Gratitude Friday: Beating the Blues

This Gratitude Friday, I just wanted to express my thankfulness for finally learning to control cultural disorientation a bit better.    It’s taken a long time, but I finally have been able to understand some of the triggers and manage them in a way that subdues the “culture shock” from previous experiences.

Fresh off of a visit from the USA when this typically occurs, I wrote the following article for the AIWC blog.  I wanted to share it because it’s been a year and a half of learning for which I am grateful to have finally wrapped my arms around better.

Bon weekend, everyone!

We have been living in Geneva for a year and a half now, but still its common to get “the blues” every now and then.

I learned in assimilation training that the many varied stages are natural part of the expatriation process.  Their theory is that the following stages are experienced:

1. Initial excitement
2. Initial anxiety
3. Arrival fascination
4. Initial culture shock
5. Surface adjustment
6. Internal shock
7. Acceptance & adaptation
8. Return anxiety
9. Reintegration shock

The stages last different lengths of time for different people.  Also it is very common for spouses to be in different stages at different times.    Cultural shock / disorientation is something we all go through, but I thought I would share a few of my personal tips on beating the blues:

Geneva can sometimes feel lonely.

Reach out.  It is always good to build your social network in a new city, so it starts to feel like home sooner.   A few social groups  in Geneva include The AIWC and Glocals.   Many churches are English-speaking as well, including ECBG – Old Town, Emmanuel Church – right bank, Anglican Church – right bank, and the Lutheran Church – Old Town.   The sites AngloInfo and World Radio Switzerland also provide ways to link up to others.

Don’t wait.   Many people want to wait until they are settled, unpacked, and feel like everything is in order before they get to socialization.   I’d advise to join some of these networking groups immediately.   That way, if you start to get the blues, you already have these to lean on.

Spread your wings early!

Embrace the uncertain.  Living in a new place can make you feel uneasy many times.  When I first moved to Geneva, the hardest thing was that I didn’t feel capable of doing day-to-day chores.  Back in my home country, I was independent, capable, and could handle most any situation.   In Geneva, the language divide and difference in customs made me feel like I was a different person.     Everyone feels this way, so the key is to tackle things head on!!

Think positive.  Don’t let yourself get drug down by the differences and challenges.  Start a gratitude journal for the new experiences and things you are doing.   Along the same note, be careful not to be critical of your new country.   Avoid commiserating too much with friends as this behavior can sometimes foster more negativity.

Get out!!  If you are feeling blue, make sure to get out of the house.  Talk a walk.  Go discover a different park.  Make a date with a friend to go to a museum or restaurant.  These things can definitely help your mood.

Walks in the countryside make everything seem better.

Identify the triggers.  I discovered that about 50% of the time, I would get very sad upon returning to Geneva from my home country.  I identified two triggers – busyness/pace and weather.   If I have a lot going on when I come back, such as a guest, a trip, or work-related activities, I am happier because I don’t have time to dwell on the differences.   I also tend to have a harder time in the rain and cold, since this is different weather than I was used to.   That is a hard one to avoid, but at least I know to expect it!

Here’s hoping the clouds stay away!

Gratitude Friday: My First Vernissage

The photography group I belong to at the AIWC recently hosted a vernissage.   The word vernissage is common in French & Dutch, and references an opening night of an exhibition before it is open to the general public.  In this instance, it was a vernissage of our photography.

I wrote a small article about the event in the AIWC magazine, The Courier.  I thought I’d share an excerpt:

We are a group of women encompassing all ages and backgrounds.  Our photography expertise is just as diverse as our personal qualities, as we have professionals and beginners.  We have members who have been taking photos just a few months, yet some their entire lives.  We have large paparazzi cameras and we have small “point-and-shoots”.   However, we are all artists.  And we enjoy learning from each other.

Most of our work is done along themes.   Our leader, Wilna, says about themes, ”The theme is like a guide for your eye. It stretches your looking around and influence your focus.  It makes the photographer like a detective, who has his eyes always open for new discoveries.

Sport. Clocks. Bridges. Leaves. Trees. Roofs. Mountains. Textiles. Surfaces. Bottles. Time. Street life. Hands. Shadows. Eyes. Music.     These are yet a few of our themes that inspire our work.

