Be honest, who didn’t – when first faced with the idea of moving to a chic European city like Geneva – have visions of prancing around in chic outfits, a jaunty “Bonjour” to all, baguette under arm … the new arrival charming the locals.
Let’s just address here some of the untruths that Emily, perfectly-coiffed and high-heeled little darling that she is, has fed us with her portrayal of arriving in a foreign city, and the reality that awaited us all.
Firstly. The francophone world does not, in fact, switch to all speaking English after a simple “Bonjour monsieur”. No. In fact a brief “parlez-vous Anglais peut-être?” will be met resolutely with a brusque “non”.
Undoubtedly so tired are they of trying to go about their daily life with an influx of ex-pats assuming that “everyone speaks English”. Newsflash: They don’t. And in fact, the Swiss will readily give you a choice of usually three or four other languages that they can speak, incase you’d prefer any of those instead. Instantly humbled.
Personally, I was once called a “stupid English” by someone impatient in the queue behind me in a French supermarket, when I struggled to spell out my email address – who knew the French have a whole different pronunciation of the alphabet? Pas moi! All those “eee, oooh, urrr” sounds. And they don’t say “at” for the @ sign, nor “dot” for the . co.uk …… Emily didn’t mention that part, did she?!
Forms and processes – the Swiss are strict rule followers, procedures are their bible. No bad
thing, so long as you make sure you know these rules. So where are the scenes of Emily, in frustrated tears trying to post a parcel back home? Let it be known, La Poste has the power to ruin your day, nay your entire existence at will.
Once, when I was newly arrived and awaiting my physical “permit B” (aka the epicentre of my entire being). I attempted to collect a parcel from my local La Poste using my photo ID, as requested. The photo ID in question ….. my UK driving licence. Big mistake. HUGE. Firstly I tried, in my schoolgirl French to explain what I wanted to do (see point 1 above, no English).
When I managed to explain, and presented my driving licence, it was waved around to the rest of the queue and the staff – “Madame, this is NOT a pièce d’identité !! Are you mad ? Where is your permit? Where is your passport ? What even IS this?”
My retort that I was merely picking up a parcel, not getting on an aeroplane – why do I need a passport, fell on deaf ears. Same for my explanation that I hadn’t yet had time to collect my permit, because the bizarre and restrictive office opening hours made it harder to get into than the latest celeb hangout.
Laughter (from the rest of La Poste) some tears (from me) before I told Monsieur La Poste, in no uncertain terms to just keep the parcel. At this point he apologised, in English, and explained that his English wasn’t great …
Another lesson here. Sometimes people aren’t ‘not speaking English’ to be mean, it’s because they’re self conscious of their perceived limited ability to do so (which we can all surely relate to if we’ve ever tried to speak any French here). So be nice – English really isn’t one of Switzerland’s 4 (yes, 4) native languages.
That said, sometimes people are just being horrible. These exist in every country, even in your sparkly and exciting new expat world (looking at you, Emily!).
I could go on all day, but I think the final inaccuracy surely must go to Emily trotting around town swinging nothing more than a tiny handbag from her wrist. How she can afford her wardrobe will have to wait for another time.
My issue is this. WHERE is Emily lugging bags back from Carrefour (because online shopping options are non-existent, or rooted in the dark ages here). And the dechetterie! In all seasons of Emily in Paris, I have not once seen Emily having to drag all of her waste to the local dump to dispose of it herself. Where is Emily covered in bin juice? I agree, not riveting viewing perhaps – but real.
I will admit, there are golden moments.
When you’re driving past scenery that looks like it’s straight from a postcard, skiing in powder-perfect snow in the alps or the jura (because one mountain range is never enough), sat having a coffee and a perfect croissant overlooking the glittering lake, wandering through Geneva’s old town, lunching in quaint outdoor cafes,
hours of French lessons finally allowing you to express yourself a little, listening to your children perfecting their French accents, the lake in summer and all the activities on it and in it, deciding to just drive or take a train to another country on a whim, a quality of life to rival any other …. there you can and you will find your “Emily in Paris” moments.
The challenges though, c’est normale – anywhere in the world!