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Old 01.03.2011, 10:48
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Living in the Wilderness

At the end of the week, we shall finally leave the Luis Vuitton infested suburban nightmare of the Zurich Gold Coast for the tranquil plains of Glarnerland. The town to which we are moving has everything we could possibly want: several supermarkets, a railway station and lots of pretty mountains to look at. There is a very large population of foreigners in the town, but I doubt many - if any - are English speakers. Like Mr Kurtz before us, we are finally going native.

This isn't the first time I've done this (and my wife, of course, is a native, of sorts. She's just a native of a different wilderness) - nearly twenty years ago, as a naive and accidentally adventurous young man, I moved to a village in Greece where few people spoke English and drinking paintstripper (or wine, as they amusingly called it) was a way of life. I fitted in just fine, back then, by the simple expedient of wandering down to the local ouzeri and demonstrating that I could hold my drink. I integrated without even noticing, and spent a very happy couple of years there before moving to the big city, which, in contrast, I hated.

This time there are two of us, both sensible grown-up types with proper jobs and worthy intentions of starting a family, fitting in, giving a good impression. Going down the local Weinstube and getting hammered with the locals isn't really a viable option any more.

I know that several members of the English Forum live or have lived far from the metropolitan centres of Zurich, Basel and Geneva, and I would be curious to hear what they have to say about living deep amongst the Swiss (and Italians, Serbs and Albanians), far from the Irish pubs and English language bookshops of the big cities.

Did you get involved with the local community? Were you able to make a good impression? What terrible social mistakes are we liable to make as an Englishman and an American lost amongst the natives? What unexpected difficulties did you encounter? How has it turned out in the end? Do you have any other advice or suggestions for us?

All responses gratefully received.

Cheers,

DB
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Old 01.03.2011, 10:53
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Re: Living in the Wilderness

Was that a Valedictum to civilisation proper or a eulogy to the good life ?
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Old 01.03.2011, 10:55
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Re: Living in the Wilderness

One thing I have already noticed is the insistence on manners: 'ladies first', formally sharing names when shaking hands, that sort of thing.

This ain't your Uncle Bertrand's wilderness.
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Old 01.03.2011, 10:55
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Re: Living in the Wilderness

One will not meet anyone by just staying in your own four walls. In Switzerland, one meets the local natives by:

- going for walks and seeing the same people again and again until one starts a conversation
- going to the local festivals, buying someone a drink and letting the friendships begin
- having kids and getting to know other parents through school activities
- Meeting neighbours and inviting them over for drinks
- Going to church, sitting in the middle on the right hand side so they know your status and then meeting up in the cemetary.

Let the natives know how wonderful their town is and how wonderful Switzerland is in general and you'll have won them over already.

Good luck and enjoy!
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Old 01.03.2011, 10:57
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Re: Living in the Wilderness

Olygirl: Thank you for your tips: they're exactly the kind of thing we're looking for. Stuff that might seem obvious, but isn't always.

We're curious about this one, though:

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- Going to church, sitting in the middle on the right hand side so they know your status and then meeting up in the cemetary.
What do you mean about 'sitting in the middle on the right hand side'?
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Old 01.03.2011, 11:00
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Re: Living in the Wilderness

Switzerland's not so big. Providing there are no big lumps of rock to negotiate, you're never to far from anyone or anything, here.

Only time and effort, are the restricting factors.

Just bear in mind (from my experience only), the closer you live to the mountains, the further back in time you go.
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Old 01.03.2011, 11:06
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Re: Living in the Wilderness

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What do you mean about 'sitting in the middle on the right hand side'?
Tradition dictates:

- the front pews are for children
- the middle section, left side, is for single/widowed women or women visiting mass without their husband
- the middle section, right side, is for families and partners
- the last pews, right side, is for widowed men, bachelors or men visiting church without their wives

In some places, you'll still see this seating order (like in my little town)
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Old 01.03.2011, 11:07
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Re: Living in the Wilderness

We quite unwittingly went a little bit native because we both wanted to keep up activities that we had always been involved in. So I joined the local choir and music society and husband joined the sports club. Lost count of how many people in subsequent years have complimented us for making such an effort and that previous "foreigners" in the village had never got involved like we had. Felt a little embarassed as it was quite unintentionally done on our part

Joining societies that are slightly out of your comfort zone (small village choir for me with majority of members 50+) means that I know a much wider variety of people in the village than I would have done if I had just met other mums through children's activities ... and then you find out that all the "older" people in the choir are the parents of your other mummy friends and the grandparents of your children's friends, so it all kind of joins up in a rather sweet (although some may say suffocating) sort of way. Certainly makes going to village festivals and celebrations (for which read sausage grilling) more bearable as I could never have gone at the beginning when everyone knows everyone else and you are very much on the outside. Not good at that sort of situation.


