Monday, January 14, 2008

Now live from Switzerland!!!

Hey folks!!! I've arrived in my new apartment in Switzerland!!!

As you know, I absolutely loved Bordeaux, and I was very sad to leave. On the other hand, now that I'm getting settled in Zurich, I'm very happy to be here!!!

I feel like the age my kids are at (4 and 6) is really the perfect time to start fresh on a new lifestyle. Having little babies and toddlers dramatically changes the types of things you can do, especially in our case since we had no relatives nearby who could take the kids for an evening or help us with them occasionally. So we hardly ever socialized with people, and everything we did as a couple had to be something where it was okay to have babies or toddlers in tow. And remember we didn't have a car (and still don't). Fortunately Bordeaux is a beautiful city, and compact enough to conveniently go everywhere on foot or by tramway even with little kids. But as you might imagine, we got into a habit where if something wasn't in downtown Bordeaux (or at least conveniently accessible by train or tramway), then we didn't go there at all. Here in Zurich more things out of town are accessible by public transportation (including trips to go hiking in the mountains), and we have some new friends who are giving us ideas on the fun stuff to do around here with kids.

Actually, I'd gotten into quite a comfortable little rut in general, and I'm glad to be obligated to break free of it. For one thing, after seven years of living in France, I'd gotten to the point where I totally identified with being French. Not that there's something wrong with being French -- the problem is that I'm not looking for a final destination. I don't want to say "Yes, I'm satisfied here, I'm done." I want to keep having new adventures and stay open to new things. So in my travels to other countries (and even back to the U.S.), it was bad that I'd gotten to the point where I would look around and say "Hmph, this isn't the way we do things in France." France is funny that way -- there's a huge assimilationist mindset, so if you go there wanting to fit in, it doesn't take long before you get absorbed and start thinking like a French person. I feel like it's good for me to be thrust into a situation where everything is weird again. ;^)

Then there's the language situation. Right after I learned to speak French (while I was in grad school), I got the idea that learning foreign languages is fun! So I made some decent progress on learning to speak Italian, some non-trivial progress on learning to speak, read, and write in Hindi, and some very feeble beginnings on learning Dutch and Spanish. Then baby #1 came along, and I went back to working full-time while he was still little, and something had to give. That hobby was the one that got the axe. All the language books and tapes went up on the shelf, and I decided that, well, I speak English and French, and let's just leave it at that. Now that my kids are bigger I could take it up again, but now my Internet addiction is occupying the free time that I once used for other projects. So again I'm glad to have some external motivation to break out of my bad habits. I felt like a fool yesterday when I couldn't even understand when the cashier at the grocery store was asking me if I want a bag or not. (I didn't want one, but I got one due to my cluelessness.) Now everything that surrounds me is in German (or Swiss-German), and I'm full of curiosity to understand it all. And as a bonus, one of our new friends is Italian, and I found that I could understand some of the things she was saying to her kids, and even exchange a few sentences with her in Italian. What an encouraging way to get off on the right foot for my new adventure!! Zurich is around the same size as Bordeaux, but far more cosmopolitan and international.

As far as Switzerland vs. France in general, I'm a little ambivalent. Some stuff that's special about Switzerland seems kind of questionable to me. On the other hand, it may just be that I'm looking at it with a French bias, and it might be useful to see the Swiss side of the story. From the French I learned that the reason the Swiss won't go on the Euro like everybody else is because they don't want to share all the prosperity they get from their lucrative-yet-questionable banking industry. If you have a huge amount of loot and need banking services where you don't have to worry about being asked any uncomfortable questions about where the money came from, the Swiss are there for you. And everybody from the Nazis to Al Quaeda to the mafia are happy to take them up on it. But maybe that's just a misimpression, and now that I'm in Switzerland, I'll see what things look like from their perspective. Plus, it's not as though France is perfect. Back in Bordeaux, I used to always comment on what a beautiful city it is, and more than once the response (from a French person) would be that one shouldn't be proud of how beautiful Bordeaux is -- the gorgeous white-stone buildings and decorative plazas all over town were built on the economic prosperity that came from being a major port in the slave trade.

