Lifestyle

Lavaux, Switzerland

There are a few things I regret from my two years in Switzerland – like, not putting more effort on learning how to snowboard, or not going more often to the gym. Not practicing ice skating, because I didn’t dare to go by myself. Not traveling more around the country. And, also, not socialising with more Swiss, but limiting myself to the expat community in the area.

But there’s one thing I regret more than anything of the above:

Not learning enough french to call myself fluent

The Reasonable Explanation.

Two years in a french speaking location, and I’m not fluent. Embarrassing? Maybe. But let me share my ridiculous excuse reasonable explanation. Before moving to Switzerland, I wasn’t too much into french. At University, I gave it a try – but there was something in its silent vowels and consonants that I found a bit fishy. I never thought I could have as much grammatical errors as I had during french class. If the teacher would have counted -0.5 points for every mistake I had made, I’m pretty sure I would have had a -20 as my final exam grade. I’m grateful that our system only allowed teachers to grade us between 1 – the best – and 6 – the worst. Management instructed them to give an overall grade to the pupil. I’m quite sure that my french “r” had something to do with me passing the subject.

And then, there was the easiness of working in an international company, in a latin-american team. I never used french at work – not even when talking to french banks. I wasn’t forced into it. Instead, I was helped out of any trouble by a swiss colleague (who also speaks spanish). Whenever I had to write a formal letter to, say, apply for an apartment or demand a housing insurance, she was there to write it for me.

After one year making my way through the french part of Switzerland with little more than 40 words, I thought it was time to give french another chance. But then there were the unreasonable course timetables in any of Lausanne’s academies, which seemed to assume that those who want to learn french are anything but full-time employees. My variable work schedule with the increasing number of business travels didn’t go well with pricey regular group lessons.

That was when I discovered the language courses by Rosetta Stone, and practiced whenever I had time to do so. Ok, maybe not whenever I had time – as I had to share this time with blogging, traveling and socializing; but I did practice al least for one and a half hours twice a week from February until July 2011 – 6 fruitful months.

I did improve from my 30 words vocabulary during these two years (specially when I started using Rosetta Stone) – but by no means can I call myself fluent in french. Not even intermediate.

Why I regret it (so much).

There’s a very simple reason for french being on the top of my biggest regrets – I don’t have the verbal capacity to defend myself when I was attacked in french. Even at the end of my stay, I could form sentences that made sense and expressed my desire or needs – but I couldn’t find the words that would help me out in a confrontation.

Picture this. The day before I left my apartment, a moving company was taking down and wrapping up my furniture and packing all of my belongings into big boxes that, at the end of the day, would take a ride all the way to the UK. I had to be there all the time – in case they needed access to the basement or doubted of whether I wanted to take an item with me or could live without it for 19 days. The door to my apartment was wide open.

I was sitting outside on the balcony, trying not to disturb their efficiency (and accidentally tanning a tiny little bit), when I heard a female voice in my living room.

I went inside expecting to find the local representative of my relocation agency. Or, at most, someone from my current real estate agency, who wanted to keep an eye on what I was doing. Instead, I found a mid-aged lady followed by an older woman with a walking stick inspecting my apartment.

Me: “Excuse me, can I help you?” Great Start. There are 2 strangers in my apartment and all I can ask them is if I can help them – maybe a cup of tea?
Lady: “Oh, I believe you are the agent. Nice to meet you!” and reaches out her refined hand
Me: “Oh, no. I live here. This is my apartment. What do you want?”
Lady: “I saw an announcement to rent this apartment in the internet, called the agent, who told me to come by and take a look. He even gave me the code for the entry door, downstairs. I’m looking for an apartment for my mother, you see.”
Me: “That’s not possible. This apartment is already rented. I personally searched for the next tenant. He signed the contract about 2 months ago.”
Lady: smiles and says “Well, you don’t decide on this but the agent does” while she walked outside to my terrace, “Oh look! What a pretty view.”
Me: “Madame, this apartment is not in the market. Would you please leave my private property?” Wow. Just so much power and conviction in those words. I’d feel threatened.
Lady: “I demand to see this apartment!”
Me: “Excuse me?! You are in private property and you can’t demand anything. I demand you leave my apartment.” There. I just remember the french word for demand.
Lady: “It was the agency who sent me here. This is none of your business!” Wow. So now I don’t even have rights in my own house.
Me: “They are not the agent of this aparment”
Lady: “Yes they are.”

