Ten reasons to live in Switzerland

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1. Chocolate. Yes there is rivalry between Belgium and Switzerland when it comes to the world’s best chocolate and personally I think Belgian truffles tip the scales slightly, although Genevan Pave’s (little chocolate truffley square thingies) are delicious and Switzerland gets credit for inventing the chocolate bar, which is easier to have kicking around your handbag than a box of truffles.

2. There is no need to constantly descale your kettle or endlessly clean your shower head. Water here is just so clean and simply isn’t full of all the crap that clogs your watery appliances in the UK.

3. It’s so expensive to live her. This might not sounds like a good thing when you are forced to spend most of the year living as a vegetarian not for commendable moral reasons but because meat is just too darn expensive. However, whenever you go anywhere else (not including Scandinavia) everything  is so much cheaper. Even London is cheap to me now. £5 a pint you say? So much more reasonable than Geneva.

4. Clean air. A colleague in my office told me that she thought Geneva was a dirty city and I laughed at her. When I came to Geneva from London the difference in air quality was palpably noticeable. Whilst I live here I don’t always remember to appreciate this but every now and then I am still impressed at just how good it feels to fill my lungs with air here.

5. Cheese. It is no exaggeration to unequivocally state that the Swiss like cheese. I have so far discovered three traditional Swiss dishes, which are all variations of cheese and potatoes: Fondue, melted cheese you dip potatoes into; raclette, you melt cheese under a grill and pour it over potatoes; and tartiflette, potatoes and cheese sort of baked together.

6. The hills really are alive with the sound of music. Cows here, do in fact, wear cowbells. These aren’t purely novelty items for sale in souvenir shops and at the airport. Everytime I’m out for a walk and hear a cowbell or two it fills me with a Swiss induced glee.

7. Yodelling is the Swiss equivalent of Morris Dancers. Your everyday Swiss person can’t just summon these vocal vibrating skills as a party trick for any occasion. I imagine most Swiss people would be a bit embarrassed to be associated with yodeling, but the thought of this specialized cultural practice dying out would fill them with sadness.

8. You don’t really need language skills to assimilate. Swiss have three (or perhaps even four?) official languages and whilst some people know them all most people tend to speak just one of French, German or Italian (and then probably English as a second language). You could go to any part of Switzerland and master a couple of sentences in one of the non spoken official languages and still pretend to be Swiss. For example you could pretend to be a Swiss French speaker living in the Swiss Italian part. Your shame at not being able to speak other languages may never be found out.

9. Their flag is a big plus (badum tsss!). If you are from a country with a pretty distinctive flag it’s great to be able to easily pick out your adopted country’s flag in a line up without having to remember which order the colours go. (Tip: If it looks like a sign for a hospital then you need to switch the red and the white around).

10. There is something about Switzerland that is inherently cool in a “let’s not talk about it” kind of way. If I was to have any European(ish) passport in addition to my UK one, I’d want a Swiss passport. Maybe it’s their neutrality, maybe its that owning a Swiss bank account makes you feel like a villain in a bond movie, maybe its the fact you know the country is awash with guns and money but no-one really wave these things in your face, maybe it’s their determined non-Europeaness (in the heart of Europe) attitude, who knows, but whatever the reason I wouldn’t mind being Swiss.

 

From running with butterflies to hobbling with bluebottles

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I signed up for a half marathon this September and I’m keen to complete the distance within the allocated, and quite limited for a beginner, running time. I know half a marathon is a long way and this isn’t something that I can optimistically train for a week or two in advance, so I found a training schedule online and have been determinedly sticking to this.

I’ve been in and around the UK of late, back for a wedding and sticking around for some parental performances (one play and one choral production). However, being away for a prolonged period presented me with two options, either I temporarily suspend training activities or I adapt to my UK environment, bring my running gear with me and find some new running locations.

I chose the latter option and have been experimenting with where to go for my runs. Each week my schedule has me undertake two shorter and one longer run, that gradually increases my distance on a weekly basis. The idea being that by the time I get to half marathon day the idea of 20+km doesn’t induce a heart attack before I even cross the starting line.

Two weeks ago, in the midst of the UK heatwave I started out on my long run of the week. The first few km, were pretty challenging, more so than usual but I think this is partly a psychological thing as I fear that running a further distance each week will be beyond my capabilities. Anyway, after 20 minutes or so I settled into a happy pace.

Past the half way mark, emerging from shaded woodlands in the early morning sunshine, I found myself running along the edge of a field, trying to navigate a way back into the less heat-oppressive woods, when I became conscious of a number of butterflies. At first there were just one or two that seemed to be fluttering along in my direction and then there must have been twenty, flitttering about my head and engulfing me in my own personal cloud of winged supporters. This happened as the wonderfully catchy Andrews Sisters rendition of ‘I don’t want him, you can have him, he’s too fat for me’ came on through the headphones.

