Tag Archives: life in switzerland

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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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.

Hiking with Goats

5 Aug

This Saturday it was time to head to the mountains and go hiking for the first time in about 12 months. I wasn't going alone I was going with goats. Yes, that's not a typo! Quite a few months ago, I saw a MeetUp group activity to go hiking with goats. It sounded like something difference so I decided to sign up for it.

In case you don't know what MeetUp is: it is a online platform where people can organise different activities for like-minded people. The activity was limited to 10 people, the majority of which I hadn't met before. The main reason was because it was 2 people to one goat and there were only 5 goats on the trail.

After an early start, a train change in Luzern, a bus to a gondola and a gondola ride to the top, we reached Bannalpsee. It's a beautiful mountain lake that is surrounded by mountains. There we were introduced to the owners of the goats and the goats.

I was a bit surprised by the size of their horns. I wasn't expecting them to be so big and so strong. I can imagine that being headbutted by one of them would really hurt. I was hoping that the goat we chose would be mild mannered.

We had a small talk from the owners about how to handle the goats. I hadn't fully realised this but we would be actually leading the goats who were on a lead, like a dog. It was a bit of a bizarre concept. The goats also had small backpacks on their backs and we put our lunch in them so that they could carry them until it was time to eat.

The goat who I was responsible for was Luigi. All of the male goats seemed to have Italian names and I'm not 100% sure why. When the owners said that the first one was called Leonardo, I got excited that they were named after the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Alas! This was not the case.

Luigi was like me in some ways. He was a bit stubborn. When he had decided what he wanted to do, he wouldn't listen to what anyone else wanted to do. And he never stopped eating the whole hike.

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When he decided he was going to go left, he would just suddenly pull you in that directions. I was worried that he would pull my arm out of its socket. He really was that strong. The novelty soon wore off when he was pulling this way and that way or decided that he didn't want to move at all.

At one point, he just sat down and refused to move. The owner explained that he was probably just too hot and needed a rest. Luigi still had his winter coat so his hair was too thick. I know how he felt and it reminded me that I should go and get my hair cut soon as well. Throughout the hike, the goats were sprayed with water to keep them cool and they were also given drinks of water on the way via a spray bottle.

At the lunch stop, we stopped under some trees so that the goats could rest and cool down a bit. After the break, Luigi was much more lively and was like a different goat. For the rest of the hike he was more quiet that he was at the beginning. I think that he was slowly realising that I would not put up with much more nonsense from him!

The hike itself was not too difficult but it was made difficult by leading the goats. The place was beautiful, really stunning scenery and the weather was perfect. It made me think that I should go hiking more often. I enjoy being out in nature and it is good exercise so it's a no-brainer.

IMG_7463I took quite a lot of photos but the photos don't do the landscape justice. It reminded me that I live it such an amazingly beautiful place. I spend so many weekends in other places that I feel I have missed out on seeing a lot of Switzerland. There are so many places to discover and, if the weather is good, it is just perfect.

Now I am back at home and relaxing after a long, interesting day and I am ready to curl up with a book for the rest of the evening. Coincidently I am currently reading a book called The Trouble with Sheep and Goats by Joanna Cannon. So far, it hasn't mentioned anythign about difficulties of leading them through the Swiss Alps when they are hungry and I am more than half of the way through. Maybe that will come in the next chapter.

 

Happy Birthday Switzerland!

1 Aug

August 1st is the National Day of Switzerland which means that it’s a public holiday so no work today. Unlike a British Bank Holiday, the weather today is really good. It is meant to be around 34 degrees this afternoon, which is one of the reasons why I dragged myself out of bed early this morning to go for a run. Though to be honest, the mercury was pushing 24 degrees at 9am, which is still too hot for me to be running or doing anything at all.

One of the things that I haven’t got my head around is how the public holidays work in Switzerland. Today we have the day off work but if the 1st August fell on a weekend, as it did in 2015, you don’t get a day off on Monday to compensate. It’s just tough luck! I also find it a bit odd that the bank holidays take place on the exact date and aren’t moved to the start or the end of a week. It is a bit disruptive for companies and workers alike.

It’s a bit surprising that a country that is renowned for precision and efficiency isn’t very efficient when it comes to public holidays. It is a huge myth that Europeans enjoy more bank holidays than their British counterparts. At least in England you aren’t cheated out of bank holidays when they fall on a weekend. There would be rioting in the streets if that was the case.

Every canton celebrates today as the National holiday but, depending on where you live, depends on the number of public holidays you get. Zürich is a Protestant canton historically but in Tessin, a Catholic canton, they have more holidays because they follow the Roman Catholic traditions and, therefore, celebrate more feast days in like with the Catholic calendar. If I had’ve known that in the beginning, perhaps I would have decided to move another canton and maximise holiday time.

