Seven years ago yesterday, The Frau arrived in Switzerland.
Yipee. Should she feel different?
Oh no, yodelers, because here's the thing: no matter how long she lives her life in Switzerland, she'll always be a foreigner.
She wasn't always a foreigner. For her first five years in Switzerland, she was an expat.
Is there a difference between an expat and a foreigner?
An expat has an expiration date. An expat has defined plans to leave, usually with the same company that brought them there. An expat often lives in a bubble, putting their life on hold for that normal they think they’ll be able to return to—key word, think.
Because Switzerland has a lot going for it, many expats become foreigners in Switzerland.
A foreigner is someone who decides to stay—at least for awhile. They have local contracts with no expiration dates. They stop putting their lives on hold and instead live their lives to the fullest in the place they are now, rather than where the place they plan to be later.
By her definition, The Frau has become a foreigner.
Foreigners in Switzerland like The Frau often realize something else: No matter how good or bad their German is, no matter if they learn to play the alphorn or not—they will always be one thing in Switzerland: foreigners.
The Frau thinks a lot about this now that she has Baby M. Baby M is an American growing up in Switzerland. She says “Baden” with a Swiss accent. She answers when spoken to in Swiss German. And “nein” is her favorite Swiss German word.
But Baby M, if she continues grows up here, will also probably always be a foreigner. A very strange kind of Swiss German-speaking foreigner, but a foreigner by Swiss definition, nonetheless.
The Frau has come to realize that once a foreigner in Switzerland, always a foreigner—even if you are born here.
This is why almost 23% of the Swiss population is foreign. Behind Luxembourg, Switzerland has the highest percentage of foreigners in Europe—and for good reason—the time, expense, and process involved in becoming Swiss is some of the most stringent in the world.
The Frau doesn’t necessarily even want a Swiss passport—what she wants is the acceptance that doesn't seem possible here without it. Because after seven years in Switzerland, she’s found wondering, can a place ever be considered a home if one is always defined as a foreigner when living there?
What do you think?