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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Why I’m not great with doctors

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“Illness is the doctor to whom we pay most heed; to kindness, to knowledge, we make promise only; pain we obey.” – Marcel Proust

I made a promise to myself that I would blog once a week and as my mother has already demanded to know where this week’s blog is, skipping out isn’t just cheating me but there is a slight chance others may notice (aside from immediate family). However, I apologise in advance. This is unlikely to be my most interesting, well-written or lucid post but I have an excuse and it was either this or an old piece of prose about a broken heart.

My excuse is I have been really ill all week, now don’t worry this isn’t going to be a post like ‘The forlornest looking lampshade‘ where I shared every gruesome detail of my last illness. For one thing, there’s less comedy value in current bout of sickness. For another, much as I love to make the world all about me at the best of times and even more so at the worst of times, I accept that the details probably aren’t that interesting a read.

Anyway, without the gory details, suffice to say my illness has been of the sort where looking at a screen for more than an hour or two has been unimaginable until today and up until now I’ve prioritised screen time for work related duties, feeling not just a little guilty about my lack of paid duty effectiveness.

P1010259That was the excuse. This is apparently the blog post:

I promised my mother I would go to a doctor if I still wasn’t better by today so I did sort of try to keep to my word. I wasn’t very succesful and probably could have tried harder but I made a few calls trying to register as a patient or arrange an appointment with an English-speaking doctor*. By the time I found a likely couple of leads it was too late as I realised neither worked on Friday afternoons.

My friends at work were emailing to ask why I hadn’t gone to a doctor yet and I explained I was on the mend and it was now quite unnecessary. I have been feeling much better this afternoon so this is partially true, but actually this is the longest period of time when I have felt consecutively unwell since I can remember so if I was going to a doctor maybe I should have gone a few days back when I felt rotten to the core.

And why didn’t I? Three equally rubbish reasons.

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Reason number one

I don’t like going to the doctors for anything other than routine appointments because whenever I have gone feeling awful (like last time I had bad sinusitis) there is nothing they can do for me anyway and I end up leaving feeling I’ve wasted their time.

Reason number two

This is specific to being an expat. I just don’t get how it works here. Some places you are meant to register in advance, some places you just turn up. I don’t understand how it works and I don’t trust myself not to put myself in an embarrassing situation by thinking I’ve made an appointment and going to the wrong place or worse going to the right place but completely misunderstanding that under no circumstances are appointments available for nearly thirty year old brunette women who aren’t Swiss.

Reason number three

The final reason is probably the worst one and that’s financial. Every month I pay a ridiculously high portion of my wages for a sub-standard medical insurance with an excess so high I figure I could only cover it in emergency situations as it would warrant eating up my entire British bank account overdraft.

This means that a simple doctor’s appointment is going to be paid for by me. I have no idea how much, see reason two, but suspect it to be somewhere around 100 Swiss Francs. When my weekly fun budget is currently just 40 of those Swiss Francs sacrificing two and a half week’s fun budget just to be told they can’t help me anyway, reason one, doesn’t really seem worth it.

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Do you have a point?

No, not really, I just want to say how much I love the National Health Service and wish that the Conservative Government and other detractor’s of the NHS would recognise the value of it. It is absolutely one of the best things about living in Britain. The fact that the US struggled to realise a very poor version of this and yet some people in the UK act as though they’d be happy to just throw our health service away, something Britain’s had and enjoyed for over 60 years, is truly disappointing.

I do not doubt the NHS is flawed, there can be long waiting lists and there’s probably too much bureaucracy, but it is available to everyone, even those with private health care who don’t need it. It is wonderful and works exceptionally well in emergency situations when people really need it. It is also staffed by some really hard-working and dedicated individuals who take all the criticisms and carry on anyway because they know how important it is.

I hope people will continue to fight for the UK’s NHS because if we let it go then it’s gone. That’s the problem with giving things away, you can’t then demand them back when you finally realise how much they meant to you.


