I do not hate Switzerland.
That would be too harsh a statement, and it would not be true. But ever since our Australian visa was granted and we booked our one-way flight out of Zurich to Hanoi, I’ve been feeling like a huge weight was lifted off my chest and I’ve started to feel truly happy and at peace. And that’s because, while I don’t hate Switzerland, I am dissatisfied with my life here, deeply. I’m pointing this out because I can’t and won’t judge a whole country, but merely the way my life has developed in it. A year or so ago, I was often prone to making the above-mentioned mistake, of pointing my finger at every little thing, and now I realise it was completely useless, and it was fuelled by anger. Now I know why I have to leave Switzerland, for my own sanity, I will share them with you, if you care to read.
I understand Italian perfectly, and with a bit of practice I can speak it fluently. I learnt French for 5 years at school, and while it’s not my favourite language in the world, I would study it and pick it up slowly if I lived in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. But my partner is Swiss-German, and in order for him to work, we needed to stick to the Swiss German part. Now here’s the problem. I hate German. I hate the way German sounds. I hate the way it is spelt and how long words are. There is absolutely nothing I love about German, and I’ve always felt this way.
I would need near-perfect German to get a local job and compete against a Swiss or German. Achieving that would take me years and gosh, I would hate every painful little second of it.
But that’s not all. Even if I did learn German, I would still have no idea what the people around me were saying. Groups of Swiss friends would still speak a foreign language while I stared and waited for someone to translate. I would still not have a clue as to what those crazy drunk guys rant about on trains and trams. When some nice random stranger tried to strike up a conversation I would still have to say, ‘Sorry, I don’t speak German’. That’s because, while the official language of the canton is German, locals speak Swiss-German, and Swiss-German sounds a thousand times more horrible than German. This dialect is known for a very particular glottal ‘h’ which sounds very much like the noise one makes when trying to dislodge a blob of phlegm from one’s throat…every few seconds.
The Bottom Line: I cannot live in a country where I constantly have to start every enquiry or conversation with ‘Do you speak German?’ or am uncomfortable answering the door because I know I’ll be spoken to in Swiss-German and something which should take two seconds ends up lasting 10 minutes. I don’t want the task of learning the local language(s) (which I would undertake if I wanted to stay and loved the country enough) to cost me years in time and plenty of stress because of my irrational dislike for how they sound.
The rolling hills, the vibrant green hills, the spring flowers and the manicured lawns, the cows in Spring and Summer, not to mention the crisp mountain air. Sometimes as I look out the train window at all this beauty, I can barely hold back the tears of joy. I think it’s THAT beautiful. I would love it all, if it didn’t make me totally miserable health-wise. I come from a humid country and my body here is just dried up. I have to have my humidifier on every night for me not to wake up with a solid block of dirt up my nostrils which can only be very painfully dislodged along with a fair share of blood. As a lifelong sufferer of hay fever, the poigniantly beautiful countryside here in Switzerland also blocks my sinuses, which in turn leads to agonisingly painful headaches. Did I mention the pain involved?
I am an English teacher. I’ve always been an English teacher. It’s what I love to do and want to do for a long time. For this reason, learning the language won’t help me get the job I used to have at home, as is the case for many expats. Here’s the thing. Full-time EFL positions are extremely rare in Switzerland and finding freelance work can be disheartening. Added to that, since English students are mainly locals who work or study, teaching hours are limited to early mornings, occasionally lunch time and then evenings (up to 9pm), which has made it impossible for me to earn a proper salary teaching due to lack of hours. Since I’m employed part time, that also means that when private students cancel, go on holiday, or a course finishes, I don’t get paid. I don’t get paid when I go on holiday either. I increase my income a bit by doing two other jobs. Yes, I juggle three jobs, all of which are to some extent or other irregular and so yield fluctuating incomes at the end of the month, and which, even when they reach their highest potential (which they rarely do all at the same time), still don’t produce Swiss-standard salary. I have spent hours of my life obsessing over my next salary, and I feel a little pain in my chest every time a student cancels or I get sick and can’t work and a significant chunk of that month’s income goes down the drain.
