A year in Geneva

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22 February 2015 was my one year anniversary of moving to Geneva. I celebrated this by trudging through the slushy snow to go to work (yup that was on a Saturday but don’t worry I don’t make a habit of it) and later I met up with a friend for a drink. I forgot to spend any time reflecting on the momentousness of the occasion as I experienced a pretty normal day without spectacle. So I’m using this week’s blog post to consider what failed to register at that time and offer a retrospective on my year in Geneva.

When I first moved here this city seemed so strange and alien to me, so far from ‘normal’ life that for my first few days, well probably first six months actually, I was constantly noting the passage of time and questioning whether coming here was the right move or not. (Parlez-vous franglais per favore, mein leiber dich?)

My first few months, when it was just me, whilst my fiancé tied up loose ends in the UK and prepared to join me, was quite an intense experience. I lost quite a lot of weight through a combination of discovering meat was too expensive to eat and going running most evenings, not because I’m an exercise freak but because I had nothing better to do. In my first flat I didn’t have television or radio so most evenings were spent watching a DVD on the laptop, reading, running and an early night. (“Boldness has genius, power and magic in it”)

I strove to make friends and discovered this was a pretty exhausting process when driven by compulsion. If I stopped to think about it I have to admit I was pretty lonely and I needed some friends in the flesh, although was grateful to remain in contact with those friends I’d left behind. (Absence makes the heart grow fonder)

But it started to pay off and relationships that maybe had to be forced a bit in the early stages developed into something more genuine and I’ve met some very cool people. Although some of these I’ve also had to say goodbye to as their expat adventures have taken them elsewhere. And that hasn’t been easy but the great experiences we’ve shared more than make up for my sadness at their departure. (An expat among expats)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI found a lovely flat in an area I really like that suits me well. It is close enough to walk to the centre of Geneva but enough out of town to be pretty quiet and it borders on some truly beautiful woodlands along the river Rhone. We navigated arrangements, which were surprisingly straightforward, for the cats to fly out to join me, travelling as cabin baggage from the UK to Switzerland. I had no idea that animals could even travel in the cabin on flights, probably because you can’t do this coming into the UK, but it was a pretty easy process. And with the cats and then our UK life shipped out to me in boxes, my new abode started to feel more familiar. Normality was creeping up on me, gradually seeping into the day-to-day.

I had a period of illness when I felt completely sorry for myself, nothing serious but a flaring up of multiple minor ailments that I was left to fend to myself. Nothing is worse than feeling a bit grotty and not having anyone to complain to about it (that can’t escape from the whinging by just hanging up the phone). I also didn’t understand how the health system worked, but fearing the financial cost of seeing a Doctor I potentially couldn’t communicate with decided to stick with home remedies and sweat it out. Literally. (Why I’m not great with doctors)

I now had the cats for company but Jasper chose this moment to develop an infected abscess and force me to figure out how vets work. However, having someone else’s needs to focus on stopped me from indulging in so much self-sympathy. And not needing a loan to pay for his vet’s fees was a pleasant surprise! (The forlornest looking lampshade)

Jasper lampshadeEventually the fiancé came out too and my world started to right itself a little bit more, although his being there after several months of living apart did take a bit of adjusting to. (The arrival of the fiancé!)

We settled into a bit of a routine, disrupted by a few trips back to the UK including for my best friend’s amazing wedding. (The art of public speaking) And also a trip to Portugal for another great wedding. (Strangers are friends you haven’t yet met) I’d work, he’d job hunt, keep the flat in good working order and cook for me when I got home. I definitely got the better end of the deal.

His job hunting has been a bit frustrating with nothing resulting in paid employment to date but we’ve scraped by on my salary, and spent a lot of time speculating on how great it’ll be when he’s working and we can buy this, go there and enjoy that. A bit like playing the game of ‘when I win the lottery’ just with better odds. Even on a budget though, we still managed to try some fun new things. (The fears we all share)

Christmas and New Years were spent in Geneva. We had a nice time with great friends on those days and enjoyed a leisurely period of blissful nothingness for the days in between. I’d thought it would be weird to have such a friends and family-lite Christmas but actually it was really relaxing not rushing around like lunatics trying to see everyone, and after quite a disruptive year it was easy to appreciate a bit of quiet time. (Going somewhere nice for Christmas? Well, bully for you!)

