Opinion: The perks and quirks of being a Brit in Switzerland
Around 40,000 Britons call Switzerland home, including Lausanne resident Shane Anthony. Being a Brit in Switzerland brings certain perks, as well as some surprising quirks that can help or hinder your life here, he writes.
Quirk: You become a monarchist whether you like it or not
Before moving to Switzerland, I wasn’t that absorbed by the royal family. I didn’t watch the royal wedding in 2011, nor could I tell the difference between Harry and William. That all changed after moving to Switzerland.
Unbeknownst to the Swiss, royal indifference like mine is rather common in the UK, as opposed to here where they are largely viewed in a positive light. As a result, the royal family often comes up in conversation and any expression of indifference is looked on with consternation. When I don’t know the answer to any royals-related questions, the general response is a confused “but you’re British”. The Swiss will assume you know everything about the royal family, at least since 1066.
I therefore feel obliged to read up on the royals, be it to save my Swiss friends’ views on the British, or to maintain what can sometimes feel like waning Britishness. As a result, I’ve become a monarchist, whether I like it or not. Let’s just say I’ll be watching the next royal wedding.
Shane may actually watch the next British royal wedding. Photo: dutourdumonde/Depositphotos
Quirk (or perk?): You become increasingly patriotic
Obviously your homeland will often come up in conversation and although you may think you’re not an overly patriotic person, you’ll find this is another thing that will change. It’s up to you to decide if this is a perk or not, especially in the context of Brexit.
In conversations where I’m the sole Brit, I often find myself acting as the British ambassador. If someone speaks an ill word, a part of me feels the need to stick up for Blighty and fight its corner. This is something I would never do whilst living in Britain surrounded by Brits, but living here, away from my country, has changed that.
Perk: You can get by in English
Walk into an interior design shop in the UK and you’ll see signs with French words on them: chic, café noir, bain. Walk into a shop in French-speaking Lausanne and you’ll find English is treated similarly, with words like cool, home and love plastered over products and signage. French is seen as chic and sophisticated in the UK, while here English is seen as cool and modern.
From the songs on the radio to adverts, shop signs and restaurant menus, English is everywhere here. This means when moving here and trying learning basic French, you can still get around using English.
While this is a big perk in some ways, it can also be a hindrance to the learning process. Being able to doing the daily errands without a real barrier meant that I put my French on the backburner, and when I did study, I focused primarily on grammar and structure. As a result, my conversational French was lacking whilst I could easily write out verb conjugations, all because of the false sense of security the amount of English spoken here gives. This has tended to result in funny exchanges, like the time I tried to tell my flatmates I had neck pain, but confused the French word for neck (cou) with the word for bum (cul). Oops.
Perk: You won’t care when trains are delayed
Swiss trains are known for their reliability (well, unless it snows). Less can be said for the UK, where delays are commonplace. This has been a real perk for me in Switzerland. On the very rare occasion when there are delays here, I’m prepared, I don’t moan, I don’t even care too much. The Swiss may find it debilitating but I’m pretty nonchalant about it – and perhaps fondly reminded of the UK.
Your train's delayed? Well it isn't half as bad as in the UK. Photo: Swiss Tourism
Perk: Greeting people is far easier
In the UK, formal greetings are a nightmare as you never know whether to kiss or not, nor whether it’s one kiss or two. In Switzerland, it’s always three – well, nearly always. Obviously, this is dependent on the situation and how well you know the person, but typically for friends, family and people you know well, it’s three. This standardization means that there no awkward, ‘give-two-kisses-oh-no-she-was-only-expecting-one’ situations. Though it certainly took me some getting used to, especially in large gatherings.
Perk: You’ll be the outsider and that’s great
In everyday situations, you will usually be the odd one out, the sole Brit amongst the Swiss. Your mannerisms, learned traits, common knowledge and cultural understanding will be potentially different, not to mention your native language and accent. This will set you aside from others, giving you an experience that you only feel whilst living abroad.
I’ve found it cathartic in a way, as it’s given me a wider perspective on the world. And though I may sometimes clash with the Swiss ways of doing things, or feel uncomfortable, it’s been an invaluable experience. I’ve gained a deeper sense of empathy and understanding and developed as a person.
Although this is probably universal for foreigners abroad, for the British this experience is all too uncommon and, in my opinion, should happen a little more.
Follow Shane Anthony on Twitter @ShaneSuisse