I am not sure if it was too much sun to the brain, the ridiculous song, or some sort of butterfly induced hallucination but I started to laugh out loud in what I can only explain as a moment of pure euphoria. It felt as though everything in my life at that very moment, had come together in one wonderful joyous union.

It was just as well I wasn’t running along the main roads and wasn’t currently in sight of any dog walkers as I must have looked like an absolute maniac, padding along with a swarm of butterflies, a huge grin on my face and some very loud outburst of laughter. Had I seen me, I think I’d have nervously hid in the undergrowth until the guffawing lunatic passed on their way, and then quietly called the relevant authorities to resolve the situation.

Last week I prepared for my long run again and as I was staying in a different part of the UK, chose a different route. Even at 9am it was roasting and regretablly the route I had chosen offered almost nothing in the way of relief from the sun and, although it was a designated walking path through the countryside, mostly it was running in a straight surrounded by similar looking hedges so the route was pretty dull.

Screen Shot 2015-07-16 at 14.42.39After my first 2km the running app suddenly got confused and decided to add an extra 12 minutes to the next km and promptly threw my average running time off kilter so I no longer had any idea if I was maintaining pace, speeding up or slowing down. The blisters that had gradually been getting worse since I started longer distance runs (with some fairly old trainers) held their designated plasters in place for the first 6k before promptly giving up, wandering down my socks and agonisingly exposing already damaged skin to the hard impact of running. I hobbled on for a bit longer, suddenly found a lot of flies chasing me and some bastard insect bit me. I decided enough was enough and cut my losses for the day.

As I had been running a straight route, planning to double back and run the remainder of the course at half way point, when I decided to give up was a good 6km from where I started. I limped back for a couple of kilometers until I reached a point where I could get my mum to rescue me in the car. This was my worst run since I started training.

But running is like that, sometime it is wonderful and you can fill full of ecstatic joy as your legs pump along the countryside swirling up endorphins and beautiful swathes of butterflies and then other days it just seems that everything, yourself included, works against you and you cannot emerge from the funk of a depressing and painful run.

The good thing about having committed to the half marathon though is that although I have leave to allow myself a week to recover and heal those blisters I cannot indulge in the temptation of giving up completely and will have to relace my new (and therefore obvioulsy blister resistant) trainers and hit the trails again soon. Hopefully the next run will be an endorphin blasting confidence booster that convinces me there’s nothing I want to do more than just keep going and if not I’ll have to just glue myself to my run schedule until I can convince myself I enjoy this exercise malarky again!

Fiction: Beware of politicians bearing gifts

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I wrote the following for a short story competition but figured I can put whatever I like on my blog so am apparently now including a bit of fiction along with everything else.

Skinny and squinty - bp image‘New jPhone X2 for UK Partiality Party Voters!’ read the Underground ad, accompanied by some illegible small print.

“What do you reckon?” asked a skinny young women, hair scraped back to show off earrings with the word ‘freedom’ scrawled within large gold-coloured hoops.

The curly haired girl in the orange jumpsuit squinted at the poster and replied “if it’s in writing it must be legit, right? Otherwise we could sue or something.”

*

newsman - bp image‘I can confirm that the United Kingdom Partiality Party are the new government after a landslide victory. They really found a new way to connect with the voters but what isn’t clear is what policies the new government will look to implement …’

‘Turn it off, will you?” huffed the scraggly haired man, reclining in the easy chair with the tattered blue throw. “I can’t believe that whim of a party got elected, what do they even stand for anyway?”

“Well, if they were so bad you should have voted for one of the other lot,” chirped the smartly suited woman, still looking fresh after a day of helping the common man. She added, “anyway they were chosen by the people and can’t be any worse than what we’ve currently got.”

Scraggly glared but Suit was too distracted trying to fit the SIM into her new phone to notice.

*

Skinny squinty talk - bp image“Haven’t seen any of our usual dealers by the chicken shop for a while. Mind you haven’t seen the owners of the chicken shop either. Did they get shipped out under the Alien Liberation Act or whatever it was that flashed up on my phone?” wondered Squinty.

“Nah, ‘chicken-2-go’ is like a national institution, probably just on holiday or something.” replied Skinny.

“Can’t you call someone to sort us out tonight?” said Squinty, “my phone’s not working.”

Skinny shrugged “nah, I’ve got a connection problem.”

*

skinny jail - bp image“You can’t just shut me up in here! I’ve got rights,” wailed Skinny as the Surly officer shut the door behind her.

Surly sneered, “don’t know about your rights but I let you keep your nice jX2 didn’t I?”

“But,” she sniffed, “it doesn’t even work anymore – only lets me call through to the UKPP guidance line or access their home page!”

*

skint suit jail - bp imageIn a crumpled suit, the overworked lawyer looked nervously behind her as the door locked into place.

Skinny demanded to know when she’d go free.

