Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Sixty Days in Suisse - Part I

As the title suggests, I have now been a resident here in the land of cheese, chocolate and mountains for 60 days, although it certainly doesn't feel as long as it sounds. In fact, when I checked my calendar today and realised I had just finished my 8th week here I was somewhat surprised that time had passed so quickly - I left England with a niggling fear in the back of my mind that I would struggle to adapt to life here, with each day passing so slowly that I would actually start to long for life in Stevenage (which, as anyone who has visited Stevenage knows, would be stooping pretty low).

Fortunately, I began to like life in Switzerland almost immediately, aided greatly by the kindness of my wife's family and friends, who have all made me feel very welcome here. Indeed, my first few weeks here were such a blur of activities, outings and meals that I barely had time to miss my life in England (although I obviously still missed my family and friends). I soon found that I had passed the one month mark here, and thought that I really ought to write another blog article to let people know how I'm getting on and what its like to live in Switzerland. Another month later, and I'm actually getting round to it!

It's fair to say a lot has happened in these last few weeks. So much, in fact, that this effort might take some time to read (apologies for those who were expecting a "quickie" update), although I will do my best to keep it as brief as possible. In an attempt to make it succinct yet readable, I have had to split it into different parts (this one being Part I), with different sub-sections for each of the 8 weeks I have lived here - sort of mini-blogs, if you will.

Here goes...

Part I - Paperwork, Planning and Pampering

Picking up where my last blog entry left off (way back on the 8th October), I started my first week in Switzerland by making a trip into the town centre to let the authorities know that I'm here - apparently that's very important here. Luckily I had Christelle, who had taken the week off work to be with me, to show me where to go and what to do, as the process itself seemed very confusing to me.

We went first to the office of the Service de la Population (or SPOP, in it's catchy, shortened form) to register me as a swiss citizen. This involved filling out a form, handing them my passport to photocopy, and then handing over 90.- CHF to pay for the administration fees - printing and photocopying is clearly quite expensive here. The "nice" lady then told us that I would have to wait 6-8 weeks before I would receive my "Permis B", the paper that shows I am legally allowed to work in Switzerland. "Great," I thought, "So what do I do in the meantime?".

To answer this, Chris and I went to the Office régional de placement (ORP, another little abbreviation that rolls off the tongue) to ask them for help to find a job - we made it clear to them that I was not asking for monetary assistance like the dole in England, as that is something I will not be entitled to until I have worked for some time in Switzerland. Instead, we simply asked for some guidance on finding a job, maybe help to improve my Curriculum Vitae or coaching for interviews.

Unfortunately, I am not entitled to that kind of help until I have the Permis B - and so I'm left waiting for the permit to come through before I can actually have help to find a job, facing up to a 2 month wait for the piece of paper to be printed out (potentially with another printing fee?). Frustrated, we left the ORP and headed for the AVS (the state pension office, they love their abbreviations here don't they?) to sign up for the pension from the government.

This is one that you have to pay for, similar(ish) to the system for the state pension in England, although you get an awful lot more for your payments here in Switzerland. After signing up to safeguard my old age, we left the town centre with my head spinning from trying to grasp everything we had done - in retrospect, everything we did is kind of logical but having never moved countries before it was a lot to take in at the time.

Fortunately, we were able to relax that evening as Chris' sister Caroline and her boyfriend Pascal invited us round for dinner. They cooked up some delicious fajitas that I hungrily devoured, and then we played a board game afterwards to aid our digestion. Pascal won the game, and then - buoyed by his win - he challenged me to a game of Pro Evolution Soccer 2009 on his PlayStation 3.

Never one to back down from a PES-related challenge, I agreed. His winning streak continued as he swept me aside in the first match, but I fought back in the rematch to level the series at 1-1. The third game went to Pascal again, but I equalised again in dramatic fashion in our final match as my team recovered from an early goal to level it late in the game, and then sent the pixellated electronic fans wild with an injury time penalty winner.

