Tag Archives: home

Old problem, new experience

17 Nov

This week in Switzerland I have encountered an age-old problem which resulted a new and slightly surprising experience. The three words mostly likely to instill fear and dread into a commuter back home are: replacement bus service.

After 5 years, it was the first time that have experienced this in Switzerland. They are working at night on the train line that runs through our village and, because my German lesson finishes at 9, I had to alight one stop before I would normally and take the bus.

I have taken so many bus replacement services over the year in England and I won’t be coy about it. I hate them. With a passion. I am sure that anyone who had taken them is much of the same view.

Things were different here. The bus is already waiting. The bus looks big enough to take all of the passengers. The driver responds cheerfully when you ask if this bus is going to your stop. It’s like a parallel universe.

Normally the bus replacement takes forever and the bus manages to take a route which virtually passes every residential street in the area and doesn’t seem to go the most direct route. It could be that I was lucky that my stop was the first one but I was actually home only five minutes later than I would be if the train had gone to my stop. I was also quite lucky that the service was at night and the roads were a lot quieter.

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It makes me wonder why more repairs to essential services are not done in the UK at night. It makes it a lot easier and a lot less stressful for commuters. All that seems to happen though, is that the price are increased, the services are worse and no one is happy about it.

Coincidentally, I also noticed this week that they don’t have cat’s eyes in Switzerland. I’m not sure why I haven’t realised this before. I researched this on the internet a bit and it seems that cat’s eyes are only know in UK, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Ireland and the US. For those of you how don’t know, cat’s eyes are a reflective device that are placed along road markings to help drivers at night. They were invented in England and get their name because the device work on a similar basis as to how cat’s eyes work.

As a child, I was traumatised by someone telling me that they actually put dead cat’s eyes in the middle of the road. I really could imagine roadworks scooping up the dead eyes and cementing them into the middle of the road.

Thankfully that story was not true but every time I see cat’s eyes, I still wonder if the cat had a good life and if he would have wanted to have lived on helping drivers stay safe.

Bonfire Night

9 Nov

Although it might be a bit late to be blogging about Bonfire Night (it was last Sunday after all), I have just finished watching the BBC Drama Gunpowder, which is a dramatisation of the events leading up to the 5th November and the plot to kill the King of England and the politicians in the House of Parliament.

After the first installment of the three part drama, the BBC was flooded with complaints about the episode, saying that it was unnecessarily gory. I was actually quite surprised that it wasn’t gory enough. One scene showed the public executions and the camera “looked away” at the really graphic parts. You did see someone having their intestines pulled out while they were still alive, but I am sure that the guts and gore was mainly made up of sausages and other things that you might find in the bin of the local butchers. I am convinced that what went on in the Jacobian era was actually a lot more horrifying.

The drama reminded me of what a rich history we have in England. Try to explain to someone from another country that in each November we gather in a field and set fire to the effigy of a Catholic from the 17th century and they will look at you in complete dismay. In Switzerland, there is the ritual burning of a snowman in April to get rid of the winter, which has a lot more positive and much less sinister message than burning someone because of their religion.

Bonfire Night is one of the traditions that I miss. Nothing is quite so British as waiting in the freezing cold for someone to set off some fireworks. All the while complaning about how much it cost to get in and that you will not be doing this again next year. As a child I remember being so cold that I couldn’t feel my fingers or my toes. I was so glad to be back in the warmth again to thaw out. By the time the next year came round we had forgot how cold a November evening could be and we were excited about going again. It’s a shame that the torch light parade that used to happen in our village stopped because of health and safety reasons. The world has gone mad.

It was Abba who said “the history book on the shelf, it’s always repeating itself”. I wonder if Guy Fawkes would have been inclined to use the same tactics today? Back then, people were complain about how the country was being run and people are still making the same complaints today. If he had have been successful all those years ago, perhaps we would have a parade in his honour and not be burning him on a pile of old wood.fireworks-2922007__340

Expat Questions

30 Oct

Stealing yet another idea from my fellow blogger extraordinaire, Bev, I thought it might be interesting to answer the questions of this Expat Quiz. People always seem to be interested in the motivation of expats, so perhaps this will answer a few questions that you might be wondering about.

