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