Today marks one month in Switzerland. Vanessa and I are just about settled in Geneva and living here until December.
Thus far, the decision to come feels inspired (though the job offer helped). I’m on a six month contract with the European Broadcasting Union, working as a news editor on the Eurovision News Exchange.
“Eurovision!” I hear you cry, “the song contest?”
Yes indeed. There is a Eurovision Song Contest, and it too is produced by the EBU. It is the flagship event for an organisation which primarily shares news and sport content between its 65 European member broadcasters and other partners. My role is in news and if the powers-that-be have any wit they’ll keep me well away from the music and dance!
Work is going well so far. I’m a week into my substantive work, after three weeks of training, shadowing and leading the news desk with support. It’s a challenging job, relentless at times, and I’ve much still to learn. It’s a great opportunity, both for career development and the chance to sojourn in another city, in another country…
We are blessed with the location of our apartment. It’s an Ikea studio (with no other obvious influences) in an area called Pâquis, with lots of bars, restaurants and shops very close by. The main train station is just ten minutes walk. In that respect it’s like living in King’s Cross. My relocation agent described the area as ‘hot’, which is a euphemism for the thriving local sex industry. The King’s Cross metaphor is apt, but Soho may be even better.
With a fair wind, I can get to work in 25 minutes. And we’re just three minutes walk from Lake Geneva (or Lac Léman as it’s known locally) and the popular Bain des Pâquis, where on Sunday last week (when it was scorching) we joined hundreds of others to swim in the lake. There’s a nearby park too, so there’s little excuse for me not to keep up with my exercise!
Everyone seems to know that Geneva is the most expensive city in Europe. ‘Everyone’ warned us before we arrived. But it still came as a shock. The conversion rate is about £1.00=CHF 1.35. So you might expect a £10 Sloppy Giuseppe in London to cost CHF 13.50 in Geneva. Not so. I need to at least double what I would spend (in £s) in London to estimate the price (in CHF) in Geneva. So that pizza? About CHF 20, or £15. It’s the same with supermarket food, beer, coffee; and as I’ve discovered, kettles and toasters too. There are exceptions:
- Travel within Geneva is cheap; CHF 70 per month covers local buses, trams, trains and commuter boats.
- But Guinness is eye wateringly expensive, with a single can retailing at CHF 4.40 (£3.20). That’s thrice the London price.
Of course, it’s not London. That’s the point. There are many differences, but life is comfortable here, as in any other western European city. There are many less hospitable places in our world!
I am lucky Vanessa is here to share it with me. For me to come, her consent was essential, but I’d rather not be here without her. Her support has been invaluable, and her company especially. But in so many practical ways she has made life easier for me. Her share of the cooking, cleaning and shopping has gone up exponentially. I hereby promise to redress the balance!
So how has Vanessa found her time in Geneva? Her debut contribution to the World of Wad speaks for itself:
Well, here I am making my debut appearance on David’s blog! David’s job with EBU has brought us to Geneva for six months. I am, what I like to refer to as a “semi-tourist”. I work as a Therapeutic Counsellor back in the UK (at Feel Free) and have had to finish a lot of my work in order to come here. I am currently seeing two clients using a webcam and Skype which is a new experience and one which brings its own challenges. Our internet connection was dodgy for the first few weeks, which has interrupted my work, and I am learning to try to attend to my client’s feelings without the familiarity and intimacy of face to face contact. I have also set myself a challenge whilst I am here. I have enough client experience now to apply for accreditation with the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. That will involve putting together a 9,000 word application including case study. It will be like being back at university!
The weather here has been phenomenal and has been about 2 degrees hotter than the UK from what I can tell from BBC Weather. The temperature reached a heady 35 degrees on one day and reminded me of my time in Cambodia! As such I have been making the most of the sunbathing opportunities whilst David is at work. The lake is a feature point of life in Geneva and there are plenty of scenic spots to enjoy the view, a good book and a cup of coffee. I am trying to avoid the Starbucks so I can practice my French! The main language here is French but English is widely spoken so I could get away with speaking my mother tongue if I wanted to. But there is something about all the free time I’ve got which is making me want to learn French! I really enjoyed French at school and got an ‘A’ in my GCSE so I have the basics, but to be able to speak conversational French by the time I leave would be amazing. Perhaps I am hoping for too much but I can only try!
It would be unlike me not to mention the shopping opportunities here! Louis Vuitton, John Paul Gaultier and Christian Louboutin have all experienced me gawking in their windows, dribbling slightly. I was relieved to find H&M and a reasonably priced store called Chicoree. And guess what? Does anyone remember C&A? The UK shop that clothed a thousand teenagers, and went bust in the ‘90s? It is still alive and thriving in Geneva!
I would love to make some friends here as there is the potential for me to become lonely with David being at work all day. We are currently church hopping looking for somewhere to settle and perhaps that will be a place to find friends. We have experienced the relative formality of a Church of England church and also a black majority church with a three hour service whose music was so incredible it sent shivers down my spine!
We have been out several times in the evening and are pleased to find that we have a huge choice of bars and restaurants. We even went clubbing the other day, but left after we realised that they didn’t have any of our favourite drinks on the menu, and I got chatted up by what appeared to be a 15 year old boy using the line “moi et toi?” Probably the equivalent to “Do you come here often?” in the UK!
I’m relieved I got back from the bar before she said “Oui!”
Before arriving in Geneva, I spent most tube journeys listening to an MP3, muttering to myself, and brushing up on my (very weak) French. My GCSE performance produced an ‘E’ to compete with Vanessa’s ‘A’-grade! My work is conducted primarily in English, though French broadcasters prefer to deal with us in their mother tongue. That’s perfectly reasonable; British broadcasters prefer to deal with us in English, and I can do no other. I managed a recent telephone conversation with a French colleague in which we both spoke only in our home language, but somehow managed to complete the transaction successfully… These challenges can only help.
Switzerland is an unusual country. It is one of the oldest nations in Europe and its neutrality is renowned. Perhaps it’s born of a lack of clear identity. French is just one of four main languages, the others being German, Italian and Romansh.
The political system is odd. The country is governed by a seven-member Federal Council. They choose a new President from among their number every year. I doubt many of you will have heard of the current incumbent. The politicians have limited power and most major decisions are taken in local or national referenda. Very egalitarian; very Swiss. But, as my Swiss colleagues acknowledge, it’s hardly the most efficient way to run a country.
So is Swiss-efficiency a myth? Quite possibly. I came here last October to interview for this job. I found myself negotiating roadworks in the city centre. Those same roadworks are still there, unprogressed. Despite that, the transport system seems to run well (as it does normally in London). Certain things are absurdly bureaucratic, and our broadband connection took four weeks to establish.
It’s not all bad. Clocks work, and when they don’t they wrap hazard tape over them. Chocolate, cheese and knives are readily available. Apparently it is possible to open a bank account here too.
It’s unfair to judge the whole of Switzerland from just a month in Geneva. We’re itching to explore more widely. So that’s next. We’ll do that and report back.