On the other hand, that was then and this is now. Apparently the Zurich suburbs are the home of one of the most overtly racist political parties in all of Europe. I haven't seen the posters, but I heard there was a picture of a Swiss flag with a white sheep kicking a black sheep off and a slogan saying it was for greater security. Also I hear this party did a commercial with a black hand holding a Swiss passport, and asked the question "Do you want this?" (The assumed answer being "no.") Yikes!!!

So I'm torn: Am I potentially helping the cause of enlightenment and anti-racist values by being here where bad problems exist, and hopefully helping influence things in a good direction? Or is that just an excuse, and am I actually supporting something bad? Or both?

On my previous trip to Zurich (when we were preparing our move), I saw something of a bad omen. When we were on the train from France to Switzerland, there was exactly one non-white person in the car we were riding in. He looked like he was from India or thereabouts. As soon as we left the last station in France, a whole team of customs agents came by to interrogate him. They didn't ask anything of anyone else. They came by twice just to talk to him, and they actually made him stand up so they could frisk him. Then on the third visit, when they checked everyone's passport, they barely glanced at our passports and waved us through with a smile. (I think the Indian guy was eventually cleared through as well.) All I can say is that I certainly hope they had some sort of legitimate reason to suspect that guy in particular, and it wasn't just some sort of horrible racial profiling. One should never watch something like that and think "Well, my family and I have nothing to worry about -- we're white." We're minorities here ourselves, being foreigners and atheists. But even if you live in a place where you're in the majority, to many people in the world you're a foreigner and of the wrong race and/or religion.

So, what am I in for? An amazing adventure? Here goes nothing!!! :D

27 comments:

wry c said...

Welcome to the land of questions about ethics! Be glad you don't have a car so you don't have to see the egregious racial profiling at the borders.

And yet, Zurich is a lovely, lovely city. Paradoxes shall abound.

Let me know if/when you want to get together.

C. L. Hanson said...

Thanks Wry!!!

I don't start my job until the beginning of February, so my schedule is pretty much wide open. I'm kind of busy getting settled in to do much travel myself, but any time it's convenient for you to come to Zurich, I'd love to get together. Maybe we could have dinner or something? Email me so we can figure out when will be convenient. :D

Mr. Fob said...

I took a class on immigration in Europe last quarter and in our Swiss section we looked at those sheep posters and talked about the people behind them. We were all pretty shocked by how blatantly racist some of the more radical (and even less radical) parties throughout Europe are, but then some pretty shocking things get passed off as normal in American politics, too.

It's interesting that you're a minority as an atheist. In my experience Spaniards are generally quite atheist even if still nominally Catholic, and my impression of most of the Scandinavian countries is that they're very secular. Is Switzerland still pretty religious?

Oh, and we moved to Seattle a year and a half ago with a three-year-old and a newborn, so I totally know what you mean about trying to adapt to a new life with small children.

the chaplain said...

I'm looking forward to reading about your adventures in yet another new land.

esteban said...

Wow, I am so jealous! I am living out my european desires vicariously through you, so please keep posting. mwa!

I remember way back when I was a good soldier momo mishie in Spain, there were/are so many paradoxes. That is one country that's been through the wringer. They do seem pretty adept at embracing rather than abhorring those invasive elements of their past. Architecturally, that place is a blend, and it's so fascinating to learn the historical elements simply through their varied architecture.

BTW, does your cute brother have a blog? The one with the lemon yellow speedo, you know, *that* one?

e

erlybird said...

Hey Ms. Hanson.

When I first arrived to serve my "exit interview" Mormon mission I was sent to a little hamlet inthe Jura mountains called La Chaux de Fonds. I was there for an extraordinary six months. I learned my sing-songy French there before being rudely sent to Perpingnan for some overdue culture shock.

In Switzerland if you can manage to put on the blinder and stare straight ahead you can easily be convinced that they have it going on. I love it there...until I start thinking about anything. There is a reason my stomach gets all tight when I even drive by a "gated community" here in the US. There is nothing "community" about a "gate".

Still, the fact that you don't own a car and can live your life well says something for the place, so don't despair. And I am quite convinced that there is no place on the planet without this sort of "past" or "present" for that matter. No one has license to be smug about their choice of where to live based on its level of "non-involvement" with bad things.