Where were you born, where did you grow up and where do you currently live? I was born in Macclesfield, England, which is also the birthplace of such great individuals as Ian Curtis, lead singer of the Joy Division, Ben Ainslie, Olympic sailor, and Peter Crouch, the England football. I grew up in Rainow, a small village about three miles from Macclesfield. When I was a kid, it had a school, church, post office and three pubs. Not much has changed there to this day, apart from the post office was closed down and there is only one pub now, which is barely surviving. I now live in Buchs, a village about 15km from Zürich.

What made you leave your home country? Five years ago, I was working for a Swiss company in the UK. I had the opportunity to move to Head Office in Switzerland. It felt like too good to turn down. At the time, I was single and life was just ticking along.

What type of reactions do you get when you meet new people and tell them where you are from? When I meet new people from England, I know that they are thinking that I must have more money than I know what to do with, which is simply not true. People also normally ask if I can ski, go hiking in the Alps etc. People from other countries just say “Wow” and look at me with a cross between admiration and curiosity. It is always funny to explain to people I meet on holiday because they immediately know that I am English from my accents but before they asking me what the weather is like there at the moment, I have to butt in with that I actually live in Switzerland and then I feel like I am trying to show off a bit.

What was the easiest/hardest part in adjusting to your new country? I am not sure there was an easy part. Every thing was completely new and different. It was completely overwhelming and I didn’t know if I would be able to survive to begin with. The best advice came from a friend, who I knew through hockey, who had also lived abroad for a while. He said it you can make it through a full calendar year and go once through the seasons, you can stay there for as long as you like. I really did want to come back after six months because I was finding it difficult to settle. I often thought of this advice to get me through the first year. If I did the first year and still didn’t like it, I would have moved back, but by then I had started to adjust and I knew I could stay for longer with no problem. Going back to the easy part, maybe there is an easy part. Everyone in Switzerland can speak English very well and they like to speak English (when they want to!) so to begin with it was a bit easier. It has never been my intention not to learn the language fluently and slowly that it happening.

What images, words or sounds have summed up your expat experience so far? I think probably this image. I have never been a city person but for me Zürich is the perfect city; not too big, easily accessible to the surrounding countryside and lovely views.

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Your favourite food and drink items in your new country? Chocolate and cheese: What is there not to love? I am obsessed with Fondue and Raclette, both of which I had no tried before I moved here. I also have a fair few friends and family members hooked on these dishes as well. I also love Rivella. People told me that unless you grew up in Switzerland it is impossible to like the taste of Rivella. It is a fizzy drink, made from a by-product of milk. In fairness, it doesn’t sound nice but it is. I could drink it by the bucket load.

What’s the one thing you said yes to in your new city that you wouldn’t say yes to back home? This has to be swimming in the lake. In the summer it is nice to cool off in the lake on a hot day. The water is perfectly clear, clean and refreshing. In England this would be a definite no. The water would be far too cold and probably polluted with God knows what.

Are there any cultural norms and phrases in your new countrx that you can’t stand? I still haven’t go my head around greeting someone. I never know if I should shake a hand, hug or kiss. It’s so confusing and completely embarrassing if someone goes in for a hug and you misread that as a kiss. Awkward! Also why are hot drinks served in a glass here. It means that the glass is far too hot to pick up without giving yourself third degree burns. So you have to let it cool down and then you end up with a lukewarm drink and not a hot one. The clue is in the name. It’s a Hot Chocolate and not a Lukewarm Chocolate.

What do you enjoy doing the most in your new country? Although I don’t do it as much as I should, I do enjoy hiking. This isn’t something that I would do at home. There are so many hiking routes and mountain here that you are spoilt for choice. Next year I will definitely try to get more hikes done.

