Tag Archives: England

Testing times

10 Feb

On the first Wednesday of February each year, the sirens are tested across Switzerland. Even though the testing is publicised in the newspaper, radio and television to remind people that it is just a test, I had completely forgotten this week until the piercing sounds rang out at about lunchtime. The sirens last for about one minute and sounds about as apocolyptic as it gets. I have no idea what tourists think when suddenly all of the sirens begin.

I can’t even begin to imagine what it would have been like to be alive in the blitz and to hear these sirens again and again, day after day. I also find it about surprising that a country that hasn’t been to war in over 500 years feels the need to have a general alert signal but we have nothing like this back in England. I guess we would have to just rely on social media and the BBC to tell us if a state of emergency had been declared.

In the current political climate, it is easy to see why such practices still take place. Virtually every morning when I wake up, the first thing I do is check the news to make the rest of the world hasn’t been destroyed by one of our world leaders accidentally pressing a button that they shouldn’t have.

When my friend came to stay last weekend, she was surprised that we had a nuclear bunker built into the house. The entire population of Switzerland can be accomodated in nuclear bunkers with a reinforced steel door, if the need arises. This might seem paranoid but people in the UK were still building nuclear bunkers into the 1980s. The bunkers are also checked periodically as well. Inside they have a built-in radio so that messages can be relaid about what it happening and when it is safe to leave the bunker.

Our nuclear bunker is actually what we use as a basement now. So, if we did have to go down there and shelter, we would be sharing the space with ski equipment, bikes, recycling that needs to be taken to the recycling centre and a nice collection of wine. I remain hopeful that these things are like travel insurance: you have it just in case but you never have to use it. Let’s hope it stays that way.

Another year older

5 Sep

Yesterday I celebrated by 35th birthday. I’m not really a big birthday celebratory but I was persuaded in the evening to have Raclette and a birthday cake. A choice I could never regret.

It got me thinking about the cultural differences between UK and Switzerland on the subject of celebrating aging.

In the UK a work colleague would normally arrange a cake for your day because it’s your birthday and why should you go to the effort of baking/buying a cake and hauling it into the office? In Switzerland it is very much expected that you bring something in for everyone.

I have a bit of luck on this front because 5 people from my department had birthdays over the weekend or yesterday. I know from prior years that this normally results in far too many croissants, cakes, pastries and other sweet things. I didn’t bring anything in, not because I am tight, but because I will bake something over the weekend to bring in next week when everyone’s sugar levels have reverted back to normal.

The cake thing I can deal with but not so much the hand-shaking, kissing and congratulating that comes along with it. All of these things are ok between close friends and family but I find it a bit unsettling between work colleagues.

So many people have congratulated me. But what are they actually congratulating me for? I have achieved nothing, apart from not dying and getting a day older. And I am fairly sure that they can’t possibly be congratulating me for evading death for the 35th consecutive year.

At home people just wish you a nice day and tell you not to get too drunk (because that’s the only pastime of the British). I find both of these sentiments to be much more preferable than wondering if my work colleague will shake my hand, kiss me three times or hug me.

I do sound like I’m complaining but I’m. It really. It’s these small cultural differences than I found so interesting and, sometimes, funny. Will I ever get used to these small things? Will I always find it awkward and a touch embarrassing? Only time will tell. But I will say one thing: it’s far better to be congratulated and feeling awkward than for your birthday to be forgotten.

Things that I miss about home

20 Aug

As I have just returned from a weekend at home, here are the main things that I miss about home:

1. People 

This goes without saying… Leaving your home land, or even city, has the added anguish of leaving behind the people who make the place great. It is only at this point that you realise that it is true that you do take people, places and things for granted.

2. Being able to understand everything and being understood

Because I moved to an non-English speaking country I have the language barrier. And it really is a barrier (think Krypton Factor style brick wall). It isn’t the same striking up a conversation with the old lady who just got onto the bus. Instead she talks to me, sees my hugely bewildered look and walks off tuttering and muttering to herself in frustration.

