Wednesday, August 20, 2008

stranger in a strange(r) land

A little over four years ago, I moved to Zurich without ever having been there. I had been to Switzerland once during college, but that was to sing a concert in Geneva, which is in the French-speaking part of Switzerland, and is vastly different from Zurich. Being a brave (or naive) 25-year-old, I just picked up and moved from Manhattan to Zurich, less than three months after first hearing about the job. I didn't really think about how big of an adjustment it would be, leaving my friends and life behind for a new job in a new city in a new country full of people I didn't know. Duh. It was a bit of a shock - everything from laundry schedules to store opening hours to local dialect to restaurant prices left me feeling like I had landed on some alien planet in a parallel universe.

It all worked out in the end - what started as a random "Hm, let's see what happens if I move to Switzerland" experiment turned into one of the best decisions I've ever made. Leaving my life in Zurich was one of the hardest things I've done, but I left older and wiser. Or so I thought.

As it turns out, only one of those was true. I am now 30, so I'm definitely older, but I'm not sure that I'm any wiser.

Somehow, I thought that coming back to the States would be an easy homecoming, of sorts. Moving back wouldn't be the big adjustment that moving to Europe had been, I reasoned, because I'm American and I'm moving back to America. Turns out that I should have said that I'm an East Coaster moving to California. Californians are nearly as alien and unfathomable to me as the Swiss. Preliminary observations reveal a marked penchant for yoga and bicycles. 

These aliens seem quite at home in a place that is quite foreign to me. For the first time in thirteen years, I'm living in the suburbs, and I have to drive everywhere, instead of just hopping on a tram (Zurich), the subway (New York), or the T (Boston). I have no idea what to do with my substantial collection of heavy coats and umbrellas. After four years of bringing my dog everywhere except for grocery stores, I suddenly have to leave him at home when I'm going to a restaurant (as opposed to Zurich, where he would sometimes get better service from the waitstaff than I would). I am somewhat discombobulated by the lack of marching bands and church bells.

I think it will take longer than anticipated to get used to this place.


t. said...

oh, but what an amazing place it'll turn out to be when you do get used to it!

Swiss Miss said...

I too am a bit worried about moving "home" after living in Zurich. Because I don't even know where "home" is anymore.

Patri Friedman said...

yoga and bicycles are pretty awesome once you get into them. The lack of snow, long periods without rain, and traffic are not so awesome. And lack of good public transportation definitely sucks. I love the car-lessness of NY.

Travel is awesome for learning what parts of life are universal and what parts are arbitrary. I would never consider bringing a pet to a restaurant, but not for any good reason.

Lisa Elser said...

Vancouver is a bit more like Zurich than the Bay Area is, but even after over 3 years back, we still miss Switzerland. Living there was wonderful, but we were NEVER going to be Swiss despite pretty good German and quite a bit of effort. Rocking on the porch of the Altersheim as the foreign couple didn't seem such a great idea.

Hopping a train to Como for gelato, on the other hand, sounds perfect.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, it always takes a while after some time in Europe to get used to the States again. SFO is a great place which will grow on you I'm sure! Best of luck with everything :-)