Do you think you will ever move home again? Never say never (Oops I just said it twice) but I think it is unlikely. I am settled here now and I enjoy my life here as well. To go back home, I would need to take a large pay cut and pay more taxes. Of course, there are more important things than money but that is a big factor in me being happy to stay here. Then there is the question of Brexit. Until that issue is cleared up, I am not sure that I would move back. There is too much instability at the moment,

 

 

Long weekend in Wales and the British countryside

8 Oct

As well as taking part in the Cardiff Half Marathon, I spent some time in England and Wales. One of the main things that we had to do was to visit The Morgan Car Company. I bought my other half a driving experience for his Christmas present.

He took off with the instructor for an hour of driving, while I sat in the cafe reading Ian Rankin and doing a bit of German vocabulary training. Rock and roll all the way!

When he returned, I have never seen him so happy. He was like a kid at Christmas, who had got the bike that he had been hoping for since June. After that we had a tour around the factory. In an age where most British car manufacturing has been moved abroad because of cost reasons, it’s perhaps surprising that all of the cars are made by hand. By that, I mean, every part. It’s an incredibly labour intensive process but the outcome is something beautiful to behold. If I come into some money, I will be ordering my car straight away – the waiting list is over a year long.

On the Friday we had an appointment to have afternoon tea at The Manor Hotel in Castle Coombe. Castle Coombe is famous for being where the film War Horse was filmed. The village is tiny and so quaint. There was even a little shop set up outside one of the houses that said that the lady was the baker to the film and TV industry and there were different cakes, jam and drinks laid out. You just popped the money into an honesty box.

The afternoon tea was lovely. The room itself was a beautiful, rich yellow colour. The food was excellent as well: cucumber, salmon, coronation chicken and cheese sandwiches, a sweet and a savoury scone and a selection of intricate cakes and macaroons. Yummy!

I don’t think that I have ever been to Wiltshire before. It was a lovely day to drive through the British countryside and relax.

On Saturday we took it easy because we had the half marathon the next day. So we wandered around the shop, walked along Cardiff Bay and the Barrage and had enough pasta to sink a battleship before retiring for an early night before the hard work on Sunday began!

Five years

27 Sep

Five years ago, I boarded a plane with a one-way ticket (still the only one-way ticket I have ever purchased) and one suitcase, ready to begin a new adventure in Switzerland.

It doesn’t seem like five years ago, and I never would have believed that I would still be here five years down the line and be enjoying living here. For at least the first six to nine months, I was convinced that I had made the wrong decision and I was wondering how difficult it would be to move all my things back. I spent a lot of lonely nights (and they were also dark and miserable because of the time of year) not really knowing what to do with myself.

After the first 12 months, I was more settled and learning the language definitely helped. Although at the time, it seems like I was spending a lot of time learning things like “Do you sell salt?” which aren’t so helpful in every day life. I also had a very bad habit in the beginning of never asking for anything in a shop, because I was far too embarrassed. If I needed salt and it wasn’t on the shelf where I thought it should be, I simply did without it. Luckily, I always managed to find the ice cream.

The time of being anxious that I had made the wrong decision is far behind me now. There are still things that annoy me about living in another country. Everyone thinking that you come from London when you say you are English is a particular bugbear of mine; as is the lack of fish and chips and the over abundance of paprika crisps. I still hold out hope that smokey bacon flavour crisps will be introduced here but that hope is fading steadily.

I appreciate that Switzerland is not a country that is for everyone’s taste. I know a lot of people who would struggle to keep up with the punctuality of this country and all of the rules that a well-behaved expat must abide by. For me, this part of Swiss culture has not been so hard to adapt to. I think I have had good timekeeping drummed into me from an early age. To the extent that if someone is two minutes late and doesn’t offer an apology, they are immediately struck off the Christmas card list. No second chances here.

