With so much international travel lately, I want to take a moment to share more about our “new hometown” and “home country”! We recently spent time in Philadelphia for the spectacular wedding of my sister-in-law and new brother-in-law, and throughout the celebrations some of the questions we received lots of thoughtful questions from family and friends. Below, I thought I would include some of our answers collectively!
Please note that all of this content this is informed by my limited experience from not even six months in Geneva. We do not speak for Geneva, or Switzerland, or the expat experience in total – I write only from my own as an American new to this beautiful place.
Wait, where do you live?
In the southwestern part of Switzerland, in the country’s second largest city, Geneva. We live in an apartment in the expat popular neighborhood of Eaux-Vives, near Lake Geneva, and walkable to France. Northern Italy is very nearby as well – Milan is less than four hours away by car. That’s the part that shocks us the most about living here! In Philadelphia, you can’t even get to Pittsburgh in four hours.
What language do they speak?
NOT Swedish 😉 Switzerland has four official languages. In Geneva, the one most commonly spoken is French, but English is widely spoken. I am in the midst of selecting a French language immersion class to take (let me know if you have recommendations!) as I took Spanish and Latin in high school and am very eager to learn! A majority of the country speaks German with pockets also speaking Italian and Romansch (a language with multiple dialects descendent of Latin)
What time is it there?
Geneva is 6 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time in the US. It makes it difficult to stay in touch with loved ones during the week via WhatsApp but we try to make up for it on the weekends!
What is the weather like?
It depends! It is absolutely not cold all the time. There can be a foggy “perma-cloud” in Geneva as we are situated in a valley surrounded by mountains. Sometimes it is a little grey, and it was freezing in Europe when we arrived this winter (which had its perks here and here) but we have been treated to a really wonderful spring and summer so far of mostly sunny days of 70s-80s (Fahrenheit, though they use Celsius here!) with normally amazing lake breeze. It reminds us very much of (again, very limited) time in another wonderful lakeside city, Chicago – brutal winters, unbeatable summers. Unlike in the United States, small talking about the weather is not at all a Swiss practice. If you walked into a shop and made mention of a chill, a Swiss person would look at you blankly. There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing!
What do they eat?
A lot of cheese, chocolate, and a lot of bread. Check at my post to see our first visit and variety of cheesy entrees. It amazes me that everyone is so lean and fit! My only hypothesis is that the industry standards for food are far more rigorous here – most GMOs are not tolerated and there is a focus on organic, local product. Grocery stores are prevalent and packed with in-season produce only from local farmers (many products are labeled with “Swiss Made” sticker pride.) As a result, treats like local Gruyeres and nearby Brie are inexpensive. As I mentioned close proximity to Italy, Italian restaurants have proved to be really delicious here.
Is the chocolate really that good?
Isn’t switzerland so expensive!?
Sure it is. Like in major US cities, the cost is most problematic if you eat out frequently. Everything else just takes a bit more effort and creativity! Talking about expenses, salaries, or the high cost of living is something the Swiss do NOT do – privacy is a sacred value, which has been a nice change from the US.
What is the currency?
Swiss francs, abbreviated as CHF! In its long tradition of neutrality, Switzerland is not a member of the European Union, and as a result, is not on the Euro.
What is the CHF thing about?
CHF is derived from Confoederatio Helvetica (Helvetic Confederation), the Latin name for the country, which is used because of its neutrality with regard to the four official languages of Switzerland.
Are people friendly?
English is widely spoken so we have only had a few uncomfortable adjustment blips due to the language divide. Bureaucrats are INCREDIBLY helpful. We’re not sure if they are just better compensated or if the jobs are simply considered more prestigious, but from the train station to the visa office, they put DMV employees to shame. The Swiss are generally private people- i.e. I have been told never to expect an invitation to a Swiss person’s home for dinner. However, we are fortunate to have many immediate international friends and couples also here from my husband’s firm, and my expat women’s organization and already have made some nice new friends. We have been lucky on the social angle so far to not feel very isolated.
We recently attended an immersion training in Zurich where Swiss Watching: Inside the Land of Milk and Money, a book by Diccon Bewes was recommended to learn more about Switzerland, it’s people, and some anecdotes and oddities to better understand this place! I picked it up in the train station bookstore and am reading now.
Do you have a car?
Nope! Geneva itself mostly runs on the TPG bus and tram system (there is no underground subway) and is a relatively small and really walkable city. When we travel within Switzerland, we take the SBB trains.
Are the trains always on time?
NEARLY YES. 🙌🙌🙌 99% of the time they arrive when they promise to be.
What’s your favorite place so far? ?
Our favorite city so far is Copenhagen. Our favorite small towns are Rothenburg and Bruges. And our favorite “not at all urban” spots are Lauterbrunnen and Zermatt, both in Switzerland and both STELLAR. Chamonix holds a special place in our hearts as our first international ski trip! Our favorite Swiss city, outside Geneva of course, is Luzern. We have put our focus this year on Northern Europe and will be getting more towards Spain, Portugal, and Italy next year!