Swiss Peculiarities | Travelling Storyteller Photographer
I thought I had it all figured out
The Swiss are Particular. I should have known this - I am Swiss after all. I have always found that I identify European despite my Canadian upbringing. I have that ubiquitous red passport, nodding to the fact that my absolute favourite colour hands down is that gorgeous red that the Swiss use for punctuating their decorating - I have yet to get myself a pair of red shoes…but it is coming. I am SO part of the club! I. Am. Particular. My husband reminds me on a regular basis. He’s jealous. Or annoyed. Pot-a-to / Po-tah-to.
living here has shown me what I need to add to my ‘Swiss knowledge’ repertoire
In making my daily assessments of what and where I need to enhance my effervescent efforts in becoming a full fledged Swiss, I have come to realize (somewhat daily) that I have much to learn.
From apartment set-ups, to legal paperwork, dental bills, and clothing, not least of which communication and doctor visit attire I have some learning to do! I consider myself a hard worker - a Swiss trademark I am certain of it - so setting myself to the task of getting the job done was somewhat in my genes. Sharing is caring so I only figured that telling the story over coffee would be the best way to celebrate my achievements while laughing at my inevitable gigantic fails. Allow me to help you indulge in my shadenfreud.
Moving across international borders is enough to test anyone’s patience with document and paperwork due diligence. I so have this I thought to myself naively! Dot the “i”s, cross the “t”s and send it to me in French - No Problemo! Had I only known how many airmiles the paperwork would rack up with the inevitable back and forth transatlantic adventures, I would have made to sure to keep note so that we could finally be THAT family that could fly club. But I digress. Paperwork was always neatly procured. That was never the issue. Where it would need to show up so we could then jump forward to the next square on the chess board was akin to playing the “where’s Waldo” game.
Here’s the thing, I always had this idea that the Swiss were shrouded in mystery. Hello Swiss bank account = synonymous with secret. Odd then that when one part of our life is a closely guarded secret, you can not received any messages from said secret place unless you post your name on the letter box in front of your home for all to see. Sadly for us this was an issue since starting the process back in Canada we had no said name identified postbox in Switzerland to received said ‘well filled out’ paperwork. Hmmm…I detect a note of a circular challenge here = we need the paperwork sent to us, but it will only be sent to us in Switzerland…but we aren’t there yet…. That my dear reader is the perfect example of ‘cunundrum’.
Never one to back down from a challenge who stares me down at the start, we overcame the hurdle and our names were the first to move over seas onto a shiny post box in the alps. Where’s Waldo now had a place to arrive! (note - our names continue to be proudly pronounce on our new mailbox and won’t change anytime soon if the ‘mailbox name change fees’ have anything to say about it so letters/drawings/crayola window markers and any fan mail can be delivered straight to source..hint hint). Anyone moving in the same way that we did will need a mailbox, post it notes, tape and scissors, emoji happy face stickers (because they are cool and likely won’t help at all) and an awesome someone willing to text you pictures of all the important documents that you can not (gasp) ask for over the phone, email or via fax. All good though because what is an adventure if there is no challenge thrown in?
Next up - apartments
I have LOVED renting villas, chalets, apartments, and the odd camping spot in Switzerland when we have been here on holiday. I have my ways of scouting out areas, doing my research and finding the best places to visit and ultimately make friends with. Summers in Switzerland are a large reason why we moved!
Living here and finding a place to stay for longer than 2-4 weeks at a time was something that we decided we would do in person. And in person we did, with my begging and bribing my kids with copious amount of prepackaged gummies to get us through the various apartment meetings as we trudged through the town not on our scooters - but on foot and in the rain…ok…make that drizzle but rain sounds more dramatic.
Apartments, I have learned, are typically rented by the year, even two years or more and are renewed as such. You pay a deposit - not unlike at home, but higher as it is usually several months worth. Want to move out and stop the lease…? Check the fine print…..carefully. Depending on where you live, who you’ve rented from and what phase the moon is in, you may or may not be able to move out only one time of year without penalty. Perhaps only 4 (very specified) times per year, and it is all prescribed with little leeway…note - you may or may not need to take your stove and fridge with you and only after giving at least 3 months notice. The Swiss like to plan. I know…! I was so happy I am gifted with a camp stove too! Move out any other time and know that the apartment is still going to be yours…all yours…until a suitable tenant is found - oh…and that’s your job to do. Wait…what?! Yep - you can come and go from that amazing Swiss chalet you’ve rented whenever you want, but moving out and breaking the lease requires the tenant to find an appropriate replacement that the landlord then can approve…or not…to take over the lease. (Even if you ask ‘pretty please with sugar on top and a cherry over the ice cream - trust me I tried, and they just looked at my like my husband does when I ask him to get chocolate for my craving after the stores are all closed in town…on a Thursday….at 6:30pm).
