Chronicles of a writer abroad

The seductions of Switzerland


I’m never coming back.

I’m just being facetious, of course — after only a month here, I hardly think I’m ready to consign myself to living in Switzerland forever. There is still a shiny newness associated with certain things (including my lacquered wardrobe doors), and it is bound to wear off. Plus, let’s be honest: you don’t get to live in Switzerland forever just because you “want to.” Switzerland has to deem you worthy. With Stelian’s job being on contract, the powers that be decided that we were only entitled to an “L” permit. In expat circles, this “L” is emblematic of a “loser” who has gotten the worst permit (as if to rub it in, the reverse of the permit card has a small hologram of your face with a giant L stamped across it) . The L permit has to be renewed on a yearly basis, and accordingly it makes it more difficult for you to enter into any kind of contract, including those for cell phones and apartments (true story: instead of “L”, our relocation agent put “B”, which is the “Better” permit, though still not the longest-term “C” or “Cool” permit, on our rental application, reasoning that it would make us much more attractive as tenants. Luckily, the rental company did not request proof of our B-status.)

So, let’s put aside the question of whether I can stay here forever, and instead talk about why I might want to. Here are a few more things that I’m enjoying:

Gallant construction workers. The renovation of our apartment was complete by the time we moved in, but there is still work being done in the building. We’ve therefore had a chance to interact with some of the construction guys. However scruffy they may look, they never fail to offer a polite “Grüezi” in passing, and if we approach them at the building’s entrance, they hold the door for us and wish us a nice day. And earlier this afternoon, there was one working on the roof, one floor above my office window, belting out some kind of aria as he did. You don’t see this often in Canada — the impeccable manners, or the impromptu opera.

People-watching. I’m absolutely loving the location of our apartment. It’s close to shopping, trains, trams, and places where I can run (more on that in a second). It’s also on a pretty interesting street. Across from our office, visible if I lean over towards the window as I type this, is an erotic cinema. It’s not that we’re in a seedy part of town, it’s that erotic theatres are just not thought of the same way here. Their showings are listed in the newspaper along with all other movies. I don’t think I’ll be frequenting this place, but I enjoy watching the people go in and out. Then, next to the theatre is an office. I’m still trying to piece together what these guys (and gals) do, but I’ve come to refer to them as the Red Graph Co., because they have a long scroll with red lines on it which sits on a conference table, and they’re often consulting it. Hey — if it were top-secret, they’d keep the blinds closed. Right? Finally, from our kitchen, on the other side of the apartment, we look down into a restaurant on an adjacent street. I’ve never had this kind of people-scenery outside of my window before, and it’s fascinating.

Being humbled by the hills. I thought I was a runner. After all, I trained for and ran a marathon in 2010. But put me on some of these forest paths, which are more graded than I’m used to, and I’m a walking, gasping-for-air mess. Meanwhile, older Swiss whiz by me. I’m going to either quit running or become an über-runner as time goes on. (Don’t worry, Dad, I’m not really entertaining the former option).

Pets are welcome. At least in my building, they are. When we received the rental contract, it had a separate page devoted to our cats. Before we translated it, I expected it to be merely the usual “if your animals cause any damage, expect to pay dearly for it.” There was, of course, a clause about damage, but also a preface, stating that the landlords understood the important role that animals play in their owners’ lives and indeed, in society, and this is why they are allowed in the building. I was bowled over. You mean, you can actually understand why I might be a pet-owner? One thing that always irked me about Vancouver was that pet-owners were regarded as second-class citizens, and it was very uncommon to find a rental ad without the “NO PETS” warning. The anti-pet attitude made me begin to think that keeping cats was a dirty, shameful thing, which of course it isn’t. How could anyone not love and want to protect this animal?

As in Paris, in Zürich you’ll see many a dog in a restaurant — either sitting on a chair or bench, often being fed food scraps, or, in the case of bigger dogs, lounging under the table. I don’t mind it at all.

The chocolate aisle. Oh, have I mentioned it before? Even if you’re not buying, it’s a delight to just stand in.

And just before I sign off, here’s the face of the day:

Have a good one!


2 thoughts on “The seductions of Switzerland

  1. Sounds as though you have had a good one, yourself. People watching is a great pastime (read timewaster). Mine is a couple of eagle nests and Lily the bear in her den and all such activity is good for you!

    How civilized the Swiss are – arias outside your window and animals welcome in your apartment! Now, if they just thought visitors were as welcome, it would be difficult to find fault with the powers that be……except for those silly plastic toys.

  2. Pingback: From dust to…more dust | Milchtoast

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