Monday, 4 October 2010

12 Months Later

No, this isn't a blog about some sort of sequel to the horror film series ("28 Days Later" and "28 Weeks Later"), nor is it a follow up to the Hugh Grant comedy film, "Nine Months". In fact, it has nothing to do with any films, no matter how gory or foppish.

Instead, the title is a reference to the fact that I have now been a Swiss resident for twelve whole months. One entire year. Three hundred and sixty five days. A period of time in which many things can change - and that has certainly been the case for me.

Since I first arrived here in the land of fine chocolates, delicious cheese, breathtaking scenery and real seasons that involve hot summers and cold winters (unlike English seasons, where in winter it rains and it's cold, and in summer it also rains but it's a bit less cold), my life has gone through many changes. I will be honest at this point and say that not everything has been easy; sometimes in life we have to fight for what we want and try to deal with whatever obstacles are thrown in our way, and the last twelve months have had their fair share of lows as well as some spectacular highs.

Rather than dwell on the darker moments, I prefer to see the brighter side of life, and this positive approach has been invaluable to me since I decided to move to Switzerland. Before writing this article I had a quick read through of my previous entries, and noticed that the overwhelming majority of my stories describe events that have made me happy, a theme that relates to my overall view of life in Switzerland.

Instead of trying to sum up everything that has happened to me since The Big Move one year ago (which would result in pages and pages of text that would take ages to read), I decided that this blog should be about the things I have learned since starting a new life here, both about my adopted country and about myself.

1. Switzerland is only expensive if you don't live there

My new homeland has a reputation for being a very expensive place to visit, but I have come to learn that this is not true for the Swiss themselves. As a tourist from England, converting the 9.- CHF that you paid for your beer into pound sterling might make you think about becoming teetotal (especially given the small size of the glass the beer is served in). However, the Swiss earn higher salaries than we do in England, and when you take this into account it actually means the beer price is roughly the same as back in Blighty. The Swiss, therefore, are not paying ridiculously over the odds for their goods and services, as they earn enough to be able to afford it. This doesn't help the tourists, of course, unless the exchange rate has a sudden huge swing in favour of the pound.

2. Driving an English car in Switzerland is not always practical 

UK cars are not practical here
Given that car parks here are designed for left-hand drive cars, attempting to enter one in an English car poses a logistical problem that can only be solved by either getting out of your car and running round to take your ticket from the car and running round to take your ticket from the machine, or by growing really long arms.

As the latter is not biologically possible, the only option is to exit your car to collect your ticket while enduring the puzzled stares of the motorists queuing behind you.

This problem also applies to other situations, such as going through the Drive Thru at a well known fast food chain or trying to gain entry to the key-operated garage at your apartment building. The solution? Buy a new car, or switch to riding a bicycle. Considering that most of Switzerland is covered in hills that would be considered mountains by the small Welsh towns visited by Hugh Grant, I would advise against the latter. I opted to buy a new car, and haven't looked back since (apart from when reversing, obviously).

3. It helps to have friends in the right places

Trying to find an apartment in Switzerland is an enormous challenge. There are plenty of available apartments that seem to be exactly what you are looking for, but - unfortunately - they are also exactly what hundreds of other people are looking for too. My experience of renting in England went something like this: browse websites for suitable places to rent; find one you like; ring estate agent to organise visit; spend time looking around said place; inform estate agent that you want it; estate agent fills in forms, you sign forms, go through a credit check, then you move in. Fairly simple really. Frustratingly, it doesn't work like that here.

The main problem is that there are far fewer houses and apartment buildings in Switzerland as a large percent of the land is uninhabitable (because of mountains, lakes or vineyards). That means that every available house or apartment has the equivalent of a small army wanting it, therefore heavily stacking the odds of successfully getting hold of the keys against you.

To stand a better chance of getting your foot in the door, you really need to know someone who works for the estate agent in question (often it's a friend of a friend) who can try to grease the wheels and help push your application. If you don't have a man on the inside, you could be facing a very long wait for your next move.

4. The Swiss love to walk

Walk on, with hope in your heart...
Whether it is winter or summer, blizzards or heatwaves, nothing will stop the Swiss from getting outside and enjoying their country. I can't blame them for that, though, as they have a truly beautiful country that is just crying out to be explored.

Go to the countryside in Switzerland at the weekend and you'll no doubt see countless other people there marching around with their hiking boots, backpacks and walking sticks, greeting you with a friendly bonjour/guten tag as they breeze past on their way to the next walking route.

A similar situation happens in the winter as well, with the snow-covered mountainous areas swarming with Swiss wrapped up in their winter clothes, carrying backpacks to transport their picnics of bread, cheeses, cold meats, and - of course - a bottle of wine. Even young children barely taller than their parents' backpacks can be found clambering over rocky hillsides or stomping their way through deep snow.

By teaching them that walking is fun, these parents are ensuring that their children are used to exercising from an early age, as well as preparing the next generation of Swiss to keep exploring the great outdoors of this unique country.

5. When the programme you are watching on Swiss TV goes to a commercial break, run away!

Normally, when the a programme stops to go to an advert break, most people take the opportunity to make a cup of tea or nip to the toilet before the show restarts. Having sat in front of the telly when the adverts have rolled here in Switzerland, I could add a third reason to leave the room now - to avoid watching the awful rubbish that is broadcast in the gaps between programmes.

I have often watched an advert and thought, "What was the point in that?" due to the badly-scripted or poorly-acted nonsense that Swiss advertisers have created to try to get people to buy their product. In fairness, the ultimate goal of advertising is to make a product or brand name memorable to the public, and if you remember an advert for being particularly bad then you will also remember the product.

Perhaps the sub-standard TV advertising is actually a well thought-out ploy using some form of reverse psychology to implant brand names in the heads of the Swiss people? Or maybe the adverts are unintentionally bad, which would actually be a rather sorry statement about Swiss marketing.

Read more of my general summarising of all things Swiss in "12 Months Later - Continued".

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