I considered grabbing her arm and dragging her out. Instead, I called my real estate agency and asked them to talk with the crazy woman who wouldn’t leave my apartment.

I knew I was right. I knew she was completely wrong. And still, I couldn’t make my point with enough conviction to make her leave ashamed and with her tail between her legs.

The Final Take.

So, after the lady had spoken during 10 minutes on my phone, with my real estate agent and my anger kept escalating soon reaching uncontrollable levels, I had the same thought bouncing in my head – Language courses should have a master class in biting back. After all – isn’t it us, the expats struggling with local language, that are so often taken advantage of? I bet that lady would have left my apartment in less than a minute if this had happened to me in Spain.

It’s language dominance what gives some people power and this feeling of being right against a foreigner. There are few things more frustrating than precisely that – understand the rude attitude but being unable to respond adequately to it.

And so I made a decision: it doesn’t matter if I am not in a french speaking country any more, I will still continue my course with Rosetta Stone. Hopefully, after completing all five levels and with a little help from some french-speaking friends, I’ll be ready to confront anyone who wants to fool me for being a foreigner.

Do you have any regrets from your life abroad?

How do you say Goodbye to a place that has been your home for two years. A place that has taught you many things – that has seen you rise professionally, has seen you mature and become independent. That has helped you to discover youself and develop new hobbies.

Well you can’t, really.

Instead, I’ll give it a see you soon, and will think of all the things that have made my life here beautiful.

Lausanne, Switzerland

Waking up with the sun shining on my bed. Walking to the office in the morning. In flip flops. Pain au chocolat and croissants from my favorite bakery. The owners of the little portuguese grocery shop, that greet me every morning. Fighting for fresh fruits every monday and thursday at work. My boss (a lot). The smell of mate in the morning. The view of the Alps from the kitchen window. Being able to complain about some moron (and even being encouraged to do so). Learning a new latin american expression every week. My work colleagues. Our common love for delicious food. Convincing them to ditch the gym and go and have a gourmet burguer at Holy Cow instead (it’s in the same direction anyways). Home-made Chilean empanadas. The so-called business walks. Engineering our way through the city to take as little hills as humanly possible possible. Having lunch in the park. Lazy afternoons.

Sunset in Lausanne (Switzerland)

Beautiful buildings and their romantic balconies. My safe, clean and quiet neighborhood. The fresh cut grass in the park. The careful and respectful drivers. The good faith of swiss people. Finding clothes and shoes in my size, even at the end of sales. Globus – and it’s Gourmet Supermarket. Saturdays street market. The cheese. The lebanese take away, which often gifted me with an extra dish or glass of wine, for free. The good taste of tap water. Making use of my french (now that I was finally picking up on the language!).

Crêpe in Lausanne, Switzerland

My apartment. The view from my bed. From my balcony. Sunbathing on my deckchair. My sun addiced neighbor (whenever I’m tanning, he’s too!) The Alps. The Lake. Sunsets from Vidy. Sailboats. The way in which the afternoon sun teints the Alps pink. My friends. BBQs at the lake until late at night. Drinking outside a bar on the pavement. Always meeting people I know in my usual pub. Always having a friend who’s up for a drink. Or a festival. Or a late night dinner. Eating too much raclette (and drinking even more wine). Cocktails at St Pierre’s (specially their custom made Bloody Mary), while playing board games on a rainy afternoon. Strawberry Vodka shots at Punk. The incredibly good looking swiss-french boys (who usually to sit or walk next to an incredible stylish and beautiful swiss-french girl). Walking everywhere, without worrying about safety.

Being so close to nature. The swiss railway. The demi-tarif, that got me moving around Switzerland always for half the price! The 10 minutes ride away to the vineyards in Lavaux. The 45 min ride to the nearest ski station. The snow (who would have said so!). People’s love for adventure. The crazy swiss who snowboard and ski down Lausanne’s steepest slopes. The way in which the city’s efficiency is not at all affected by the weather conditions. The charming little villages. How beautiful and peaceful the the streets look when they’re covered in snow.


I’m leaving on Wednesday. Until then, I’m making my best to visit, once more, my favorite places in the city, at my favorite meals and, specially, meet the friends I’ve met along my stay. Next time, I’ll be writing from London.