But this is all good - because we are moved in and ready for visitors! Come on over - just a few things to mention - the sloped ceilings in the bedroom make for cosy/head concussions when dodging the various bare light bulbs hanging from the ceiling - because light fixtures in Swiss apartments are NOT a thing. Like stoves and fridges…it is often “bring your own”. Don’t ask me what the tangle of wires is above the main floor vanity - I haven’t had the courage to figure it out and my mom self is reassured that my 7 year old is still short enough to not be able to reach them and my 10 year old is smart enough to know better. I figure that since the electrician was ok with putting the only electrical socket in our kitchen DIRECTLY beside the sink that the wires in the bathroom next to the shower are also ok. Flawed judgment on my part of theirs I am not sure….
European life depends on regular grocery shopping. It is a lovely pastime, deciding on where I go shopping and which grocery store I am going to forget buying coffee at again. It depends a little less when we are trying to save pennies (every day) and going it in the rain which we have to date been able to out maneuver considerably this year. None the less, grocery shopping happens too many times a week to count and we now consider it a sport - one which Tony and I feel that we can outcompete each other in when it comes to the technicalities of packing said items into Suzette, one backpack - extra points for the bag that doesn’t fall apart 1 block away from home and 3 points if you come home with all the round fruit you hoped for as they didn’t roll away on you before you managed to pick up your broken bag on the cobble stone - I’m totally not gloating…or bitter.
One thing is for certain, the finishings in our apartment are wonderful and it is no doubt that the people who completed the work were both proud of what they did and measured in their execution. I am still troubled about what I see as backwards finishings of the ceilings and walls. Flat ceilings are gorgeous but the cement popcorn textured Swiss walls have me scratching my head (and scrapping my skin because dang it they HURT!) no least of which making me cringe whenever I see marks made that I have NO idea how I am going to clean one day when this place is no longer ours…. As for the lights..? I am into mood lighting and have never loved candles more!
On moving to Switzerland you too can indulge care free in your childhood fantasy of riding to and from…anything on a scooter with light up wheels. And by scooter I mean the human propelled ones - silly vespas, those are for Italy with girlfriends…and wine. Nothing strange here. Scootering is as freeing and fun as it looks, you are close to the ground so falls, scrapes and bruises are minimal - take my advice and work up to the curb jumping, short skirt season will last longer that way. oh…and get a bike. Biking here is awesome too!
The Swiss are nothing short of organized. I should know. I am one of them and happily pronounce that a sorted house is a happy house - until it breaks up game night and pisses everyone off in which case my mantra then becomes a hunt for then next glass of wine and has me trudging to my computer to edit photographs and jump down the photoshop rabbit hole…but I digress…again. (I am missing the laundry machine that used to live in our home and am not over the fact that I trudge across a dark parking lot to get to a cold room to do said clothing wash where the dryer is a tumble machine not vented to the outside and everything still comes out damp so why am I paying to use it..?…At least we can do it whenever we want - so far our plan of doing it late at night because we have forgotten - and thus don’t disturb anyone hasn’t led to a restrictive schedule - phew! sorry…I am grumpy this morning, I’ll get some more coffee…and a croissant).
I’m back - the caffeine is flowing! Moving is not cheap and with it comes bills. We might not have a car but we figured that we would lose the kiddo war if we had decided to deprive them of a TV too - so we need to pay for said internet, electricity and various teeth pulling bills. Oh wait..what…huh…teeth.. sigh…you caught that did you huh..?
Too many months to count and we have a wiggly tooth that won’t let go and by “we” I mean the whole family is now part of the saga and the poor tooth fairy is desperate to get on with her job and see that this little wiggler gets to the end of it’s life and see that money changes hands. Once. And. For. All.
Our town is awesome and has so far shown us that everything we need is within walking distance - no more than 5 minutes away = bread, eggs, friends, doctor, pharmacy, store, church, dentist…WINE. Thank god! One trip to the dentist was all we figured it would take, one quick wiggle and out the thing would come, but nope - up came the hands the moment the dentist mentioned “Needle” and all bets were off. Dang it!! I can now tell you that any dentist working with now requisite laughing gas within our town is either off on maternity leave, on holiday until the new year, or has yet to take the “laughing gas” course (I am thinking of signing up for that also!) so we are having to look outside the town boundaries. Dentist appointment made - I realized that bill payments are also highly guarded secrets. You are allowed to ask all you want how much something will cost…but they don’t have to tell you. Nope. Not one bit - in fact, I am not sure they even know…shhhhhhh it is all a big surprise. I have a feeling they’ll find us though….mental note - I need to take some of the emoji stickers off our mailbox - we are too obvious.