This year, has felt a bit strange with personal challenges and exciting work opportunities but these have been absorbed into the new normalcy of life in Geneva. (Resolving on a great 2015, The tedium/tremendousness of travelling for work) I’m not quite settled here yet and don’t think I will be until the man finds a job and can start to find his own way to a regular life here. But the fact that my year’s anniversary here was so unremarkable is a good sign. It doesn’t feel quite like ‘home’ yet but it doesn’t feel like another planet anymore either.

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Absence makes the heart grow fonder

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The saying goes: ‘absence makes the heart grows fonder’ but this is only true up to a point. Certainly, absence makes you keenly aware of being apart from those you are fond of, and a return after a relatively short period away makes you appreciate those you have missed all the more intently. Although more often than not this heightened sense of appreciation is only of a limited duration.
However absence over a longer period of time, say for those that up sticks and move away from the job/area/country of those they care for can have a different effect entirely. In time fondness alone can fade away into an affectionate memory of a part of your life that no longer exists.
Just as some friendships will stand the test of time, and you will meet people you know will be there for you no matter how much of a plonker you are at times, some friendships won’t last and absence won’t do these any favours. There is nothing wrong with this. I believe that it’s perfectly natural that you may have bonds with certain people only at certain periods of your life. It takes a lot of time and energy to preserve relationships and for most people it just isn’t feasible to keep up every friendship that has been acquired.
But absence can also take fondness and transform this into something far more substantial. After university it was the very absence of one person I had known there, who went to work abroad for a couple of years, that really established our relationship. Before she left I liked her but didn’t know her very well, by the time she returned our friendship had transformed into something solid, which is still strong some eight years down the line.
Whilst she was away we took on the seemingly now old fashioned approach of communicating through letter writing. What sounds like a distant means of staying in touch was the most liberating correspondence I have ever had. Sitting down and taking the time to think about and write a letter but not worrying about the immediacy of a response, and with someone I knew but initially wasn’t emotionally invested in, meant that I felt free to really open up and expose a very honest side of myself. What could have taken years in a more naturally evolving friendship began to take shape in about six months. Absence in that instance took mere fondness and transformed it into a long-lasting friendship.

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I haven’t been an expat long, only a few months to date, but knowing that this is a longer term move for me, likely to last a couple of years if not longer, has made me very aware of those that I have left behind. Facebook is great for being able to keep in touch with lots of people and share details of your life and take in aspects of theirs, but it can be too easy to rely on this and think that because you have kept up with a few snippets of people’s lives that this is the same meaningful connection that may have led you to add each other as Facebook friends in the first place.
Now that I know friends and family aren’t just a quick bus or train ride away, even if I didn’t actually make those journeys all that often, for the first time in years I’m consciously working on keeping these relationships going because I’ve realised I don’t just want them to fade away into distant memories.
I’m calling people far more frequently than I ever did in the UK and I’m making greater efforts to meet up with people in person in Switzerland, the UK or somewhere in between. Now that it has become harder to stay in touch, my efforts to do so have multiplied to meet the challenge.
If nothing else my little adventure in Switzerland has made my heart grow fonder and has energised me to realise that, like with so many other aspects of my life, my friendships are worth working at. If I want to keep relationships with friends strong (family too, but they kind of have to be there so it’s a bit different) I can’t just sit back and expect these to flourish all on their own. If I don’t keep them going, and my friends are similarly content to sit back and simply assume we’ll stay in touch, then we will drift apart due to the sorry excuse of just not making an effort.
My whole fear of the reaper philosophy has been great at motivating me to take on new challenges and to try things that scare me on a sliding scale from slightly intimidating to down-right terrifying. But I wouldn’t want this motivation to keep on moving forward to come at the cost of losing sight of the valuable things I have acquired in the past.
Just as what I achieve, or at least have a go at, each year is down to me so too is the art of maintaining bonds with those I care about. Obviously friendships do require an effort on the part of those I want to be friends with, or at least a weary resignation, but this doesn’t mean I can shirk my responsibilities in this regard and nor would I want to.