  • Brie de Meaux. Real french brie is made of raw cow milk and has a not so inviting smell. It’s soft and creamy in the inside, and has a soft white crust around it. There are many variations in the (swiss) markets, including truffles, herbs and nuts. It’s taste is soft and has somewhat of hazelnut in it. I first became a fan of brie in Madrid, when I discovered a tapa that was a small steak with melted brie and fleur de sel on it. And now, I would eat it even without bread (I know I shouldn’t).

 

 

  • Mozzarella di Bufala. What’s the difference with regular mozzarella (for italians: fior di latte), you may ask? This mozzarella is made from the milk of the domestic water buffalo, rather than from cow milk. Even though its originally from Italy, we also have local producers in Switzerland. If you want to be a real gourmet, then go for the Mozzarella di Bufala Campana trademark, which was granted with a Protected Geographical Status in 2008. The cheese has a bright white color and spheric shape, a smooth and shiny surface and a very refreshing taste. If you find yourself in Milan some time, I’d highly recommend you to check out the Mozzarella Bar (in the roof top of a shopping mall next to the Cathedral) – not only can you taste your way through different mozzarellas, but you can also order a whole lot of dishes made with this delicious cheese!

 

 

  • Gruyère. Very swiss/french. I had eaten gruyère a few times before moving to Switzerland and never considered it as one of my favorites – but it just tastes so differently here. So much better! Even though its a hard cheese, I find it a bit softer here than abroad, and it has a milder nutty taste (maybe this is related to its aging – I’m really not an expert!). It was fascinating to learn about its history and production in La Maison du Gruyère (right after eating a shameless amount of cheese). Gruyère is one of the cheeses used in fondue moitié-moitié (the other one being Vacherin), but is also used for many other plates such as the french onion soup or quiches.

 

  • Queijo de Serra. Remember that cheese I ate in Lisbon? Now that has been a great find. Serra da Estrela (commonly called Queijo de Serra) is from Portugal and is made of sheep’s milk. The maturer the cheese is, the harder it will be. I have a devotion for creamy cheese (can you tell from my previous choices?), so the one I really like is the amanteigado – when its young and liquid, so liquid you can (and will) eat it with a spoon.

 

 

  • Tomme Vaudoise. Up to now, many of these cheeses are known internationally; but let me tell you about a little regional secret – the tomme vaudoise. One of my favorites because of its mild taste, this cheese is from my current canton – Vaud. It’s made of raw cow milk and ranges a wide range of textures and intensive tastes depending on its matureness. I’m pretty sure I’ve tried them all (no, really) – and my very favorite one (a fresh one) can’t be found in regular supermarkets. I always have to wait until saturday and search for it at the farmers market. That’s my plan for saturday by the way!

 

Now its your turn: Which cheese would be on your top 5 list?

No somos mercanía en las manos de políticos y banqueros.
We are not commodities in the hands of politicians and bankers.

Looking one month back, on the 15th of May, I remember reading every article I came across with in the internet, checking Bloomberg every couple of minutes for an update and continuously searching for new video images on YouTube of what was happening in over 50 cities in Spain – a peaceful protest on which more than 150,000 people took over the streets to demand Real Democracy.

While Tunisia was the first one this year demanding democracy and social justice, it soon inspired other its neighbors to take the reins. I never expected Spain to join this revolutionary fever that has been affecting mainly North Africa and the Middle East, and I still don’t firmly believe that this was its intention. There are obviously notorious differences between these protests – Spain is a democracy after all, isn’t it?

Sure, that’s what we’ve been taught in school ever since el Generalísimo died in 1975. But the truth is, many Spaniards believe that the country’s politics have turned into a national scam.

Esto no es una crisis, esto es una estafa.
This is not a crisis, this is fraud.

In contrast to Egypt and Tunisia, Spain doesn’t demand democracy – but real democracy. Many Spaniards feel that the media (controlled by politicians) has been playing tricks with their minds and distorting reality. Not everyone in Spain is undergoing a crisis, since both groups, politicians and, particularly bankers, are still profiting out of this economy. In the meantime, 43% of people under 25 are unemployed with only little hope left of finding a job by the end of this year.

In this sense, the 15M Movement in Spain reminds me of the riots that took place in Argentina during December 2001, its images were recollected by Gotan Project for their clip “Queremos Paz” (great song, great video!). Both protests were fueled by a fierce critics against the country’s politics and financial system. Spain, just as Argentina 10 years back, is outraged. Outraged with the political corruption. The lies. The fake promises. Then again, Argentina’s riots were much more violent and explosive (the consequence was 5 presidents in one week!), and the problem was far deeper, since people weren’t even able to cash out their money from the banks.