Don’t worry though, you can pay bills late. In fact, wanna pay your cell phone by visa? - you can but only after the due date. Wait..huh? Visa fully accepted but only after the due date, unless it is an out of country visa in which case it won’t work except for sometimes, so you have to figure out ebanking that requires secrete paper work delivered to…you guessed it…emoji land Tony and Karin Shiny mailbox. I am very grateful to Patricia at Swisscom who I know know has a ‘c’ in her name and not ‘z’ as I heard it because my Swiss German apparently is not as good as it could be. Thankfully, my accent was funny enough for her to stay on the line and chat as I insisted she send ME her message rather than my trying in vain one more time to decipher the Swiss German alphabet and apparently getting is wrong…again. Bless those who laugh at me!
That is music to my ears and so much so…I am going to say it again. IKEA delivers! and by delivers, I mean straight to your apartment and right up to your living room, bedroom, wherever that amazing piece of furniture is going to live…they…DELIVER! And this is where I got laughed at…again. I grew up in a world where things that sound too good to be true - are just that! In an effort to dispel my dream state of IKEA deliveryness (it’s a word dammit, roll with it), I called up to double check (enter my Swissness). One quick quip of “Mais Out Madame, nous avons un system de livraison” , I started my unabashed WOW…and he started to laugh at me. Apparently I am freaking hilarious. Scratch the relocation company business venture, I am going attempt stand up comedy to pay the bills…..but if paying my bills on time happens willy nilly how does…..oh never mind.
Here’s the thing, the trick is to know where all their stock is - IKEA that is. Because sometimes things are just too good to be true. You might be able to phone in your order and if everything is there you are golden. In my case as I was furnishing a full apartment, I needed to be in store. For the record, 1.5 hours to buy an apartment’s worth of stuff at closing time on a Friday at a store that is 1 hour away and you have two kids and your hubby is in Canada, requires good footwear, a highly organized spreadsheet, legs ready to sprint, a car that you may or may not have to fill with stuff and friends…amazing ones who will loan you said car and take your kids - oh… and a snack - because you are going to miss the hotdog line. Once at the bill you pray that what you just bought will actually show up as funiture and not one humungous order of 1CHF hot dogs…because you already feel sick about what you just had to spent to create your sparse Swiss furnished apartment…..
The van that showed up early and snaked through the cobble stone to get to the apartment not least of which the amazing gentleman who dragged everyone up for me was nothing short of miraculous. IKEA delivers - say it with me - it’s cathartic!
Three kisses, two kisses, four kisses, handshakes
When proffered a glass of wine or drink of any kind in Switzerland, I have oft had to remind myself of the rules of politeness. Despite any thirst I might have, my innate need to make sure that I can ingratiate myself cultural requires me to be sure that I follow all the steps least I disinvite myself before I even take that first sip. Cross eyes have reminded me that one never drinks until everyone has been served and your host is ready. Cheers and wine glass clinking happens with everyone while not crossing arms over someone else and by all means, DO NOT forget to look your drinking buddies In. The. Eye! All of this of course comes after you have reminded your children incessantly that they are to at least SHAKE the hands of their host and say hello and thank you, told your husband that kisses on the cheek mean more side to side cheek air smooches and it’s 3 times not two, or is it 4? I kind of forget, and if you don’t know someone really well - then maybe a handshake is better because hugs…well…that isn’t really a thing here…at least not in public. Getting through the door of an invitation is a wonderful cultural dance - say nothing of saying goodbye - a full on exit strategy is required when leaving as the thank yous, the salutations, the air kisses and the laughs make me giggle at how taking leave is synonymous with the end of a dramatic play. Call me crazy…but honestly….I love it each time.
Winter planting…mais oui!
Along the shores of Lake Geneva - or any lake in Switzerland for that matter - and I am in my happy place. Slosh of the lake, the feeding of the birds, the views that take your breath away, sorbets served with alcohol (YES!) and children playgrounds dappled between the boat stations - it is quite honestly bliss. Imagine my delight and utter confusion when presented with city workers…planting pansies on the lake front!
