Category Archives: Switzerland

I Did Not Go to the Women’s March

the-truth

Saturday, across the globe, people participated in Women’s Marches – this movement is not “just” for women, but for everyone. From Sydney, Australia to Vancouver, Canada, people gathered to march against intolerance, to take a stand for women’s rights, minority rights, rights for lesbian, gay, transgender people, rights for disabled people, rights for immigrants and refugees.

And to stand up for Truth . With a capital T. Because apparently that’s up for grabs now.

Here in Geneva,  Switzerland,  a march was organised.  But there was one minor technical problem: I had to work.

I wanted to march.

My friends were going. Tons of people were going. Men, women and children were travelling in to Geneva from as far as Zurich to participate.

But…  I was stuck at the other end of the city at work.

Ok,  I thought, maybe I could still make it happen. I am ever the optimist, after all.

I calculated that if I was replaced a bit early for my lunch break I could maybe – just maybe get to downtown Geneva by bus, have about 10 minutes to spend there, and then race back.

I had made a sign,  bought a sandwich to eat on the ride,  got bus change ready.

But fate was against me. I was replaced a measly 2 and a half minutes early.  I raced outside,  heart pounding,  and watched the bus drive off. Not even close.

I could have screamed.  Possibly,  I did actually let out a couple choice words.  Not sure if it was in my head or actually spoken.  I did stomp my foot.

Feeling dejected,  hopeless,  excluded,  frustrated,  angry and sad,  I img-20170121-wa0005-2went back inside.

Trying to make the best of it, I took a pathetic little photo of myself with my sign in the hallway at work and texted it to my various friends at the march.

They texted back with their amazing signs and photos of the thousands of people walking across the bridge downtown Geneva.

To not be there for the actual march was heartbreaking.

I wanted to be there. I planned to be there. But I wasn’t there.

And yet.

I was there.

Because “there” is where we are when we decide to take action, to speak up, to stand together, to step forward into this new world of activism that has opened up before us.

People around the world stepped forward together Saturday, and I was with them.

The incredible number of people who participated is impressive. Some of the aerial footage is stunning – and inspiring.

Later that day my husband and I watched the news come in with reports of the massive rallies around the world. And my husband said simply: “This makes me feel better.”

“Oh really”, I asked. “How? I mean, about what?”

“The world. The future,” he said simply.

We were there. We are there.

And we’re not turning back now.

Becoming Swiss

me swiss

 

Years ago, I started writing about moving to Switzerland. My articles were surprisingly wildly popular, not just with the local expat community but with people back home who were interested in experiencing such a dramatic change in life vicariously from the comfort of their cozy homes.

Twelve years went by in the blink of an eye, (ok there was a long moment there in the middle while I dealt with getting maried, having a baby, moving twice and dealing with other major life-shaking events), but in any case, there I was, still in Switzerland.

Twelve years is the “magic number” here. It is at this point that the Powers That Be have determined I might be able to actually qualify for Swiss citizenship.

Oh don’t go jumping to conclusions and buying me a decorative cow bell or fondue pot yet! The 12 year residency rule is just the beginning of the many hoops I have to jump through in my quest to… become Swiss!

On a bright Tuesday morning in October 2013 I set out for the “Administration communale” – the local city hall for my small town. It was exactly 12 years and one day since I had stumbled off the plane in Geneva with my two kids, one black cat and small mountain of suitcases. I entered the room marked “office de la population” and waited.

A woman came over and I correctly said “Bonjour” before explaining my reasons for being there. I felt I was clearly qualified to be Swiss, having mastered the subtle bonjour/bon après midi/bonsoir rules of social etiquette as well as having the correct number of years of residence (plus a day).

She checked my C permit and then searched in the nearby file cabinet for the right paperwork, then happily handed me some sheets.  I left the building  a short while later clutching the forms which would pave the way for me to Become Swiss.

And then, it almost seemed too easy. I quickly filled in the various forms and mailed them in with a copy of my passport and work permit. And then I waited.

And waited.

And waited.

Perhaps, I considered, the true test of Swissness is patience. I would show them I was up to the task.

Six months went by. And then, lo and behold! A letter in the mail! An explanation  that my request to request Swiss citizenship had been approved. Yes, you read that right, my request to request it. I now had a letter stating that I was qualified to make the request. And a long form to fill out…

This one was not so easy. The Swiss really want to know everything I’ve done since I was born. Everything. Every address I ever had, every school I ever went to, every job I ever held. E-ver-y-thing…

It took me a while to fill it in. For one thing, I have lived in 20 homes, went to 11 schools and have held 10 jobs if you count the time I was an elf. (I actually worried about that one as it might be seen as weird. Should I specify that it was only during the christmas holidays, so that they wouldn’t think I had a closet full of weird green clothes and long felt shoes with curled toes and a hat with bells? Speaking of which, what if they come to inspect my home? How will I ever get it clean enough?)

In any case, I also had to provide a variety of documents certifying I really was who I claimed to be and then also certifying that this person I claimed to be had no criminal records or bad credit ratings (both very, very bad things if you want to be Swiss).

It took me almost six months to get all the documents together and I mailed the whole package in victoriously.

About a year went by, and then one day the police called me. Now, if you’re like me, as soon as the phone rings and the person says they are the police, you immediately: 1- hope your kids are alive, and 2 – hope your kids have not done anything that makes you want to kill them. Not always in that order.

But in this case, it was ME they were after! I was being summoned for an interview to discuss my Swissness request . (By the way, they don’t actually use the word Swissness here, that’s my invention. I hope it doesn’t cause me problems. I’m already probably on thin ice with the elf thing.)

A couple weeks later I arrived for my appointment at the precinct. I made sure to park in a blue zone s2016-01-13 11.49.52pot and put my timer-turny-thingy in the window (there may actually be a name for the thing, but anyone in Switzerland knows what I’m talking about. It basically marks how long you have been parked in a limited time zone.) Then I worried that I would run out of time and have to interrupt the meeting to come out and move my car. That would be rude, wouldn’t it? Oh but maybe that’s the test! To see if I abide by the laws enough to be willing to put my Swissness request in jeopardy by running outside during an important meeting?

In any case, the police escorted me into a small room where I sat under a hot bright light and they drilled questions at me, hoping I would crack .

Ok it wasn’t really like that. We sat around a table on mostly comfortable chairs and they did ask me lots of questions, but nothing too intense. Mostly, they seemed to be trying to determine whether or not I adhered to the Swiss way of life and Swiss values. They asked several questions which I answered as best as I could, and then they actually just came right out and asked it, the one key question, the most important element:

“What is your opinion about democracy?”

They stared directly into my eyes in an unbroken gaze, the two of them, which made it hard for me to gaze back because I wasn’t sure who I should stare back at to prove my unflinching dedication.

Believe it or not, that’s actually a hard question to answer descriptively. What do I think about democracy? Well, I’ve never known anything else, so it’s something I’ve always just taken for granted. I scrambled for an appropriate answer, something that would convey my decidedly certain absolute positivety about being resolutely in favour of the democratic way. What I actually said was probably something resembling, “Uh… I’m for it?”

