Tag Archives: life in switzerland

The arrival of winter

9 Dec

Winter has finally arrived and not just because real Christmas trees are now being sold on every corner that you turn. It has snowed. I did snow a few weeks ago but only a light covering that started to come down early in the evening and had disappeared almost as quickly as it arrived. But it looks like the snow has finally decided it is going to stay.

Last night we were working in the office until late to hit our deadline for the last month of the year. I had had a bad feeling about it all week and when, on Thursday we had a technical issue that brought a 10 hour delay, I was fearing the worst.

However, we caught up and apart from a few hiccups on the way, we were finished around 10pm on Friday evening. I was over the moon, as I had expected to be working until about midnight or later. We had finally done it. The last month end close of 2017. Home before the witching hour. Yes!

But oh no! Having been firmly fixed on our computer screens for 15 hours, we had failed to notice that the snow had come down. I’m not sure if there is such a thing as torrential snow but this was something like it. Ok, I have my hat, boots and a big winter jacket (I actually call it my football manager’s jacket because can be found in the wardrobe of any self-respecting Premier League coaching staff member), I thought. I can do snow.

Then news somehow filtered into the office – I still have no idea how, as there were only 10 of us left in a building for eight thousand –  that there had been a accident and none of the trams were running from our offices into town. Great. This was not in the script. I was meant to be home in an hour. This was looking increasingly unlikely.

I left with the plan to walk to the nearest train station, get a train from there to the main station and then get my usual train home. I start walking and I see a tram drive past. Hang on, didn’t someone say that the trains weren’t running? But that was a tram and it was definitely running.

I jogged to the next stop to get the next tram that was making its way down the hill. I looked like Bambi on ice. I had to get a bit of speed up to make the next tram but I wanted to avoid falling flat on my face even though no one would be around to see my embarrassment. I made it! Great not long and I would be at the main station and I just have to wait for the train.

The tram didn’t move for about 5 minutes. Then the driver said that there were two other tram stuck in front of him and he didn’t know when we would be able to get moving again. He left the doors open so that anyone who wanted to get off could do.

I decided it could be ages before we set off again so I got out and headed on foot to the train station that would take me to the main station. I was glad that I did. Not only had 2 cars collided just next to the train station but there was also a bus that had managed to crash into a lamp post and was blocking all trams going up and down.

Luckily, the train arrived just as I was climbing up the steps to the station. I had to wait for half an hour at the main station but at least I knew I wasn’t too far from home.

By the time, I got home the snow was really deep. As most people were inside or already asleep, I had the privilege of being the first one to walk through the newly fallen snow. I love that crunch sound that comes from under foot and being able to look behind me to see the footsteps in the snow. It was clear that this snow was here to stay.

Today it has continued to snow. I’m happy that I don’t have to work or use public transport and I can watch the winter wonderland from the comfort of my 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.

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,

 

 

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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