I can’t complain though. As I was running this morning, there were lots of agricultural workers in the field picking the crops that are ready to go to the supermarkets tomorrow. My day doesn’t have to involve anything to strenuous, apart from enjoying the fireworks tonight.

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Good news

24 Jul

To start the new week off I have some good news. I actually found out on Saturday after coming back from my trip with the Bernina Express but I didn’t have time to write about it. I passed my B2 German exam!

I am not sure that it was so much of a surprise because I had a good feeling about the exam on the day and I was well prepared for it. The surprise was that I had done less-than-expected in the writing part of the exam than I had hoped. I think that this could be partly due to the fact that I might have “over-practiced” this part and, as a result, I was probably too focused on trying to crowbar in specific grammatical phrases and structures, rather than focusing on the question that was asked. It is irrelevant though as I did comfortably pass that part any way and, as far as I know, no one is interested to find out the marks that you got in each of the four parts of the exam (reading, writing, listening and speaking).

Now the journey continues again. I will be carrying on with German lessons for the foreseeable future but only having one lesson per week instead of two. I think that I can save some money by focusing on areas that I am not too sure about in my own time and aspects, such as increasing vocabulary, I also have to do alone. Sure, a teacher can give me a list of words to learn but I have to learn and remember them myself. In this way, I will have some flexibility during the week to do other things as well as making improvement to my German skills when it suits me best.

I am aiming to speed up the learning process in a few different ways. I watched every single episode of a German comedy series in the run up to my exam, which I think helped me a great deal. The series was called Der Tatortreininger (basically, meaning The Crime Scene Cleaner). It follows the eventful working day of a man who is tasked with cleaning the blood and other bodily fluids from crime scenes one the police have made their investigations. It sounds gruesome but the actual series is more about the people that he meets during his working day and the people affected by the death at the crime scene. It is a comedy so it is very light-hearted and I really enjoyed watching it. I have found a list of other TV series that it is recommended for German learners to watch so I hope that a few of these are as entertaining as my first encounter with German TV.

I am going to try to increase my use of German throughout the day. I have already started to send some email in German, where possible and where I know that the receiver knows that I am trying my best to communicate and improve. There are also a few groups where you can meet with other people who are keen to improve their language skills. I will try to find one that fits in with my schedule and attend. I have also thought about the possibility of finding a penpal or someone that I can have a tandem exchange (where two people meet who have different mother tongues and they help each other learn together) either in person on via Skype. I have had some tandem partners in the past and they have been really beneficial.

In August, I will be going to Vienna in Austria for two weeks for an intensive German course. This is similar to the week that I spent in Munich in January but this time I am hoping that the course that I want to go on is available. I am looking forward to a “working” holiday and visiting Vienna, which I believe is a beautiful place, especially in the summer.

So onwards and upwards. It seems like learning a language is a never-ending struggle but I think I can see that the end is in sight…homework-1735644__340

Exploring Switzerland

23 Jul

Some of my expat friends complain when family members or friends come to stay with them in Switzerland because it means that they have to entertain them and find suitable things to do with them.

I have no such problem. When people come and visit it means that I can explore Switzerland more and go to back to places that I like and would like to visit again.

As my mother has been visiting for the past week, I have been back to some of my favourite places and have seen some parts of Switzerland that I have not been to before. Earlier this week we went to Konstanz in Germany and Luzern. The trip to Konstanz was an out-and-out shopping trip. Lots of people who live in Switzerland take a trip over the border to shop and it is a lot cheaper than in Switzerland. Last time my mum was here, we also took a day trip to Konstanz. We took the train because there was a cheap fare available. I have found out that going with another person means that you can carry twice as much back. The weather was lovely and we did manage to snap up a few bargains. My fridge is the fullest it has been for a long time and I managed to buy a new pair of Nike trainers for less than 70 Euros.

We also enjoyed lovely weather in Luzern, while we wondered around the Old Town and had a look in some of the shops. There is a beautiful lake in the centre of the city but unfortunately we didn’t have time to take a boat trip on the lake. Hopefully, we can take a trip there next time.

We also took the Bernina Express. This was a first for me and was something that I was looking forward to even since I booked the trip. The Bernina Express is a train/bus journey starting in Chur which travels through the mountains and across the border into Tirano in Italy. From there, there is a bus which travels from Tirano through Italy, along the coast of Lake Como and to Lugano, in the Italian speaking part of Switzerland.

On Thursday we got up really early to travel from Zürich to get to Chur in time to make the Bernina Express at 08.32. The train was comfortable and had the advantage of having panoramic windows so that you can see the whole of the mountains from your seat. The scenery was spectacular: green fields, glaciers, farm houses, gushing rivers. The weather was a little bit overcast, as you can see from the pictures, but I think that this just added to the mysterious nature of the mountains.