It is quite interesting how a group can interpret these singular words.   Once a month, we come together for photo sharing and each member presents the work they have done along the theme.  Sometimes, photos can be almost identical, and other times, worlds apart.  It is beautiful that way, how we each interpret these themes differently, and thus, we learn and grow together in our perspective. 

In addition to our thematic projects, we have group photo shooting outings where we explore areas of Geneva together.  We also attend exhibitions and share articles and books to draw our inspiration.

This month, we’ll be launching a new exhibition at the club.   Each photographer will display their individual “Passion in Photography,” so you will be able to learn more about their style, motivations and interests through their personal exhibit.  We will host a vernissage, or opening night, on September 27 from 3:30 to 20:00.   We do hope to you can attend so that you can see our interpretations and our passion. 

Seventeen of the women in our photography group exhibited.   Here were a few photos of the set-up before the guests arrived.

Setting up for the vernissage. Photo courtesy of friend, CB.

Setting up for the vernissage. Photo courtesy of friend, CB.

Setting up for the vernissage. Photo courtesy of friend, CB.

The long hallway. Photo courtesy of CB.

For the exhibition, we were encouraged to select photos that represented our passion in photography.  For my wall, I chose to do landscape photography and my favorite thing to do with them: paint.   So, I accompanied each photograph with a painting of that same scene.    The camera lens is sometimes called the “third eye”.  For me, it was meant to show a “fourth eye”: the canvas, and the difference that medium can bring to an image.

Floating Village, Cambodia

White Turf, St. Moritz, Switzerland

Sun Salutation, Jussy, Switzerland

My display. Photo courtesy of C.

So, thus this week’s gratitude post.   This photo group has been very fun to be a part of.   I have learned a lot from the women in the group.  Mostly about patience.  While I tend to rush through things, the women in the group are from different cultures which tend not to be in such a hurry.   Being around them when doing photo-shooting has really inspired me to notice the small things.  Changing an angle or just waiting around for something different to happen can really change the emotion of a photograph.

Aside from that, I am grateful for the social aspect.   We have members from The Netherlands, U.K., U.S.A., South Africa, Canada, Japan, Brazil, Australia, and France.   How wonderful it is to see their perspectives and the subjects that they chose to shoot, and to learn alongside them.

I really do appreciate my time in Geneva for getting to do this. Also, a big thanks to my hubby for his support in my hobbies, especially with letting me use his Big Camera.

For more perspective on the vernissage and the AIWC photo group, you might also want to check out my friend C’s display and post here.

Bon weekend, everyone!!

 

Just how expensive is Switzerland?

Someone recently asked me “how expensive is Switzerland?”.   Well, an article this year named Zurich as the #1 most expensive city in the world.  Geneva ranked at #3.  Just to put it in perspective, New York City is 47th.

I thought I would showcase some examples.

You think US gas is expensive?  I see all your Facebook posts.  Well, it costs us over 125 francs (150 USD) to fill our car up.

462 CHF = 500 USD.   Our yearly TV tax.  Nope, this doesn’t include cable.  Just for the privilege of watching TV or signing up to pay 100 CHF / month more in basic cable.  You don’t even have to have a TV to get taxed….it covers radio too.

Getting your hair done. Gabe pays 85 francs for a men’s cut. This is like 93 USD. One time, he accidentally got a senior stylist and it was over 105 francs. I have a friend who got highlights at the same salon – 350 francs!!!

When people leave their paper & cardboard on the curb, they put it in a Louis Vitton bag.

Drink menu at a bar near our house, prices around 17-19 CHF.  Add 10% for the price of the Swiss franc, and you are spending a cool 20 spot for one drink.

12.70 CHF = about 14 USD for a Medium Value Meal at McDonalds.

The average window sign in Geneva.  These prices are not unusual on Rue du Rhone: Dress 2230 CHF, Bag 1280 CHF, Scarf 330 CHF, Ties 220 or 180 CHF, Shirt 1500 CHF and Pants 1330 CHF.

One of my favorite sources for expensive deals is Glocals, which is like our Living Social or Groupon.

