as I have already posted about it here but it is something I have learned so it is worth the mention again.
9) There is a LOT to do here. I mean a crazy amount. I was a bit worried at first that we would have to buy heaps of expensive gear to get our lives established here since were are on of THOSE families that likes to do a lot of adventurous things together. However, they have it sorted out, folks!! Since kids grow every single day I was really worried about buying ski gear every year. No need. We went to Francois Sport in Bremblens and got on the rental scheme. You can rent skis/poles/boots for both downhill and cross-country (as well as other sports like snowshoeing, sledding, etc) for an ENTIRE SEASON and just return them at the end of the year. If your kid grows mid-season? No problem, bring the gear in and exchange it for free. Everything the juniors got was brand new, never been used and is costing us a whopping 100CHF per kid for the season. They also do the same with adult stuff so you can either rent for a season if you can’t afford to buy, don’t want to buy or like being someone with brand new kit every single year. They have it sorted.
10) This one is personal but so is this blog so I will post it. I have learned that after countless years of moving, soul-searching, trying out different lives and trends, I have found ‘home’. I don’t know what it is but the very first day we arrived I felt a weight off my shoulders I didn’t know I was carrying. I have the mountains, the lake, the beaches, the city and a happy family. We are all so happy here that it kind of stings when people say ‘make the most if it while you are there’ or ‘Let’s hope Mr H keeps his job’. Moving here wasn’t a lark. It wasn’t a rash decision. We chose this and had chosen it years before it happened. Mr H negotiated his permit to be one that was not attached to his job and allowed us to stay no matter what. We chose this and we continue to choose it every day. I choose it when I get up and head out to get muddy with the dog on a run along the lake. I choose it when I put on heels and head out with Mr H for dinner. I choose it when I pick up my kids from school looking the happiest they have ever looked. We are allowed to choose this so I hope people accept that means there will be no ‘going back’ to someone else’s idea of what home should be for us. It’s a hard thing for some to accept and we’ve already faced ‘commentary’ on this but we are here and we plan to stay. It wasn’t an accident that brought us here. It wasn’t ‘just a job’. It was a choice to live the life we wanted to live.
So, there you have it. I can’t wait to see what else I learn along the way but for now I am a very happy student on Swiss life.
Photo credits: Jennifer Hart, Fotolia