Arriving in Switzerland, I really had no idea what to expect.  Yes we’d made a couple of quick weekend trips before accepting the new job, but we’d done no real exploring.  Schools and accommodation were a heavy focus, alongside assessing whether we’d actually be able to afford to live here.  

So we flew over, with thoughts of chocolate, cheese and mountains in our heads.  We knew there were possibilities, lots of beautiful scenery and scope for adventures, but day to day – we knew nothing.  Swiss people – only that they had a reputation for having strict socially-binding rules, and that perennial nice man and tennis champion Roger Federer was their global ambassador.  Swiss life – nothing at all; surely it would be much the same as home?

Yet there are significant differences. Some of them have taken me a while to get my head around, and continue to jar.  However, there are so many things that I love that have nothing to do with cheese and chocolate.  These are the things I will really miss when the time comes for us to move away.  

1 – Swiss dedication to exercise – and I don’t mean an extreme dangling off a mountain type of exercise.  But walking.  Simply walking.  Young and old taking a stroll with a friend, or often alone.  Striding out, perhaps with walking poles, perhaps with a giant rucksack so you know it is simply a stage of an epic hike.  It happens whatever the weather too, such is the necessity of walking and keeping active.  You just can’t argue with it, the Swiss have got this right.  And there are yellow signs everywhere marking footpaths and rights of way so there’s endless choice.

2 – Sundays – perhaps this simply evokes a certain nostalgia in me for my childhood, but with the shops closed on a Sunday life shifts from the practical (that’s all crammed into a crazy Saturday) to family and friends.  You can’t make noise on a Sunday, so everyone has a legitimate excuse to put all the household jobs to one side.  

And when the sun shines you catch a glimpse of this alternative Sunday life.  Friends gathered at the park, or at the beach with their shared salads and platters, taking barbecuing seriously.  But most of all they are simply being together and having fun.  Our next door neighbours are Swiss and very social people; Sundays being a day for laughter across the generations. Trade that for shopping, not me, thanks.

3 – Summer – I had no comprehension of how good summer would be.  How warm it would get, and how our lives would transition outdoors for the summer months.  The outdoor pools are cheap and simply amazing.  Some come with views, some have slides or diving boards, and some have a concrete municipality that I should hate, but actually adore.  Yet all are places where you can easily spend the entire day.  Bring a picnic, a blanket, maybe even a chair, and you have hours of entertainment.  

That’s before I even mention the lake.  Whilst sand is in very short supply there are so many beaches to choose from, all with different amenities (or not).  Fancy stainless steel barbecues, ancient brick built ones, buvettes at the shore serving cool drink and ices and often meals, plus pontoons, petanque terrains, maybe a swing or even a volleyball court.  Endless choices and possibilities to while away a sunny day.  

Of course everyone will be crammed onto the beach as the mercury soars, seeking the respite of the lake’s cooling waters, but that doesn’t matter. Because everyone is in good spirits sharing this beautiful space.

4 – Village fetes – for a place known for respecting quiet and stopping all forms of noise early in the evening the number and range of local fetes has been a fabulous if initially somewhat confusing surprise.  

We were once firmly escorted from a local beach at 10pm by local security  whilst celebrating a friend’s birthday, only to transfer our celebrations a mile or two away to a village fete where volume was warmly embraced and continued until 3am!  It is never that noise is not allowed here, just that there will be a time and place for it.  You just need to find the right place at the right time.  

So the village fetes allow steam to be blown off – want to dance on the bar, drunkenly compete to knock a nail into a vertically standing log (requires concentration, seemingly random skill and brings out a very competitive edge in people) and eat frites and saucisson.  All of this is catered for! These events are about coming with friends and letting loose, stumbling home and waiting for the Whatsapp photos to circulate the next day. 

5 – Free events  – Switzerland may still make my eyes water when I really think about the price of things, it does offer a lot for free, and this feels so, so  good.  You can try something new, and if you ignore the temptations of the accompanying buvettes it will be free.  Outdoor cinema anyone – cinetransat (and a host of others) has you covered, music festivals, monthly dates for free museum access, sports activities offered by local communes, free bike hire, it’s there to be taken.

There is so much on offer, but it is often very, very localised, so it takes time to find these things out.  Titbits of info are passed generously from person to person, parents grateful to learn of: 

  • La Grève Nautique of Versoix, offering 11-17 year olds free water sports and a place to hang out all summer long; 
  • Ludobuses that circulate through the city parks during the long school holidays; 
  • or the blue boxes of Boxup – allowing you to rent a ball, petanque set or other sports equipment when you’re at the park.

Above all I’ve learnt to keep your eyes and ears open, because life is definitely richer as a result. 

The only problem is I’ve got to 5 things already and there’s so many more things I love that I was completely unaware of when moving here.  So just a few special closing mentions for: 

  • Aromat – this swiss condiment is such a hit with my family.  Add a bit of Aromat when cooking, to meat, to potatoes, even vegetables and the usual complaints from my youngest fall away.  
  • The plat du jour at Bains de Paquis – yes I can overlook the birds flying into the kiosk trying to steal a piece of bread – because I get fabulous food at bargain prices whilst feeling I’m part of Genevois heritage too.
  • All the breads and viennoiseries – tempting beyond belief 
  • And seasonal eating.  I love that it isn’t possible to buy all fruits and vegetables all year round. Even my youngest is now accepting the transition to courgettes in the summer, so it’s working for me by broadening his eating too!!

Do you love anything you didn’t expect about Switzerland?  

Are you newly arrived and wondering how you will settle with expectations of rules, and social reservation? 

Or established and thinking that I’ve missed something really obvious that’s amazing.  

Get in touch, let us know your thoughts.  We’d love to hear your perspective.

The Hub Geneva