Que se vayan todos.
All shall leave.

While other countries have a fair number of parties that its citizens may vote – Spain twirls around two political parties: Partido Popular (PP, the center-right wing party) and Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE, the center-left wing party). Let me correct this – there are more than these two, but they don’t get the same marketing, won’t appear as much on TV and so, have gone almost unnoticed for most of the population (including myself). These two parties dominate the polls.

Watching spanish politics remind me of my kindergarten – where one kid throws dirt in the other kids’ face. I couldn’t stand the continuous accusations and decided to disconnect from all that noise.

En el 2001 fueron las cacerolas – en el 2011, las redes sociales.
In 2001 it was the casseroles – in 2011, social media.

It wasn’t the TV news, nor a call or mail from family or friends that first warned me about the protests – it was Facebook. Social media has been the main communication channel for this event – where the platform Democracia Real YA – Real Democracy Now -has reached more than 400,000 followers in Facebook and and 85,000 followers in Twitter since its beginning, a month ago.

Back in 2001 in Argentina, the protest was warned with a cacerolazo, where a group of people walked the streets banging pots, pans and other utensils in order to call for attention and protest against the so-called corralito. In 2011, it is social media, isn’t it amazing the difference 10 years make?

What the future will bring for Spain is still to be seen. The spanish local and regional elections that took place on the 22nd of May 2011 were a landslide victory for the opposition, Partido Popular. It’s still to see what difference this will make.

Disclaimer: I’m not an anarchist, nor a revolutionary. I’ve been far too little exposed to the day to day of spanish politics in the last two years to have a fundamental thought on the 15M Movement. Every single opinion expressed is of my own, based solely on what the media, friends, family and my previous life have taught me. I’m happy to read about your own opinion as long as its respectful.

When Summer approaches, the only thing I can possibly think of is spanish food. Could there be anything that screams beach and sunshine more than a paella with meat and sea food?

I’m grateful for having found a bunch of people that feel the same way I do about food (and drinks) in Switzerland. People that, just as me, enjoy preparing copious meals just for the sake of it. People that prepare a paella with meat and sea food on a sunday, to share with a group of friends.

Spending a sunday afternoon getting tipsy on spanish wine and Orujo, talking about ingredients, cooking techniques and taste or texture preferences just felt great. Yes, I have been savoring some haute cuisine. Yes, I’ve also found spanish tapas near my work place.

What I didn’t find, until today, was the spanish attitude towards food, in general.

Switzerland enjoys a good meal, there’s no doubt about that – but once its finished, you’ll move on to the next activity. Spain, on the other hand, can spend 5 hours having lunch. Better – it can combine a lunch and a dinner, without ever leaving the table.

I’ve been keeping a secret from you, but can’t hold it back anymore.

I’m moving to London in September!

London Eye, London (UK)

I got the offer to move within the company and the current department I work for to London. Although the tasks and projects will still remain the same, this is a big jump in my career. In the new office, I will no longer have someone sitting next to me whom I could ask anything in case of doubt. I’ll be responsible to develop new business opportunities with UK-based bankers, I will be in between our in-house metals and energy traders and the external financing resources.

Thoughts and emotions have been roller-coasting in my head.

Can I hold up to my company’s expectations?
Do I want to move into the exact opposite of Switzerland?
Do I want to go through all the phases of culture shock, again?
Will I be able to deal with all the fog and rain?

Some of Switzerland’s characteristics I’ve loved before even arriving in the country, and others I’ve learned to appreciate with time. But, as any other place in the World, there are cultural aspects that, although I have partly learned how to live with, I do not share.

There will be countless peculiarities I’ll miss from Switzerland – more than I had ever thought I would – but there are also some luxuries I’ve missed from living in big cities. Not to mention about living in a country where I can make myself understandable without pointing on things and making ridiculous descriptions.

I have a confession to make.

Ok, it might not be exactly a confession since you will probably have noticed and deduced it from my blog – Switzerland has turned me into a bon vivant.