Mathnut .. yes, names! They are big on names here, and I am really bad at remembering names. It is a problem! Every choir rehearsal we arrive and go around shaking the hands of all 40+ members and saying "hello insert name of person" Almost 5 years in, I've just about got 75% sussed
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Old 01.03.2011, 11:12
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Re: Living in the Wilderness

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Mathnut .. yes, names! They are big on names here, and I am really bad at remembering names. It is a problem! Every choir rehearsal we arrive and go around shaking the hands of all 40+ members and saying "hello insert name of person" Almost 5 years in, I've just about got 75% sussed
Oh, the Swiss don't remember either, they're just better at covering up the fact.
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Old 01.03.2011, 11:14
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Re: Living in the Wilderness

Saw this useful sign when I was in Copehagen:

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Old 01.03.2011, 11:18
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Re: Living in the Wilderness

Things I've learned living in (what used to be) a lovely little farming village in the boondocks...

1. Do not be surprised when, while at the post office, you are accosted by a lady you have never met before, asking: "I heard from Frau Müller (who heard from Frau Marti, who heard from Frau Weber) that you have ordered a turkey from the butcher. How are you planning to cook it?"

2. Geranium etiquette is taken very seriously. Study local traditions - this is dangerous ground for making a serious social faux pas.

3. Nothing says 'Integrated Auslander' like a pair of snowshoes.

4. Chilbi. Be there.




All the best to you and MN - your new home sounds idyllic.
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Old 01.03.2011, 11:19
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Re: Living in the Wilderness

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One thing I have already noticed is the insistence on manners: 'ladies first', formally sharing names when shaking hands, that sort of thing.
Yeah, that's unusual for a Brummie.
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Old 01.03.2011, 11:21
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Re: Living in the Wilderness

Find the local branch of the SVP and join up immediately
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Old 01.03.2011, 11:21
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Re: Living in the Wilderness

As it's a relatively small town you might be talked about sooner rather than later. I would therefore recommend to invite the neighbor's should there be more people living in your house. Ring the bell in the evening (not after 8 pm and maybe not between 6.30 pm and 7.15 pm as most people will be having dinner and won't like to be disturbed) and invite them over to view the apartment. You can offer a glass of wine / orange juice or some home made biscuits. If you don't want to invite them directly to your apartment you can also ring the bell and just introduce yourself. But then again you might have done that already

Have a good time settling in!
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Old 01.03.2011, 11:23
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Re: Living in the Wilderness

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If you don't want to invite them directly to your apartment you can also ring the bell and just introduce yourself.
Take cash.
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Old 01.03.2011, 11:26
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Re: Living in the Wilderness

Organize a rave and invite all your Albanian, Turkish, Nigerian and Somali friends. Along with your new SVP comrades.
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Old 01.03.2011, 11:30
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Re: Living in the Wilderness

A word of warning:

I found the hardest part about living in a small town was when I had my first child. That was when the loneliness hit hard. My husband was at work the whole day, other mothers seemed to be too busy to meet up and I was still going through withdrawal from not working. The fact that other mothers had their own mothers/family around them didn't help me feel better either.
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Old 01.03.2011, 11:36
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Re: Living in the Wilderness

In all seriousness (honest), we tried living in the wilderness (small village between Romont and Payerne) and only managed to stick it out for a year. My wife was delighted to be moving to a little French-speaking village where we could integrate and become part of the community. Unfortnately, even though we had a nice rented house and a great view of the Jura, our neighbours on each side were Swiss-German and our landlords were German/Swiss-German . I was away all day at work (and rugby training two evenings a week) and she found it really tough, especially when our 1st was born.
We moved back nearer to Fribourg and have been there happily for the last 13 years or so.
I hope you manage to make a go of it and good luck to you both, just don't expect it to be easy.
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Old 01.03.2011, 11:38
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Re: Living in the Wilderness

If you are moving to a town with several supermarkets and a train station, that is hardly the wilderness!

Nearest train station here is several miles away, as are the nearest supermarkets (though we do have a small Denner) and Irish Pubs.

Anyway, I always make an appearance at any communal festivities, rent a table at the Christmas market, go have a coffee or beer at the local place on occasion, buy a bunch of sausages when the farmers are selling them in November, give the local mechanic my business (only the cars, the bikes I do myself), etc.

Tom
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Old 01.03.2011, 11:38
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Re: Living in the Wilderness

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invite them over to view the apartment.
Yes! I had forgotten that! Our neighbours came round to introduce themselves but it became quickly apparent that they expected a tour of the premises in return for their friendliness! So I did it, feeling a little embarrassed (I've sort of been brought up to think that showing off your house to a stranger is gloating ..) and glad that we hadn't mostly had time to unpack a lot of our stuff.

Also, never overlook tarting out your ability to speak English as a way to break down barriers. At first, when people replied to me in English, I rather took offence and resolutely responded in (bad) German. But I soon learnt to lose the pride I mean, whats a little English conversation if it gets you rapidly to "du" and first names? And after a little while, I learnt to politely say, "oh lovely, yes do practice your English but would you mind if I replied in German?"
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