I thought quickly, stumbling over unsatisfying words to add to this answer in order to assure them that I was not here to overthrow the peaceful and fair system of government in order to rule the land and change it’s name to Nicoledom. (To be fair, who wouldn’t want to live in Nicoledom? Free ice cream guys.)

photo-57 (1)

I basically did manage to convice them that my political views were acceptable in a typically Canadian way, that is, I didn’t have any extreme views about politics as long as there were no crazies in charge.

55 minutes later (just in time for the parking spot! Coincidence? I think not!) I was released into the general population. Apparently, I had passed.

Step one: live here 12 years check mark

Step two: request to request citizenship approved check mark

Step three: citizenship request submitted check mark

Step four: police interview passed check mark

I was well on my way to true certifiable Swissness!  I almost felt like breaking out the chocolate to celebrate.

Little did I know, more tests, challenges and chocolate were to come…

 

chocolate

 

 

How I Got to Switzerland… Part 4!

Maybe with the right hat I can fit it?
Maybe with the right hat I can fit it?

PART FOUR, Can I fit in?

So apparently not.

I am not dressed right. I can tell by the way I have suddenly become invisible. In Canada, the t-shirt and jeans I am now wearing seem to work for me. Dressing up would involve changing the strappy sandals to slight heels and some lipstick. But here, I am way, way, way out of my league. All of the women are dressed in very pointy (we’re talking poke-your-eye-out pointy), very high healed shoes, somehow managing to never get stuck in the cobblestone sidewalk. They are all extremely thin. They are all wearing dresses or skirts. No wait, there’s one wearing tight curvy pants. Oh no, sorry, that was a man.

They all have huge sunglasses, huge purses and are all apparently talking on their cell phone. Side note: cell phones are not actually called cell phones here, a lesson learned a few minutes ago as I made the unfortunate mistake of calling out to a woman who had left hers on the table at the outdoor restaurant where she had been sitting “Madame, votre téléphone cellulaire!”. She leaped back to the table (they all seem to be quite flexible despite their dangerous shoes, probably from all the elevator yoga they do) and grabbed the phone then gave me the coldest, stoniest stare I have ever seen and said “Mon natel, merci.” in a voice that implied I should not step any closer to her lest my uncoolness be contagious.

The men are dressed only slightly less beautifully than the women, and their shoes are also equally eye-pokingly dangerous, and they are also all talking on their natels.

They all, men and women, whether they are pedestrians on the same sidewalk as me, driving their car or more likely speeding around on their scooters, ignore me completely. To the point where it is actually dangerous for me to be out here among them. I am getting bumped constantly and once had to leap out of the way of a scooter that was manoeuvring into a makeshift parking space, which happened to be on the sidewalk exactly where I was standing admiring the architecture of a building.

I dash into a store to escape the insanity. It happens to be a camera store, and since I need batteries for mine, it is convenient. The woman at the counter ignores me and taps with very long fingernails on her cell- oops natel. I say: “Excuse me, could you tell me if you sell batteries for this type of camera please”?

Now those of you who have lived in Switzerland have probably already spotted my mistake. My Fatal Error. My Unforgivable Rudeness. But those of you who are not familiar with the rules of politeness in Switzerland, be warned, my sentence was equivalent to someone yelling after the puck is dropped (for you Americans, equivalent to calling a southerner a yankee, for you Brits and Irish, the equivalent to not buying a round of drinks when it’s your turn and for those from Australia and New Zealand, the same as… I don’t know, is there anything that’s rude down there?)

Anyway, I digress. It was uncommonly rude. A wave of cold air blows from her glare over to me as she icily says “Bonjour”. (Yep, that was it, you always start with “Bonjour.” Always. Always. Always. Well, unless it’s afternoon. Then you say “Bon après-midi.” Or evening where you say “Bonsoir”. The exact hours where the bonjour converts to a bon après midi etc , are variable and subject to change, and foreigners are rarely permitted to be fully aware of them. But we’ll get back to that later.)

I say “Bonjour” and wait. She continues to stare at me. I start to feel slightly scared of her. (Oh who am I kidding, I’m terrified of her.). A few seconds go by, while, during our staring contest, I unsuccessfully try to summon up some courage and fail. I clear my throat, and cleverly say, in heavily accented French “Do you sell batteries for cameras?”

She raises both eyebrows simultaneously (without, by the way, causing any wrinkles to form on her forehead), and replies in a flat tone: “Well yes, we are a camera store. “ A couple more seconds of staring go by, until I, not knowing what else to do, hold out my camera to her tentatively… She glances at my shaking hand and quickly spins around on her pointy toe high heels, takes two steps to a shelf, and returns with a small package of batteries. “Was that all?” she asks, jabbing quickly at the key on the cash register. I mumble “Yes thank you” and she says the price, which, despite the fact that I am fluent in French, I do not understand at all. “I’m sorry, what was that? How much?” I am babbling. She sighs and slides the receipt across the counter to me, and taps it twice with a long burgundy fingernail. I quickly look at the receipt and of course it is covered in numbers arranged in columns, which tells me the batteries are either 24.10 or today is November 15th or the batteries are 11.15 and today is October 24th, or perhaps the time is 11:15am, or… In any case, I of course pretend I have understood completely and open my wallet. Suddenly I remember that I only have large bills, having only just taken money out of the bank machine at the airport, so I sheepishly hand her a 200 franc note and ask “Sorry, this is all I have. Is this ok?”.

And again, those of you who have experienced life in Switzerland are laughing their heads off here, because of course it’s ok, you could pay for a 5 cent piece of candy with a 200 franc note without batting an eye (side note: of course, there are no 5 cent candies, or any other items on sale for 5 cents in the whole country). The Swiss carry large notes in their wallets everywhere. The woman at the counter looks at me with zero understanding and carefully takes the money with a suspicious look in her eye. She hands me back a bunch of different coloured bills and a bunch of change of various size. I stuff it all quickly into my purse and wait a moment for her to put the batteries into a bag and hand it to me. She has turned away, then, seeing me not leave, says “Was there something else?”.

“Oh! Non non, c’est bon merci !” I say enthusiastically, smiling like a mad woman, pick up the battery pack and carry it limply out of the store, feeling slightly like I might be stealing it.

I am exhausted by my first experience with a real Swiss person (well actually I guess M. DeLestrade counts, and the woman who taught me the word “natel” also… so my third experience with a real Swiss person). So I decide it’s time to eat.

Roughly 45 minutes later I have learned another hard fact of Swiss life: it is not possible to eat in Switzerland outside of “normal” eating hours. Since it is now 11:20am, I am tragically too late for breakfast and too early for lunch. In Canada this is not a problem, in fact most restaurants or coffee shops actually want people to come in and spend money on their food, but clearly that is not the case here. I feel slightly more than discouraged, and wander down the busy street aimlessly, stomach growling. I spot a bookstore on the other side of the street and stop to consider whether I could kill some time in there. Immediately, all the cars travelling at extremely high speed on the street come to a screeching halt. I look around, wondering where the accident is, then realize they have all stopped to let me cross. Not knowing what else to do, I scamper across the street to the other side.

