A lot of friends referred to our move as a dream life. I hadn’t thought of it like that. For me, we were moving because I needed a change. A change involving lots of green, blue, sun, and open spaces.
A year plus of covid living in an NYC apartment away from extended family will make people do crazy things like moving to another country. In this case, the people were my husband and me, and the chosen country was Switzerland. We had no expectations except that everything would be perfect. How couldn’t it be? This was Switzerland, considered by many as “one of the marvelous countries with great qualities of life.’
With such grand expectations, obviously, we were bound to get disappointed and recalibrate.
But not by much.
A few things went wrong right from the beginning. We landed in Zurich and were greeted by rain. The first few weeks, it rained a lot. We went house searching in the rain. Even as I sit here typing, it’s raining outside, at the peak of summer. We have learned to adjust to this. As one clever swiss lady told me, “It’s a good idea to leave home with an umbrella, a bikini suit, and a jacket. You never know which one you will need or may end up needing all three.” Wise words. Even the weather apps mostly give up on predicting the Swiss weather.
Our next Swiss tussle was in finding a place to call home. Even with a hired rental agency, we had a tough time. Half of it was our expectations of finding a place in a week or two and moving in by the end of the third/fourth week. In the end, we went on multiple day-long visits to various suburbs of Geneva and checked out all kinds of places, some with beautiful gardens, some glass mansions, some small cottages in the middle of nowhere. We finally settled on a place with beautiful views of the lake, some mountains, and some vineyards. We couldn’t have been happier. Except this was in a village on top of a hill, and we were New Yorkers used to hustle-bustle, people and noise. But after our initial apprehensions on adjusting to village life, so far so good..the beauty of our new home keeps us happy and calm.
Coming to transportation, my one observation about Switzerland is that there are two types of people; those who travel by public transport almost always and those who have a car. In NYC, there was a third type; those who depended on car-sharing apps like uber. Since we don’t have a car yet and live on top of a hill, we mostly depend on ubers to get around. But here, there are not that many ubers. We often get the same uber driver, and once, three days in a row, I had the same person pick me up. By day three, we knew quite a bit about each other’s families and life goals. What a way to make a friend. Another time we took a one-hour ride to Gruyere (one of the many cheese towns sprinkled in this beautiful region) but couldn’t get an uber back, so we had to switch three trains and enjoy each other’s company waiting for 20/30 minutes per train. Lesson learned..don’t depend on uber.
I was very excited to speak French in Switzerland. As a francophone, it has always been my dream to speak french fluently. I was sort of living the dream. I was speaking French but not fluently. It was sometimes frustrating when I turned from an adult English-speaking woman to what felt like a 3-year-old French-learning woman pointing at things; myself, the shopkeeper, or whoever was on the other side of my french conversation. I didn’t always like being in ‘french learning’ mode. In fact, it initially felt a relief to visit Zurich for a few days because it is in the german speaking part of Switzerland. But, when we got back to Geneva, I was happy. I could understand the conversations and say a few comprehensible sentences. The french language, for now, continues having a love/not love relationship with me.
Another concept that we had to get used to and are still struggling with, two months into our stay, is that commercial life in Switzerland is not 24X7. Most places are closed on Sundays, a lot of places remain closed on Mondays (including many museums), and almost all places of business close early on Saturdays. The first few Sundays, we felt lost; what are we to do with ourselves? But we are learning to enjoy our home, our outdoors, and our own company, which is always a good thing.
A funny incident I remember from our first month, which I will mention here in case it helps someone else, is the way postal mail works. First of all, nothing unexpected, yet worth mentioning, is that- moving to a new country involves lots and lots and lots of paperwork. And here in Switzerland, much of the paperwork goes and comes to you using the very dependable postal mail workers. This is true, especially during covid times when many offices were closed in June and preferred you email them paperwork, and they will send you the necessary documents, cards, bank pins, invoices, etc., by mail. This was a fine system, except we were not receiving any mail. We waited for many days and weeks before we realized, every apartment in Switzerland has two boxes; one unlocked box for packages (where we were receiving amazon delivery from day1) and a much smaller locked box for mail (which we didn’t notice or realize what it was for a long time.) Since we didn’t have the key to the locked box at our Airbnb, we didn’t realize all our much-awaited mail was getting delivered into the locked mailbox. We had a good laugh and heaved a sigh of relief when we finally opened it and reclaimed all our lost mail. Like other Swiss folks, I have come to trust, love, and look forward to our postal employees. They even deliver packages and groceries. It’s very cool.
A fun fact about Switzerland is that instead of states, you have cantons. There are 26 cantons. We live in canton Vaud, and my personal goal is to visit all 26 cantons before I leave. So far, I have visited 6. We spent the first 6 weeks of our Swiss life in Lausanne. You can’t help falling in love with Lausanne. One of its districts is Ouchy which is right on the lake. It’s spectacular with a harbor front, kids skating, a backdrop of the mountains, and a foreground of the beautiful lake leman. Because it’s so hilly, exercise is built into your daily life. Any direction you go, you are either going up or downhill. It is the 4th largest Swiss city with over 160 nationalities and 145,000 people. Another reason I came to love Lausanne is because of its focus on sustainability.
100% of its electric supply comes from renewable sources. New houses are built based on sustainable standards (2000 watt society), and the city encourages environmentally-friendly mobility.
And finally, being a sustainability practitioner, I have to write a few words on how green Swiss is (all pun intended). I was thrilled to be able to compost pretty much from day 1. The local grocery store sells compost bins, and separating food waste to compost is strongly encouraged. Residents are expected to throw trash and compost locally but take all other recycling to the local déchetterie (recycling center). Since we don’t have a car yet and there is no alternative provision for folks who come new to the country, initially, we were swimming in cardboard boxes and packaging material. But, we got lucky; our furniture delivery guys took our cardboard boxes to dispose of responsibly. Such a relief! This is another good tip for anyone who would like to try it out-ask for help. I also like the fact that A/Cs are not common here, and refrigerators are more efficient due to their smaller size. And lastly, I am very excited to finally be growing my own vegetables in my very own potager (vegetable garden)
Overall, the first few months in Switzerland have been different and nice, exactly what we were hoping for. Not always smooth but never frustrating; more of a learning experience. It’s effortless to travel via bus and train. People are beyond friendly and super nice; they don’t mind that you don’t speak French fluently and appreciate you trying. There’s beauty all around you at all times. You are never too far from a lake, the mountains, a meadow, or even a hike. This is always a good thing because Switzerland has access to the best of chocolates, bread, and cheese...all the time. We have made a few fun discoveries so far: a delicious savory snack called butter flutes, filet de perches, and boxes of fresh local cookies sold at most bakeries. It’s amazing how many shapes, sizes, and colors are contained in each box.
I hope Switzerland makes it to your travel bucket list. You won’t regret it. Thank you for visiting my blog, and hopefully, see you in Switzerland.