I know these little Roombas are expensive in the US, but I think its only 200 USD. Here, half off, they are 400 CHF!!

What a deal!!! Half off: Only 69 francs (75 USD) for a mani / pedi!!! I used to pay 25 or 30 USD for both, full price.   Let’s just say I have also never paid to have my nails done here.

How do we live in such a city?  

Here, we only eat out once a week.   Back in the States, we ate out 5-8 times a week between lunch and dinners.   However, the average meal out at a low to mid-range restaurant with a glass of wine costs 80 CHF.  A nice place is 200 CHF.     So, thus the cut-back.

We eat less meat. It’s 3-4 times the prices of the US.  So we have more vegetarian meals.

We don’t buy any clothes here.   The extent of our purchases are a H & M furry hat for me when it was -20 degrees and a pair of boxers that were half off for Gabe.

We don’t buy “stuff”.  The desire is less great here (both their less commercialized way of life and the fact we don’t understand all the ads), but we make due with what we have.  We never go out just to shop or pick up something because it looks cool.

Pretty much, we spend all our disposable income on groceries and travel.  All in all, we don’t actually mind this change in lifestyle.  It will be interesting to see how this changes or stays the same when we return home.

Traversing Swiss Mountains

After our trip to Lake Como, I am a lot more educated on how to get through, around, and over a mountain.

I remember when we first moved here, when we looked at a map, we were stupefied why there wasn’t a direct route.   It didn’t take long to find out that the reason the roads can’t go straight here is because of the big freakin’ mountains, otherwise known as “the Alps”.

Within our year, we learned about the wonderful Mt. Blanc Tunnel, which can save you a lot of time getting to Italy (and also adding a big dent to your wallet, around $60 USD).   We had used this tunnel to get back from the South of France, and also planned to use it to get to Lake Como.

However, I wanted to stop in Lugano and Bellinzona on our way home, putting us in the South of Switzerland, far from the Mt. Blanc tunnel.   I saw on Google Maps that there appeared to be two ways though.  They took longer but it was worth seeing a few cities in the Ticino canton.  No biggie.

The little yellow circle is where we came into Italy via Mt. Blanc. The other two were the ways we considered coming back into Swizterland.

The week before we left, I mentioned to my PT that we were going to holiday in Lake Como and return through Ticino.

“Are you sure the passes are open yet”?  he inquired.

No I wasn’t sure.   Anytime we’d gone that direction before, we were in a train.   This was to be our first time taking the car and it never occurred to me that in mid May some roads wouldn’t be open.

So, that week, I tried to research this.  Key word – “tried”.   Google Maps would still let me do directions home through the alternative ways.  It hinted that “some roads would be seasonally closed”.   No problem…i’ll just Google it.    Surely they’ll be a key like there is during ski season showing whats open and not.

I found a few message boards but nothing definitive that suggested if passes were open or not.   I did find a map showing that going up from Domodolossa there was a station in Iselle that you could put your car on a train to go through the Simplon Tunnel if the Simplon Pass wasn’t open.

See the little happy car on the dotted line? That means underground car on rail transportation.

I noted this would be a plan that could work.  Although, no information about the cost, schedule, etc.  Do these car trains go every hour?  Only once a day?  Once a weekend?

More research also found that the Gottard Pass was likely closed  since it usually is open until June, but the Gottard Tunnel was open year round.  A few message boards added that the wait could be up to 2 hours on a holiday weekend, creating a queue of traffic on the freeway for 10-15 km back.  Curses!!!

I’ll stop and interject with some basic vocabulary.  I actually didn’t really know this until our adventure this weekend.

Pass = a road that goes over an Alp.  It is likely curvy, amazingly beautiful, and will make you marvel at the wonder of Swiss civil engineering.  It can only be passable when the snow is gone or can be scraped.  During winter, its simply not possible based on snowfall.  Some passes, like Gottard, are only open 2-3 months a year.

Tunnel = a road that goes through a mountain, usually in a direct way, and will make you marvel at the wonder of Swiss civil engineering.  The benefit is that they can stay open regardless of snowfall.  If it is not in Switzerland, its costly.  If you live in Switzerland, you have a 40 CHF highway pass that allows you to do it for free.  If you don’t live in Switzerland and want to use said tunnel, guess what?  40 CHF.

