They say that moving house and jobs are in the top three most stressful life events. I confirm that (although not the job part for, as you know, I am jobless in Geneva). In fact, moving to a foreign country is so stressful that I have literally broken out in hives. I have a flaming red collar of eczema around my neck. My skin blazed more as I distressed about how I could communicate to a French pharmacist that I needed hydrocortisone cream. In the end, I simply unveiled my neck and, with an ‘ooh la la’, he handed cream over.
The pack up process in London was utterly exhausting. We were organized but small things took us by surprise and tired us out. For example, we sold our car on the Monday, the weekly rubbish collection was on Tuesday and we left on the Thursday. Between the Tuesday and Thursday, we accumulated recycling, old food and household junk that we needed to chuck out and we had no idea how.
We felt like Andy Duframe in the movie Shawshank Redemption. In order to rid himself of the sand he accumulated while building his escape tunnel, he dribbled the dirt out of his trousers as he paced the prison yard. We followed a similar technique as we peered into public waste bins and surreptitiously dribbled our rubbish and recycling throughout Raynes Park.
I am disgusted at the filth in which we lived for so long. We picked up enough black strands of my hair to create a couple of wigs and our carpet cleaning produced four black buckets of water. My hair was impossible to lift off the carpet with my hands or with a vacuum cleaner. Eventually we discovered that the best technique to raise it up was when Al mooned-walked backwards along the carpet. He swept my hair into a pile using the grip and strength of his toes.
The Black Dog thrives in filth and it is a pity I have only understood this now. Al and I have made a pact that we will do weekly intensive cleaning sessions in Switzerland. Typical of my personality, I do things in the extremes and am either extremely dirty or extremely clean. In our new apartment, I have decreed that the bath and shower must be cleaned each time it is used and I am now in a wiping phase. Every time I walk past something, I wipe it with my damp cloth.
This move has also made me philosophical about our accumulation of material possessions. We filled 51 boxes and I wondered how, over 4 years, I collected that much stuff. I am not even sure what is inside them. It is ironic that as we moved, the tsunami hit Japan and I thought of people left with nothing as I filled 51 boxes of possessions that I am not sure I even need.
Our first week in Switzerland was not easy and we are still powered by adrenalin. One of my London friends, who has lived in Switzerland, said ‘Give yourself grace during the move’. I haven’t. We’ve arrived and tried to “Click | Insert life”, which creates unnecessary stress for ourselves (hence the hives).
We are constantly frustrated by our inability to speak French. I am surprising myself every day as I spit out the odd phrase and, if I don’t know something, I add a ‘le’ or a ‘la’ in front of the English word (‘le invoice’ and ‘la delivery’) or I say the English word with a French accent and a flourish of my hands. It works but it is not sustainable.
Learning French has become an all-consuming, number 1 priority and I have already discovered two options for lessons and I want to start right away. Al remarked, ‘Julie, you are like a dog with a bone. We’ve only been here a week. Chill out.’ But when I want something I WANT IT NOW. I want to learn French and I want to speak it fluently NOW.
Our apartment is bigger than our one in London and I love the extra space. When the removal company saw our new house, they said, ‘This is a hundred times better than your London place.’
For the first time in my whole life, I am living in a house with more than one toilet. This means that I can use the loo at my leisure. I have bought a stand for books and placed it in the bathroom that I have designated for poos alone.
We also have a his and hers sink, which is a treat and I get a buzz looking at Al in the mirror as we both brush our teeth. This bathroom has a blinding light that sends my pupils into a frenzy. It is like the light in a shop changing room that reveals every blemish, wrinkle, grey hair, white head and blackhead. Every time I look at myself in the mirror, I think ‘my goodness I am butt ugly.’ I even walked in on Al examining the pores on his face and I have never seen him doing that before.
We are throwing money around like confetti at a wedding. Converting to rands or pounds pains me. In London, delivery of expensive items such as furniture is always free. In Switzerland, it costs 10% of the value of purchased goods. Strangely, it is cheaper to hire a van from the shop for two hours while you take the goods home yourself. Al and I tried to carry our new lounge suite across the shop floor and realized that my back was worth more than the CHF300 delivery fee. So we coughed up.
The Swiss are rigid and rules based. There is a particular way of doing things and if you are not behaving the right way, they are quick to tell you. I am weary of the attitude of entitlement in London and South Africa so the Swiss way is refreshing. I like the sense of community and respect for others.
Sometimes they take it too far. Rules around recycling and rubbish disposal are difficult to understand. My Swiss friend said that when you are relaxing on the banks of a river, it is possible a rusted bike will float past. People get so frustrated at the difficulty in disposing of unwanted goods that, in the cloak of darkness, they may just chuck it in the nearest river.
This will be a long journey and I sense great fodder for blog posts. I know that I must find a job soon because idleness is the enemy of my soul. I am keen on the non-profit sector where I can make a more tangible difference and heal the world, make it a better place, for you and for me and the entire human race. I will give myself some grace for now and wait until the internet is installed at home before I face that beast.
I finally feel as if I have found a place where I can settle and call home for the indefinite future. I feel blessed with a capital B and, after years of angst and depression in London (and even in South Africa), I feel as if I am in an environment that is good for my soul. I have an exciting, new opportunity and it will be what I make of it.
A friend said Switzerland reminds her of the Sound of Music. Every time she sees a picture of the Alps, she wants to break out the old curtains, use them to make some clothes and dance in them a la Maria and the Von Trapp kids. She asked to visit in August and says she will bring the curtains as I’m supplying the hills.
In spite of the endless paper work, expensive deliveries and Swiss rules and rigidity, I know that this is somewhere I can be happy. And if I can’t make myself happy here, then I can’t be happy anywhere.