Expat life
Comments 9

Three months in

Zurich Lake ferry in Switzerland

Grüezi friends!

Time flies. It feels like just days ago I got my welcome package from the City of Zürich and started this blog, and now it’s three months later, I am deep into my integration and so many of you are talking to me and supporting me on a daily basis (thank you :))

For those who are thinking of moving to Switzerland, or are also new to the country, I don’t want to give the impression that it’s just paradise. It’s a beautiful, clean, functioning place with stunning nature (which I haven’t fully experienced yet) and livable cities (if Zürich is an example), people are friendly and the weather is mild. So far I love it here and I am happy, but this doesn’t mean there aren’t bumps on the road.

Last week I wrote about one of the typical bumps – a small but frustrating experience that results from the lack of language and general local knowledge. (If you follow me on Instagram, you have likely read it)

“I’ve said before that I will share both the awesome and the difficult parts of moving. Here’s one. I find that it’s the little things of the expat process that sometimes push me the most off balance. About a week ago, I went to the post office to send a letter to Canada. This would usually take me about 1 minute. But I got to the post, and I was very tired and couldn’t put two German sentences together. The girl at the post, about my age, did not speak a word of English. I tried asking “how long until the letter gets to Canada?” And she just stared at me blankly and said “Deutsch?” So we started engaging in this hand sign, Denglish conversation and after 5 minutes I finally understood how to send the fastest letter. So she put the stamps on the envelope and told me to pay. I tried to pay with my Finnish debit card but it didn’t work. She looked at my card and said “Kreditkarte – nein”. I pointed to the card where it clearly said “debit”. She pointed to the visa logo. I said, “it’s debit!” She said “but it’s Visa” and I said, “but Visa debit!” We did that about three times each before I understood that you can’t pay with a foreign card and that she wanted me to take out cash. I told her that it will cost me 5 Eur + 5% to take out cash to pay 3 francs. So I gave up and said in broken German that I can’t pay now. She gave me a long hard look and angrily took the stamps off the envelope. After 7 minutes at the post office counter, I did not succeed in sending a priority letter, but I learned that my card is useless, and my German sucks. So I got home and cried from frustration. You don’t prepare for these moments as an expat. You prepare to miss home, to have a hard time integrating into the work culture, or to struggle with the language, but not for simple things like sending a letter, going to the bank or buying something at the store to take three times longer than usual. On the upside, these episodes build character, and I think this one in particular really motivated me to improve my German fast”

Moments like this happen less and less, but they still happen. For example, if I get a bill that I don’t understand or if I feel like I get bad service, if this were Canada, I would know how to inquire for all the important information or how to argue my case in perfect English. Here I either have to call and speak in broken German that makes me sound like I’m 12 years old, or I have to ask my boyfriend to deal with it. (For a girl who has been independent all her life, this is not easy). On a random bad Tuesday, I don’t have a close friend in the city whom I can call and say – can we please go for a glass of wine? Instead, I’m alone at home watching TV shows. Other times, physically, I am in Zürich, going to classes, walking the streets and getting to know the city, but in my head, a thought will come up like, “How did I end up in Switzerland? This country wasn’t even in my plan a year ago, and yet here I am learning about its history with the Barbarians on a Wednesday morning..”. Sometimes I just inexplicably and suddenly wish I was somewhere else, with my parents or in my childhood country, just so I can feel like myself without trying.  That’s the part that is hard about being an expat – sometimes you have to try really hard to be yourself – because it’s hard to express yourself in the language, because you try to adapt local culture, because you’re shy and learning, you’re new and still a bit lost. It’s strange feeling to have to “try” to be you. The ease of being you is the part that you miss the most about home.

I think the best thing I did in the last three months was to sign up for the courses. I feel like I am much more aware and informed about where I live because the integration course covers the important topics, and the teacher (who is Swiss) explains to us the nuances of Swiss life, politics, attitude, culture – things that are not really written anywhere and that you can only learn from a local. The language course makes me feel more confident and comfortable to speak German on a daily basis. Since I started it I’ve been almost always speaking German in stores, shops, cafes, post offices 😉

3 months in, I feel like I’m starting to develop my rhythm in the city. I know when the sun is up and when it sets, I know when the streets are empty and when they are busy, same goes for my local grocery stores. I’m used to the prices and I know, without checking, what tram goes where. I know what I prefer to buy at Migros and what I prefer to buy at COOP. I know how long it takes me to jog to the lake.  I wake up to church bells every morning and walk the same route to my German class. I have a sense of routine, of living, not just visiting. While these moments don’t yet make up for the fact that all of my close friends are far away from me, they do make me feel like I am slowly growing baby roots in this country 🙂

photo: The Alps turning pink at sunset, view from the ferry on Lake Zürich

View of Alps at sunset from Lake Zurich ferry

photo: view of Zürich, departing from Bürkliplatz

View from Zurich from the ferry

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  1. Andrea says

    You’re doing really well, and the fact that your immersing yourself in the German language is a great advantage.

  2. Hallo Larissa
    I like your Insta and I’m interested in your Blog…. I like to follow people moving to Switzerland, as for 1. I find it very brave, and 2. I can imagine it is not always easy – as not everybody is open minded here and 3. I like the multiculti this great country has to offer.
    Very bad story about the lady at the post-counter. Unfortunately not every one has patience to explain something properly. Or is taking the effort to at least try. I really hope this lady was kind enough to speak ‘written German’ instead of the dialect (Züri Düütsch, Swiss German)… However, learning German in the beginning is of course the best thing you can do! so keep going! I wish you all the joy and endurance you need to feel at home here!
    btw… Zürich of course is a great city. but… (this is only my opinion)… you haven’t seen the real Switzerland unless you did not got out to the great nature, on top of the mountain, to look over the endless of the peaks, to feel the calm and the silence and the wisdom nature can give you. And nice little cosy mountain villages can be so peaceful. So enjoy!
    All the best… Dagmar

    • Hallo Dagmar, thank you so much for the great comment 🙂 I’ve been lucky to meet very friendly and welcoming people in Zürich and it has made my adjustment a lot easier 🙂 I love the city because of its vibe – it’s small but it has everything you need, as you said, it’s multicultural, and I feel like it has a very nice rhythm for me (not too slow, not too fast). You are right about exploring the rest of the country though – yesterday we went to Sisikon, a little Dorf on the lake about an hour South of Zürich (though as a local you probably know it :)) and I really felt like I saw a new side of Switzerland – water and mountains, idyllic landscapes, silence broken only by cowbells and a sort of peace that comes from being there, breathing that fresh air. It was so cool. I can’t wait to explore more. 🙂

  3. Dani says

    Hi Larisa! I love your blog and your instagram <3
    I'll be moving to Zurich next year, so it's really nice reading all your experiences, both good and bad ones.

  4. Ana says

    Hallo Larisa,
    I just discovered your insta today (and so your blog) and it’s great to know your thoughts. I felt the same when I first moved to Switzerland, and I still feel some strugles after two and a half years. Maybe because my German skills are very basic (shame on me).
    Can I ask in which school are you taking the German language course?
    Wish all the best

  5. Pingback: One year in Switzerland | Just moved to Switzerland

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