3. Food

Yes, yes the reputation of British food is poor across the globe but nothing quite compares to mum’s home cooking. Or fish and chips for that matter.

4. More TV channels

In an attempt to help me with point 2, I do watch some German TV channels. In Switzerland the number of UK channels is small, especially when compared to Sky. The variety of the channels that are available are pretty trashy and it make me wonder what other nationalities think of our programming.

5. No intermissions in the cinema

An intermission at the cinema probably did exist in the UK in the 1960s or something but the intermission has still not been phased out in Switzerland. Half way through the film… BANG! The film, which was not designed for a break, stops and the lights come on. Plus there is very little warning when the lights go out and the film start again. Very annoying.

6. Humour

The British sense of humour is renowned the world over for being hard to understand but also the best in the world. I have now stopped telling jokes. Things just aren’t funny if you have to explain them.

7. Bread

No Warburton’s or Hovis?? Oh come on, that’s not fair!

 

Birthday visitor

13 Sep

One of my good friends from home, Jenny, came over to stay with me for my birthday. It was such a surprise when she asked me months and months ago if it was ok if she came. It felt like a lifetime ago wait until she was here but before I knew it, it was time for me to be a year older and she had arrived.

Here are some of the things that we did while she was visiting.

Zeughauskeller

After arriving at the main station we stopped for a few beers and when hunger hit we moved to Zeughauskeller, which is a lovely, but quite touristy, restaurant that serves traditional Swiss food.

Jenny didn’t need a lot of convincing to join me in trying a Corden Bleu, which is pork, ham and cheese in breadcrumbs with French fries. It went down a treat and so did the mass of beer that we both had. I’ll be honest I had to use two hands to pick it up! We also had a dessert, which was about the size of a UFO to follow. It hit the spot though!

Jenny's dessert!

Jenny’s dessert!

Biking and the lake

On the Tuesday, we hired some bikes and went cycling around the lake. It was the first time that I had been on a bike in a decade I think. I was a bit wobbly at the start of the day but as the day progressed it got a lot easier. Having said that it wasn’t too much fun when I managed to fall off the bike and into a hedge because I was trying to avoid a parked car. My chain slipped off as well because I was messing about with the gears when we were stopped looking at the scenery. I still don’t understand the gears on the bike. It’s a lot easier driving because you can hear when that the engine is struggling and, consequently, when you need to change gear. On a bike I always think that I’m not fit enough which is why I’m finding it tough going and not because I should change down gears!

The day couldn’t have been more perfect. The sunshine was out and it was about 28 degrees. We cycled from the main train station to Thawil and then got the ferry from Thawil to Rapperswil. In Rapperswil, we stopped for lunch at a nice pizza place that I have been to a few times before. There is also a medieval castle in Rapperswil that we looked round and they have some deer as well. It was idyllic. We then cycled from Rapperswil to Stäfa, where we stopped for a swim in the lake. Swimming in the lake has fast become one of my favourite things to do in the summer; the only problem is that I felt that I didn’t make the most of the lake swimming while I had the chance. I will do next year though! We caught the train back home and dropped the bikes off. I looked on googlemaps and saw that we had cycled about 25km, which isn’t too bad when you considered how long it had been since I had ridden a bike.

It was great fun. We both enjoyed it, even though we were both a little sore the next day.

image

Our bikes for the day, parked up as we have a well deserved break at a cafe

 

Night out with friends

After the cycling and swimming, we joined some of my friends for some drinks. I celebrated my birthday at 12 midnight on the dot with tequila! We partied into the early hours of the night and had a fantastic time. I am sure that there are a lot of pictures and videos somewhere but fortunately I don’t have any of them so I can put up a link to them

Exploring the city

Jenny and I spent the next day exploring the city. Again, the weather was perfect which helped our enjoyment of the city. Like most places, Zurich isn’t quite as nice when it isn’t basking in the sunshine. But we were lucky. It was nice to show someone round (and we discovered that I actually know quite a few facts about the city – maybe guided tours could be a sideline for me if I ever need it) and it meant that I was a tourist in the place that I live. I can’t remember the last time I wandered the streets and just had a look around. We went to Grossmünster, which is a reformed church in the Old Town of Zurich, and to St Peter’s Church, which has the biggest clock face in Switzerland.

