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Plunging Into Switzerland?

A few things to think about before you take the plunge …..

There are any number of articles available in books, on the Internet and in expat oriented magazines which will give you a comprehensive list of all the pitfalls and problems you can encounter when moving to a new country – followed by a list of “quick fix” solutions to help lift the heavy and despondent mood you will almost certainly have sunk into whilst reading the article. For most people, the decision to move to a new country is made for them by their employer and often they are left with no choice but to grin and bear it – or, of course, start hunting for a new job!

But, an opportunity to move to Switzerland should really be considered as a perk and not a hardship for you or any of the family.

Let’s look at a few aspects which should have everyone rushing to the front of the queue when the “Relocate to Switzerland” tickets are handed out …

To borrow from some well-known clichés –

1.  Relocating Broadens the Mind

And here we are talking about the minds of not only you, dear relocating executive, but also your spouse, your truculent teenagers, your trembling toddlers and even your babe in arms. Arrival in a foreign country, where you don’t speak the language, can’t imagine a diet based on melted cheese and are not looking forward to leisure activities which include cracking whips and swinging over-sized cowbells, may initially seem daunting to even the most hardened global nomad.

However, after a few weeks and a few forays into the international clubs, associations, schools and societies in your area, you’ll hear your teenagers on the phone (hopefully not long-distance mobile phones making use of the international roaming nets, though) telling their friends back home how cool it is to be able to ski year-round on glaciers, take the train alone without parents having to tag along, and talking knowledgably about what’s currently hot in the charts in Brazil and which fashions are definitely out, in Costa Rica!

There’s been many a shy and sheltered child who has blossomed almost unrecognisably in the safe and secure atmosphere of Switzerland – helped along of course by copious quantities of fresh air, melted cheese and bracing games of football in all weathers!

2.   No Fondue without Fire

Wherever you have come from, you will not have to be here long before you come across the seemingly ubiquitous fondue! Be it Cheese Fondue, Fondue Chinoise, Chocolate Fondue or Fondue Bourguignon you will sooner later be in a position where trying this local Swiss delicacy is practically unavoidable.

And frankly what could be better after a long, hard, cold winter’s day on the slopes than to settle down to a steaming bowl of melted cheese with chunks of almost stale bread? Perhaps with deference to more delicate digestive tracts, most “Fondue” restaurants offer a full range of fondues from Chinoise (a pot full of steaming broth into which you dip chunks of meat, fish or vegetables and served with rice) to Bourguignon (a pot of boiling oil into which the self-same chunks of meat, fish or vegetables disappear, sometimes never to be seen again) to the very indulgent but very delicious chocolate fondues (pots of bubbling chocolate accompanied by pieces of fruit or cake).

I wouldn’t mention it had I not seen it with my own eyes – but it is not usually expected that a party of four order Chinoise for their starter, Cheese for their main course and Chocolate for desert – but hats off to them for really getting into the swing of Swiss life!!

Apart from fondues there are of course any number of traditional Swiss dishes just waiting to be tried and tested, from satisfying Pizzocchare in Graubünden to delicious Züri Gschnätzlets in Zürich, hip-expanding risotto in Lugano or perhaps just a  specialty sausage - Schüblig, Bratwurst, Wienerli, Emmentalerli,Saucisson etc. – with a hunk of freshly-made 10-grain bread. The choice is entirely yours ….

3.  Relocated Expats of a Feather Flock Together

One of the greatest things about moving to Switzerland is that you will be in the very good company of people from all over the world who have done it before you. Whether you end up down in Geneva, over in Zürich or up in Bern (looking at things from a Zug prospective!) you won’t be able to  help coming across people of all kinds of nationalities and will have a multitude of opportunities to meet people with whom you would otherwise never have had the chance to interact.

Where else in the world could you, almost out of desperation, join a beginners’ upholstery group run by a parent involved with the local international school, and end up learning about the political system in South Africa, the traditional way to cook goat in Kenya, the most important things to take with you when going hiking in the Australian bush – and at the end of the day still learn how to re-cover an old chair in three easy steps!!

4. One Man’s Mountain is another Man’s Valley

When arriving in any new country it is important to find your feet at your own pace and not to be too gung-ho about getting to know the entire area and doing as the locals or even other well-seasoned expats do as fast as possible!

Not long after my arrival in Switzerland I heard about a walk from a quaint corner of Kanton Schwyz called Seebodenalp up to a place called Staffel which was on Mount Rigi but nowhere near the top. The kind chap who told me about this assured me that it was a stroll for a Sunday afternoon and not overly strenuous and he could get up and down the route three times in an afternoon. So, having press-ganged my (at that time) one and only friend (also newly arrived) into joining me for this casual, country outing, off we went. Now, those of you that know this corner of Switzerland will know what’s coming next! Two hours later, having climbed up a virtually vertical hillside (or so it seemed at the time) we popped over the ridge at Staffel red in the face, puffing and panting like only two overly-ambitious, newly arrived expats can and promptly collapsed on the grass at the side of the train tracks.

