It’s a year since I arrived in Switzerland, in some ways I cant believe its that long and in other ways it feels longer. Switzerland was never a place I ever dreamt of living but now I am here I am more than happy. I thought I would do a little reflection on my first year in the land of cow bells, Toblerone and stunning scenery
Scotland is my home, so I am fairly used to scenery that stops you in your tracks and Switzerland has more than its fair share of that. God went overboard when he designed Switzerland. Almost every day I am amazed by the beauty around me, from the majestic Alps, to the pretty little Swiss village we live in, to stunning views of Lake Geneva. I constantly feel incredibly privileged to live in one of the most beautiful places in the world.
Its not just the scenery that I appreciate in Switzerland I have developed a deep appreciation of the Swiss. I am in their country and yet when I run out of my few phrases of mispronounced French they all too often apologise their English isn’t better. These are polite patient people. What I have particularly appreciated is the reserved friendliness of the Swiss. I rarely ever pass someone in our village without exchanging a cheerful “Bonjour” or “Bon Soir” Somehow, and this is probably just my cultural baggage, the “bonne journee” that follows every transaction in a shop seems more genuine than the “have a nice day” that accompanied similar shopping experiences in the States. I do have to confess I am still getting used to greeting women with three kisses, its still a bit of an ordeal.
I don’t understand the politics yet, but I like the way they are carried out, everything is done as locally as possible. Our very small village is its own commune, that is local authority. Whenever possible it seems to me that local people make decisions about local matters. It appears to work as the towns and villages are well maintained, you do notice the difference when you go into France. There are numerous referendums to let people rather politicians have the final say in important decisions. There is no head of state as such, the country doesn’t do state visits to other countries and any visiting head of state is met by the seven members of the federal council rather than President of the Swiss confederation who is only holds that position for a year anyway. As a republican, in the UK sense, I am happy there really hasn’t been any recent tradition of hereditary celebrity in Switzerland.
It was only on a visit over the border to France that I realised what is missing in nearly ever Swiss town and village that is ubiquitous in most of the rest of Europe, war memorials. Switzerland has been famously neutral for several hundred years, I like that. Swiss people my age don’t have stories of generations of men missing from their family trees due to war. Here is a prosperous influential country that has achieved that position without resorting to what has been euphemistically called “ diplomacy by other means.” Switzerland never grew geographically or financially in the modern era by conquering someone else’s land.
Swiss chocolate, I mean, come on, who couldn’t like Swiss chocolate and the Swiss like their chocolate a great deal. I can imagine when I was a kid I would have been mesmerised by the supermarket aisles filled with chocolate of ever conceivable flavour, in fact, come to think of it, I still am. Fondue, that is a winner in my book too with Swiss cheese in general. Coffee, don’t think I have had a bad cup of coffee in a year.
Many Swiss offices and businesses still close for lunch, shops, even the bigger supermarkets are never opened beyond 7 or 8 pm and are closed on Sundays. If you are used to 24 hour 7 days a week Tesco or Asda, that might sound like a huge inconvenience, but I don’t think it is. I think it allows the Swiss to have a better work / life balance, shop workers get time off with their families and families don’t see shopping as the main weekend recreational activity.
I have discovered efficiency means something different here, it doesn’t mean things get done easily and quickly but that things get done if you follow the right procedure and there are no short cuts. I have found navigating the bureaucracy frustrating at times. Paying on line for stuff is very rare, its still more common to get a bill you have to go to the bank to pay, which of course closes over lunch. Trying to get number plates for our car was a marathon but I confess I contributed to that a little by losing my identity card.
Of course, everyone says that Switzerland is very expensive, and it is, well for most things. Thankfully as a coffee connoisseur or caffeine addict depending on your perspective, one of the few things that is cheaper in Switzerland than the UK is good quality coffee beans. However the other side of the high cost of living coin is that people here are generally paid well and everything is generally of a high quality.
So that is my first year in Switzerland and I am very much looking forward to many more.