In the bookstore I remember to say “Bonjour” to the sales lady, who responds with an unsmiling “Bonjour”. I wonder if I have already done something wrong, maybe there are special bookstore rules regarding the Bonjour. After having lived in Switzerland for a while I did find out that the Swiss do not give away smiles the way we do in North America, but that this is not out of anger or unhappiness. They simply reserve their smiles for genuine occasions. They must actually think we’re clowns, smiling insanely at every possible moment, regardless of our inner emotional state. It’s a habit I have not succeeded in changing, I smile all the time and am always painfully aware that I might be appearing comical and silly. But I digress. (Again. It’s a habit.)

For some reason I zero in on the English book section, and am peacefully browsing along when I bump in to a young boy sitting cross-legged on the floor reading a book (I actually don’t bump as much as trip over him). I quickly apologize in French (and smile), which is illogical since he’s reading an English book, and his mother, who is roughly 10 months pregnant (been there) rushes over.

She says, in broken French: “I am from the sun.”

I laugh.

She looks slightly scared and worried.

I say, in English: “It’s ok, I tripped on him actually, not his fault at all”.

“Oh” she sighs, relief pouring from her voice, and switches to English. “You speak English! My French is really bad. Most of the time I get it all wrong and people look at me like I’ve got two heads.”

Unable to contain myself, I laugh and say “I think you meant to say “Je suis désolé” right?”

“Uh… Is that not what I said?” She is looking exhausted.

“Well, it was pretty close.” I reply, always the optimist.

And just like that, I have made a friend. And strangely enough, though we walk to a coffee shop and talk for a while, she explaining to me all about her move to Switzerland from the U.K., me asking roughly one million questions, she being somewhat guarded and pessimistic in her responses, I feel more and more sure that I want to move to Switzerland.

That evening I go to a movie at the local Geneva shopping centre/cinema complex called Balexert. I am somewhat confused about the name of the place, which is apparently totally unrelated to the area or street it’s on. But that is nothing compared to how confusing it is to actually find the place… You would think a large shopping centre could be spotted easily, wouldn’t you? But not to my untrained un-European eye… In Canada a shopping centre is easily recognized by the roughly half-million signs announcing it’s location and the huge parking lot surrounding it. Not so in Switzerland! This one is discreetly nestled between two busy city streets and I actually have to ask someone for directions (and said “Bonjour” despite the fact that it’s 6pm, forgot, and was hopelessly snubbed by the teenager who looked at me with disdain and replied “Bonsoir” then pointed to the doors of the building behind me. Have to add, to his credit though, that he then asked me what movie I was going to see and was pleased with my choice, saying it was a good movie. )

The first thing I am shocked about is the amount of money it costs to buy a movie ticket, snack and drink. It is roughly the equivalent of a downpayment on a small house in rural Canada. The second thing that surprises me is the choice of popcorn, either salty or sweet. I take sweet. I live to regret it later, as I am sitting in the dark theatre trying to pry my molars apart.

But the movie is great. I cannot, to this day, tell you what the title was, or anything about the movie itself, but since I have lots of time before the movie starts I sit there and I get to observe them… The Swiss. The way they dress, the way they talk to each other, the way they walk. Couples, friends, older and younger, streaming casually into the cinema and taking their place. Teenage girls giggling together, much like they do in Canada. Men with their arms casually draped over their wife or girlfriend’s shoulders, whispering into their ears. Some people sitting alone, or maybe just waiting for their date to show up. One woman with her dog. Uh, did I get that right? Eyes quickly back to the woman and dog. Yep, they are taking their seats, actually at the end of my aisle, dog on the floor next to her. Everyone seems to accept this as normal. Ok, I like dogs, not a problem. But what if… Oh shut up, inner voice. Let The Swiss be The Swiss. The woman tosses the dog a piece of popcorn, which he gracefully catches and crunches loudly. I wonder if it’s salty or sweet. The lights go out. The show begins.

And I’m moving to Switzerland.

 

How I got to Switzerland… Part 3!

PART THREE – First impressions… or what crazy thought made me decide to do this? 

So I stumble off the plane, jet-lag having started to settle in already (actually I think it may have started on the drive to the airport in Canada) and am greeted by M. DeLestrade who surprisingly looks exactly as I pictured him: shorter than me (everyone is shorter than me as I am six feet tall. And FYI, in case you are skeptical, that is the first thing I have not really exaggerated in this story so far), wearing a long grey jacket, shiny black leather shoes that I cannot picture any man in Canada wearing, slightly balding and looking simultaneously thrilled to see me and worryingly rushed.

He rushes over and shakes my hand energetically, quickly talking about the weather, the lateness of my flight, the hotel he is bringing me to and the interview tomorrow. What I hear: “…cold for August… Air France always late… Hotel Something conveniently located near the Something… tomorrow at 8”. During this conversation we walk to the car, dump my inappropriately huge suitcase (also inappropriately old and cheap, I noticed at the baggage carousel, compared to the Swiss) into the trunk, and head off in a wild frenzy of driving at extreme speed through busy city streets while talking (him)/, nodding of the head (me)/ waving hands to stress a point (him)/ holding on the door handle in fear for my life (me). He deposits me at the hotel reception, suitcase embarrassingly being completely ignored by the grumpy looking “concierge” (that’s what his name tag says, although I’m fairly sure it’s his role, not his actual name. But you never know). 

Getting to my room is interesting, as the elevator is made for people who are no taller than 5 foot 11 with feet the size of jelly beans and a suitcase the size of a croissant. Fortunately, I have some experience at yoga, but I won’t reveal which Asana I had to use to get myself in there. Hopefully there was no camera. Which is likely as the elevator was roughly 100 years old.

Anyway, I collapse on my bed (made for a person no taller than 5 foot 5  and unfortunately having as a baseboard a beautiful ornamented black wrought iron gate through which my feet stick out like chicken heads out of their coop).

The room is quite small, not a good sign for the image of the company I am considering joining, I think suspiciously. I grab the check-in receipt, and notice the cost is three times higher than the 4 star hotel I stayed at downtown Toronto recently. Alrighty then.

I take a few deep breaths to calm myself, and while doing so repeat my not-so-calming mantra: “what the hell am I doing here?” a couple times ’til I am no longer quite as tired and then jump out of bed. I open the dark heavy curtains and gaze out at Geneva. It looks nice out there. Sunny, people are walking around looking, I don’t know, Swiss I guess. I decide to join them.

Could I fit in here?

How I got to Switzerland… Part Two !!