I’ve always enjoyed the taste of food. It was clear to me that I wouldn’t be able to resist in Switzerland – host of the two best hotel schools in the World according to the annual TNS Global Survey: Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne and Les Roches (in Crans-Montana). I would have never thought that Switzerland had such a broad variety when it comes to restaurants. There’s a plate for each palate – from the classic fondue to molecular cuisine. Your pocket (and maybe transport) is the only limit.

I had heard that the best restaurants are often hidden gems in tiny villages that are rather difficult to spot. When my mom came to visit, we rented a car and took this chance to explore Vaud’s less obvious gastronomic treasures. This is how we found Le Guillaume Tell, in Aran-Villette, a cozy fairy-tale village with a population of less than 600 people.

We entered into a living room with not more than 8-10 tables and were kindly seated on the only remaining table (we were lucky – we should have reserved!). The decoration was warm and one immediately felt at home. No opulent adornments, lushness or luxury. I like that – it proves that the food is the star and there’s nothing that will distract you from savoring it.

To start with an amuse bouche (appetizer), we were surprised with a wasabi snowball and the below gazpacho, which was followed by our entrées: duck liver terrine and a deer and veal carpaccio.


Followed by a pigeon and its own foie and a tender beef filet with two sauces.

To finish, we had home made sorbets and a crème brûlée with orange confit.

I left the restaurant happier than ever. Not only did I had an unique dinner but I also realized that, when it comes to food – small is beautiful. Why eat 500g beef steak if you can eat less and therefore have a first course and desert (and maybe even a cheese plate) as well? The joy is in the variety of flavors and one of the main elements of haute cuisine, I guess, is finding the right combination.

Would you rather have one plate or several smaller portions?

Filets de Perche

Filets de Perche: A speciality in the area of Lac Léman

On my first trip to Geneva, back in 2006, a friend’s family took us unexperienced spaniards to a small restaurant near the lake. Its speciality was local fish. We ordered filet the perche – an indigenous specie in Lac Léman served in small fillets that traditionally is served with sauce tartare and french fries. Going out for filets de perche is a good excuse to sit on a terrace next to the lake on a sunny afternoon and its a must try when in any of the villages surrounding Lac Léman.

During the last year and a half, filet de perche have been many of my lunches and dinners in Switzerland. However, they were not always as good as I expected.

I soon found out that Lac Léman does (by far) not have enough perches to satisfy its demand – the local catch only covers 6% of swiss consumption and so the remaining 94% are frozen filets coming all the way from Estonia.

How can one escape from the frozen filets offered in many restaurants?

The high season for filets is between July and October, that is, its likely that a restaurant announcing filets de perche in January will be importing them from Eastern Europe. Obviously, there are some exceptions – restaurants specialized in these filets will have a deal with local fishermen who will exclusively deliver to them all-year-round. My personal favorite is Café de la Poste, in a fairy tale lake village called Lutry (where I took the picture above).

My recommendation is to always search for filets de perches frais du Lac Léman to get the real taste. Due to the low local supply, restaurants that actually do serve the fresh catch will make sure that’s clear for their customers

It’s not all about filets de perche

There are more than 50 fish species in Lac Léman – why obsess with one kind when you can eat your way through the lake? I’m putting this concept into practice since saturday – having started with these filets de féra with pommes frites and Lavaux wine at Chateau d’Ouchy.

filets de féra Pommes frites Glass of White Wine (Lavaux)

I’ve been looking for the opportunity to improve my photography – to learn about exposure and aperture, and experiment on my own with lights, wide-angle lens and optical zoom. When my mom kindly offered me to take her Fujifilm Finepix S9600, I immediately accepted (and secretly hope she will fall in love with my pictures and never asks me to return it back).

On Sunday, the weather was lovely and so I packed my camera bag and rollerblades to make my way to Vevey – a little idilic town at the boarder of Lac Léman. I skated for hours along Vevey’s promenade, trying to get used to standing on wheels and making my best efforts to stay still when taking photographs (this did not always end up well).

Spring in Vevey, Switzerland

While skating along the path that draws the contour of the lake, I stopped to rest at this pink blooming tree. The afternoon sun shone through its branches and reflected on its blossoms. The sky was clear and the Alps could be perfectly outlined in the background. For a minute, I had this little piece of the promenade all for myself. The only sound was the breeze gently brushing its leaves. That moment was spring peak for me.

Spring in Vevey, Switzerland

What does spring look and feel like where you live?