The evening before we left Como, we tried to inquire about the best way home.  Our sweet apartment proprietor even knocked on the door of her neighbor to inquire since he knew more about Switzerland.  They said they’d think we’d be okay on the passes around Lugano and Locarno.  Okay, then…didn’t even know those were in contention to worry about either.    She gave us an internet password and we continued to look into it the evening before dinner. Nothing else was definitive.  Thus, we decided to get to Bellinzona and see how the GPS acted.

During our awesome lunch in a UNESCO castle, we inquired at the desk about how to get back to Geneva.  We mentioned what we knew.   When we said Gottard Tunnel and the phrase, “but we weren’t sure because it is a holiday weekend”, she immediately blurted, “that’s a terrible idea!!”.

So, we were off to the Simplon Pass or Simplon Tunnel   We entered “Iselle, Italy” into the GPS so that we could decide and evaluate the pass.

Gabe hadn’t had Ticino, Lugano or Bellinzona on his list.  He found Lugano average, Bellinzona cool because of the architecture and castles, but driving through the Ticino a 10.    We found ourselves curving around lush tropical mountains, feeling like we were in the Amazon.  Were we really still in Switzerland?      It was exhilarating for me to be in the car.  Luckily, Gabe is an excellent driver, but it was still a bit scary.

I made a little movie to show you what driving on these roads was like. Mom, please don’t watch this.

We crossed back into Italy.   And, two hours later, we reached Iselle.  We weren’t really sure what was happening as it wasn’t evident where to put your car on a train, but there were three cars with Canton of Geneva plates and we decided to follow them.   Crossing back into Switzerland, we saw this sign.

All green.  Thanks, Switzerland.  Would have been really nice to have this information online somewhere instead of having to drive here to verify it.

And again, we were in wonder.

Misty Alps

Lush fields with stone fence property lines

There’s still snow up here. The temperature had dropped from 20 C in Bellinzona to 2 C at the top of the Simplon Pass.

The hubby is a good driver. Thank goodness.

Driving over the Simplon Pass

Descending into the valley on the other side of the Alps

A view of Brig coming down from the Simplon Pass.

We had talked with some friends on the way home who warned us about the Gottard traffic.  We didn’t know they were returning to Geneva back through Ticino or we should have shared our information or lack thereof about the roads.

So, this post was to inform any folks trying to drive from Italy back to Switzerland.   It’s not so easy!!

Gratitude Friday: My Swiss Misses

Lately, I have been reflecting on how lucky I am to have met such fabulous ladies in Geneva.   They had some pretty tough shoes to fill as far as awesomeness with my gals back home.   However, I have been very fortunate, and thus this week’s gratitude post.

It’s always nice to have a support network.  But in a foreign country, it is equally as important.

The day I met D & A, at Caves Ouvertes 2011

As culture shock comes on, or a “bad Swiss day” rears its head, I am thankful to have these women in my life.   Plus, there’s only so much Gabe can take 🙂

Courtesy of Schwingen in Switzerland

 

A lot of the times, we have the same frustrations and joy.    It’s good to know that other people usually have been through what you are going through, or just simply understand.   This could include major things, or minor things.   It’s pretty funny some of the stories we all share.   Like, for instance, everyone has forgotten to label the produce at the store and gotten yelled at.   And, everyone’s had an extremely awkward doctor’s visit.

Nutella Pizza usually makes everything better

It’s also fun to share holidays away from home with others.  Both with people who are familiar with the traditions, as well as sharing what we do with others

If it weren’t for these guys, Gabe and I would celebrate silly US holidays like Halloween alone!

Montreux Christmas market 2011

It’s also awesome to celebrate the good times.   Of course, many birthdays, and even I’ve had the pleasure of seeing 2, almost 3, little ones be born.

Celebrating C’s birthday (it was yesterday!)

This one’s almost ready 🙂

Geneva is a transient city.   People come and people go.   The length of time one might stay in a city is easy changeable and usually not very long.

This Friday, I continue to reflect on my good fortune and I’m just happy to have had the opportunity for knowing them in this period of time.

