Life of Ryrie

Adventures in family life



The main focus of this post is ‘Expat Life’.


I never knew that the Swiss had such a wild side to them with a penchant for costumes and all night partying.  The arrival of Fasnacht (Carnival) has revealed that this secretive nation has more than bank accounts hidden away.

Carnival season has been in full swing since the beginning of February and although the roots of the festival are in Basel with a three day festival that runs day and night from the first Monday following Ash Wednesday, the rest of Switzerland is keen to get in on the act and so now most towns seem to have a Fasnacht celebration.  Basel Fasnacht originated way back in history (14th Century if not before) with an event that was less about celebration and more about defending the city with lots of blood shed.  Today the carnival pokes fun at the politicians of the day (a bit like a street art version of Spitting Image), showcases the best of the country’s marching bands and spills tonnes of coloured paper confetti instead of blood.  Another of the more famous carnivals is Lucerne carnival which dates back to the Middle Ages and has a central figure that is symbolic of fertility.  For many, though, Fasnacht marks the end of winter heralding the arrival of Spring (a fraction premature if you ask me as we have just had another snow storm!) and the wearing of pagan masks is said to chase away evil spirits.   Steinhausen Fasnacht parade would give us a flavour of this tradition.

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International School

“I hate school, all we do is play all day.”

I know you are expecting me to follow this statement with the words: said no child ever, but this is a direct quote from my youngest during last term.  As an English parent I have several issues with this statement. One is that my 5 year old hates school.  (Surely everything should be new and exciting and he should be too young for him to have developed such a strong feeling about school?).  Second, what the hell does he mean he’s playing all day?????

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Glasi Hergiswil

February half term.  In Switzerland known as ‘Ski Week’.  Hmmm, slight problem as we don’t ski, and slightly bigger problem of not having spare cash enough to embark on this crazy pastime.  So the eleven days of the children’s break needs to filled by other activities.  The novelty of Grandma and Grandad arriving lasts one day, sledging takes up another…

Time for a trip, on a budget.  Hmmm (we are in Switzerland and I’m not sure if the word ‘budget’ has the same meaning here). T suggests the zoo but then J pipes up with the Glass Factory at Hergiswil am See which he visited with his class on a school trip.  He enjoyed it so much last time that, as the rest of us haven’t visited, and it’s within half an hour drive (just south of Luzern), and it’s free for under 10s, and only 7chf for adults (yes, you read that right 7chf!), we decided to go for it.  The website reassured us that there were all the facilities we could possibly want to make use of: cafe, museum, shop, restaurant, play area, science experiments and car park.  What could possibly go wrong, and what more could we want from a trip out?

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Legal Alien

I’m an alien, I’m a legal alien
I’m an Englishman in New York

Sting, ‘An Englishman in New York’

Six months and four days ago I boarded a Swiss Air flight from Heathrow and arrived in Steinhausen, Switzerland at the start of the Ryrie Family Big Adventure.  The one where we become expats.  The combination and contradiction of our emotions on that flight was both confusing and exciting.  It is all too easy to get swept along in the here and now, but I figure that this six month anniversary is a good  time to take stock and reflect a little.

When we first started researching Switzerland as a place to live, not just one to ski in (not that we’ve actually done that I hasten to add), we drew a bit of a blank as to what it was actually like here.  I mean we could go on the HSBC Expat Explorer and find out loads of statistics about cost of living, proportion of nationalities resident, random hints and tips but we could find nothing about what it was actually like to live here.  We kept coming across weird laws, like you’re not allowed to wash the car or hang the washing outside on a Sunday (both true).  Everyone we spoke to would say how lovely/beautiful/quiet it was here, but this was all based on business or ski trips.  Everything we have been through in the past six months has, by and large, been with eyes wide shut.  Our naiivity at times embarrassing, at others entertaining, but always a reminder for the seasoned expats of how they were on their first move abroad.

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Q. What’s worse than a child home from school ill?
A. Both children home from school ill.

Not a very funny joke to be honest but I’m afraid I make no apologies.  This is not a very funny situation.

T was home poorly yesterday and it was a perfectly lovely day.  I fear that this statement may need a little further explanation, I am not, I assure you, some sadistic woman that takes pleasure in their child’s suffering!  T was poorly enough to be home from school (the yardstick always being whether the child has a temperature higher than normal combined with some other symptom from the pick n mix of childhood ailments) but not so bad she was confined to bed.  So our day went something like this; we took J to school, popped into the supermarket to get provisions, got home, had some late breakfast, went to bed and had a nap (the napping part was me, T just lay there and wriggled), got up and FaceTimed Grandma, tried to eat some lunch (managed about half), did a bit of maths, and finally made some paper Little Red Riding Hood puppets before once again returning to school to collect the boy.  See what I mean, perfectly lovely.  A bit of craft, a bit of sleep, a touch of socialising – all interspersed with bouts of hacking coughing, headaches, nausea and, of course, the fluctuating temperature.  However this I could handle.  T was, despite clearly feeling absolutely dreadful, in her element.  I mean she had one on one, dedicated mummy time.  Precious time indeed.  Just a pity that this time had to be given in such miserable circumstances.

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It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas

“Eine briefmarke aus Samiclaus bitte.”  One stamp for Santa Claus please.

That was me (yes I know, speaking German!) in the Post Office.  Attempting to buy a stamp to post the children’s letters to Father Christmas.  I say attempting because the lady just laughed at me, before spending a good ten minutes trying to decide how much to charge me as the address we had written was, of course, The North Pole.  Surely we aren’t the only family in Switzerland that sends a letter to Santa in the hope that the kindly old gent would send a response (I mean Royal Mail always seemed to deliver a response).

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Haus Hiltl

That was the tweet that popped up a couple of weeks ago.  I had actually won something!  And that something was two places on an English speaking (very important) cookery course at the legendary Haus Hiltl vegetarian restaurant in Zurich.

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He thought he was sick in his heart if you could be sick in that place.
James Joyce – A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Being homesick hits you at the most inopportune moments. It is the most obscure things that give you the twist in the stomach, the pull in the chest and the prickle behind the eyes.  Most of the time it can be shaken off within a few minutes, but sometimes it stains the day with its desperation for familiarity and longing for belonging.

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