Whilst you can read up in advance of arriving in a country, there are things you only learn over time. Three years into our cheesy adventure, here are 8 eye-openers that living in Switzerland has brought to light.
1. What time?
When dealing with Swiss folks (this doesn’t apply to more lackadaisical expats), an agreed meeting time is not an approximation. Instead it’s the time by which your friend or colleague will have already been waiting 5 minutes for you to arrive. Although they won’t tell you that.
2. Big kids
Push scooters (AKA trotinettes) are not just for children. At least not here, as everyone uses them. This is particularly true in our town of Lausanne, perched as it is on the side of a steep hill.
Saunter around the town centre and soon enough you’ll be sped past by a rapidly descending grannie, silver mane-a-flowing and jowls-a-flapping, with one heel on the back wheel for safety braking.
Tourists, watch your step.
3. How much?
From what I can ascertain, the chances of finding a small house for sale in Suisse Romande for less than six figures are slimmer than those of the Swiss footie team winning Euro 2012. Much slimmer.
Such a purchase is our rough long-term plan (and I do mean long-term), but even if we head out of town, away from the spectaular views of Lake Geneva and onto the more cost-effective plateau beyond, we are still looking at more than six figures for a relatively small 3-4 bedroom newbuild house. You simply don’t see many such properties for under one million Swiss Francs (that’s around 693,000 GBP or 808,000 Euro as per today’s exchange rate). Stings doesn’t it?
(We’ll save the bewildering world of Swiss double mortgages for another time…)
4. Going up
Sometimes me and her indoors drive half-way up a mountain, right up until the quality road stops, in order to indulge in a little lazy hikery. Then often as not, we are overtaken in the car park by one or more geriatric Swiss types on pedal bikes, working off their birchermüesli. The pensioners around these parts are nothing short of bionic. It must be the air.
5. Ding, dong, wrong
Tinkly dinkly cow bells, you know the ones (see pic above). Think Heidi… think Milka Cow… think cast iron bells of surpringly huge proportions, strapped around the necks of des vaches, clanging away morning, noon and night.
A mountainside institution they may be, but I put it to you that these bovine ringers are not in fact cute, but quite cruel.
Why? Well how would you like it dear reader? They’re loud. Dangerously, brain-wobblingly loud. And the din never ends unless Mr/Mrs Moo makes like a statue, falls asleep, or leaps into the nearest gorge to make it stop.
Maybe you’ve heard of tinnitus – that maddening high-pitched ringing in the ears caused by, amongst other things, over-exposure to loud noise? I’d wager that Swiss cows are afflicted by this in their
Ask people with a proper case of tinnitus about their experiences and they’ll often tell you they sometimes feel like it’s driving them mad, literally. So surely nature’s finest milk makers can be driven nutso too? I feel for them, I really do.
6. Selective control freakery
For a country that often feels packed to the brim with rules and regulations, the one area les suisses seem surprisingly unconcerned about is that modern British bugbear: Health and Safety.
While it’s true that if you stop on the hard shoulder of the autoroute, you are legally obliged to plonk your red safety triangle 50 meters further back up the road, and that if you have a baby then some cantonal authorities send you on a First Aid course specifically with your mini-me in mind, if you head into the hills where all sorts of plunge-inducing mishaps might occur there’s not a cone or a cordon to be found.
You’ll get regular and helpful yellow route signs for sure, but should the path you’re following veer close to a mile-high cliff face or breathtakingly deep ravine, with nothing between you and a splattery end but some tufts of grass and possibly a Swiss chap perched eating his sandwich, then you’re on your own.
The concept seems to be that the higher your altitude, the less warnings of impending death you’ll be bothered by. The self-preservation is down to you.
7. Reassuringly calm
Friends and family members who are still of a mind to go partying have often remarked to me and the missus that in terms of madcap after-hours debauchery Switzerland is, well, somewhat on the quiet side.
I don’t mind a bit.
I’m totally okay with safe and serene. It means I don’t need to feel apprehensive about, or even avoid, heading into town centres of an evening for fear or youths looking for places to rest their fists or deposit their puke.
Nor need I perturb myself with visions of multi-car pile-ups and Dubai-style road racing madness, so common in our last expat stomping ground. (The more friends you have who have lost friends to flaming car wrecks, the more this last point feels an important one.)
In short, I’ve found my pace. Born to plod.
8. Steve Martin you’re an evil man
On a lighter note, I’ve recently learned that if you have watched Mr. Martin’s movie The Pink Panther then it is impossible to live in a French-speaking region without collapsing into fits of giggles every time a local says the word hamburger.
In case you’re even more out of the loop than I, this social affliction is the fault of this scene.
If anyone knows any mental exercises I can apply to help avoid such embarassing breakdowns, please let me know.