*French is improving and conversations with french receptionists are one thing but I don’t trust my language skills enough not to accidentally tell a doctor I have wings growing out of my back when trying to describe eye-pain and then getting sent to a different kind of doctor entirely.
P.S. I had no appropriate images and lack brain power for wonderful computer stick men drawings so just added photo of the cats when they were kittens so that there’s something nice to look at.

 

The forlornest looking lampshade

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I’m writing this post in all it’s gory details to be honest that living life in fear of the reaper isn’t always easy. The toughest challenges aren’t easy, they can be quite scary and the lack of neon lights announcing ‘this is the right thing to do’ often leaves me with unanswered questions.
This week, my 15th in Geneva, has been the hardest since I’ve been here. For the first time I have really questioned what it is I am doing here and wished I were back in London.
I’ve felt it even more because I had such a great weekend, spent with the lovely Dawn visiting from the UK. Weather was amazing and it was the 20th anniversary of Geneva’s joining the Swiss confederation. There was a parade with amazing outfits, stupendous horns, and maypole dancers. There were free concerts including yodelling, electric jazz rock and hip-hop rap with a surprisingly good beat-boxer. I felt lucky to live in this beautiful city.
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Until Monday.
The downside to having spent the entire weekend outside, lounging around on the grass, enjoying the lovely spring weather was the hayfever. Sneezing constantly on Saturday and Sunday seemed funny but come Monday the joke was wearing thin.
Then the toothache started, with pain so bad it would wake me up, once the pre-sleep painkillers had worn off. Generally I am not a fan of visiting The Dentist (I use capitals to make it seem sinister) but in a country where I barely speak the language and fear a visit will cost me next month’s food allowance that fear is increased somewhat.
My infected tooth led to a painful swollen gland under my jaw. This was quickly followed by an outbreak of impetigo, no doubt hastened on by the excessive sneezing. The good news with the impetigo is I’ve had it before, so already have the required cream and know that it should start to ease up in a few days. The bad news is it looks like I have a snot-encrusted face, which would in fact be pleasanter (feel free to Google). I often get it when I have a cold and it brings me down every time. It’s a vanity thing. Looking like a barnacle encrusted vomitorium makes me feel bad.
So I have allergies, toothache, swollen gland and the facial eruption. Add in mosquito bite aggravated eczema and a dash of diarrhoea and we’re there.
I’ve only just passed my probation at work and I felt uncomfortable having to take two days off work and then a third worked from home. I assume people will think I’m faking it and contemplate innovative ways to fire me (they have to work harder now I’ve passed probation).
I have been feeling incredibly sorry for myself and more so because there was no-one else here to feel sorry for me. I felt very alone in a strange city and wondered what I was doing here. In London I could see a dentist easily without spending a fortune. In London my fiancé would be there to brave the outside world for me, so I don’t have to risk making children cry when going to the shops for remedies. In London I never would have got sick in the first place (alright, that one might be pushing it)!
But as the week wore on I rediscovered that people are amazing. I don’t know why I am constantly surprised when people show acts of kindness, it really happens quite a lot, but every time I am confronted with the goodness within people it awes me.
Work called me on the second day of my illness, not to uncover my fraud but to see if I was alright and if they could help in anyway. My landlord encountered me in my sorry state one evening and told me to call him any time I had any problem, not just flat related. He called me up two days later just to check on me. A new friend I had to cancel drinks on asked what he could do. Little acts of human compassion made being sick in a new place not nearly so frightening or lonely as I had at first thought.
And my lovely cat Jasper, the image of my blog, reminded me of something. No matter how bad you feel someone else, somewhere else is always feeling worse. Jasper had an abscess, I tried to treat him at home, but then he got another one so he had to go to the vet. He had his back leg shaved, a drain put in, multiple stitches and a plastic cone placed around his head. He has become a very forlorn looking lampshade. Poor Jasper has no idea what has happened to him and is utterly miserable. So, it could be worse. I could have been shaved, sewn up and turned into a piece of household furniture.
Whilst I wait for my various ailments to heal up, and I am on the mend, I shall try to remember that you need the lows in life to really appreciate the highs.