My heart is heavy tonight as I watch the unfolding of events in my old home. Streets I ran down, places I shopped. A city full of strangers and many people I call family. Please let this horror be done with. I pray all of my loved ones are safe and sound tonight.
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.
Before I proceed with this post, I’d like to address the term ‘hiking’. As a Canadian, I know this term to mean a vigorous, oftentimes challenging, walk primarily on trails (but not always) in the countryside and forest/mountain regions. It requires gear and special shoes. Sometimes I use poles and I most certainly must carry water with me. Married to a Brit, I have had a decade of listening to the term walking (or even the lesser used ‘rambling’) used for the same thing. To me, walking is something I do to take the kids to school or go to the local shops. I walk in the city. I walk in town. I walk in the mall. I can walk in heels. I can walk in flip flops. I cannot, however, HIKE up a mountain in either of those forms of footwear. Walking and hiking may look the same to those who do not do both but try walking up a mountainside in your city gear and tell me if they feel the same to you! I don’t say this to be rude, though. I say this because I think it is a let down of the English language to not embrace more terms for this particular form of movement. When I hear someone say they took a walk on the weekend I picture a flat wander through town. I don’t think of mud, the need to wear gaiters, dirty hands from gripping onto massive boulders or being completely out of breath. So, what is the point of all of that? I just wanted it to be clear what I personally mean when I refer to hiking so there is no confusion about it (Kiwis of the world, I hear you…insert tramping for hiking wherever relevant!) 🙂
Back to my original reason for posting today: families that hike. The juniors grew up in Paris and learned at an early age that walking was going to be a major part of their daily lives. We walked everywhere in the city and by the age of 3 I knew Buddy was ready for more. I spoke about hiking back in Canada and he asked so many questions that I decided to bank on his interest. I knew introducing him to hiking would be more successful if we weaned ourselves into it. So, I bought him a mini Camelbak Skeeter (now discontinued) and we went for a walk through the neighbourhood the very first time with it half-full. He drank all his water in about 30 minutes then had to use the toilet so we traipsed our way home. He was a happy little fella and he never complained about the backpack. I considered it a success.
A few weeks later, we went to the Bois de Boulogne in Paris and tested out my little hiker on a bit more rugged terrain. This time his pack was full and he had snacks in his pockets. He felt like a mountaineer and kept talking the entire time about us being explorers off in an unknown forest. I loved it and so did he! I could tell he was getting into it and it naturally progressed from there. When his sister turned 3, I did a very similar thing.
When Little Miss turned 4 the kids asked about hiking somewhere different. We packed up our kit for a day hike in the Forêt de Fontainebleau and stumbled across a great 6K hike around the Rocher des Demoiselles and it was exactly what we were looking for! Some flat, some steep and some rocky terrain all mixed into one. It definitely challenged all of us and it is, what I believe, what bit both my children with the need-to-be-in-the-mountains bug! We returned, many many times to Fontainebleau to hike. We spent a few weekends in the village of Barbizon at a local hotel and would hike all day Saturday and Sunday. For Little Miss’ 5th birthday, she asked to spend a weekend in the forest. Everyone loved her idea!
As you can imagine, the news that we would be moving to Switzerland came with a lot of excitement for many reasons. I have previously explained how our family love of cheese was a part of our excitement to relocate here. So were the mountains. We are all skiers, amateur snowboarders and definitely hikers. Being here has meant we are 30 minutes away from amazing hiking in the Jura Mountains or in the Alps-both Swiss and French sides. Waking up on a lazy Sunday morning has often led to comments such as, “Can we go hike somewhere after breakfast?” and more often than not, the answer is yes. We do this as family. We hike in silence sometimes and other times we talk the whole way. We leave TVs, games, stress, work, homework, etc behind and just hang out together. I’m not anti-technology by any means but I do think there is something very important and special about spending time with your loved ones whilst ‘unplugged’. A few weeks back we hiked around the ski pistes of Métabief with the kids and the dog and spent 7 hours together without interruption. A fondue spot on the mountain was open so we stopped for lunch then carried on. For us, that was a perfect day.
I’m not saying every family will enjoy hiking together. It IS labour-intensive and your fitness levels will affect how fun or completely not fun it will be. However, it is a great activity to do together as a family and is something everyone can improve upon. My kids want to train up to do a tour of Mont Blanc when they are in their teens. I can’t think of anything better than crossing Italy, France and Switzerland on foot with my family in tow!! Alright kids, let’s do it!
Tips on hiking with kids:
-Work up to it! It’s too much to assume a kid that doesn’t mind a 15 minute walk to the store will enjoy 4-5 hours of difficult hiking. Find a park or a smaller forest path and train up over the course of a few weekends. You’ll be thankful you did.