Gratitude Friday: We survived our first year

This gratitude Friday, I wanted to express my thanks for a good first year in Geneva.  Yesterday, marked the anniversary of our move.   We have now seen all the seasons in Switzerland.   An amiable summer, an elegant fall, a mind-curdling winter, and a rainy spring.

 

If you’ve been following this blog, you know that it’s been with ups and downs.  However, the positives of our experience have far outweighed the negatives.

— –We continue to love the travel and our central location in Europe.  Somedays, it feels like we are living inside of a Busch Gardens theme park, hopping around to different countries in a weekend.  The ‘cool’ factor of that has definitely not worn out with us.   This is the best part about our expat experience.

–It is still doesn’t feel like home.  I am not sure it will before we have to leave.   I was talking with a woman the other day who has lived here 26 years and still says she feels like she is still a foreigner.

–We love our lifestyle.  I never feel rushed or stressed.  People enjoy life at a more leisurely pace and it has a positive influence on us. Especially me who needs all I can get of this example.  In fact, Gabe just returned from two weeks in the US and said it was remarkable to see the comparison of  tension &  hurriedness when he was back.  He said at the end of his time, he was starting to walk faster as a result.

–It has been interesting to watch our reaction to culture shock over the course of a year.  I mentioned on a previous post how this is a continual process.   It usually forms as a result of multiple inputs, not just one thing.  We knew that this would happen.  We have heard it would continue 1-2 years.  We’ll outsmart it just as its time to return.

–Knowing the language makes it easier.  My french is still not beautiful and nowhere close to fluent but I can make myself understood in simple conversation and getting things done. I no longer avoid making phone calls / appointments — I tackle them head on.  And it feels good to finally be able to do that.

We are very grateful for this year.

Bon weekend, everyone!

Reason which I wish I spoke better French #241

Gabe just got back from being in the US.   One of the things we do when we go back are all our appointments – hair, dental, doctor, etc.   Before he left, we booked all that stuff for him.

I have slowly started to wean myself off my US appointments.  For all of 2011, I managed to get by with going to get my hair highlighted and cut in Charlotte when I was visiting.  And, with the 350 CHF price tag that a certain popular English-speaking salon has here in Geneva for highlights, I concluded that it might be cheaper to fly back to the US for these services.

Luckily, I found a wonderful hair gal who is super reasonable, so in 2012, I didn’t need to plan any hair-centric transAtlantic trips.

In 2011, I also managed to make two dental visits in during my trips home.   However, I decided, like the hair, it is time to find a more local solution.  So, now I am walking a little better, last week, I made an appointment with an English-speaking Geneva dentist.

This leads us to today’s lesson:

Lesson #1 – just because you find out a doctor speaks English, doesn’t mean their receptionist will.    Oh well, its okay.   I am used to it with my foot surgeon’s office and nurses.  And, I have basic French so while it is not pretty, I can accomplish things like taking an appointment.  So, I asked for a check-up / cleaning.  Success.

And, last week, I went.  And didn’t get a cleaning.   Fail.  Which leads us to Lessons 2 & 3:

Lesson #2 – do not celebrate an appointment as successful until you leave.  As I sat down, I was in awe of how cool the office was.  Everything was pristine and cheerful.   I envisioned how many friends I would tell about how awesome this dental office was.   However, I should have remembered my episode at the pedicurist and not to celebrate too early.

Lesson #3 – which I now know after yesterday, a dental appointment does not constitute a cleaning.   I was greeted by a superbly English speaking dentist who asked me what was wrong.  I presented her with my digital x-rays and just indicated nothing was wrong, that I was just in for a cleaning.  And she responded,   “Well, you should have made an appointment for a cleaning.  This was an appointment for a check-up.”

So my French could have been better.   I think I asked for the equivalent of a house cleaning instead of a teeth cleaning when I was on the phone.  And I was in the wrong assumption that the cleaning / check-ups are combination.   Nope. Separate altogether in Switzerland.

So, take heed, fellow ex-pats.  Maybe your French is better that mine.  But in case you are like me, ask for a “le détartrage” to avoid a little embarrassment.

Next week, I’ll go back for my actual appointment.