One Month In
It’s hard to believe it’s been over a month, over a month and a half, actually, since we’ve moved to Zurich. It’s felt like a whirlwind, yet slow. Moving in of itself is such a process, especially when you throw in trying to become a legal resident in a new country. Everything requires separate paperwork, a separate photo (you aren’t allowed to smile with teeth, so I tried to bring my “smizing” game to new level), a separate appointment, and then everything had to be mailed via post! The Swiss, I’ve found, live and die by their postal system. But all told, given my other experiences residing abroad - getting a student visa to study in Italy and living somewhat illegally for two years in Honduras - Swiss bureaucracy is efficient, logical and relatively painless.
It took most of the whole month of July, but now we are more or less set: I have a Swiss Pass travel card (with photo), a Zurich transit card (with photo), my visa residence card (photo, of course!), a Swiss bank account, a new Swiss driving license, a Swiss phone number, and two loyalty member cards to the main grocery store chains. Scanning those cards when I’m buying groceries is what makes me feel the most local.
However, the most Swiss thing Raunaq and I have both done is look down at the time on our phones, shake our heads, and throw up hands in disbelief if the tram dares to be one minute late. It’s amazing how quickly you can adapt to timely and dependable public transportation, and forget that there was ever another way of commuting. The pains of SF’s Muni and the cursed J-line are becoming a distant memory.
What did take time was finding an apartment. The rental market felt as insanely competitive as the Bay Area, except the landlords are even more picky with who they want as a tenant. Zurich arranges its neighborhoods in 12 districts, each area with a different vibe and demeanor, and yes, I think of Hunger Games every time I refer to a district number. After 10 apartment applications all over the districts (and even further south of Zurich to Adliswil and Rüschlikon), we lucked out and got an bright two-bedroom apartment in a quiet and beautiful part of the city.
It’s about a five minute walk to the lake, 30 minutes to the base of the local mountain Uetliberg, and easy to get to the city center, so it feels a bit like we have access to all the layers of Zurich. And the apartment itself is great - big windows in each room so it’s full of natural light, a view of Lake Zurich, and if you squint really hard on a clear day at sunset, a view of the Alps, too. For the first time in a long time, I can actually wake up to natural sunlight and it’s been every bit of a game-changer as morning people say it is.
Two trips to IKEA and 700 kilos of wood planks and screws later, it was finally furnished and functioning! But to this day, we are still finding those little IKEA Allen keys all over our place (if you know, you know).
The summer here has been the greatest revelation. We were told that Zurich comes alive in the summer, and found that to be true ten-fold. Water is at the heart of summer Zurich social life.Everyone is out in the lake, or by the lake, or in the river, or by the river. Both the river and lake are impossibly clean and clear, and Raunaq and I swim whenever we get a chance. The waterside areas are very Europe-meets-Dolores park: music, rose and beer flowing, sausages grilling, even an acro-yogi or two.
Raunaq puts us at “Swiss-moderate fitness” level, meaning that we get passed by most Swiss senior citizens on the trail.
And unsurprisingly, the hiking is truly out of this world. Just unreal. It’s one of the main reasons we decided to move to Switzerland in the first place, and it does not disappoint. We’ve started calling it hiking Disneyland. You hop on a train for an hour, and you are along the ridgeline with views of the Alps (and the ever-present Swiss cows). Most weekends we try to go out for at least a day hike, minus the weekends we spent moving and assembling furniture. Raunaq puts us at “Swiss-moderate fitness” level, meaning that we get passed by most Swiss senior citizens on the trail.
One thing that is sure to get all new Zurich residents talking is about - trash. It is the most complex, yet efficient, system I’ve ever seen. An non-exhaustive rundown: The trash bags are government-issued and expensive (in Zurich they are called Zuri-Sacks and cost about $2 per 35L bag), but all the recycling is free, incentivizing everyone to only put legitimate trash in the Zuri-Sack and recycle/compost everything else. This is GREAT. The only thing that takes getting used to is that the city only provides trash cans, so you need to take all of your recycling to different centers or leave them out on certain days.
So yes, Switzerland has a lot of rules. Some seem ridiculous, but they are all logical if you look at how they work as a whole.
For example, there is a glass and aluminum collection area about 10 minutes from our house where we recycle all of our metal and glass products, further divided into the color of glass (white, brown, green). Collection bins for plastic/PET bottles are in most grocery stores and the post office. You put your cardboard out on the street every 20th, broken down and tied with twine. Same process for paper (and curiously, phone books) on the 5th and 15th.
The city mails you dedicated bags for unwanted textiles, fabrics and other clothes that are then picked up once per quarter. And a cargo tram and E-tram stop by about once a month for any unwanted bulky/electronic items you want to chuck - if you can carry it to the tram by hand, it’s fair game. Whew. If you mess this up, your neighbors might call the cops on you.
So yes, Switzerland has a lot of rules. Some seem ridiculous, but they are all logical if you look at how they work as a whole. And as a result, the city is clean, the water is pristine, everything is recycled, the public transit runs perfectly on time, and everyone seems to be quite happy. It’s not a bad way to live!
Most of my days “off” in July were dedicated to moving-related logistics, so it was tough to find time for anything else. But now, I’m focusing more on finding new opportunities and building a community. I wouldn’t say that I’m reinventing myself here at all, but I’m definitely using this opportunity to challenge myself - either creating habits that I wanted in San Francisco but for one excuse or another procrastinated starting, trying to learn new skills, and just generally putting myself out of my comfort zone as often as possible.
Moving to a new country is a bit like living in Newton’s Third Law - for every small victory there is an equal and opposite faux pas.
Some of these things aren’t really location specific. I’ve decided I wanted to try an cultivate the beginning of a green thumb and keep houseplants, with the ultimate goal of turning our house into a jungle. Since I kill succulents on the regular, I’ve started slow with a few easy-to-manage types, but am really researching and learning about each one. Some things are super location specific -for example, learning German and volunteering at the local community center. And some things are habits I’ve really been putting off cultivating for years - most notably, a writing habit.
Moving to a new country is a bit like living in Newton’s Third Law - for every small victory there is an equal and opposite faux pas. I’m remembering to celebrate even the smallest of wins, and laugh off the mistakes as expat rites of passage. We’re one month in, and it feels like the wanderweg is just beginning.