As an American I always try to remain as un-smug as possible (I will be writing about this soon) but I refuse to abandon ship because there is really no place to go where I would be of more use than to live here and work to change attitudes in some way or another.

Just so you realize that what you will be learning is NOT GERMAN! Heh heh.

wry c said...

Just so you realize that what you will be learning is NOT GERMAN! Heh heh.

Amen to that. :-D

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Mr. Fob!!!

As an atheist in France, I was definitely not a minority, and in some ways it made a big difference in the day-to-day comfort level. However, from what I've read, atheists are indeed a minority in Switzerland.

Thanks Chaplain!!!

Thanks Esteban!!!

Yeah, Spain has a really fascinating history -- I'd love to spend more time there and learn more about it. Oh, and of course my bro has a blog!!! It's right here: Mike & John. (The one that's my brother is John.)

Hey Erlybrd!!!

Yes, that's pretty much exactly what I'm talking about. This place has fantastic public transportation and is incredibly eco-conscious, and in some ways it's like my dream of a sustainable lifestyle. However it's one of those things where it's clear that it's easy to create such a society if you have the money to do it, and one can't help but feel like this is some sort of gated community...

Hey Wry!!!

True, but everyone I've talked to has advised me to learn High German because the people here understand it, and a lot of official things even here are conducted in High German...

Rebecca said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rebecca said...

Whoops - sorry about the delete - I really should proofread at least a LITTLE before I hit publish.

Sigh, do you want an au pair? I've been looking into the prices of things I'll need when I move (I'm currently planning on the end of summer, and to Salt Lake, but it's all subject to change if I find something else) and I'm so despairing about the prices of cars. I want to live someplace where I don't need one. But not having one kind of freaks me out.

About living someplace so elitist and racist - I'm of the opinion that you're doing a good thing by being there and broadening everyone's horizons (yours included! It's good to know what's going on, even if it's crappy stuff!). If every tolerant person kept only to tolerant communities, I think the world would probably be much more segregated. It's good to mix and spread the joy.

Beat Dad said...

Hi Chanson,

I have a couple of friends, with a baby, who live near Zurich. I am sure they would love to meet another English speaker.

Would you like their contact info?

Wayne

Aerin said...

Congratulations again on your move!

Will your kids have to adjust to the new language? Or are their schools in French still?

Being able to get out and socialize is great - congratulations on that as well. It helps a parent feel so much more human.

I honestly don't know what to say about the profiling or communities there. I do have to agree with Erlybird, there is history everywhere - and awareness about that history is important. There's a lot to be said about working for change.

There are quite a few places around the world that are still very elitist and racist - I believe you can find those parts to a society wherever you go.

Eliot said...

Welcome to Switzerland and to Zürich. I am one of the friends to which Beat Dad referred. My wife and I have been living in the area for 3 1/2 years, and we now have an 18 month old child.

Contradictions abound in this country. The SVP, to which people refer, won a plurality of votes, only to have the other parties gang up on them and block vote in a "moderate".

Swiss German is a thing onto itself, and you will likely NOT learn it first, but instead learn so-called "High German". Migros offers classes that are designed for immigrants. The history of Migros itself is very interesting.

My impression at this point is that Switzerland is all about community. When someone in the community is sick, the community helps. Elderly people can expect visits from groups like Spitex. Families who have twins can expect help from the local Mutterverätung. These groups may already have contacted you.

Getting into Switzerland is also getting easier. Anyone who has an EU passport merely needs to have a job lined up. This is not to say that there isn't racism, however.

I am aware of two instances of blatant racism, not so much by the government, but by individuals. In one case, it took someone of Indian descent nearly three years to get his employer to file an EFTA-B residence permit for him. That caused all sorts of problems for him, because he couldn't get a decent apartment without it.

In another instance I know of a young British woman of Croatian descent, who was clearly discriminated against on the basis of her name alone.

However, we see this sort of thing all throughout Europe, and indeed in the United States. Those are the places I've been to. I imagine it's everywhere.

Switzerland does have one thing going for them with regard to social services. The disparity between upper and lower classes is considerably less than that of the U.S. This means that risk pools are more homogeneous and hence, insurance is more affordable. And so there is a form of universal health care here- you pay for it privately - but the basic coverage is both affordable and comprehensive.

