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Switzerland

The Art of Indication

I have previously written about driving in Switzerland, but I felt it was time I should warn any soon-to-be expats in Switzerland, or indeed any driving tourists, about the roundabout situation.

If you are English (or Australian) you will immediately fear the roundabout because you are going round it anti-clockwise (which, if you ask me is completely irrational unless you are in the Southern Hemisphere where water goes anti-clockwise down the plughole so at least there is a semblance of rationality about the practise).  To be honest though going anti-clockwise hasn’t been too bizarre.  I think that in the early days of driving you approach every roundabout with the mantra of “go right, go right” beating through your conscious in order to avoid a fatal error that it rapidly becomes part of the sub-conscious, and dare I say it, almost natural.  The issue that has prompted this post is actually to do with the art of indication.

Indication is all about timing to ensure that the other person is clear about your intentions.  Basically, the Swiss, if you’re lucky, don’t do any indication on a roundabout until just before they pull off.  Now my brain is trained so that if you don’t see an indication the other traveller will be going straight over which has meant that I have had a few near misses when in actual fact the other car has been turning left.  I know that this may seem like a small, fairly insignificant problem, but it’s these small insignificant issues that suddenly become huge, massive, whopping ones.  I have three roundabouts to negotiate before I hit the highway to school and on the approach to each one my stomach starts clenching and my hands grip the steering wheel ever so slightly, almost imperceptibly, tighter.  I have had occasion when I have sat at these roundabouts for an inordinate amount of time just to be sure that the car on my left isn’t going to suddenly whizz past me but is indeed turning off.  Or I have taken a chance and pulled out only to realise that the car that I thought was going straight over was in fact taking the third exit and I have totally cut them up.  The Swiss are very quick to show their irritation and I am now able to tell the make of the approaching car just by the sound of the horn.

Being an expat means that you learn new things all the time in order to embrace the culture that your find yourself in so that you can fool everyone into thinking that you are in fact a local.  In this instance though I am flying in the face of embracing local custom and have instead learnt the art of over-indicating.  Indeed I indicate so much that I swear the middle and index fingers on my left hand have got slimmer.  I indicate as I approach the roundabout, when I am on the roundabout and when I am about to leave the roundabout.  I even indicate when I am in the roundabout-bypass lane.  Yes, there is another lane in the roundabout layout which allows drivers to bypass the roundabout and which prompts further navigational negotiation if you happen to be taking the first exit off to the left.  This is Swiss efficiency at its most un-neccessary as the roundabout bypass lane only seems to exist in fairly rural locations where the possible build up of traffic (which must be why this lane exists) is pretty minimal.  I am aware that my over-indication could be confusing but if the worst were to happen and there was an incident, I can at least say that I was the one indicating where I was going.  If there is no indication at all, how the hell does the other party know where you’re headed as, let’s face it, very few of us have psychic powers.

See?  652 words later it is clear that the small, insignificant problems soon become the massive, insurmountable issues.  Safe travels everyone.

Geneva Calling

“EasyJet fly direct to Bristol from Geneva.  Why don’t we go from there instead of Zurich?”  I’ll tell you why not, because it’s a three hour car drive from Steinhausen.  However, Steve and I optimistically decided that we’d be able to make the trip in about two and a half hours, just a little over the time it would usually take to travel from Gatwick to my parents home in Somerset, so the flights were duly booked.  In fairness it took us just under two and a half hours (at four in the morning) for our outbound flight.  Coming back? more like three and a half.  Before our delightful (or not) return journey with two over tired children, we did manage to make a whistle stop tour of Geneva.

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Fasnacht

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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Snow!

I can’t believe we’re in Switzerland and it’s raining on Christmas Day. Where’s the snow for goodness sake?

It’s not been so much ‘do you want to build a snowman’ as ‘let it go’ as we stay inside and pretend to build one with the Elsa and Anna dolls that we finally managed to purchase for T’s Christmas present (only a year on from being asked for them!).

IMG_1257

IMG_1307It appears though, that the Alpine Gods have been looking down on us and have taken heed of our pleas.  Five days ago it started snowing and it is still snowing as I write this.  We are nestled under a downy blanket of silver and white crystals.  I haven’t seen so much snow for years, if ever (such as my life has revolved around milder, rainier climes).

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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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