Thursday, June 21, 2012

Six years in Switzerland, Part I

swiss clock
Time flies when you move to Switzerland
Six years ago this week, the Frau descended on Zurich. At first, the Frau felt like she was on vacation. But then, her husband went to work and this career woman was faced with making him lunch in a country where she didn’t even know the word for milk (or why the grocery carts were attached with chains in a place where people didn’t even lock their bikes). Ms. 4.0-Perfectionist-who-was-once-going-to-conquer-the-world-with-her-brilliance couldn’t even grocery shop. Poor Frau. But also, poor Switzerland.

The Frau wasn’t very nice to Switzerland at first. She couldn’t understand why it wasn’t more like home. The fact that it was a different country didn’t seem like a good enough reason. Little did she know she would go through the whole expat cycle thing like everyone else until she came full circle and started blaming the United States for not being more like Switzerland.

Anyhow, in honor of the Frau’s Swiss six year anniversary, she’d like to talk about the three things that keep her living in Switzerland. Then, in Part II next week, she'll discuss three things that sometimes make her want to stuff a cervelat in it all.

Three Things That Make Her Happy To Finally Have a C-Permit

The Great Outdoors

Switzerland put the "great" in the great outdoors. You can live in the center of a town, like the Frau does, and be in the woods in a matter of minutes. As someone who grew up in Chicago, the Frau never knew it was possible not to have to get in a car to go to the woods. But in Switzerland, you can jump in the lakes and rivers, you can hike in the mountains–even in the winter on beautifully groomed paths, and you can bike in bike lanes almost everywhere in the country—or enjoy summer Sundays when 30 kilometers of road in various parts of the country are shut off to traffic and opened to bikers and rollerbladers.

Things Just Work

Once you come to Switzerland, it’s hard to go anywhere else. Even home. One look at the disaster that is O’Hare Airport, wait 1.5 hours for your luggage, and visit a bathroom that looks like it hasn’t seen a cleaning rag since 1999 and you can’t wait to get back to Zurich where a digital board will tell you that your luggage will be out in 6 minutes and 53 seconds while you admire a toilet so shiny it would give even Mr. Clean a headache.

All of this makes you start to take things for granted. Trains that are scheduled to leave at 8:38 leave at 8:38. People go to lunch exactly at noon and are back at their desks exactly at one (although this still kind of freaks the Frau out). And paper is recycled in such an orderly fashion that the Frau has developed an inferiority complex when it comes to putting her paper out on the curb because her pile, well, it looks just like her: foreign.

People Are Protected

This is a country where everyone has health insurance. This is a country where unemployment protects you for at least a year and a half by paying you 70% of your salary. This is a country where people carry cash instead of credit cards because they actually have money. This is a country where women must be paid at least 80% of their salary during maternity leave for 14 weeks. This is a country where it’s normal to work part-time—even in highly educated, professional positions. If fact, a lot of new parents decide to both work 80%. They are engineers, lawyers, writers. It’s no big deal. And that’s a big deal when it comes to work/life balance.

Stay tuned for "Six years in Switzerland, Part II," where the Frau discusses three things about Switzerland that make her never want to hear an alphorn at a Tunnelfest again.

What keeps you living in Switzerland?


Susan said...

Hello, nice to see you in my Google Reader. My husband's job, primarily keeps us here :-)

I agree with most of what you said. It is a wonderful place to live, especially for an expat.

A question: when you mention Health Insurance, it's private insurance that you are speaking of, right? Which we are mandated to provide for ourselves if we wish to stay here. Which is only right, I'm in agreement.

Your statement made it sound like insurance was provided, rather than contracted for yourself.

Just sayin'

All in all, a wonderful place, and reminds this gal from Alaska of home whenever I gaze upon the mountains.

Chantal said...

Yes, private Swiss insurance, which is definitely expensive, but the Frau appreciates that everyone is required to have it because it keeps costs down and is not really socialist at all (as some people from the U.S. view the concept). It's just smart.

Susan said...

Amen and amen. Just thought folks at home should know what it represents. thanks!

Herspective said...

Interestingly, this week is also my 3rd anniversary abroad (this friday)--congratulations to us both! Although I'm no longer in Germany, now living in South Korea, the third point is one I definitely agreed with while living in Germany and one I continue to see as a good thing (because Koreans have a national health insurance system too!). Americans would be better off implementing a social health insurance too... meine Meinung nach.

Thanks for posting!

Chantal said...

Thanks for your Meinung. I don't think Americans realize how "free" you can be when your health insurance isn't tied to a job. Maybe if more Americans or politicians lived abroad they would start to see the advantages. You can take a longer maternity leave, you can freelance, you can start a small business without worrying about insurance for employees, and more.

And congrats on your three years!

swisssidejewelleryetc said...

Loved this post, Chantal and agree with all bits. Looking forward to part II. Just wait til your daughter starts Kindergarten (Chindsgi)- it's amazing the stuff they do with the kids, just make sure you are prepared to "Bastel" at every Elternabend....that was a bit weird for me to begin with!

Chantal said...

Thanks. Yeah, let's see what's in store for me next...trying to transition from understanding High German to Swiss German so my daughter can't talk behind my back is priority #1, ha ha!

miguev said...

I'd add one: I can't think of a better places to rise your children. Speaking of the amazing things they do in Kindergarten, often the bread for mid-afternoon snack is made by the "toddlers" group (2-3 years). Eat that. I was so proud of baking my own Züpfe and 1.Augustweggen ... until I learned that :D

Chantal said...

That sounds interesting, thanks for sharing. I don't know too much about what they do in school yet!

Tanya D said...

I agree with part 1, well said. I'm curious to read part 2 about the flip side. Seven years for me this summer. If I could get a decent taco at a reasonable price, I might never leave.

Chantal said... I need to add Mexican food with Emmentaler (!) to the flip side list.

Congrats on seven years!

Hattie said...

Waiting to read about the other side of the coin!

Chantal said...

It's coming this week. Stay tuned!

Dilly said...

I definitely agree with the second one - this is one of the things I love most about Switzerland. I remember there being an announcement on a train a while back apologising because it was two minutes late. I also like the sense of collective responsibility and respect that the Swiss seem to have (well, except when it comes to dog poo) - you regularly see teenagers picking up all their litter from a picnic and taking it to the bin. The vast majority of people seem to take pride in their surroundings, certainly when I compare it to the UK.

I have mixed feelings about the healthcare here, compared to the NHS in the UK that I grew up with. I think it is quite expensive (even taking into account the national insurance you pay in the UK), and often very confusing about what is covered by insurance. I also sometimes miss the GP arrangement in the UK, who is always your first point of call, rather than going to three different specialists. However, I do really like the freedom to choose my doctor, rather than just going to whichever one you are in the catchment area for.

Switzerland is also just so damn beautiful! It makes me very happy being able to look out my window and see mountains.

Chantal said...

Hmm. I guess you aren't describing the teenagers that use the front steps of my building like it is some kind of lounge bar...cigarette butts, energy drink cans, it's a mess!

I agree with being frustrated about what is and is not covered by insurance! And yes, it is very expensive. I think I figured that no matter what, you'll end up paying at least CHF 5,000 a year per person for insurance. But imagine how much it would be if some people weren't covered and we were paying for them too!!!

tony78 said...

Switzerland is truly a dream country, i am sure you six years were pleasing.
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