PART TWO of the continuing saga… How I Got Here

So there I was, minding my own business and perfectly content living in Canada with my two kids, finally making ends meet as a single mom. When suddenly, out of the blue, for no apparent reason, a wave of insanity hit and I applied for a job in Switzerland. Actually, it started innocently enough, when a guy at work mentioned that the Swiss were looking for qualified people in my industry, and since I had just gotten my own computer and internet line at home (this was WAY back in 2001, hard to believe I now walk around with this little gadget called a smart phone and check my emails roughly every three seconds), I thought, why not? And popped online, found their website and quickly emailed an application.

Let’s pause here and reflect on that little phrase… «why not?»… How many of us have ended up in some seriously tricky situations (not to mention pregnant) because of that one little phrase? Sure, it all seems innocent at the time… Why not go on a date with that guy at work? Why not try the raw oysters for once? Why not sign up for salsa lessons? Why not buy the fluorescent mini skirt? What could it hurt??? Hahahahaha! (For those of you who believe in God, that was him laughing sarcastically from above. For those of us who are unsure of his presence, that was probably the sound of my own sarcastic laughter, although I won’t admit to it because that would be like admitting that I talk to myself, a sure sign of insanity. Seriously. I don’t. Yes I’m sure.)

So anyway, I applied. On a whim. Then thought nothing of it for a couple months. Life went on. The kids (Jesse age 9 and Daniel age 5) went to school and did their homework and cleaned their rooms and life carried on as normal (some parts of that last statement may be slightly exaggerated). Life was good.

Then, the phone call.

I answer.

A joyful heavily accented voice says “Bonjour Madame, May I speak with Madame Scobie please?”.

“Yes, speaking.”

“Madame Scobie, BONJOUR!!” said excitedly, and from this point the conversation continued in French, with Monsieur Anatole DeLestrade enthusiastically speaking so fast I felt out of breath just listening. What I heard: “Switzerland… your application… job interview… available next week?” (This actually took him at least 10 minutes to say, but those are the only words I really heard).

I started to talk only to find I had suddenly turned into a Parisian-accented, hand-waving bubbly free-spirit who agreed to come next week for the interview. He happily hung up after agreeing on the travel details and saying good bye seven different ways.

I walked directly in to the bathroom and looked at myself in the mirror and said to her: Are you insane??? You work next week!!! You have kids next week!!! (This week too but that was a moot point). You have other engagements next week!!! (That was untrue as I hardly ever had time or money to do anything but work and take care of my kids but it had the desired effect of scaring me even more).

And then the craziest thing happened. (Ok I know the whole woman-in-the-mirror talking to herself is already bordering on limited mental health, but bear with me here).

I felt suddenly calm. I took a deep breath. I decided I was going to Switzerland for a job interview. I would get it organized.

And I did.

 

 

The epic tale continues in a few days…

 

How I got to Switzerland… Part One !

Wrote this a while ago, about my experience moving to Switzerland 12 years ago.  Thought it was worth posting it here as it sums up  the whole “how I got here” part of my story!

They look innocent enough…

When people ask me why I left my comfortable life in Canada to move to Switzerland, they usually are hoping to hear a story that involves hiking in the Alps, eating chocolate for breakfast and fondue for lunch, and meeting a charming man in leaderhosen called Hans who stole my heart with a bouquet of edelweiss he collected himself…

The truth is only…um… slightly different.

I have hiked in the Alps, and it’s amazing. The majestic beauty of the mountains, the sparkling lakes, the charming villages, the serene quiet stillness interrupted only by my 10 year old, Jesse, asking for the 10th time “How much further?” and my 6 year old, Daniel,  complaining, for the 25th time: “Jesse keeps staring at me.”

In moments like these you take a deep breath, taking in the wonderful smell of fresh crisp air and wild flowers, and calmly look at your two perfect children and say: “If either of you say either of those things one more time I swear I will throw you off the nearest cliff.”

Ok maybe you don’t actually say it, but you do think it.

At that moment (if this story were true, and I’m not saying it is), a man walking in the opposite direction along the mountain path, wearing jeans and a baseball cap (but potentially named Hans) sharply says something in Swiss German to me.

I do not speak one word of Swiss German (can’t even pronounce “Gruetzi” properly, which means hello. Every time I try to say it I inadvertently start coughing.) But looking over at Jesse I know immediately what he means, which is something like “Your undisciplined child has picked some flowers which is illegal as they are protected, which any intelligent person would know but clearly you do not as you are not Swiss and probably have not been walking around in the Alps your whole life, so you should probably get off my mountain before you cause irreversible damage.”

I quickly mumble something unintelligible and snap at Jesse to drop the flowers NOW, to which he replies (of course) “But why?”, so I grab the flowers and toss them on the ground, which has the effect of making the man shake his head and walk away.

So much for Hans.

Jesse is now very sad, having chosen the flowers “just for me” (he says innocently, and a part of me actually falls for it), and Daniel says “I want some flowers too.”

I realize we need a break from the hiking thing (seriously, the Swiss actually do this all day, their kids happily trotting along not picking flowers and admiring the beauty around them without once asking for an ETA or complaining about any staring sibling. How do they do it? It’s one of the many things I love about this country, the absolute respect for the natural beauty around us, which is learned from a very young age).

So I decide to stop at a nearby mountain restaurant to eat, but of course since it is 10am all they have are chocolate croissants (this is the chocolate for breakfast part of the story), so I cave and get one for each of the boys.

Let it be known, my children are different from all the Swiss children (other than clearly being undisciplined protected-flower-pickers) in the sense that eating sugar and chocolate (especially on an empty stomach) actually affects their behaviour (in a negative way, to be precise). As soon as the chocolate croissant is placed in front of them, the sugar effect wafts up from the table, enters their body surreptitiously (or through their mouth, but it sounds better my way)  and they do their Jekyll and Hyde transformation. From two charming, clever, polite, smiling boys sitting patiently at an outdoor table quietly admitting the mountain beauty around them they suddenly grow long shaggy hair on their backs and sharp claws on their fingers, and begin growling through pointy teeth like wild animals, their bloodshot eyes darting about looking for a potential victim, and coming to rest on me, mouths drooling in anticipation.

The other children at other nearby tables are eating their croissants or escargots calmly, smiling quietly as their parents chat over coffee, occasionally wiping their mouths with their napkins. They are all dressed in perfect little matching outfits that appear to be made from unwrinkleable and unstainable linen, wearing pale hats and smiling calmly, probably reciting complex mathematical equations to themselves for their grade 2 math test on Monday.

Or at least that’s how I remember it. It is a few years ago now…

We finish our food and the noise at our table is growing and we are starting (Starting? Who am I kidding?) to draw attention to ourselves, with Jesse leaning his chair back so far on it’s two back legs and laughing hysterically while Daniel kicks the bottom of the table with his feet repeatedly so my coffee cup rattles and slides slowly toward the edge.

I am trying to get the waiter’s eye so I can get the bill and make a getaway, but he apparently has forgotten we exist (wish I had that ability sometimes).  I actually half-stand and wave at him finally, getting desperate as Daniel has starting singing “Jingle Bells, batman smells” quite loudly, and the waiter finally makes eye contact and nods his head in disdain, sighs and walks away. I am hoping this means he is getting my bill, and am starting to feel downright claustrophobic (despite being in the open air), imagining that all the families at the other tables are throwing disapproving looks our way every few seconds, when suddenly, I spot them.