-Train them to carry a backpack. My kids started with the CamelBak ones but progressed from there to Deuter backpacks with snacks, water bottles and rain jackets, gloves, a hat and an extra polar fleece inside.
-SNACKS!!! Kids and adults get hungry on a hike. Your quads, glutes and hamstrings are working overtime to climb up down and around so make sure you feed them. My kids make their own trail mix and both carry their own packs of pistachios since they refuse to share them. Make your snacks healthy and hearty. Fruit, nuts, protein-packed sandwiches, etc will all last longer and fuel you longer than junky store bought ‘granola bars’. I DO bring chocolate and energy gels/fruit chews in my bag for any crashes in energy. I’ve never used the gels or chews but sometimes at the end of a hike we all have shared the chocolate 😉
-WATER!!! Non-negotiable. We all carry water. The kids each have a bottle. The dog carries two bottles on his back. I carry over a litre and my husband carries about 3 litres in his CamelBak hiking bag. You can almost never have enough water, especially when your hike takes you into higher altitudes. I have taught my kids to at least stop and sip on some water every 20-30 minutes or so even if they don’t feel thirsty. I did not say they chugged a bunch of it. They sip. There is such a thing as being over hydrated and far up a mountainside you don’t want to experience that. But, it is crucial to stay hydrated to keep your body cooling itself properly and to help stave off any effects of altitude. Be smart, drink water.
Gear We Carry:
I like to be prepared. I’m ‘that mum’. So, we carry more than you might want/need to but since it doesn’t bother me on my back I figure I’d rather have this stuff than say “oh no!!” at any point in the trip. As previously mentioned, the kids both carry a bag with rain jackets, hats, gloves, water, small snacks and extra polar fleece. They also have tissues for any running noses or toilet breaks needed! Hey, it happens. But what else do we carry?
My husband carries most of the water and any maps we have. If we have our poles with us, he carries the boys poles and I carry the girls poles. Our kids are too young and too short to have theirs strapped to their backpacks. They do add weight and even folded up they are still long. That leaves me with the majority of the ‘other stuff’ which includes:
-first aid kit
-canine first aid kit (first aid needs adapted for your furry friend including powdered dog- safe antiseptic, non-stick wrap, tick remover, etc)
-crushable water bowl for the dog
-Swiss army knife (Mr H has one, too)
-medication (i.e. antihistamine, paracetamol)
-small mesh garbage bag (no littering in Mother Nature!!)
I think that about covers it!!!
What about you? Do you hike with your family or are you thinking about doing it?
Oh Paris, you big, beautiful, dog poo-filled, angry, luxurious beast, you sure know how to steal a girl’s heart! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I never really wanted to move here. I didn’t have that ‘Paris thing’ that so many women around the world seem to have. If Pinterest was available years ago before I moved here, I would not have had a board dedicated to a future trip to Paris or memes with the above quote by the amazing Audrey Hepburn. It was pretty, it was French but it wasn’t me and it definitely didn’t seem like a good idea.
Then I moved here and I’ll admit it, there is this certain tower here that still makes me smile even after 10 years. Especially when it twinkles at night and I drive past on my scooter. Amazing!
However, this wouldn’t be a blog about ACTUAL life in Paris if it didn’t include a controversial conversation around the Eiffel Tower. You see, there is this idea out there (and thank you, Sex and the City for perpetuating this) that Parisians merely roll their eyes at the ‘intolerable’ structure. That they barely cope with that monstrosity imposing itself on the city and despite it being the most photographed landmark in the world, they would tear it down in a heartbeat. To this, I say, yeah right…and derive much pleasure from. It is understood that to be French somehow also means to control your emotions, never discuss things in the positive and to basically act blasé about life. It’s apparently tough to be French and even harder to be Parisian, and boy oh boy do they show that in their daily life! In 2013 even the commerce minister urged Parisians to be nicer to tourists, much to the smug chagrin of many expats I know. Obviously there are lovely exceptions to this rule, but it is indeed ‘a thing’ I’ve been learning to navigate for the last decade and nothing, absolutely NOTHING, demonstrates the negative, blasé attitude to me better than the Eiffel Tower. In fact, this attitude has even trickled down into the behaviours of a particular group of people that drive me nuts in Paris: the Parisian-wannabe tour guides. To be clear, I am not a tourist-hating resident of Paris but I do have a particular disdain for pretentious and contrived tour guides. Notably ones not Paris (or even France)-born.
