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
photo: view of Zürich, departing from Bürkliplatz