Well actually, I hear them first.

A boy’s voice is saying, in English “Amy touched me!”

A girl’s voice saying “Jack smells!” and a mom saying “If you two say that one more time I’m going to throw you off a cliff!”

(Well I didn’t really hear her say it, but I know she thought it.)

I zero in on their table.

The boy is crawling around on the floor under the table and the girl is wiping her nose on her skirt. The mom is looking scared and exhausted. She spots me looking at her.

I smile.

She smiles back.

A moment of shared compassion between two people caught in a world in which they don’t belong.

Then Jesse’s chair teeters back and he crashes to the floor and erupts in hysterical cries of outrage and pain.

Yes, this was one of my first real hiking experiences in Switzerland, one to match the many more I would have in the years to come.

But back to the original questions, how did I get here? For the answer to that, we have to go back to the beginning, before this crazy adventure began…   Part 2 of this crazy adventure coming soon!

Just keep swimming…

 

What a week. Is there anyone else out there who feels like there was no end to the bad news last week?

Adam. Talia. Abigail. Onja. Of course many more whose names I don’t know. Lives lost. Hearts broken.

I feel like running away and hiding my head in the sand.

No, I can’t run away and hide my head in the sand.

Because last week, I also had to drive to the hospital and sit in the waiting room next to my husband, holding hands but not speaking, waiting for our turn to be called in. Waiting to be given the results of Elliot’s scans.

And we were lucky. Once again, we were so very, very lucky. Because Elliot is still in remission. Whew. Exhale.

But what if he hadn’t been? Would I want all my friends to run away and hide their heads in the sand? No. That would be when I would need them the most.

So let’s stand strong and stand together.

When asked by Ellen DeGeneres how she managed to stay so positive, Talia, who was at that time fighting two kinds of cancer, replied with the line from the character Dory played by Ellen in Finding Nemo. Her answer became quite famous as Talia’s motto: “Just  keep swimming…”  I liked this. It felt like hope, wrapped up in humour.

 

A few days ago, Patrick Lacey, Will’s dad, posted a blog article mentioning that he was feeling tired. No, not tired because he has once again been forced to fight alongside his son for survival and reasonable health for his 8 year old, who has had cancer for… 8 years.

He’s “tired of chasing donors and sponsors…  tired of having to fight absurd battles against groups that somehow make it their mission to impede progress… and saddened that he is no longer surprised by these actions..”

I felt sad when I read this. After a week of bad news I really understood the sentiment, even coming from a person who is normally optimistic and always inspiring.

Patrick is tired, and we are all tired with him.

But let’s listen to Talia.

Just keep swimming.

September is turning gold. Just follow “A Day of Yellow and Gold and you’ll be amazed. People are paying attention. The TRUTH 365’s facebook page has almost 26,000 followers. Even my own blog post of June 18th Are you sick of all this cancer stuff” had over 5000 views in 2 days.

September 22nd the Jet d’eau right here in Geneva will be GOLD for childhood cancer!

Jet d'eau Genève
Jet d’eau Genève

Research is happening. Not at the pace we want, but it is happening. There are people dedicated to this cause, and not because they have had kids with cancer. Dr. Mosse. Dr. Sholler. Dr. Maris. Dr Grupp. Dr. Matthay. Dr. Kushner. My own Dr. Beck and the entire team here in Lausanne. I know there are many more, these are just the ones I have heard about directly from other parents.   I know, Patrick, we fight for every penny, and it’s not happening quick enough to save our kids now. But there have been advances. Immunotherapy and MIBG treatment for neuroblastoma. Gleevec for AML. Limb salvage surgery for sarcomas that used to be treated by immediate amputation (have you seen this amazing video of 4 girls who had rotationplasty which allows them preserve a functioning “knee” joint, so they can still jump and run? Look at them swim! Couldn’t we wish all teenage girls would be so confident and happy about their bodies? Amazing singing voices too!)

 

And more research… St. Jude’s pediatric genome project.  St. Baldrick’s just announced it’s summer grant program: 63 grants in 17 countries for a 22 million dollars. The new “Dream team“. In France the race “Enfants sans cancer” (Children without cancer) on September 29th is expected to raise in the hundreds of thousand euros, all of which will fund a new neuroblastoma trial which will be available for kids before the end of 2013.

It really is happening. Not fast enough. And we won’t get back the ones we’ve lost. But I do believe in a better future for the next kids diagnosed.

Just keep swimming…

The governmental practices regarding funding childhood cancer research are changing. No, not fast enough. But the Creating Hope Act is a step. In Europe, the European Commission on public health has published a document entitled “Better Medicines for Children — From Concept to Reality“, detailing improvements made and future directions. In France a petition signed by over 70,000 people has resulted in a law proposal which would increase research and improve access to individualized treatments. So it is happening, slowly but surely.The laws need to change so more research is funded by our tax dollars as well as by the pharmaceutical companies. We need a strong advocate in that area, I personally would choose Jonathan Agin. He knows what he’s talking about, he has access to the public forum through his Huffington Post articles as well as a large following in the States and internationally. Let’s back him. Jon you up for this? Good. See, Patrick, one more thing crossed off our to-do list.

Just keep swimming…

International unity within the childhood cancer community is growing. Associations are forming associations. Look at the new Coalition Against Childhood Cancer, who’s poster says “Unity is Power”.. Borders are being crossed, whether cultural, linguistic or physical. French speaking parents here in Switzerland are writing to me to ask for translations of NB Globe articles, an international neuroblastoma information website, which Rockstar Ronan‘s mom Maya tweets about in the States. Talia’s youtube channel reached across the globe. The TRUTH 365 has gone global too, with followers in Australia, Europe, and the Americas writing to each other via their facebook comments. Supporting each other. Parents are sharing experiences and advice on an international level. Momcology members care about each other’s kids even if they live in completely separate countries. We have better access to information than ever before.

It is happening. Please don’t let the tiredness, exhaustion, frustration and sadness make you quit.

We have to just keep swimming. Because after all, if we stop swimming, we’ll just sink.

The quiet rumbling that turned into a roar.

Going GOLD for September.
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This post is happy and it’s sad. It’s about hope, about taking action, about letting go, about grief. It’s about life, and death, and everything in between.

I dedicate this post to Adam.

 I mentioned in my last post that September is Childhood Cancer Awareness month. Most people in the childhood cancer community are aware of this, but outside of our “world” few people know about the gold ribbon.

It used to be like this for breast cancer, it was talked about very little. Now, the month of October is very well known as Breast Cancer Awareness month, there are pink ribbons everywhere (and I will most definitely be wearing one proudly!).

