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8 Jan 2007

Grey, grey Zurich with a slightly rosy hue

filed under: journal  :: expat life  :: modern life  :: swiss life  :: winter

greygreyzuri.jpg

I am pretty sure that the ancients started the winter festivals that have evolved into our modern Christmas, New Years and other holidays because winter can be so depressing otherwise. I feel this so much more in Switzerland than I did in New York, even after about a decade or so of living here off and on. Most years, if I had a choice, I'd go somewhere - anywhere but here - during January and February.

It's the weather. I don't know what happens to the sun during January and February, but it becomes really scarce. While temperatures don't drop as low as they do in New York (well, prior to this global warming thing anyway) everything becomes so drab, and well, grey. If there is a snowfall it's very pretty, but for some reason we seem to get more snow these past few years in late February to March, rather than January. We instead get a drab, dull rain or sleet at most.

I think I didn't really notice this so much in New York because the city obliterates weather. There are those big snowstorms that bother everyone for a few days, but once the snow plows get rid of it the city distracts you from greyness and other natural phenomena that might get you down. Friends, family, assorted strangers, and other humans beings distract you too.

In Zürich things are different. First of all, strangers generally leave you politely alone. Even friends and acquaintances tend to leave you alone more than anything. My immediate family is scattered over two other continents. And, there really aren't any major parties or festivals to enjoy in the country until the Fasnacht (Mardi Gras) deluge in February and beyond.

The first couple of years, this was really hard to bear. The second year I was here I fled back to New York, and promptly got stuck for two months becausse of some major snow storms. Other years I've been in Florida and elsewhere, or just bitched and moaned for a few weeks.

But this year is really the first time I remember feeling rather upbeat. The weather is, if anything, even more depressing than usual since we have had no snow at all at our altitude.

I think this is due to a number of things. First, I'm busy enjoying some of my own projects, rather than letting work or other things dictate my whole schedule. Second, I'm finally understanding Schwiizerdütsch well enough to do things like take a bookbinding class at the Migroschule without being totally lost.

But the key to changing my winter outlook on Switzerland and Zürich was my mother's recent visit. She absolutely adores Zürich - the cleanliness, the people, the architecture, the solidity. She's been to most of the major cities in Western Europe, and she says that Zürich is one of her favorites - even more than Paris, or London, or Rome, etc. I used to think she was nuts - well, she is my mother...don't a lot of us think our mothers are out of their minds? But this December, while spending some days with her as she romped her way around the city, something clicked for me. It is a nice city. You can get just about anything you want, if you look for it. It is a nice country. It may be a bit standoffish at times, and have a difficult dialect to overcome. But in general people are awfully accommodating and friendly, once you get past the veneer of polite coolness.

And, life is so easy in some ways. Not financially - it is rather expensive to live here, especially if you live like a U.S. big city dweller, but most Swiss people I know do not eat out every meal or go out every weekend; they ration it and enjoy other, often cheaper activities like simple hiking and stuff. (The most typical after-dinner entertainment whenever you get invited to someone's home here is a walking tour around their neighborhood.) Life is easy in the ways that people take for granted until they malfunction: public transportation reaches almost everywhere, and just works; crime rates are extremely low; personal safety is almost a non-issue. And there's the air. Even in the biggest city in the country, you can take a deep breath and not cough, and out in the countryside the air is so clean that it's cleansing.

Boring assets? Maybe. It's hard to imagine living without them anymore though. There are still moments when I desperately want to return to live in the U.S. full time (living full time in Japan is not even an option for me anymore), but those moments seem further apart now. Not that I would ever give up my residency there (even if I have to pay taxes!) but this tiny country seems more and more like home now.

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