Crêpe in Annecy, France

One and a half years of life in the french speaking side of Switzerland have taught me a lot of things – most of them on food, and concretely on cheese (but you already know about that). Anyone living in this country develops his / her sense for tasty food – you really can’t get around it. And what’s tasty and french, besides for cheese? Crêpes!

Back in Spain, crêpes were sweet treats that I would only order in very limited occasions. I still remember ordering a crêpe filled with dulce de leche and topped with vanilla ice cream in an argentinian lounge bar in Madrid. Three minutes walk from my faculty, free wifi, comfortable armchairs, air conditioning and those delicious crêpes with dulce de leche made this place my favorite spot for preparing group presentations.

Crêpe in Lausanne, Switzerland

But just when I thought that crêpes couldn’t get any better, I moved to Switzerland. Here, people don’t leave crêpes for special occasions (or in my case, stressful occasions), but include them in their healthy day-by-day. And so, I’ve discovered my love for salty crêpes.

Salty crêpes in Switzerland are very thin and crunchy, and often made of wholemeal flour. I’ve seen cooks adding some light beer to the batter (you can’t really taste the beer afterwards – I wouldn’t even know about it if I hadn’t seen it). The fillings can be anything from ricotta, spinach & parsley (one of my favorites) to salmon, onions and mushrooms, which is precisely what I like most about them – their large list of possible fillings! I couldn’t choose only one favorite combination, but can assure that any thin crunchy crêpe filled with spinach and fresh cheese is already in my top list, and adding mushrooms, lard and/or fresh parsley can make it even better.

Whatever you finally decide on the filling – enjoy it with a cup of cider, the french way!

French Cider in Annecy

Which is your favorite crêpe filling? Have you tried making them at home?

I’ve been an expat for one and a half years now, and had never before sat down to clear my thoughts and feelings on living in Switzerland. It’s not my first time abroad. However, it’s the first time that I left my country without knowing when I’d be going back. I didn’t care about not knowing one single soul in the whole country, nor did I care about my lack of french knowledge. I hardly blinked when it came to leave the comfortable familiarity behind and dive into the unknown. I was going to conquer the World (or at least, Switzerland).

The truth is – culture shock hit me deeper than I thought. It’s not only about learning how to copy with different social norms – i.e. learning where to park my bike and where not to (something I unfortunately learned the hard way). Culture shock continues long after becoming familiar with my new life.

Honeymoon

Lavaux, Switzerland

The Honeymoon phase is full of excitement and euphoria. You feel you can grab the World in your hands and do whatever you want. Every day is a new adventure – new faces, a different restaurant, a hidden shop, a cute small side street with boulangeries selling the best baguette you have ever tried. The public transport is reliable, the city is peaceful, clean and safe and people are kind and respectful.

You smile while you walk. Life is good. Actually, scratch that – life is amazing. You are so glad you chose to move and can’t imagine life any other way.

Frustration

Vevey, Switzerland

The shine starts to fade away. You realize that there are actually less than 5 bars where you can go to – either because of the crowds or because of the prices. It’s the fourth time you try asking for a glass of water with your coffee and you receive an arrogant look from the waiter. Maybe even a clueless arrogant look. You’re grammatical mistakes bothers them, and having to repeat the same word 10 times upsets you, too. You go to a hairdresser and come out with a messy cut (that doesn’t resemble a tiny bit what you initially had in mind) and realize that this trend disaster has left you completely broke.

At this point, you start to get familiar with the disadvantages of living abroad. You feel alone and misunderstood, disillusioned, frustrated and angry. Why did you ever even think this move would be a good idea?

Understanding

Water Fountain, Lausanne (Switzerland)

After a while, things start to look brighter – you are adjusting to your new home country. Those things that used to annoy you, are now small and insignificant. You start to see the advantages of having an early start on Saturdays and venture into new activities you never thought you enjoy before. You have set a routine and feel comfortable with it.

You understand the cultural differences with your home country and are learning how to deal with them.

Biculturalism

Sunset in Lausanne (Switzerland)

Although I have adopted some local habits and am adjusting to the new culture, I still don’t feel that I belong here – I feel like a foreigner. I guess the main reason for this is my ridiculous lack of french skills. I truly need to work on that! I envy those that have become bicultural – they are aware of where they came from but have fully embraced swiss culture. They never feel out-of-place.

This phase that takes a lot of understanding and an open mind.

