Monday, July 11, 2011

Six months in Switzerland and what have I learned?

It’s now July, and it’s been six months since I arrived in Switzerland. And how quickly it has gone by – it seems only yesterday I got off the plane and took my first look about me in my new city. A mild winter with no snow has changed into a surprisingly sometimes hot, humid summer. I’ve learnt some French. Made some friends. Seen a little bit of the country.

But what else have I learnt? What have I come to love about my new country, and what would I willingly change? Here’s a list of loves and loathes…

The mountains
Each day, especially on clear days when you can see Mont Blanc, Europe’s highest mountain, I’m awestruck by the beauty and grandeur of the Alps and the Jura. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of seeing them.

Hard-to-find and expensive housing
Geneva is terrible when it comes to affordable housing – it doesn’t have any. Although I love our apartment, it’s tiny and the rent is a third of my monthly salary (which is not uncommon) – and it isn’t even in Geneva.

The transport system
So an early post of mine complained about the trains, but honestly the Swiss rail network is one of the best in the world. They’re fast, clean, go to all corners of Switzerland, and are – usually – efficient.

Expensive and hard-to-find food
A recent post for the Empress Eats, my food blog, sums it up. Food, especially meat, can be very expensive and I’ve found it hard to find some ingredients I take for granted at home. Not great when you write a food blog.

Being in the middle Europe
This is not necessarily a bad reflection on Switzerland, but after living in Perth – one of the most isolated cities in the world – I love how being in the middle of Europe means you can travel anywhere in no time and often for next to no money.

Expensive health insurance
Things that are expensive is becoming a theme, but it’s little wonder when you move from the 13th most expensive city in the world to the 9th most expensive. Health insurance in particular is nasty – I pay four times as much for less than half the coverage I got back home.

Pretty towns; my pretty town of Nyon
Pretty towns
Switzerland is very pretty. Geneva is very pretty. Nyon is very pretty. With soaring mountains, beautiful blue lakes and rolling green hills, it helps to become endeared to a new place when it’s aesthetically pleasing to live in.

Crap, expensive restaurants
I’ve recently been told that, per capita, Geneva has the most restaurants in the world. I’m yet to find one that I would give a glowing review to. The food is not that great, and, of course, it’s also expensive.

The history
Switzerland is nearly 800 years old, having been founded in 1291. That makes for some very old towns complete with cobblestones, stone forts and city walls, and imposing chateaus. Coming from a country that is not even 250 years old, that is pretty impressive.

Not being able to speak the language
Well, this is actually our fault, but not being able to speak the language is pretty frustrating; in fact, it’s what Emperor D dislikes the most about living here. It’s very hard to make friends and even just understand what’s going on when you don’t speak French.

The melting pot of nationalities
I’ve met people from all over the world while living here, and it’s a real pleasure to converse and find out if someone from South Africa, or Malaysia, or the UK or US has the same perspective on life in Switzerland as I do. Plus, despite the loathe above about crap restaurants, you get a variety in the cuisine here that I don’t get at home.

The smoking
I’ve written about this in a previous post, but honestly, the smoking here is atrocious. Dodging cigarette smoke here gets you a good workout. The sad thing – since posting in mid-March I have seen just one quit-smoking ad, and it was in a cinema just over a week ago.

The weather
Typical cold, (almost) snowy winters were to be expected, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised by summer – consistently warm, with some days hot enough to go for a swim; humid with frequent thunderstorms (which I love); sunny more often than not. There are worse places in Europe to live for the weather – summer in Scotland, anyone?

So they are the things I’ve discovered about Switzerland after six months of living here. It’s had its down moments, but surprisingly I haven’t once wanted to go back home. I thought I would have been a lot more homesick than I am – in fact, I haven't felt homesick at all. Sure, there are a lot of things back home that I miss – friends, family, the familiarity of it all – but it’s the lack of familiarity here that I relish. It’s a challenge to get out of your comfort zone and start life all over again. It’ll be interesting to see how much this list will have changed in another six months’ time. Keep an eye out for it!

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