The White House is illuminated in pink for the month of October to support this cause. Other monuments and landmarks also will turn pink in the U.S., in Canada, in Europe, in Australia, in the world! For a cause that used to be so hush-hush, this is amazing news. Awareness of this cause has increased research, which has turned this type of cancer into something many women now survive.

This year, a group of parents have petitioned the American government to turn the White House gold for September, for kids with cancer. Other groups, like A Day of Yellow and Gold  have been working on turning September gold with great success: Niagara Falls, the CN Tower in Toronto, the Zakim Bridge,the Prudential building, the Atlantic Wharf in Boston, the Battleship New Jersey, the Ben Franklin Bridge in Philadelphia, the Liberty Bridge in South Carolina all will be lit up in gold. Major sports teams are getting on board, the Philadelphia Phillies will have a golden ribbon on their scoreboard. And there have many other plans. In Australia, support for the  GO GOLD AUSTRALIA for September action is growing like a wildfire. Just last month an amazing documentary about childhood cancer won three Emmy awards, watch it here: http://www.thetruth365.org/.

 There is a movement afoot… A movement that started as a quiet rumbling, and grew, and grew, and is now a loud roar… We, the people of the childhood cancer community, are calling out to be heard! We want to turn September GOLD, and have childhood cancer moved out of the hush-hush quietness and into the spotlight!

A few days ago, Adam, a boy I’ve mentioned in previous posts, passed away. I have been occasionally in touch with his dad in my search for neuroblastoma treatments on an international level for Zoe (www.zoe4life.org) but mostly I read his dad’s blog, hoping against hope that they would find a treatment somewhere that would work. I was at first overwhelmed with sadness when I saw his beautiful photo, still alive and healthy, looking like he was heading off to school. The unfairness is so bitter I can taste it.

 But I want to believe… no I NEED to believe that if that boy had been born today, we could save him this time. We could come up with some new treatment before the cancer got to him.

But who am I, to try to fix the world, little me in my little corner of Switzerland? What can I do?

But wait. I can at least try. Gold in September? Ok. Let me think a bit.

I live in the French-speaking part of Switzerland, in between Geneva and Lausanne. What kind of monument or landmark is symbolic of our region? What could we, here in our corner of the world, turn gold to support childhood cancer awareness?

What represents this area of the world, and is known and recognized internationally?
Well… I sit and think a bit. I tap my nails nervously on the table as I think it over. A crazy idea. There’s no way it will work, they won’t say yes anyway. There’s almost no point trying…
Jet-deau1
The Jet-d’eau, in Geneva, is a historical landmark. In existence since 1886, it can be seen from far away, even from flights at 10,000 meters above.
And they light it up at night.
What if I asked them to turn it gold in September? At least for a day?
No, I’m thinking crazy thoughts there, why would they do that for me? (Yes, I often have conversations with myself. Yesterday, for example, I realized that I was strangely not stressed about Elliot’s upcoming scans for his one year-post remission check up. Then I said to myself that in the past, I was always completely stressed, and it all turned out good. So then I thought, but does that mean that this time the results will be bad? So now I’m stressed. Yep, that’s right, I talked myself into worrying.)
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But hey, I’m also an eternal optimist.
So I said to myself (not out loud) “Why not? The worst thing they could do is say no, right?” (Well actually the worst thing they could do is laugh hysterically at me and print my  photo in the local paper with the headline “Canadian woman loses mind in quiet, conventional Switzerland”).
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Fine.  I’m going to do it anyway. For Adam, who couldn’t be saved, but who’s life was so meaningful despite being too short, touching many families going through the neuroblastoma battle even here in Switzerland.  And for the baby born today who isn’t even diagnosed yet. Because there is a baby being born right now, who ‘s parents have no idea yet…Can we save him? Can Adam’s battle somehow mean that this baby stands a chance?
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And I’ll do it also for all the kids in the Geneva hospital right now, just a few minutes walk from the jet d’eau. And all the kids in the Lausanne hospital, where I’ll be on Monday with my son, worrying. The Lausanne hospital, where I sat last week with Zoé’s mom, on a balcony perched beautifully overlooking the city of Lausanne and the lake and the jet d’eau off in the distance, having a coffee and digesting the bad news about Zoé’s latest tests. For the other mom who joined us on that balcony, looking scared and exhausted, and for her son who has the “good cancer”, a leukemia with a cure rate of 80%, but who is fighting for his life because of a massive fungal infection caused by the low-immunity from the treatment. I can at least try to do something to make people know that our kids need a voice. They need to be heard, they are crying out to be heard.
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So I looked up the people who are in charge of the Geneva Jet d’eau. It took a little research. I found out who to contact. I made my pitch. I actually had to make my pitch a few times, since I was not always in touch with the right person.
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My pitch was nothing very spectacular. Basically, I told them I had a kid who had had cancer, and was in remission, and that it was the worst experience of my life, and that many parents of kids with cancer would love to be as lucky as I was… And that I would really really like it if they could light the jet d’eau gold for at least one day in September.
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And guess what.
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They said yes.
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THEY SAID YES!!!
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So if you think I’m stopping there… No way. Let’s go GOLD for September. What else can we do?
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To support neuroblastoma research go to: 
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My Own Little Marathon of Hope

And so the day has come… Yes, you probably knew it would, but it is still a shock to me… So here it is.. I have signed up to participate in… a marathon ! ACK!!! I know what you are thinking… Nicole, you do realize this involves… well exercise???

Yes I do.

Nicole, you repeat (I actually can hear you), you do realize this involves, strenuous exercise, like including the possibility of sweating and gasping for breaths?

Yes, I repeat stoically, I do.

Like, in nature? You continue, in awe at my resilience. Outside?  Braving the possible severe weather conditions and wild animals?

Yes, I say again, my head held high. I will do it for The Cause.

Hey wait a minute. What wild animals? Nature? Who said anything about nature? Oh yeah, they did have a picture of the marathon course on the website and it did look like, well, a narrow trail through the forest with potential hills and valleys…

ACK!!!!! What am I, crazy?

Well yes, maybe I am. But I’m doing it, the FORCEthon, an 11 kilometer marathon organized by the foundation FORCE, our local childhood cancer research and advocacy foundation. (http://www.force-fondation.ch/)

Because all the proceeds my humble run/hike/crawl through the woods, over the hills and valleys, warding off wild beasts etc, go to fund the research that is desperately needed to cure some of the kids Elliot and I have met along our cancer journey.

Hey, don’t look so worried! I can do this! It’s only 11 kilometers, how bad can that be? (What? You say that’s almost 7 miles??? Are you freaking serious???!!!)

I’m Canadian, you forget. We have Terry Fox as a role model, how can we not be moved to reach for the stars when we have a true Canadian hero to guide us?

For those who don’t know him, here is a bit of Canadian history.

Ever wonder where the idea to do a marathon for cancer comes from?

In 1977 Terry Fox was a normal, active 19 year old Canadian kid when a worsening pain in his knee sent him to the doctor. The diagnosis would change his life, his family’s and eventually all of us: osteosarcoma, a serious type of bone cancer.