Mais Oui Madame - I feel like this is becoming a personal moniker - winter flowers madame! Well there you have it. Move to Switzerland and know that your lake front property needs to be adorned with winter foliage come beginning of November. Winter flowers- who knew?! This move is really turning into a good idea!
garbage and wine bottles - be careful it’s particular…
Growing up in Switzerland in the summers I was keenly aware of recycling. It was a thing here way before it turned into the catch phrase in Canada and my grandfather was forever tying incredibly neat bundles of paper together with twine for the school aged kids who would walk around with red wagons collecting the ‘trash’ and bringing it to be recycled somewhere where all the red wagons lived. Batteries were recycled, glass was brought somewhere specific etc etc…you know the gig. The Swiss like things tidy (I should know I am one of them!) and nothing beats the pride of a job well done as we pass by the small automatic cobble stone cleaners in the morning on our way to school. Fast forward several decades and recycling is still very much a thing, but here what was the biggest issue I had to manage was simply knowing Where and How to dispose of my trash! In landing in Switzerland, I was forever in search of the elusive perfect garbage bag. In an effort to encourage recycling and minimize waste, garbage bags are taxed. In other words - they are EXPENSIVE. Dammit - another thing that I have to pay for that makes me cringe whenever I look at the price. Trying to find said garbage bags was HARD. Elusive at best, hidden at worst, these bags and their various sizes are hidden behind the counters under the cigarette displays where they can’t be stolen such are they valuable….and then GASP…resold on the black market! For too many weeks to count, I had visions of these garbage bags breaking the bank account and throwing garbage away in public garbages was like finding little recepticles of gold - garbage coupons if you will….when travelling and not quite knowing where the next paycheque is coming you do what you do! Then we moved to Monthey off the mountain and apparently the garbage bags that I managed to acquire for up the mountain are not the ones sold on the black market and the plain ol’ black ones will do. But then don’t try to tidy on a Sunday - oh no…!!! Stranger still is the fact that everyone brings their garbage and throws it into a large receptacle placed strategically around town themselves. This makes me question the whole colour of the garbage bag because…who is gonna know? Throw caution to the wind, get the cheap ones, drop and run I say. But then visions from the Scary Swiss stories my grandfather would tell me as a child and the villains of the story have me pulled back into line - there I am following the rules dammit!
Wine bottles however are a different story. Here there is no bottle depot tax applied so that you are encouraged to bring them back for some change. Instead, everyone does the wine bottle clinky walk. Absolutely nowhere close to a garbage recepticle, the glass smash box (as my kids fondly refer to it as) is located conveniently/awkwardly between the schools and right beside the playground. With a large sign on the box stating that you may ONLY smash your bottles into the bin between the hours of 7am-2000 and never on a Sunday and certainly not on a holiday, we are relegated to doing the wine bottle clinky walk on school days - during drop off and pick up. I am certain that I am being measured up against the locals as I drop off the evidence, challenged mostly on whether I picked the right Fendant for the fondue the night before and whether I really should be trying that foreign beer - we are in the heart of wine country after all!
Bugs are everywhere, part of the ecosystem and generally necessary - though we still haven’t figured out the benefit to mosquitos and know that spiders need to stick around, bees are good and wasps suck!
Sitting in the apartment during the summer and I swear to you that the chirp of whatever this fella is felt as though he was sitting right beside screaming in my ear. The fresh mountain air, likely the crumbs on the floor as my kids still can’t quite make the plate on the table and the chocolate makes these things big enough to need a collar and leash! Eeeeeeeeew.
Summer now passing us by and we figure that we have the whole mosquito thing licked and BAM - someone wakes up with a morning eyeball that looks like it lost the mosquito war the night before! Back to the mosquito netting mid October…
Rounding out the fall and coming into the cold November, the girls were rather happy to know that we would be bug free for a while. Imagine then, my surprise when I came across our little friends packed in a neat and tidy little package begging to be picked up randomly while maneuvering your buggy and Suzzette the rolley bag in the grocery store to realize that delectable snack is actually NOT seeds but rather dried BUGS!
quirky particularities - making life interesting
…and baffling. Threading ourselves into the fabric of our day to day - we are taking more and more notice of what is the same yet different to what we are used to with our life in Canada. The daily education is both phenomenal and exhausting causing us to savour the time spent together as a family piled up onto our IKEA sofa and indulging in a Friday evening movie binge to quiet the minds and rest weary bike bodies. One the one had our lives are decidedly and delectably slower than across the Atlantic and allows us to take time for both ourselves and our family letting us indulge in what surrounds us. Flip to the other side and the ease of which being able to get things done back in Canada makes us at times second guess what we’ve done and why we are doing it. But then the sun comes out, the mountains show themselves, a friend reaches out and says hi and we enjoy the church bells on a Sunday rather than on the 7 am wake up and we are reminded once more of why we moved. The story of our day to day - a soap opera/comedy that has us in staring roles - ready for a cameo at every turn. La vie en Suisse. Quelle experience.