Note: At the point of writing this post, I was in living in Switzerland experiencing the third phase – Understanding. Five months later, I was transferred to London. I have fond memories of living in Switzerland and hope to move back again in the future. Maybe this means that I finally did reach biculturalism – despite my french!

We all have preconceptions about a country (even if we don’t admit to have them). When I accepted the job in Switzerland, I pictured the Alps, fondues, chocolate – and lots of bankers. Sure, Switzerland does have all this – but it has so much more that is less known to the World.

The Lakes

View from Vevey, Switzerland

Switzerland encompasses a huge diversity of landscapes on only little more than 41,200 km2, ranging from 195 m to 4,634m above sea level. No wonder that, besides for having some of the greatest mountain scenery Worldwide it also houses a surprising amount of lakes. There are more than 1,500 lakes spread across the country, although only 16 of them are larger than 10 km2 (being Lac Léman the largest one).

Wherever you are, you will surely not be far from a lake. During summer, Switzerland’s lakes are painted with sailing boats that go out to enjoy the late afternoon and watch the sunset on the quiet water. When I first moved here, I wondered why someone would own a boat in Switzerland when you couldn’t get anywhere with it. The truth is – the point is not to go somewhere, but to enhance the quality of life by allowing beautiful day trips with family and friends.

The Vineyards

Lavaux, Switzerland

Lying in the shadow of its neighbors, France and Italy, swiss wine is almost inexistent outside of the country. Although annual production can reach 150 million bottles, only about 2/100 are exported. Putting this into perspective: with a population of 7 million people, each person would consume 21 bottles of swiss wine per year. This turns Switzerland one of the top wine consuming countries Worldwide!

The country houses around 20,000 winegrowers, many of which have small productions that serve personal use. It’s not rare to meet people who own a little vineyard in the back of their house, specially in Canton Vaud. Switzerland may have several wine growing areas, but my favorite one is Lavaux, which aside from producing high quality white wine offers one of the greatest views over Lac Leman.

The Cheese

Cheese (London Borough Market)

Cheese might be nothing new about Switzerland – But if you google swiss cheese, you will get more than 3 million images, out of which most of them depict the cheese with the holes in it. Yes, that’s a swiss cheese. It’s called Emmentaler. But this is only one of the more than 450 varieties of cheese the country has to offer. Other swiss cheese you may have come across in supermarkets worldwide are Raclette cheese, Gruyère and Appenzeller. Most of the cheese is made out of cow milk, but you can also find it made of goat milk or sheep milk. Every region has its own local cheese. Swiss cheese range all prices imaginable and can be filled or topped with fine herbs, mushroom mousse, pepper, or truffles (among many others). In fact, one of my favorites from the Canton Vaud is Tomme Fleurette, which is made out of raw milk (a real speciality!).

What qualities does your home country have that aren’t well-known?

Eiffel Tower, Paris, France

You might ask yourself what these bises are and why I’m so concerned about them, anyways. In France, as well as in the Suisse Romande fair la bise is a synonym for cheek-kissing, a mainly European custom that gets very complicated when someone french is involved.

To fair la bise generally involves touching cheeks while kissing the air with an audible smack of the lips. That’s the easy part. Now the real question is: Who to kiss and who not to kiss? And then again, how many of these bises shall you give? There are no written rules – which will lead to many awkward situations. While in Paris people give 2 bises, in some suburbs it’s 4 and in other areas in France 3 (the same as in Switzerland). This can already lead to a lot of confusion – if a swiss and a Parisian meet: how much kissing would there be involved? I often see myself in this kind of complication – the last time being just a few days ago. I flew to Paris for a bank meeting with someone I had been on the phone with for months but had never met before face to face. Since I felt as if I knew him forever, I leaned up to faire la bise, and noticed his confusion, but awkwardly followed my spontaneity (probably to avoid by total embarrassment).

Commonly, women can kiss each other in almost any circumstance (it get’s tricky if you greet elderly people for the first time or if it’s a business meeting). Men, otherwise, only will kiss other men if they are related or are two best friends who haven’t seen each other in a very long time. An exception to this is New Year’s Eve – where everybody seems to get loose (probably a consequence of the all the vin).

So what do you do?

Probably the best guideline is – go for it if you feel like it. In my experience, fair la bise (and specially getting it wrong) break the ice and will more often pull out a smile than a frown.

Have you ever gotten yourself into an awkward bise situation abroad?