Monday, 4 October 2010

12 Months Later - Continued

More of my own observations about life in Switzerland, and what I have learnt since moving here a year ago, including languages, transportation, shopping and pride.

6. I'm better at French that I thought I was

When I moved to Switzerland one year ago I had what I would describe as a basic knowledge of French; I spoke just enough to carry brief conversations in French with my wife’s family and friends, but was out of my depth with many conversational topics. To make matters worse, I lacked the confidence to step outside of my comfort zone and try my language skills out on strangers.

As someone who is naturally quite shy, living in a foreign country where the locals did not speak my language represented a huge challenge, and I often doubted my level of comprehension en français. However, after conducting several telephone calls and then face-to-face interviews entirely in French, I was surprised to find that I was able to not only understand the vast majority of what was being said to me, but also that I could reply with enough accuracy for the other person to understand me.

From there, my confidence grew, boosted by success in job interviews and subsequently working in an environment that required me to speak French. One year on, I have now begun a course to improve my French, and am confident that within a few years I will be able to proudly state that I am bilingual.

7. Swiss public transport runs like clockwork (which is also Swiss)

Coming from England, where train and bus timetables can be regarded as works of fiction, to Switzerland, where a delay of even one minute is unthinkable and greeted by many tuts and watch-glancing from the Swiss, is a real eye-opener. The trains and buses here actually arrive when they are supposed to, and delays are exceedingly rare.

The public transport infrastructure is well built and the trains and buses arrive and depart frequently, allowing travelers to get where they want to go with minimal fuss. Add to that the wide choice of ticket types available (such as the “carte journalière”, which allows you to travel on any bus, train, tram or boat anywhere in the whole country for one day) and the general comfort of the buses and trains themselves, and you end up with a transport system that is well run and well appreciated by the traveling Swiss public. England take note – this is how it should be done.

8. The Swiss are proud to be Swiss

Patriotism is a good thing
It doesn’t matter where you go in Switzerland, whether you are in a large city, small town or even a tiny village in the mountains, the Swiss flag can be seen hanging from flag poles, balconies, windows and a wide variety of other places.

The reason for this is simply that the Swiss are proud of their country, proud of their heritage, and proud to feel a sense of unity with their fellow countrymen (remarkable given the somewhat checkered history of the relationship between cantons - or states - here in Switzerland).

In England, the flag of St. George normally only appears during a World Cup, and even then its appearance is very fleeting, lasting only until the national team are dumped out of the competition following abject performances that confuse the pundits and media who had touted them as near-guaranteed winners.

Is this because the English are not proud to be English? Or are we simply more reserved in showing off our pride? Or is it down to political correctness, with English people not wanting to offend the other nationalities who have taken up residence in the area?

Whatever the reason might be for suppressing displays of national pride back in England, over here seeing the bright red flag wherever you look is a constant reminder that you are in Switzerland, and the Swiss would not have it any other way.

9. Don’t leave it until Sunday to do your shopping...

…because the shops are shut and you will go hungry. Back in England, we enjoy the luxury of many shops opening on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays, as well as staying open until late in the evening (or staying open for 24 hours in the case of certain large supermarkets). In Switzerland, this is not the case. Generally speaking, the supermarkets and other shops close around 6pm during the week, conveniently just before many people finish work.

At the weekends, they are open on Saturdays where huge crowds of Swiss gather to seize the rare opportunity to get their shopping done. On Sundays, the shopping centres are a ghost town. Many restaurants are even closed on Sundays, something that would only occur in the event of an earthquake in many English towns. If you want to make sure you eat during the weekend, you really need to shop on Saturday, or finish work early during the week to get your shopping done.

This takes quite a lot of getting used to, with the convenience of shops being open on Sundays in England facilitating those last minute needs (along the lines of “Oh bugger, I’ve run out of milk”), whereas similar situations in Switzerland ultimately mean you have to cook something else, or resort to a visit to your local Drive Thru.

10. Some moments in life are truly unforgettable

Every now and then in the course of our normal lives, something happens that changes everything. I have had a few of these moments in the past, including meeting my wife (and proposing to her, not on the same day) and moving to Switzerland, but nothing could beat the one extra-special moment I had the pleasure of experiencing this year.

My son / daughter at 3 months
After returning from a business trip abroad a day early to surprise my wife, she then surprised me back with the news that she was pregnant with our first child. Words cannot accurately describe the rush of emotions that I felt in that one moment, as my heart pounded in my chest and tears of joy formed in my eyes.

The pregnancy itself doesn’t really change anything for us men, other than having an overly-emotional partner whose stomach slowly inflates over nine months. Only when the baby emerges into the world does it truly become real for the father, and I will have to wait another six months for that to happen.

In the meantime, however, we recently had our three month scan and that provided another moment that will stay with me forever, as we saw our tiny baby moving his or her arms and legs and generally looking really active (which is a stark contrast to the parents!). Now we play the waiting game until April next year when the baby is due, and the next life-changing moment occurs. 

That rather philosophical note seems a fitting way to end such a reflective blog entry. I promised roughly one year ago to post more regular entries, and we can see how unfulfilled that promise turned out to be. I will honestly try to blog more often, when I have some free time to do so.

I have enjoyed compiling the list above, so might be tempted to write a few more like it in the future. Certainly makes the article easier to read than some of my more novel-like posts in the past!

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