Friday, November 11, 2011

Life's changing... [What (my) life really is like in Switzerland]

 [Whatever your search engine says, this post has nothing to do with sex. sorry guys. =D]

I still think it was one of my truest metaphor when I compared my 'relationship' to Geneva to a love affair. (And believe me, I live in metaphors.) And that's not mainly because of my infatuation or the fact that many of the symptoms I've developed over the years resemble an acutely sore heart. No, the real resemblance, that makes me think of tragic love stories is the way this city treats you.

Let me explain. When I first set foot in Geneva, a couple of years prior to actually settling here, I was amazed by the jewel box feel of the city. And I don't mean the shops or anything like that. But the neat little houses, the tiny bridges, the odd medieval touch on the walls -- it all made me fall in love with it. It was so cute I wanted to hug it. Coming from a city of two million, it felt incredibly small and fabulously breezy at the same time. And, though many things have changed since then -- not necessarily in the cityscape but in my own life -- it still continues to amaze me. Every morning I cross the old town on my way to work, the sheer beauty of it caresses my soul just like a gentle goodbye kiss: 'I'll wait for you, honey, when you get home'. But there's something bitter about it too. Sometimes all these promises are no more than taunt and bait and you get a glimpse of the cold reality...
I strongly believe, have believed for a while, that what you see outside is actually a reflection of what goes on inside. You might find people hostile and the world a cold place when in truth it's you who's shunning company and the world only reacts to your own problems as you draw these experiences toward you. Or, because your soul is in turmoil, you notice them more keenly than ever. Likewise, I'm sure my attitude toward Geneva and life in general can easily shape the adventures I meet here. However... However, I still think there's another side to this city, like the empty walls and beams on the other side of a beautiful stage set. But I guess it's also your decision which side you choose to play on.

So let me tell you what has changed and how I feel about life in Switzerland after two years of trial and error -- and success. Yes, to be honest, I should be on top of the world. I came here as a trailing spouse, or more a trailing girlfriend, just finishing my MA, and now look at me! A year ago I was posting about the impossibility of making a career out of teaching English, and now I'm training the future generations of language teachers! I felt cheated and deceived, because my skills and accomplishments were not recognized, let alone appreciated. And now I often have the impression that I'm actually better at this than anyone would have thought or expected of me. Of course, there's an element of luck in anything, but I'm quite convinced that it was my positivism and dedication that got me this far. I always believed I'd make it, one day or another. I knew where my place was and I never gave up my conviction that I belonged there. But then why am I not satisfied?

Some would say because people rarely are. It's in our nature to always want more and in a way this is what springs development. However, whatever ideas you might have about me, I'm not one of those fellows who go on chasing dreams all their lives. I believe in the sheer joy of accomplishment, of reaching your goal, and I do like to sit down and enjoy the fruits of my efforts. So why this feeling of bitterness?

Well, I've been wooing this particular beauty for a long time, and to be honest I just feel disappointed about our first night. Yes, there was chemistry, undoubtedly. And the... the thing was as good as they say. It didn't even bother me that I wasn't the first, and not even the 100,000th. What has been bugging me ever since is that I had to realize there would never be any talking in this relationship. No talk, no exhibitions or movies, no meeting my family. Literally. Geneva and I are only strolling the beautiful streets and reading in the fabulous parks and window shopping in the sparkling malls -- but we're never having family lunches and long discussions of movies and arts at one of the many cute coffee shops. We have nothing to talk about. We have nothing in common, except for our love for each other. Well, my love and her acceptance of my attention and gifts.

The problem, I think, is that I have no roots in Geneva. Back in Budapest I was so sure of what I liked and what I hated, and I could vent those views any time. The city was mine and whatever I said about it I could still enjoy all it had to give. In Geneva, you always have to be a little grateful. Besides, I have no one to share my joy and sorrow with. I sorely miss my family and my friends are far away too. Even if I manage to talk to them, once in a while, it's not the same thing. I was so sure that once I had a job where I was appreciated and I could put my skills and experience to good use everything would fall into place. It hasn't. I have the dream job of my life, and yet, when I have a day off I spend it cleaning the apartment, having a consoling bath and writing posts about how sad I am deep inside. Not what you would expect, ehh?

