Wednesday 8 March 2017

Q: What's the Best Thing about living in Switzerland?
A: Well, the flag is a big plus.

The centre of Geneva is medieval. There's narrow streets and fountains everywhere with fresh, clean water, l'eau potable - the sort of fountains you can drink from.

We don't live in the city centre. A lot of newer buildings seem to be deliberately ugly, all green concrete and shutters like closed like frowns. Inside, there are beautiful spacious apartments, with high ceilings, and the communal stairs are often marble. Our new flat doesn't have marble stairs, but it has parquet flooring. Jesse said someone told him it's to do with the Protestant work ethic: not showing off on the outside, but still having nice things.

You can't see the lake or the mountains from apartment, but it's a short walk to the lake or the UN.

I have a CERN card, a Swiss bank account, and a whole pile of chocolate and cheese. I don't have a job yet.

"Being a housewife rules," I said at knitting group.
"Yes, I thought that at first, too," said someone who's lived in Geneva a year and a half.
"I miss having coworkers," said another.
"I've done a lot of knitting though," said the first person, encouragingly.

40% of Geneva's population is foreign, like me. All our friends are immigrants, though some have lived here for five years or more. More than one has said how hard it is to make lasting friendships in a city where no one stays. Most Swiss people don't bother with the expat crowd, who appear to work in banks, in the UN, at CERN, and then disappear just as suddenly. I wouldn't either.

"Guess what? I met a Swiss person at knitting group," I said to Jesse.
"Oh yeah? I work with a Swiss person," he said.

There are four official languages in Geneva - German, French, Italian and Romansh. Almost everyone seems to speak at least a little English. I am learning French.

I have missed so much, not knowing the language. The city feels very quiet, but it may be because the background hum of conversation is lost to me.

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I was examining the chocolate section in Co-op, when a voice on the loudspeaker said, Attension, attension, and then a string of French I couldn't follow. I looked around, and no one was running: there were no more alarms. I looked carefully at another customer, who was looking carefully at me: we both shrugged and went back to shopping. He must not have much French either. An older woman spun towards me and grabbed my arm and said something. I followed her unhurriedly. A harried looking employee gestured for me to put down my basket and leave the store immediately.

Outside, the customers were milling about, though no one was speaking. The store employees marched further down the block. I wandered down the block to the ski store and bought ski poles. When I returned, Co-op was back to normal. My basket was where I left it, so I picked it up and finished shopping, new ski poles under my arm.

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I am not worried about bomb threats, but I was a little worried about the politics: Swiss women didn't get the vote until 1971, and were not fully emancipated in every Canton until 1991. But following my husband for his work is the least feminist thing I've ever done, and now I've done it twice.

I feel more respected and seen here than I ever did in London. Bonsoir, say my neighbours, mes voisons, every evening. Bonsoir, merci, au revior. No one has sworn at me on public transport.

On weekends, we walk around the city. We get coffee from one of three places: Birdies (only okay - they use UTH milk, which is standard here - why?), the Boreal by the train station, or the Boreal by Stand. There is a third Boreal, but we haven't been there yet.

That is the best part of living in Geneva. Getting coffee, walking about, and talking of nothing. Making gentle plans - a coffee shop, a flea market. Knowing that at the end of it we can go home together, wherever that home may be.