After being here for five years, I have now successfully applied for my C permit. This means that I have the same rights of a Swiss citizen, apart from I can’t have a passport or vote. As the country seems to be running quite fine without my inputs, that’s fine by me.

A change for me will be that I no longer have to pay tax out of my wages, but I have to make a tax declaration once a year. I guess I have been here for so long that the tax authorities trust me that I won’t skip the country without paying it. It should be interesting filling in that huge form for the first time. I will definitely need a dictionary on hand when I come to complete it, as well as a calculator.

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Training done!

17 Sep

Today marked the end of my long training runs for the Cardiff Half Marathon in two weeks. I could not be happier if I tried. When the alarm went off early this morning, I tried hard to think of an excuse not to go. If I chose not to go this morning, then it would be much harder to compete the 13.1 miles in two weeks.

The prospect of a 19 km (roughly 11.5 miles) run is not something than most sane people would relish but I was glad that the morning was cool, but not raining, and overcast. Last weekend, I had measured out the distance that I wanted to do on my bike. Today I didn’t have to think, just run the pre-planned distance. That didn’t stop me from looking at my app to check how far I had gone about every 200 meters. It’s funny how when you know in which direction you are running that you brain tricks you into thinking that you have run a further distance that you actually have. At one point, I thought to myself that I just need to go round this corner and I am at this specific point. I turned the corner and then I realised I was nowhere need to where I thought I was. Demotivating does not even cover it.

I ran slower than I hope to do on the day but the main thing was that I completed. On the days, with a combination of nerves, adrenaline and people lining the streets to watch, I should go faster. I have a time in mind that I would like to achieve. Unfortunately, it won’t be a personal best time. I still have some weight to lose, which will help a lot, and, although I have managed to put in a shift and get the long runs ticked off, I can still improve my speed (by quite a bit) and core strength. These things needs months before you can see improvements. It was just impossible to incorporate these as well into my training schedule. My basic fitness and endurance was the priority for this half marathon.

I have been given the advice: Train hard, win easy. I agree with this motto. I am not sure that I have trained so hard for this race, so I am anticipating that the win will not be so easy. But I am ready to surprise myself.

One of the things that slowed me down today which won’t on the actual day is dogs and dog owners. The stretch that I do is popular with dog walkers and I am always a bit nervous when a dog is not on the lead. Most of the time, I slow down, just in case the dog is spooked by my running. A month ago, a dog wasn’t under control and came for me. I almost fell into a ditch while trying to get out of its way. Generally though, people here are very responsible with their dogs and make sure that they are on the lead when they see you or, at least, take hold of them.

Almost every person that I ran past today said “Good Morning” to me. It takes some effort for me to say it back because I am concentrating on breathing in and out, not on speaking. I definitely won’t have this problem during the race in Cardiff. Although, when I ran the Liverpool 10 Mile race in 2016, there was a runner in the race who was running with her dog attached by its lead to a belt around her waist. I have no idea if she stopped to scoop the poop for the benefit of other runners behind her.

I have completed my long run a week early because I have a hockey match next weekend. There is no way that I could play our Swiss cup game on Saturday and then run 19 km on the Sunday. For the next two weeks, I will be just keep going steadily with some short distances and resting well. The two words any long distance runner loves to hear: resting well. I will be making sure that my knee is okay and doing all the stretches that I need to make sure that I have no pain on the day, getting plenty of sleep and keeping my diet in check.

My diet is the main thing that lets me down. I love eating and cooking. I have been having salad for lunch for the past 6 weeks or so and trying not to snack on unhealthy things. I have by and large succeeded. My worry is that I land in Bristol on the Wednesday before the race. I have been promised fish and chips and burgers from the other half, who is also running and will be waiting for quite a while for me to crawl over the finish line. How can a girl possibly resist? I can’t remember the last time I had fish and chips. My will power will have to be strong. I am definitely looking forward to that first pint after crossing the finishing line because then the need for will power will definitely be over.

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Perfect running weather for a Brit!

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.