We also wandered around the shops but it was more like window shopping because of the famous and expensive names on Bahnhofstrasse!

Jenny was kind enough to buy me lunch for my birthday and we found a lovely Italian restaurant that I have never been to before. The food was lovely. And the company was even better!

It hadn’t felt all that long since I was meeting Jenny at the station but it was soon time for her to go. It was sad because Jenny was the first person (apart from my mum last year) to come and stay with me and because she had flown over for my birthday, it was extra special. It makes me realize how much I miss people from home. I hope that she had as much fun as I did.

Jenny also bought me some presents from home; things that you can’t get that easily over here, including about 1,500 tea bags! I have worked out that if I drink 3 cups of tea a day, these tea bags will last about 15 months. So I’d best get drinking!

Birthday dinner

I went to Ascot with Jon for my birthday meal. Ascot is a lovely restaurant in the city and probably my favourite. We went all out and had the surf and turf: a 300g steak, prawns and a lobster tail. It was delicious and perfectly rounded off an excellent few days.

Where we stopped for a swim, Lake Zurich

Where we stopped for a swim, Lake Zurich

Things that I miss about home

29 Aug

After almost 11 months living in Switzerland I have come to appreciate and miss some things from home that I have taken for granted. It is funny the things that you end up missing.

This list is not exhaustive but it is around 80% there.

  • Conversations – my German is still pretty appalling and I don miss having a proper natter with, not just a native English speaker, but a native British speaker. Otherwise you can get yourself messed up in all sorts of problems trying to explain what the different is between a bonnet and a boot or how to pronounce ‘aluminium’ proper with an American. And I miss innuendo. yes, it’s childish and immature but it’s bloody good fun.
  • Washing machine – this one sounds bizarre. But from leaving my washing machine behind in the UK, of which I was the sole user, I now have a communal machine to use. I can only wash on certain specified days and at certain specified times which can be annoying. Creeping down to the basement to check if the machine is free and waiting until the machine is free, reminds me of university days when you used to be desperate to do washing but all the machines are free. Every Tuesday and Sunday I can do my washing. What if I want to go out? I then lose my time and I have to go without. It’s frustrating. I am now at the point where I have to organize my washing around my social life. What I can’t understand is that I have a dishwasher in my apartment. Surely it would make sense for each apartment to have its own washing machine and do away with the dishwasher? All the times when I set the washing machine to on without a care in the world at home is now a million miles away.
  • Food – while being in Switzerland I have eaten quite a lot of foods that I haven’t had before, like lobster, sushi and sashmi, but there are some times that you just want a British classic. I can’t remember the last time I had chips and gravy, or steak and kidney pudding and chips, or a Boost! Being away from home makes you crave comfort food; food that reminds you of the good old days of your childhood. And you can’t find those classics over here. In fact you can’t find a chippy over here FULL STOP. I actually think it’s a huge opportunity to make money by opening a decent British chippy, with the large British expat community. Once I work out where to source the fish from (Switzerland is a land locked country after all) then it’s all systems go!
  •  Humour – sort of related to point 1. Having a common point of reference is the basis for most of the funniest jokes. If you have to explain the joke it isn’t going to be funny; more a long explanation of yet another cultural difference. Everywhere I go people tell me that the British have a wicked sense of humour. But, trust me, we don’t when we are far away from home.
  • Family and Friends – perhaps the most predicable one of them all. Leaving behind a country, a house, a job is the easy part. The hart part is finding new people to share your new experiences with. No one can suddenly fill in a gap which used to be filled by your oldest and bestest friend. I have hear a quote that it is sharing the little things that are what really make relationships. I think it takes a long time to find the right person to share those little things with. And little by little, I can see myself drifting slowly away from the lives of people that I know back home. I hope when I’m next home for a visit there are no hard feelings and we can carry on from where we left off.