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I guess one of the disadvantages of public travel is other passengers. We were unfortunate to be sitting next to a woman who loved the sound of her own voice and had to comment on everything for four and a half hours. It takes that Hollywood shine off the majestic landscape with someone saying “Oh isn’t it lovely?” in a really strong South African accent. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site so lovely doesn’t even cover it.

We arrived in Tirano and found our hotel. The town was lovely. The architecture is so different from Switzerland and the atmosphere and mentality is slightly different as well, which is strange considering how close we were to Switzerland. It was quickly apparent that there was not a lot to do in the town and we had walked from end to end within about 20 minutes. 24 hours was definitely too long to stay in the town, especially when there was only one restaurant that was open in the evening. It was as if the town only existed at midday when the majority of the tourists were arriving for a few hours and then leaving on trains to get to somewhere else.

Nevertheless, it was a relaxing time, walking around the town and soaking in the atmosphere. We can also say that we ate the worse lasanga of our lives in the evening. And, yes, this was Italy. Luckily there was a nice bar that we found (I think the only bar that we had seen the whole time we were there) and we could enjoy some nice beers and snacks.

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The next day we took the bus from Tirano, across Italy to Lugano, Switzerland. I was a little bit disappointed by this leg of the trip because of the iterinary. I imagined that we would stop at Lake Como as we drove through Italy so that we could at least take a phtoto but we stopped before the start of the lake to have a coffee and use the toilet and then carried on straight through. Because we were on the right hand side of the coach, we didn’t get to appreciate the view of the lake (which was on the left hand side).

We arrived in Lugano in the early evening and took the train to the hotel that we were staying in. Because of the remoteness of the hotel, we then had to take a taxi to get up to the hotel. I hadn’t realised until a few days before we were due to travel that there were only 2 buses up to the hotel each day. So if you missed them, it was taxi time! It was a bit of a pain but the views of the Lake Lugano were stunning. Overall, I wasn’t so impressed with the hotel and I am still debating about whether to write a formal complaint about our stay. I am not sure what it will achieve which is why I am hesitating but as some of the service was not as I expected, I think that I will be writing in the next day or so. If it falls on deaf ears, so be it.

The next day we took the bus back down the mountain. To the delight of my mum, the bus had an unusual horn which is specific to Switzerland. You can hear it yourself here. The sound of the horn was definitely needed as the bus made it’s way down the mountain side.

We spent the morning and the early afternoon exploring Lugano. The lake is spectaular and lots of people were enjoying the excellent weather by hiring boats and pedalos. The town itself is not very big but it was nice to get lost in the many intertwining cobbled streets and sitting out in the sunshine to get some Vitamin D.

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We arrived back in Zürich in the early evening. Just in time to enjoy dinner on the balcony before a huge storm, with epic thunder and lightning, hit. So much for the good weather lasting…

A slight sense of impending doom 

28 Jun

Slowly, but surely, I am starting to feel a sense of dread; a terrifying sense that I have brought something upon myself and now I have to pay for it. I’m talking about my German exam which I will be taking in less than 11 days.

It seems like a strange comparison but it feels a bit like booking a holiday, quite far in advance, and all of a sudden it’s here and you think “Oh, that’s come round quickly!” 

Of course, this is all my fault because I signed up for the exam free willingly. The one reason I wanted to do it was to prove to myself that I am learning and getting better and that my time and money has not been a complete waste.

I’m always nervous before exams, even though I am normally more prepared than the person marking the paper. My worst fear on language exams is the spoken part. On all the other parts (writing, reading, listening) if you don’t know the answer, you can come back to it later or have a guess and no one can see the utter confusion etched on your face. 

Speaking is another matter. With speaking you have to answer immediately and the other person knows if you are making it up or you are not feeling great about what you are saying, just from looking at you. Unfortunately for me, this is how spoken language works. 

In my last exam, I was paired with a man from Spain and his accent was so thick that I really struggled to understand what he was saying. If this happens this time, I am just going to say that I don’t understand and can they repeat it because I can’t handle the stress of guessing what has been said. Thinking about it, maybe it will help me score brownie points from the examiners because they might not be able to understand them either!

From now until the exam, my life is a boring, never-ending cycle of listening to German, reading German, learning German working and practicing test German exams. My brain feeling like it is cooking.

I sound very conscientious but it’s not the whole truth. In actual fact, I have begun to find different activities to occupy myself with and ultimately help me to procrastinate! The bathrooms have never been so clean, the garden is looking very trim and tidy and my jars in the kitchen which keep flour, sugar, rice etc have all been neatly rearranged and filled to an optimal level. It could well be that the house is in a lot better state than my “German” mind by the time of the exam.

In positive news, I have started to write emails in German at work (sometimes of very technical topics) and everyone I sent them to has been very complimentary about my German grammar and language skills. 

Now if the exam could just contain a question about writing an email to a colleague about hedge funds, that would be just great!