If you haven't gotten the book, Living and Working in Switzerland, you might want to walk into Orel Füssli on Bahnhoffstrasse and peruse it. I find it an imperfect description of the country, but there is some useful information there, nevertheless.

For your children, be sure to take the trip to Luzern and visit the Verkehrshaus. Trains, planes, automobiles, and more. Lots of fun to be had by all.

Ok, that's it for now. Feel free to write me.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Rebecca!!!

That's a good way of looking at it. As far as being an au pair is concerned, you should have asked me back when we were in France... There we had a fairly large townhouse with a (semi-finished) guest room that was quite private up on the attic floor. Here we're in a small apartment and the kids are big enough that they're in school all day.

Hey Beat Dad!!!

Sure. In fact, I think I see his comment below. ;^)

Hey Aerin!!!

That's true. Of course that's not a reason to be complacent and throw in the towel, but rather it's a reason to try to improve things everywhere. It's also a reason not assume one's own people have no improvements to make just because you can find someone who is worse, but rather good people should work together and share strategies across all societies.

The kids will eventually be learning German, but we didn't want to dump too many changes on them at once so we're sending them to a school where they can speak French.

Hey Eliot!!!

Thanks for the perspective -- it's good to hear a bit about the other side of the story. I'm glad to hear that the disparity between upper and lower classes is considerably less than that of the U.S. That was one of the things I really liked about France as well: the society was a lot more egalitarian. (This is important to me on principle, but additionally an egalitarian society has a lot of general quality-of-life benefits even for people who are middle class.)

I'll email you about getting together (if your email address is on your blog). Otherwise you can email me: chanson dot exmormon at gmail dot com

The Sinister Porpoise said...

I'm sure Switzerland is fascinating, but Zürich, like Bordeaux, is rich in history, particularly for religious movements like the Anabaptists -- (the Amish, the Mennonites, and the Brethren.)

Now you may want to pick up a copy of the Martyr's Mirror (or read an online copy, a few more progressive Mennonite sites made it available. in English as well as its original German.)

And send pictures :P I want to see the city, ostensibly, if the genealogy is to be believed, my ancestors fled to this country from. (Well, not fled, if I understand it correctly they simply weren't allowed to own land.)

Plus, Zürich is just a cool name... ranks up there with Zarahemla for a city name, except one is real and the other is fictional.

MikeP said...

Wow, Switzerland! congratulations on the move. I don't know if you've mentioned this and if it is a totally inappropriate question I'll understand, but are you moving there as a US Citizen, or a French Citizen? Doesn't sound like their immigration laws are that easy or relaxed. If I were to live anywhere in Europe, I'd probably pick Spain, because I already speak Spanish. Still, how exciting to experience a new country/language/customs, way to go!

John Moeller said...

C.H.! Glad to hear you've settled in. And have fun learning Hochdeutsch. I had fun learning it in high school. It's interesting; wasn't it Mark Twain who said something about having to wait until the end of the sentence to know what a German was talking about? And like Porpoise said, take pictures! And show them to us!

Ok, here's my take on your quandry. I've never lived in a foreign country, mind you. It seems to me, though, that if you find it objectionable, that you should say something or do something about it, if you feel that it's right to do so.

It doesn't matter that a Swiss might accuse you of hypocrisy as an American. Racism isn't a value that you hold, and regardless, it's just wrong, even if it exists here in the U.S. It's not as though we're not trying to change the situation here anyway. It's diligence that will defeat racism.

On the other hand, if you feel that you're putting your family at risk by speaking out or being active, then I'd choose family first.

My .02 CHF.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Sinister Porpoise!!!

That's cool to learn some more of the history of my new home. don't worry -- there will be plenty of pictures to come!!! :D

Hey Mike P!!!

I'm going as a U.S. citizen, my husband is a French citizen, and my children have dual citizenship. I could have gotten dual citizenship while I was living in France, but the paperwork was sufficiently daunting that I didn't get it done. You're right that my situation as an alien in Switzerland would be simpler if I were an E.U. citizen and not a U.S. citizen. In fact, I was at the government bureau to register as a resident just today and the lady there told me that again, as if I didn't already know...