And that’s not all. While I love all the three jobs I do, I often have to be out of the house for 12 hours but effectively work (i.e. get paid for) 6, as the rest of the time is commuting time or gap time between lessons or jobs which I cannot fill with paid work. I guess one can do the above for a while, but doing it in the long-term would just drive me crazy. I need to be in a country where I can get a full-time job with a constant salary, a job where I get paid holiday leave and that, when I wake up burning with fever can think,’ oh I can stay home and rest’ rather than ‘shit! I’m going to lose xxx CHF’. Finally, it has to be a job I love, and I love teaching English.
Switzerland is an expensive country, but there is almost always a way to save money and still get what you want and need, with one exception – healthcare. Switzerland has one of the best health care systems in the world, but you have to pay for it. Health insurance is compulsory and for near-full coverage you need to pay a lot of money, the sort of money which I, with my weird salary, cannot manage without making huge sacrifices. The government helps with subsides, but not enough. For this reason, I pay the lowest possible premium through which, if I need medical care, I need to pay the first 2500 CHF per year of my medical expenses (dental and eye care not being covered unless you pay extra), after which my insurance company pays. If nothing happens during the year and you don’t need doctors or hospitals, you’ve saved the money. If you pay a higher premium and get full coverage and nothing happens, you’ve wasted the money.
Now, I’m very often sick, especially since I’ve been working with children. Usually, it’s simple flus or headaches, but sometimes, I start feeling really ill and have no idea what’s wrong. In this situation, you can imagine how it breaks my heart to, when I am scared and in pain and discomfort, think stuff like ‘oh it will cost too much money to go to the emergency clinic and get it checked. Just wait and maybe it will go away.’ It’s the single most horrible thing of my life in Switzerland . Obviously, this would not be an issue if I had a full-time job, but I don’t, and every CHF saved is a sacrifice, and one which I cry over when I have to spend it on healthcare, since, back in my country and in many other countries, even the most complex and costly operation is free, and health care is a right, not a purchasable premium.
I’ve heard stories of 10-minute ambulance rides costing 600 chf, and of a guy who after getting hit by a tram screamed ‘don’t call an ambulance!’ If I am injured or I’m seriously sick at home and I’m not sure whether I have a migraine and a stiff neck or meningitis, I don’t want to have to think about calling an ambulance, and then hating myself after doing it when I get told that I had nothing but a very bad case of flu.
The bottom line: Whatever my income, because there will always be times when money is tight, I want to have the peace of mind to know that my health and well-being is not tied to how much I have in my bank account, or that to get treated I will have to opt out of going on holiday this year.
I come from a very sunny island in the Mediterranean. The sun is part of my life, but here (or at least in the area of Switzerland I live in) it disappears for weeks on end. Sometimes in Winter it seems like a whole month passes by without it peeping through the thick, unchanging clouds. Waking up to the grey light is depressing, as is working, going for a walk etc. I don’t want to spend 4 months of every year simply waiting for better weather, or taking Vitamin D supplements because my doctor finds that my levels are down. I have to, for my own sanity and health, be somewhere where I can also enjoy the sun in Winter, and not spend hours daydreaming of escaping to the tropics.
And that’s it. As you can see, this is a very personal list, and it’s shaped by my personal circumstances. Anyone else can come to Switzerland and have no issues with what I mentioned, and this is why I hope no one will find it offensive.Writing this post has made me very emotional, because I was, after a long long time, able to REALLY understand why I can never call Switzerland home. I used to blame it on everything, but really, it only boils down to the above. Everything else is little things, and we can find little annoying things in every country.
If I had a stable, well-paid full-time job with all the benefits I wouldn’t get panic attacks every few months. I’d be able to fix the little but annoying health issues which I have. But I don’t have a full-time job, and I can’t if I want to continue doing what I love. Even if I did, it would take me years to get to that point.
I can’t change the fact that the air is so dry or that I get hay fever. I can’t love German and Swiss-German, nor change the fact that I’m a very very bad and slow language learner. It feels like I’ve been wanting to write this post for the past year and few months, and I feel such relief to have finally done it, because before, there was just anger. Now there’s understanding, and the will to move on.
- Text and Photo 3 by Denise Pulis @ www.theartofslowtravel.com. All other pictures – click on them for flickr attribution