Had we been less keen to prove ourselves “settled in” we would have had the nouse to ask a few questions – and we would most likely quickly have found out that our kind informant was in fact a top athlete who regularly ran up and down that route in readiness for running marathons and the like!

In case you are wondering – I have since walked that route several times – but never without several bars of chocolate and Kendal Mint Cake on hand, a litre of water and no other aim for the afternoon than to enjoy the stunning view from the top and then get back down to Hinterbodenalp for a Kafi Zwätschge!

5.  Relocate in Haste, Repent at Leisure.

There is nothing more valuable when relocating than doing some thorough research beforehand. Getting the whole family involved in the adventure from the start will save you a monumental number of headaches later on. Ideally, find yourself a relocation agent who is local to the area that you are planning to live in and make sure that he or she is happy to receive and answer questions from all members of the family.

More than once we have had tearful teenagers in our offices, fretting over their inability to get their favourite kind of make-up for a big night out, worrying wives who really need to make a Nemo birthday cake for their youngest and haven’t got a clue how to ask for orange food colouring, over-stretched fathers who ask for nothing but a copy of the New York Times to be delivered to their door – but please, in English if at all possible and any number of other odd souls with small incidents which, whilst able to cause a chuckle after the event, are always nerve-wracking and energy-absorbing – and could have been avoided with a little advance research!

6.  A Bad Expatriate Blames the Country

Or in other words – celebrate the differences! Just as no two people are alike, no two countries have the same traditions and ways of doing things. Personally, coming from the UK, I was delighted to find that the train system here bears no resemblance to good old British Rail – and yet a Japanese client who moved from Tokyo to Zürich was at first dismayed to find we had nothing similar to the Bullet Train and for a while lived in constant fear of arriving late everywhere (which actually had the effect of making him turn up usually an hour earlier than expected and thus taking everyone by surprise!).

Food is different here, language is different, the people and their attitudes are different and so, most likely, is the scenery out of your apartment window. But if you see these differences as opportunities to grow and learn you will soon begin to revel in your Swiss experience. But, don’t misunderstand me – there is nothing wrong with sending home for an emergency supply of Marmite, Golden Syrup, Cheerios, Oreos or your favourite hairspray from time to time but after a while you will find yourself adapting very nicely to Swiss produce and products and the cravings will get less – promise!

7.  When in Switzerland, do as the Swiss do

… because after all, they’ve been doing it for hundreds of years and seem to be getting along fine thank you!

But, that said, it is also nice for Swiss people to learn about new cultures and different ways of doing things. So don’t be afraid to invite your new neighbours for a “get to know you” cocktail or coffee – and take the opportunity to provide some insight into your own country. Do you have a national dish – or one that is popular in your area? Do you have a catchy dance or song that you could share? Do you have photographs of places of interest in your country that you could display and invite comment upon? The Swiss are great travellers but like most of us, also enjoy a bit of armchair travelling from time to time, and are usually most interested in learning about other cultures – or at least letting you have their (usually very clear) opinions about your country if they have already visited it.

Just be yourself, be proud of your own country and your own traditions and open your mind to observing and sharing in a different way of life for the time you are here.  You will very soon find that the Swiss are only too willing to introduce you to their own ways of doing things even though it will take them quite a long time to invite you into their homes.

8.  A friend in Switzerland, is a friend indeed

Whatever you may have heard about the Swiss aloofness and coolness towards strangers you can be sure that some percentage of it is true! However, once you have made a friend of a Swiss person and become part of their life, you can rest assured that it will be a friendship for life.

There is very little that is superficial about the way of life here. The wonderfully decorative and spectacular Klausjagen in Küssnacht at the beginning of December is not just an opportunity for the men of Küssnacht to dress up in white tops, blow horns, swing cowbells and wear colourful lanterns on their heads but also a serious procession to rid the village of evil spirits. The colourfully dressed villagers parading through the Schwing- und Äplerfest (Wrestling and Alp Festival) on Mount Rigi in July aren’t carrying those cradles, milking stools, hay bales and farm machinery on their backs just for fun – they are moving themselves, their families and their livestock to their summer residences high in the mountain pastures.

In a country where positive entertainment is made from the hardships of daily life, it is not really surprising that people take themselves and each other fairly seriously. The Swiss sense of humour is dry and sometimes very dark and I have not yet found much of a sense of the ridiculous or frivolous. As a person that can laugh till I cry at yet another re-run of Fawlty Towers, I have learned to keep my British sense of humour toned down, smile politely at jokes that I really don’t understand and keep watching re-runs of “Fast eine Familie” in the hope that I will also one day be rolling on the floor clutching my sides. In the meantime I’m hoping someone will send me the entire collection of Monty Python films on DVD for Christmas!!!

9.  When the going gets tough, the tough ….

… deal with it and live to tell the tale! No one can pretend that life as a newly arrived expat in a foreign country is easy. But, with a positive attitude, good humour and a few good connections to get you started, your time here will be over before you know it and then you’ll be fretting all over again about “going home”!

Article compiled by Nicki Auf der Maur of Le Concierge Expatriate Services GmbH and escapee from the British Weather and British Rail!