Case and point: the other day I was out for a run with a wonderful friend at the Champ-de-Mars, the big park that encircles the Eiffel Tower, and I came face to face with a perfect example of such a tour guide. As we passed an English-speaking tour guide discussing the tower he said, to a group who looked drunk on happiness staring up in awe, “It really is quite ugly and to be Parisian means you must hate it!” Everyone laughed, albeit awkwardly, but I cringed. What? Who was he to tell tourists that have probably dreamed of this moment for years and saved their money that they can either remain ‘not Parisian’ and continue taking selfies or become Parisian and hate it. These people paid to be told to wipe that “omigosh I can’t believe I’m here by the EIFFEL TOWER” smile off their faces otherwise someone might think they are a tourist! Apparently the world now has two types of travellers: Type 1) tourists and Type 2) people who are not from a place, do not speak the language, do not know the culture and yet by adopting a crappy attitude are clearly not tourists and somehow miraculously better.
To that type of tour guide, perpetuating the snobbery and negativity, I say “stop!”. The tower is beautiful and it in and of itself is NOT the problem. What is represents (love, Paris, magic, romance, etc) isn’t even the problem. The problem is HOW it is represented. To be fair, it is just a structure made of nuts, bolts, electricity and iron like many other structures in the world. Yet this particular structure has been relentlessly promoted via media, television, film, music videos and has been used to sell paraphernalia around the world for years. Yet, just as foreigners that have yet to see it in person continue to fall in love with it, Parisians are simultaneously taught to hate, loathe and resent it. How are these two ideas ever supposed to live in harmony as tourists flock to it and Parisians allegedly run from it? I think we need a start-over.
To tourists, types one and two, I say travel is built from a dream so continue to hold onto the Eiffel Tower. It’s worth it. To the locals, try to embrace it a bit more. That tower is a cash-cow for France and who are we to crush someone’s dreams? Without dreams, what do we have? Also, as a point of practicality, it is quite difficult to avoid the Eiffel Tower if you live in the île-de-France region so save your stress and at the very least, adopt a neutral outlook. To the tour guides who fake snobbery to be cool, get over it and yourself. I bet you have selfies stashed on your phone of the tower somewhere before you decided to emulate Parisian blasé.
Have I met Parisians who proclaim to hate the Tower? Oh heck to the yes!! (But did I believe them?? Not for a second!)
I leave you with a collection of photos from my life here in Paris and that big, old structure:
Maybe our mistakes are what make our fate. Without them, what would shape our lives? Perhaps if we never veered off course, we wouldn’t fall in love, or have babies, or be who we are. After all, seasons change. So do cities. People come into your life and people go. But it’s comforting to know the ones you love are always in your heart. And if you’re very lucky, a plane ride away.
-Carrie Bradshaw, Sex in the City
Yes it is 2015 and I am still referencing Sex and the City but I have always felt like the text above spoke to me. My life has been a whirlwind of change from the very start. I am someone who moved around, changed, tried things out to see if they fit (or didn’t), reinvented myself, criticised myself, loved myself…you get the picture. I haven’t sat still for very long. I tried life as a working girl in London, UK. I went to universities in Canada and the USA. I gave life on the sleepy east coast of Canada a try after the hustle and bustle of Toronto wore me out. In fact, of all the places I have lived in my life (USA, Canada, England, France) Paris has been the longest outside of my childhood home. Thus it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that when the date that I would be leaving here became ‘fixed’ that I would feel some pretty crazy emotions about it.
Excitement for our new adventure courses through me but so does melancholy, sadness and fear. There are moments when I feel like my entire life has done nothing but leave a trail of people I love behind me. It becomes increasingly difficult to make plans to see loved ones as they, too, are spread around the world in the wake of my global movement. I know this sounds dramatic but it is also somewhat true. Do I visit friends in Toronto I long to see (hi MOH!)? But if I do that, can I also swing in a 3 hour flight to the west coast to see my brother and his family? What about my other brother and his family in Ottawa? Or my friends on the east coast? If I’m going that far, I also have friends and family in the USA! What about them? Ohhh my head!!
That is where the Carrie Bradshaw quote comes in. You ARE all in my heart and travel with me. We are also a plane/train ride apart. I do find that comforting, even if it has been years since I have seen some of you.
My trail will grow longer when we leave here on the 9th of July but please, don’t for a second think that some part of you isn’t coming with me.
“Sometimes the hardest part isn’t letting go but rather learning to start over.”
-Nicole Sobon, author
“I heard you are moving to Switzerland! How great! You get to start over!”
Innocent comment, I know, but one that I have heard a lot lately. Starting over. Over from what? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to go completely psychobabble on you about a simple statement that I’ve probably uttered over the last few months myself, but what I AM going to do is point out that, to me, I am increasingly finding this to be a bit of a questionable comment.
