Five years in Switzerland

Earlier this year we left Switzerland after having lived there for five and a half years. Now that some time has passed, I would like to share some of the things I noticed living there.

Nature

We’ve been to the north, the south, the east and the west of the country, and we have found natural places all over the country that have left us speechless.

Ebenalp.
Lauterbrunnen.
The Chur Rhine valley.

If you live near Zurich, you can be on top of a proper mountain in less than an hour by train. Travel a bit further and you can be surrounded by mountains and valleys so magnificent that your mind becomes completely still.

When we arrived to Switzerland, I naively thought that we could hike every major trail before leaving because “it’s a small country”. Five years and dozens of hikes later, I think that we barely scratched the surface of what’s possible: there are hundreds and hundreds of trails throughout the country.

Grindelwald, in the middle of the Alps.

I cherish the openness, light and raw beauty that I felt in so many of the places we visited, and every time I remember them, I feel like I’m back in those dreamy places.

Before moving to Switzerland I enjoyed nature, but now it has become an important value of mine. As for my wife, the experience touched her so deeply that she shifted her career and made nature central to it.

Order, efficiency and rules

Bern's clock tower.

Swiss people follow rules. I don’t know if it’s because they value efficiency, stability or time, but, whatever the cause, people abide by them and follow the systems they have in place. As a result of this:

  • You know what to expect.
  • You feel safe, not just from being shot or stabbed, but also from things like getting your bike stolen if you leave it unlocked when you go to the supermarket.
  • Many chores involving other people take very little time: five minutes to go through passport control at the airport, five minutes to call the landlord to get repairs done, twenty minutes to unregister from the government, etc.
  • The government assumes that you follow the rules so if you make a mistake with taxes, you are not assumed to be guilty and penalized for it.
  • Society trusts you: five year olds go to kindergarten alone, many online shops send you goods and let you pay a month later, public transportation payment is based on an honor system.
  • Public spaces (buses, trains, streets, restaurants) are clean and quiet.
  • People respect queues.
  • Public transportation is on-time.
  • Letters take one or two days to arrive at their destinations.

If Switzerland had a Dungeons & Dragons alignment, it would be “Lawful Good”.

Sometimes, though, I’ve ended up dealing with people unwilling to think outside of the box or psychologically unable to break the rules, even when breaking them is more rational, e.g. I once needed to photocopy a document but the only print shop I could find asked me to pay 20 CHF and become a member in order to print one sheet of paper.

Miniature postman delivering mail on-time.

I also like efficiency, order and rules, but it was very insightful to live in a society that also spouses these values because it helped me see how I may come across to other people, and what the cost of having too many rules and following them too rigidly is.

A related sentiment that both my wife, who speaks German quite well, and I share is that we felt like Swiss people weren’t as warm as people from other countries, for example at restaurants, in shops or in interactions with people on the street.

Integration and (not) feeling home

We have lived in several countries over the last ten years. When we moved to Switzerland, we were starting to feel the desire to settle in one place, but we still entered the country with the idea that we most likely wouldn’t be staying in Switzerland forever. Deciding to tell ourselves this story ended up having way more consequences than I would have guessed, for example:

It stopped me from properly learning German which had a wide range of consequences, from making me feel insecure when talking to new people to not really having a clue about what was going on in our town. It stopped me from getting to know more Swiss people. It stopped us from making our rental apartment feel more like home because “we will get nicer furniture when we settle”.

View from our balcony.

The place we chose to live during these five years was an idyllic apartment in a small town called Kilchberg. I loved living there every single day. I could be in the center of Zurich in 20min by bike, bus or train. But because of the decision to not invest much in the country, I look back now and it feels like we were living in a resort or a hotel for five years, not in a home.

If I could talk to Juan from 2015, I would recommend him to think through the consequences of choosing certain mindsets because they become automatic decision making algorithms that are hard to notice later on.

Parting words

Five years later, that prediction that we wouldn’t live in Switzerland forever turned out to be correct, but I wonder if it was simply a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Uetliberg in winter.

We loved living in Switzerland. We left because we found a country that felt like a better fit for us at this point in our lives, but the list of candidate countries was very short.

Thank you Switzerland for hosting us during these fantastic five and a half years. We feel deeply grateful and we hope to visit you again in the future.

Thank you!