“Look,” Suit tried to explain, “when you accepted the phone you signed a contract and that’s legally binding. Without the EU or UN anymore, I can’t do anything. You’ve been classed ‘undesirable’ and under the National Re-Ordering Act section 1, paragraph 29.3(a) the government has a right to keep you indefinitely.”

“Indefiwhat!” exploded Skinny, “you’re useless! I want another lawyer! Give me your phone, I’m calling Citizen’s Advice.”

Suit rubbed her temples wearily with the hand supporting her head. “You can’t. Citizen’s Advice was abolished under the NGO Compliance Act,” she sighed, “and anyway, I’ve been having problems with my phone recently.”

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.

Electric Shock Therapy For My Cat

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When I first moved to Geneva whenever there was a bit of rain, grey sky or other symptom of a slightly chilly day colleagues would tease me that it must make me feel like I’m back home in Britain. I’d laugh and agree because it was generally a lot easier than trying to convince people that occasionally we also get sunshine in Britain too.

But my favourite moment of geographical weather misconceptions arose in French class when we were talking about the weather and my nationally diverse group all told me they thought it was always really foggy in the UK, and in London in particular. I stared at them blankly until I realised that these misconceptions had emerged from certain types of films that liked to apply artistic license to UK weather conditions. I expressed my amusement and tried to explain that fog wasn’t a regular weather phenomenon I associated with London. I then confounded their expectations further by explaining that, contrary to Hollywood interpretations, it also never snowed in London on Christmas Day.

People here expect me to be at home with the colder and greyer aspects of Genevan weather and for the most part these are familiar but the bitterness of last week took things to a different level. Walking to and from work I would bundle myself up in multiple layers, thick winter coat, woolly hat, leather gloves, scarf and when the wind was really biting would put my faux-fur lined hood up too. But even this was not enough to stop the smart of the gnawing cold from tearing it’s way into my flesh and freezing my bones.

The chill I’d experienced from my journey into work would then cling to me all day. My tea consumption rocketed as I kept going for cup after cup not because I actually wanted it but I was hoping if I drank enough eventually it would warm me through inside to out. One particularly dire afternoon when I’d already spent the entire day with scarf wrapped around me I even donned my winter hat much to the ridicule of my colleagues. But I didn’t care because I was just so darned cold.

me in hatBut aside from quizzical looks from my co-workers and my pulling a face that looked like I was eating lemons whenever I was forced to go outside, I discovered another side effect of the cold. I developed electric superpowers and became incredibly charged with static energy. The internet tried to suggest this was something to do with decreased humidity in the air but that didn’t put me off.

I first noticed my new talent at work with little shocks whenever I opened doors or touched anything electrical. But it was really brought to my attention when I inadvertently started electric shock therapy for my cat, Buttons.

I was lying in bed and stroking Buttons starting with her head and working my way all down her body before repeating the process. At first I wasn’t sure but then I realised every time I touched her head there was a little crack and tingle of electricity passing between us. We both tried to ignore it at first and continued as we were but I noticed Buttons looking increasingly displeased as I repeatedly shocked her and feared this would create some sort of psychological reaction to my touching her I’d never be able to undo. So every time I passed a length in stroking her I would have to ground myself on the metal bed frame before starting again.

This got me thinking about whether I might be developing some kind of superpower and if I was just a few intense cinematographic training sessions away from discovering my inner Storm (of the X-Men). Perhaps if full on ability to control the weather was a little far-fetched I wondered if I could at least use my new cat-zapping ways to train them not to keep scratching the sofa or trying to eat the butter.

Perhaps I could apply it to people too and every time I ask the fiancé to go out and get me sweeties and he refuses (citing waste of money and/or freezing cold) I could subtley use my inner taser to train him that that’s not acceptable. Would it count as domestic abuse if there was no permanent damage done and no-way of telling I’d done it on purpose?

It wouldn’t be the first time I’d convinced someone I had uncontrollable electrical powers. In one job I used to get annoyed when the three managers on duty to supervise two staff would all conveniently disappear from the shop floor at the same time. Through boredom one day I accidentally learnt what buttons to press to temporarily freeze the electronic check-outs. These could only be unfrozen by an actual manager. So I took a leaf out of Roald Dahl’s Matilda’s book (children’s stories often have atrociously bad role models) and decided I’d punish my managers and every time they all disappeared “suddenly” one or both of the tills would crash. My boss did once jokingly suggest I had some sort of bizarre electronic field going on but I think that was as close as anyone got to actually suspecting I was engineering these annoying glitches on purpose.

I’d like to add (for anyone I currently or more recently have worked with who reads this) I’m much more mature now and would never behave in such a childish manner should my managers of today do anything to displease me. Although they might want to take care to check their hats as I’ve heard about how a layer of superglue on the inner rim can just materialise under tense circumstances! Come to think of it maybe that’s the reason I was wearing my hat at work last week, maybe I came in for a little revenge punishment or my own.

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.