The Pascal v. Paul PES Challenge ended 2-2, mainly because the girls had had enough of watching us play, so Chris and I headed home.

A couple of days after this, I accompanied Chris and her mum Nelly on a trip to Yvoire in France. Yvoire is a fairly small-ish town on the French side of Lac Leman, a place I had only previously seen from afar as I gazed out across the lake from Lausanne. We woke up early to start our journey, and to my surprise (and initial horror), Chris and Nelly made me drive from our apartment building in Lausanne to Nyon to get the boat over to Yvoire.

My fear was down to the actual car itself - instead of driving my trusty (if rusty) Peugeot, which was still loaded with our belongings from The Big Move several days earlier, we instead climbed into Nelly and Bernard's car, a left-hand drive Ford Fiesta. Although my voyage from England to Switzerland had taught me how to drive on the right (wrong) side of the road, I had never attempted this in a car where the steering wheel is where the passenger normally sits.

Go Grease Lightning!
With fingers trembling I shoved the car into gear and edged ever-so-slowly forwards, checking the mirrors every 5 seconds or so. I ever so slowly grew in confidence as I continued to drive, but what made matters worse was that our journey to Nyon involved joining the motorway - a terrifying prospect when driving a car that has been built in a strange way (from a British point of view).

Driving quite fast in an unfamiliar car where you sit on the wrong side of the car and drive on the wrong side of the road is pretty daunting.

To cut a long, never-higher-than-fourth-gear story short, we made it to Nyon unscathed and boarded the boat.

Yo Ho Ho and a bottle of rum!
After a pleasant sail - on a sunny day with about 25 degrees (in October) - we arrived at the dock in Yvoire, and started to walk into the town itself. I took an instant liking to the place; little, winding streets with cobble stones, colourful flowers everywhere, tiny shops selling hand-made goods, and great views across the lake.

We strolled around the town for a couple of hours, during which time I took more than 100 photos (think that shows that I liked Yvoire), had a pleasant beer in a quaint little cafe, and ate a rum and raisin ice cream whilst basking in the warm sun. A very enjoyable day out indeed - made all the more enjoyable when Nelly drove us home, meaning I didn't have to.

Having had a brief look at the jobs available here in Switzerland for a Project Manager / Project Coordinator, I came to the conclusion that my work experience and qualifications may be somewhat lacking in the "wow" factor that potential employers might be looking for. So, I had a look on the Internet for courses that I could do to boost my profile and attractiveness to companies.

After some deliberation, I opted to sign up for a home learning course (in English, thankfully) through SEEK Learning to study for the Microsoft Certified IT Professional Database Administrator in SQL Server 2005 - which required that I first complete the Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist: SQL Server 2005 exam. The helpful man on the phone (I think his name was Tim, but I might be wrong - then again, that's not really important anyway) told me that by signing up I would also get a free course to become an Oracle Certified Associate, so I thought "Why not?" and promptly registered with them. This would at least give me something to do whilst sitting at home all week.

At the end of the week, Chris and I decided to treat ourselves by heading to the spa at Lavey-les-Bains. I had been there several times before, most recently after the wedding in September with my family and friends, and I always enjoy a couple of hours of pure relaxation in the warm water with bubble jets massaging the bits of me that need massaging. We possibly might have overstayed our welcome on the sun loungers (beds submerged in the water with bubble jets that run the length of your body), having stayed in the same place for 45 minutes while a queue of people looked longingly on, but I once again enjoyed my time at the spa.

After leaving the spa, my day got even better as we made a quick stop at McDonalds, where I discovered that the Golden Arches here were doing "Semaines Suisse", or "Swiss Weeks", with burgers based on typical Swiss dishes. I ordered the McFondue - a cheeseburger made with fondue cheese - and happily consumed the calorific delight, thinking that perhaps my decision to move to Switzerland was the right one to make after all.

Here are a few pictures from Yvoire, it's just such a pretty little town!

The adventures continue in "Sixty Days in Suisse - Part II"!

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