Hey John!!!

That is an excellent point about potential hypocrisy as an American criticizing Switzerland. My response is that I'm even more critical of the U.S. than I am of Switzerland (being an American myself, and because I understand that situation better).

It's important not to oversimplify things down to the standard "good guys and bad guys" mindset where you decide who the bad guy is and then you assume that everyone who opposes the bad guy must be a good guy by default. The real world doesn't work that way. In reality, all people are fundamentally selfish and decide together what constitutes ethical behavior (counterbalancing the tendency towards pure selfishness). Every nation and ethnicity has points where they need to improve and points where they can show others the right path. One must be open to both giving and receiving criticism.

As far as the U.S. is concerned, I talked a bit (in stand by your home-grown tyrant) about the importance of regaining the moral high ground (regarding human rights as well as sustainability, etc.) in order to be in a position to influence others in the right direction. When you have a situation where China is accusing the U.S. of human rights violations (and has a legitimate point), that is a very, very bad sign for the U.S. (though perhaps a good sign for China?).

I feel like a terrible precedent was set way back in the Iran-contra hearings of the 80's to openly say that "since we're the good guys, anything we do to further our interests, even secretly, is for the greater good." The fact that Bush can openly espouse a strategy that involves torture is in some ways the natural destination of that path. Hopefully we can get back on track towards actually being the good guys so we can go back to a position of world leadership. I don't think it's too late.

C. L. Hanson said...

p.s. to clarify my point about China:

If it's true (as I've heard) that China has criticized the U.S. on human rights grounds, it's a good sign because it shows some inclination towards influencing others in a positive direction. In that case, I'll give them the same advice as I give the U.S.: they need to be sure their own house is as clean as possible if they want to be in a position to be calling out other countries on this. Between the U.S. and China, that's a whole lot of people and power, and if both made a more serious commitment towards human rights at home and abroad, the whole world would benefit.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
C. L. Hanson said...

Dear Anonymous,

I'm sorry I had to delete your comment, but it was more than 14,000 words long and not relevant to the discussion at hand. Please do not copy/paste the entire contents of your newsletter into the comments of people's blogs -- it disrupts the conversation. Any relevant comment (perhaps linking back to an online copy of your newsletter) is fine. Thanks.

intj-mom said...

I finally got around to noticing that you moved to Switzerland. Sounds really interesting. I'm looking forward to reading more about life there.

Maybe I could impose on you to post comments about healthcare in France and Switzerland on my latest blog entry, about healthcare, when you have time. I've really only got inputs from people I've met from Canada and the UK thus far.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey INTJ Mom!!!

I don't know much about the situation here in Switzerland (yet), but as I've explained here, I'm very impressed with the healthcare system in France and not terribly impressed (at least not in a positive way) with the current healthcare situation in the U.S.

Anonymous said...

Hello D.
It was a pleasure to read your blog!!!.
At this moment I'm in Argentina, a extremely beautiful country... but with a lot of political problems based on corruption and the self destruction instinct of my people (I’m an Argentinean guy). Due to the lack of stability I started to look for live and work overseas, however I'll never move without work and without all the legal authorizations to work on the destination country.
I have a wife and 2 kids (boy of 3 year and a girl of 5 months).
I received a phone call from Switzerland to go and work, but I’m a little bit scary about it, to many people told me that Swiss people are “cold”, and I don’t want to my family suffer discrimination, while I’m at work. Although my grandfathers are from Ireland, and my wife have French grandfathers.
It will be very interesting to know your opinion.
Good luck and many thanks!!!

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Anonymous!!!

Switzerland is a beautiful country and a very nice place to live. And if you're looking for political and economic stability, it's a pretty safe bet.

I haven't been here long enough to be able to tell you whether I think your family will face discrimination or not. If it's just a question of whether you'll all find friends, though, keep in mind that there are tons of foreigners living here. So even if the Swiss keep to themselves socially, you won't be at a loss for company.

Anonymous said...

Hey C. L. Hanson!!!!!
Many thanks for your kind words!!!!!!! I really appreciate it!!!!.

Esteban

C. L. Hanson said...

No problem -- glad to be of service. :D