By Jennifer Hart
When I moved to Switzerland with my husband and two kids, I knew about Rolex, Cartier, the Alps, Heidi, The Sound of Music and cheese but apart from that, what did I REALLY know? Embarrassingly, I knew very little. In speaking with others, I realized that I was not alone in this.
Now that we have been here for several months, I decided to compile a list of things I have learned thus far.
1) This country is gorgeous!
Obviously I knew that coming in but to be here and to see Mont Blanc standing in all her majesty across the lake every day—it takes my breath away. In addition, the rolling hills of vineyards, the lake, the cities…it is all so beautiful. A simple trek to the store often elicits a “oh wow, look over there!” from one of us. However, don’t just take my word for it; you really should visit Switzerland. (check out the MySwitzerland website. It is amazing portal of information.)
2) Switzerland is expensive
Yeah, yeah, yeah. You think you’ve heard that before but aren’t a lot of places expensive? Yes, but not like this. The price of things here set my brain on fire the first month and I was coming from Paris where a box of Kraft Mac and Cheese set me back about $10CDN($7US). Yet Switzerland still sent me into price shock! However, there are two things that help with that: Salaries often more than make up for the high prices of goods, and the adjustments that started this summer to combat the disappearance of the Swiss Franc inflation cap are making a big difference. So, when you visit Switzerland, remember it is going to be expensive and the Swiss don’t care that where you come from things cost a lot less. It’s not endearing to hear that over and over!
3) Discounted Shopping
I have discovered some amazing discounted shops. My favorite on the top of the list is Aligro. Aliwhat? Aligro. This is Switzerland’s answer to places like Sam’s Club and Costco. The membership is free and the benefits are amazing. If you already live here or are planning on a move here anytime soon, bookmark Aligro and check it out as soon as you can.
4) Cows and cow bells are everywhere!
On a recent run in my town, I heard all this clanging and chiming up ahead. Were people learning how to ring church bells? What was it? It was the local cattle hanging out after returning from their summer grazing in the mountains. Don’t be surprised to turn a corner and see a very large cow staring at you. The sound of the bells will generally reach you long before you come face-to-face with a cow and if you come across a herd, take a moment to stop and listen to the music of their bells. It is almost hypnotic.
5) Excellent Cheese
I knew this one before but I wanted to reiterate it here: there is no such thing as “Swiss Cheese” (i.e. the stuff you see in cartoons where the cat is trying to catch the mouse). It is called Emmental after the area it is from. The Swiss have a well-earned reputation for producing some of the best cheeses in the world and this is reason enough to visit. Just don’t ask for the low-fat version, that’s a foreign concept!
It is not a stereotype, it is a way of life. My biggest complaint of our 10 years in Paris was the inconsistency and disorderly way in which things were run. Ask any expat in Paris how they feel about a trip to the local préfecture and watch their body language change and their eyes roll. In Switzerland I could cry with how efficient it is and maybe, just maybe, I have once or twice already. Recently, when I paid a visit to the local commune with a problem, I left 20 minutes later with the problem solved and a “bonne journée” from the person serving me. To say I was happy is an understatement. It’s the little things, y’all!
7) The people
Before moving here I was warned that the Swiss are guarded and unfriendly. I am happy to report I haven’t seen that. They have their way of doing things and it is very much governed by the desire to be succinct and controlled but that works for me. When we first moved in we received flowers, cupcakes and a box of in-season apricots from our neighbors. My children have been repeatedly thanked by our neighbors for carrying back the communal compost bins and I have been thanked for keeping our garden/lawn looking nice. Our elderly neighbor asked if I needed advice on planting in the extremely rocky soil, and she asked if I needed to borrow anything like pots or pans before we had fully unpacked.
8) Really good wine!
Swiss wine? Is that a joke? No, it isn’t. Swiss wines are so good, in fact, that they have been trumping my favorites from France, Italy and Spain. I have a newfound love and respect for what makes Swiss wines so great and why you should go straight to your local wine shop and ask if they have any Swiss wines. When I asked the president of a regional multi-award winning vineyard why I had not heard of Swiss wine before moving here and why they don’t export more of it, he replied, “Why would we make the best wine in the world and want others to drink it?” Fair enough!
There are so many fun sports to take part in here. I was a bit worried at first that we would have to buy heaps of expensive gear for all our sports activites. However: We went to Francois Sport in Bremblens and joined the annual rental scheme. On this plan, you can rent equipment for downhill and cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing, for an ENTIRE SEASON and just return them at the end of the year. What if your kid grows mid-season? No problem, just bring the gear in and exchange it for free. Everything we rented for the juniors was brand new. There are schemes like this all over the country.
10) Switzerland = happiness
I have learned that after countless years of moving, soul-searching, trying out different lives and trends, I have found “home.” The first day we arrived I felt a weight off my shoulders I didn’t know I was carrying. While we remain far from our respective birth countries, we chose this and we continue to choose it every day. I choose it when I head out to get muddy with the dog on a run along the lake. I choose it when I put on heels and head out with my husband for dinner. I choose it when I pick up my kids from school looking the happiest they have ever looked. It’s a hard thing for some to accept and we’ve already faced “commentary” on this but we are here and we plan to stay. Thank you, Switzerland.
Jennifer, a Canadian, lives in Switzerland with her British husband and two Paris-born children. Prior to this move, they lived in France for 10 years. Jennifer is an avid runner, skier and professional packer. She blogs about her expat adventures at Domestic Bliss Abroad and you can also follow her on Facebook, and Instagram.