His leg was amputated. He went through 16 months of intense chemotherapy and was told his chances were 50%.  His hospital experiences had made him angry at how little money was dedicated to cancer research, he watched as others around him lost hope and lost their battles.

One person can make a difference

Terry didn’t give up hope. Although he had an artificial leg which made him run with an unusual gait (find me one Canadian who doesn’t know exactly what he looked like as he ran, I dare you) he decided to embark on an ambitious adventure. A crazy adventure. And adventure that would have him braving the elements and the forces of nature (that’s the Newfies), facing wild beasts (that’s the Quebec drivers), and all kinds of weather.

Terry decided to do a marathon on his own, all by himself, and asked each Canadian to give him a dollar, that he would donate to fund cancer research. Just one dollar. If each of the 24 million Canadians were willing to give just one dollar, he figured, think how much could happen in cancer research.

But the marathon had to be big. It had to be long, like, really long, eh? (Just threw that in for some Canadian authenticity).

So he decided to run across Canada.

Yep, that’s right. 8000 kilometers. That’s five THOUSAND miles. Makes my little 11 k seem pretty pathetic actually. And I have both legs! For my Swiss friends, to give you an idea of how big Canada is, you could actually plop all of Switzerland into one the lakes just to right of the middle of the country, like Lake Huron for example, and it would fit easily (might stick out the top though, not sure about those alps).

So he started by dipping his artificial leg in the Atlantic ocean off Newfoundland and set off down the road. On his first few days he encountered gale force winds, heavy rain and a snowstorm. At first, not too many people were interested, but by the time he got to the other side of Newfoundland, people started paying attention. One town, Port-O-Basque, met him with a cheque for 10,000$, donations from each of the town’s 10,000 residents.  By the time he made it to Toronto, which took three months, everyone knew who Terry Fox was. Some corporations got the idea to sponsor him for each mile he ran (catchy idea!) People lined the road to watch him as he jogged past.

He had met the Prime Minister, had rallied Canadians to a cause, had made us believe any of us really could make a difference if we wanted.

He made it more than halfway across Canada, 5300 kilometers during 143 days. Then something happened… fatigue. By late August he was exhausted before he began his day’s run. On September 1, outside of Thunder Bay, he was forced to stop briefly after he suffered an intense coughing fit and experienced pains in his chest. Unsure what to do, he resumed running as the crowds along the highway shouted out their encouragement. A few miles later, short of breath and with continued chest pain, he asked to be driven a hospital.

The cancer was back.

Terry didn’t finish his run. But people everywhere continued to donate, and before the cancer took his life the goal of 1$ for each Canadian had been reached.

I was 12 years old when Terry did his run. I remember the excitement. The energy that people felt at the thought that we could make a difference. Only a few short years later, cancer took my grandmother. There was still so little known, so few advances. But as more money started pouring in, as more marathons took place all over the world (the Terry Fox Marathon of Hope is run in over 60 countries now), research did advance. My mom was diagnosed with advanced stage cancer less than 20 years after Terry died, and because of a brand new cancer drug, she’s still with us today.

I am in no way saying I am as glamorous, heroic or well, in athletic shape as Terry Fox. But his message is clear: we can each do our part. So off I go on November 10th to do mine.  It’s only 11 k, how bad can it be? Besides, they have rest stops along the way where they serve water and juice… I wonder what the odds are of a glass of wine?

And YES! You can sponsor me! An amount per kilometer (don’t worry, the maximum is 11km, so there’s not too much risk of breaking the bank! Breaking my back though…) or an amount just to do the run.

Imagine if everyone in Switzerland gave just 1 franc?

Email me directly at Nicole@scobie.ch if you would like to sponsor me. Or donate directly to my postal account CPP 30-604575-9 (this account is solely used for fundraising). All proceeds will go directly to FORCE foundation (http://www.force-fondation.ch/).

If you would like to join me on that day, you can still sign up too, on FORCE’s website!

Moving to Switzerland, One Expat’s Story.

With the right hat, maybe I can fit in?

PART FOUR, Can I fit in?

So apparently not.

I am not dressed right. I can tell by the way I have suddenly become invisible. In Canada, the t-shirt and jeans I am now wearing seem to work for me. Dressing up would involve changing the strappy sandals to slight heels and some lipstick. But here, I am way, way, way out of my league. All of the women are dressed in very pointy (we’re talking poke-your-eye-out pointy), very high healed shoes, somehow managing to never get stuck in the cobblestone sidewalk. They are all extremely thin. They are all wearing dresses or skirts. No wait, there’s one wearing tight curvy pants. Oh no, sorry, that was a man.

They all have huge sunglasses, huge purses and are all apparently talking on their cell phone. Side note: cell phones are not actually called cell phones here, a lesson learned a few minutes ago as I made the unfortunate mistake of calling out to a woman who had left hers on the table at the outdoor restaurant where she had been sitting “Madame, votre téléphone cellulaire!”. She leaped back to the table (they all seem to be quite flexible despite their dangerous shoes, probably from all the elevator yoga they do) and grabbed the phone then gave me the coldest, stoniest stare I have ever seen and said “mon natel, merci” in a voice that implied I should not step any closer to her lest my uncoolness be contagious.

The men are dressed only slightly less beautifully than the women, and their shoes are also equally eye-pokingly dangerous, and they are also all talking on their natels.

They all, men and women, whether they are pedestrians on the same sidewalk as me, driving their car or more likely speeding around on their scooters, ignore me completely. To the point where it is actually dangerous for me to be out here among them. I am getting bumped constantly and once had to leap out of the way of a scooter that was manoeuvring into a makeshift parking space, which happened to be on the sidewalk exactly where I was standing admiring the architecture of a building.

I dash into a store to escape the insanity. It happens to be a camera store, and since I need batteries for mine, it is convenient. The woman at the counter ignores me and taps with very long fingernails on her cell- oops natel. I say: “Excuse me, could you tell me if you sell batteries for this type of camera please”?

Now those of you who have lived in Switzerland have probably already spotted my mistake. My Fatal Error. My Unforgivable Rudeness. But those of you who are not familiar with the rules of politeness in Switzerland, be warned, my sentence was equivalent to someone yelling after the puck is dropped (for you Americans, equivalent to calling a southerner a yankee, for you Brits and Irish, the equivalent to not buying a round of drinks when it’s your turn and for those from Australia and New Zealand, the same as… I don’t know, is there anything that’s rude down there?) Anyway, I digress. It was uncommonly rude. A wave of cold air blows from her glare over to me as she icily says “Bonjour”. (Yep, that was it, you always start with bonjour. Always. Always. Always. Well, unless it’s afternoon. Then you say bon après-midi. Or evening where you say bonsoir. The exact hours where the bonjour converts to a bon après midi etc , are variable and subject to change, and foreigners are rarely permitted to be fully aware of them. But we’ll get back to that later.)