Well, you know how it is. You focus all your energies on a project and are convinced that once this is over everything will be perfect. I was so focused on this project (still am) that I never realized that it won't solve all my problems. I can't walk around with a plate on my forehead saying 'I have a permit and a job of good standing. I'm educated, smart and funny. Now you can be friends with me'. And would that give me my friends back? Would it give me back the things I loved about my life back in Hungary? The lazing around in coffee shops, the long talks on arts and the fabulous theater performances? The family dinners and strolls in the decaying beauty of a city that didn't know what it was: a world famous metropolis of business and culture or the dusty capital of a nation well beyond its prime, with a history plagued by the helping hand of superpowers. Budapest lives off the beauty of the glory of what could have been. In Geneva I often have the feeling that all the marvelous things it has to offer can be yours if you really want them and are ready to fight for them -- but they can only give you a semblance of happiness.

This can easily be seen if you consider that most people just don't have time to enjoy the results of their efforts, simply because there's no time. They have crazy expensive pastimes exactly because otherwise they can't feel that it was all worth the fight. A designer handbag makes up for the lack of time spent choosing your outfit and an afternoon on board your sailboat or on the slopes of the Mt. Blanc is supposed to console any friends or family members for not being able to see you all week/month.

But I'm just not that kind. I don't care how much my coffee costs, be it the hyped product of an expensive restaurant or 'off the tap' at our university cafeteria. It should be white and sweet and sipped over a good book, or better still a discussion of arts and scientific affairs and the psychology of human beings! I don't like spending a fortune on a handbag, just to show the world that I'm not a stingy workaholic. And I don't like hiding my plans of buying a little place somewhere one day either, for fear people would think I'm rich. I like to splurge on crazy things, such as an adventurous holiday or a gadget that changes my life. And I hate to pretend.

So I've decided to defy the system. I will be a Hungarian in Geneva, an indispensable Hungarian that no one gets. I'll take whatever I can and give whatever they appreciate. I'll become Swiss to a point that's in line with my inner characteristics and take my share of success that hangs in the air. It's so refreshing after the cloud of unsuccessfulness that all Hungarians seem to carry around on a string. But I'll insist on my little moments of peacefulness nonetheless and keep being proud of my crazy splurges. I'll never conform to the categories the Swiss have set up, but I'll play by their rules better than they do. I'll be more successful and a lot happier than they could ever be. Because I have the benefit of having been tutored by two nations, both half happy and half crazy. I'm a new breed, if you like.

Thanks for reading!
Hope you enjoyed this post and will
come back for more. ;)
Have a nice day
and an awesome weekend.




  1. How lovely to discover another Swiss blog in English! It's a nice idea to follow the adventures and discoveries of your expat life.

  2. Hi, Jonell, that's so kind of you. And you blog looks awesome! (Gave our monthly fondue routine a total new meaning. :D)

  3. Fleur - I lived in Switzerland - mostly in and around Geneva - for 17 years. I had had many, many wonderful friends and experiences - I've share some on my blog - Around the Table ( The first few years - before you develop that surrogate family of close friends - can be tough.

    I never felt Swiss nor the need to feel Swiss or emulate the Swiss - instead I embraced the life of an expatriate ... neither here nor there but happy to be.

    I too had a great job - I led a sales and marketing team which included your native Hungary. I've been to Budapest many times. Your home city is very beautiful.

    I wish you best on your journey - Susan

  4. Thank you, Susan, that's so kind of you! I'm so happy you liked Budapest, I think it's gorgeous place, though a little crowded. I think I'm actually finding that balance in myself, finding out just how much I want to assimilate and how much of my older self I want to keep. :) I'm not really easy to push in these matters but having a nice job -- and ultimately a life of my own -- makes it easier to stay firm and true to myself. Thanks for your kind words and have a great week. All the best, fleur ;)