Perhaps I’m cynical. Perhaps I’m a jerk. But, just maybe, perhaps I’m not.
When I hear ‘start over’ I can’t help but wonder what the person saying it saw in my life that needs a re-do. Sure, living in Paris is NOT what anyone who hasn’t done so assumes. It is hard. The French are not always culturally compatible to how I was raised. I still cut various cheeses in the wrong way. I resent that person who shows up inexcusably late to parties keeping everyone from enjoying snacks (love me some dried out appetisers!!) because culture dictates no eating until everyone has arrived. I still live in fear of saying goodbyes and doing the kiss-kiss at an event with lots of French people. Giving bisous to a large group of people I don’t really know will NEVER be comfortable to me. Somedays, I would rather sneak into a shop and get what I need rather than announce my presences with a bonjour to the staff. I don’t always know what day I want to eat an avocado on and don’t know how to answer my guy at the local marché. I miss having a proper-sized freezer to freeze off meals in and buy in bulk. I would like my coffee with my dessert sometimes! However, missing things and awkwardness doesn’t necessarily mean it was such a fail here I need to start again, does it? Start over? Start fresh (are we leaving stale)? Re-do the last 10 years of my life?
What moving really provides us with the opportunity to live another version of this same life but in an environment that fits us a bit better. We will be the same people. We will still be foreign. Our happinesses and problems will follow us, give or take a few. My husband will still grumble when the dog wants only him to take him out at 7am for he wouldn’t dare interrupt my sleep. My kids will have homework. There will be school drama. There will be making new friends. There will be the all-too-familiar pain of Expat life of missing old friends. I will still need to make dinner every night. The wheel keeps turning. We are not blind to this.
So, when I express my excitement to leave Paris and move to Switzerland, I’m not necessarily saying that I would change the last 10 years. Paris was my home. Paris is where I had my children. Paris is where I met some amazing people. Paris and I learned to have some fun! But, like dating in university, Paris and I were not compatible for the long-haul. I know that but I also know I don’t need a re-do from it. Paris helped me figure out what I need in life. Paris helped me see how capable I am. Paris helped me learn to fight back and value my opinion. Paris helped me learn to be friends with all kinds of different people and learn it is OK to love someone and not necessarily have that much in common. Paris helped me. Paris also taught me that there are people I don’t need in my life like I thought I did. I don’t need to ‘start over’ from that. What I really need is to take that with me to our new home, our new life, and apply it. I have lived in Paris for too long for it not to have changed me and to think I can just move down the road, dust that off and be someone different is silly and unrealistic. In moving, I am taking ALL of the previous versions of myself with me…I hope Switzerland is ready!
To make this post make some sense, I will remind readers that I was born and raised in Canada. My husband was born and raised in England (with some exceptions like France and Germany for shortish periods of time). My juniors, Miss M and Buddy, were born and (thus far) raised in Paris, France. Suffice it to say, there are moments when our cultural ‘norms’ clash big time.
Today is April 1st. For myself and my husband, we know this day as April Fool’s Day. For my children, this day is known as Poisson d’Avril (literal translation: April Fish). Both days revolve around jokey behaviour where someone is out to make a fool out of someone else. Not an entirely awesome premise for a ‘celebration’ but one all of us have inherited from our forepeople. For my husband and I, the idea is to tell a believable joke and then expose the fools who believed it. For my children, the idea is to tape paper fish to other people’s backs. Say whaaaaaa…?? Yeah, I know, it was weird for me at first, too.
However, I thought I was doing well at bridging the gap between what my children understand and what I understand the 1st April to be about. I was wrong. Take this conversation this morning:
Me (to the juniors): I have something really important to tell you guys…I’m pregnant!!
Buddy: What???? That can’t be true! Is this for Fish Day?
Miss M: But it’s not a fish, right maman? You can’t be pregnant with a fish…!
And so the conversation went and my joke fell flat.
Quite clearly she is correct. I am not pregnant with a fish but I appreciate her need to clear that up for us. Let’s call this one a big fat cultural fail on my part.
It’s not easy raising kids in a cultural that is distinctly not your own but we do give it a valiant effort…even if that means having conversations about humans pregnant with fish.
In doing my research about our upcoming move to Switzerland I have learned the Swiss LOVE April Fool’s Day (will have to report back from the trenches what they call it in a year’s time). In fact, they love it so much they seem to still pride themselves a prank that dates back to 1957 involving trees and spaghetti. I will need to up my game, and clarify the rules a bit, before next year rolls around! Until then, enjoy April Fool’s Day wherever you are and make sure you check your back for some Poisson d’Avril 😉