I say “Bonjour” and wait. She continues to stare at me. I start to feel slightly scared of her. (Oh who am I kidding, I’m terrified of her.). A few seconds go by, while, during our staring contest, I unsuccessfully try to summon up some courage and fail. I clear my throat, and cleverly say, in heavily accented French “Do you sell batteries for cameras?”

She raises both eyebrows simultaneously (without, by the way, causing any wrinkles to form on her forehead), and replies in a flat tone: “Well yes, we are a camera store. “ A couple more seconds of staring go by, until I, not knowing what else to do, hold out my camera to her tentatively… She glances at my shaking hand and quickly spins around on her pointy toe high heels, takes two steps to a shelf, and returns with a small package of batteries. “Was that all?” she asks, jabbing quickly at the key on the cash register. I mumble “Yes thank you” and she says the price, which, despite the fact that I am fluent in French, I do not understand at all. “I’m sorry, what was that? How much?” I am babbling. She sighs and slides the receipt across the counter to me, and taps it twice with a long burgundy fingernail. I quickly look at the receipt and of course it is covered in numbers arranged in columns, which tells me the batteries are either 24.10 or today is November 15th or the batteries are 11.15 and today is October 24th, or perhaps the time is 11:15am, or… In any case, I of course pretend I have understood completely and open my wallet. Suddenly I remember that I only have large bills, having only just taken money out of the bank machine at the airport, so I sheepishly hand her a 200 franc note and ask “Sorry, this is all I have. Is this ok?”.

And again, those of you who have experienced life in Switzerland are laughing their heads off here, because of course it’s ok, you could pay for a 5 cent piece of candy with a 200 franc note without batting an eye (side note: of course, there are no 5 cent candies, or any other items on sale for 5 cents in the whole country). The Swiss carry large notes in their wallets everywhere. The woman at the counter looks at me with zero understanding and carefully takes the money with a suspicious look in her eye. She hands me back a bunch of different coloured bills and a bunch of change of various size. I stuff it all quickly into my purse and wait a moment for her to put the batteries into a bag and hand it to me. She has turned away, then, seeing me not leave, says “Was there something else?”. “Oh! Non non, c’est bon merci “ I say enthusiastically, smiling like a mad woman, pick up the battery pack and carry it limply out of the store, feeling slightly like I might be stealing it.

I am exhausted by my first experience with a real Swiss person (well actually I guess M. DeLestrade counts, and the woman who taught me the word “natel” also… so my third experience with a real Swiss person). So I decide it’s time to eat.

Roughly 45 minutes later I have learned another hard fact of Swiss life: it is not possible to eat in Switzerland outside of “normal” eating hours. Since it is now 11:20am, I am tragically too late for breakfast and too early for lunch. In Canada this is not a problem, in fact most restaurants or coffee shops actually want people to come in and spend money on their food, but clearly that is not the case here. I feel slightly more than discouraged, and wander down the busy street aimlessly, stomach growling. I spot a bookstore on the other side of the street and stop to consider whether I could kill some time in there. Immediately, all the cars travelling at extremely high speed on the street come to a screeching halt. I look around, wondering where the accident is, then realize they have all stopped to let me cross. Not knowing what else to do, I scamper across the street to the other side.

In the bookstore I remember to say “Bonjour” to the sales lady, who responds with an unsmiling “Bonjour”. I wonder if I have already done something wrong, maybe there are special bookstore rules regarding the Bonjour. After having lived in Switzerland for a while I did find out that the Swiss do not give away smiles the way we do in North America, but that this is not out of anger or unhappiness. They simply reserve their smiles for genuine occasions. They must actually think we’re clowns, smiling insanely at every possible moment, regardless of our inner emotional state. It’s a habit I have not succeeded in changing, I smile all the time and am always painfully aware that I might be appearing comical and silly. But I digress. (Again. It’s a habit.)

For some reason I zero in on the English book section, and am peacefully browsing along when I bump in to a young boy sitting cross-legged on the floor reading a book (I actually don’t bump as much as trip over him). I quickly apologize in French (and smile), which is illogical since he’s reading an English book, and his mother, who is roughly 10 months pregnant (been there) rushes over.

She says, in broken French: “I am from the sun.”

I laugh.

She looks slightly scared and worried.

I say, in English: “It’s ok, I tripped on him actually, not his fault at all”.

“Oh” she sighs, relief pouring from her voice, and switches to English. “You speak English! My French is really bad. Most of the time I get it all wrong and people look at me like I’ve got two heads.”

Unable to contain myself, I laugh and say “I think you meant to say “Je suis désolé” right?”

“Uh… Is that not what I said?” She is looking exhausted.

“Well, it was pretty close.” I reply, always the optimist.

And just like that, I have made a friend. And strangely enough, though we walk to a coffee shop and talk for a while, she explaining to me all about her move to Switzerland from the U.K., me asking roughly one million questions, she being somewhat guarded and pessimistic in her responses, I feel more and more sure that I want to move to Switzerland.

That evening I go to a movie at the local Geneva shopping centre/cinema complex called Balexert. I am somewhat confused about the name of the place, which is apparently totally unrelated to the area or street it’s on. But that is nothing compared to how confusing it is to actually find the place… You would think a large shopping centre could be spotted easily, wouldn’t you? But not to my untrained un-European eye… In Canada a shopping centre is easily recognized by the roughly half-million signs announcing it’s location and the huge parking lot surrounding it. Not so in Switzerland! This one is discreetly nestled between two busy city streets and I actually have to ask someone for directions (and said “bonjour despite the fact that it’s 6pm, forgot, and was hopelessly snubbed by the teenager who looked at me with disdain and replied “bonsoir” then pointed to the doors of the building behind me. Have to add, to his credit though, that he then asked me what movie I was going to see and was pleased with my choice, saying it was a good movie. ).

The first thing I am shocked about is the amount of money it costs to buy a movie ticket, snack and drink. It is roughly the equivalent of a downpayment on a small house in rural Canada. The second thing that surprises me is the choice of popcorn, either salty or sweet. I take sweet. I live to regret it later, as I am sitting in the dark theatre trying to pry my molars apart.

But the movie is great. I cannot, to this day, tell you what the title was, or anything about the movie itself, but since I have lots of time before the movie starts I sit there and I get to observe them… The Swiss. The way they dress, the way they talk to each other, the way they walk. Couples, friends, older and younger, streaming casually into the cinema and taking their place. Teenage girls giggling together, much like they do in Canada. Men with their arms casually draped over their wife or girlfriend’s shoulders, whispering into their ears. Some people sitting alone, or maybe just waiting for their date to show up. One woman with her dog. Uh, did I get that right? Eyes quickly back to the woman and dog. Yep, they are taking their seats, actually at the end of my aisle, dog on the floor next to her. Everyone seems to accept this as normal. Ok, I like dogs, not a problem. But what if… Oh shut up, inner voice. Let The Swiss be The Swiss. The woman tosses the dog a piece of popcorn, which he gracefully catches and crunches loudly. I wonder if it’s salty or sweet. The lights go out. The show begins. And I’m moving to Switzerland.