8 November 2016

Lisa B - Expat in Switzerland

Lisa B - Expat in Switzerland

We’ve had the chance to talk to Lisa B, 58, an American expat who has moved to Switzerland with her husband. Mrs. Lisa who has been living there for many years, has a BA degree in Studio Art from USA / Swiss librarian; also owns a company that makes websites and graphics including caricatures.

Read more about her experiences in the full interview below.


Q: Where are you from originally?

A: I was born in Florida, USA, but our family moved around a lot – up and down the east coast and as far west as Chicago.


Q: What made you move out of the USA?

A: Love. Love is what makes the world go around and what made me go around the world, well, half way around the world. I found the man of my dreams and married him! He happened to be Swiss so that was where I landed (thud!).


Q: Where are you living now? How did you come to choose this new country of residence?

A: We lived in the capital of Switzerland, Berne for many, many years.  Ten years ago we moved to a small town on the southern foot of the Jura Mountains between Biel/Bienne and Solothurn. The Jura Mountains aren’t really mountains, they are more like a sub-alpine mountain range. Beautiful, nonetheless.

We particularly enjoy this area because my husband grew up not too far from here.


Q: How long have you been living in Switzerland?

A: I have been living here more years than not! Now that is scary. Time flies when you’re having fun!


Q: Are you living alone or with your family? If yes, how are they adjusting to the Expat Lifestyle?

A: I live here with my husband and dog so, I am certainly not alone.


Q: Do you miss home and family sometimes? How do you cope with homesickness?

A: Growing up we moved a lot so it was “normal” for me to not live in the same town as my relatives. My friends are also scattered all up and down the east coast. These two factors give me less “home” to miss. Everywhere is home. When you are with people you love, you are home.

From day one, I made Switzerland my home. The only time I missed my family was during holidays. The times when you know exactly what they are doing and you long for the familiar sights, sounds and smells. Telephone helped a little, was okay (and expensive) but didn’t really make the grade.

Social media and Skype have closed that gap considerably (and telephoning doesn’t cost as much as it did anymore!).


Q: What do you think about the locals?

A: My opinion about the locals is based on the people I have met, talked to, worked with and socialize with.

My experience with Swiss has been overwhelmingly positive. I noticed that city folk are friendly but tend to (although not always) keep to themselves and like their autonomy. Small town mentality is different. Here they are friendly but more on a personal level. You are called by name at the grocery store, post office and other places you frequent. 


Q: Was it easy making friends and meeting people? Do you mainly socialize with other expats in Switzerland? How did you manage to find a social circle there?  

A: My husband’s friends turned into my friends from the go-get.

I taught English for a while and of course, the other teachers and some students became my friends, too. I also joined an English speaking theatre group which extended my circle of friends even wider.  I took and gave many courses which added quite a number of friends. Working at a library widened my circle even further but with Swiss. I would venture to say that the majority of my friends now are Swiss but I have a good deal of  friends that come from other countries like Holland, Brazil, England and of course, America.


Q: How does the cost of living in Switzerland compared to your home?

A: Now that’s a tough question. I guess it depends on what the exchange rate is. At the moment one Swiss Franc is valued at a little more than one US dollar. There was a time (not that long ago) that one Swiss France was worth 25 or 30 cents! I find it difficult to make a comparison. I guess the best way to put it is we get through the month with the money earned. We can buy our food, pay the bills, buy some extras now and then and are able to put a little aside. What more do you need? 

  •  Q: How much is a cup of coffee?

A: I don’t drink coffee but I believe it varies between CHF 2.70 and CHF 5.

  • Q: How much is a meal in an inexpensive restaurant?

A: About CHF 17 to CHF 30  give or take some.

  • Q: How much is a meal in an expensive restaurant?

A: CHF 100 is the lower end of expensive, it can go up to CHF 250 pro person! It depends on where you eat and what you order.

  • Q: How much is a bottle of wine? How about a pack of cigarettes?

A: Wine? Well… that depends on the quality and classification! So we’re talking between about CHF 2.50 to several 100 Francs.  Cigarettes? It’s amazing that anyone still smokes with the price they have to pay. I believe it is about CHF 8 for 20 cigarettes (one pack). It’s interesting to note that a large percent of the cost of cigarettes is taxes which finance, among other things, smoking prevention.


Q: Do you have any tips for future expats when it comes to opening a bank account in Switzerland?

A: There are no checking accounts in Switzerland. My tip would be getting a Postal account. You get a plastic credit-like card that you can use to pay at the grocery store or get cash at the automatic teller you can also pay bills via Internet. Easy, no hassles. Come to think of it, I think banks offer all those services too. Still, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone pay for their groceries with a bank card.


Q: Would you say that healthcare in Switzerland is reliable? Any preferred clinics or advice for expats?

A: Very, very good. The healthcare here is one of the reasons we are staying put. Swiss insurance is somewhat expensive but the quality of health care is fabulous.


Q: What was the most memorable about the packing and moving process to Switzerland? Which was the mover you chose and how was your experience with them?

A: Hmmm. I didn’t have a lot to move, no furniture or big things like that, only personal things. I sent everything I wanted to have here in boxes per post. Although one box of records didn’t make it, I hope wherever it ended up the people enjoyed my taste in music!


Q: What is the biggest challenge that you have faced as a new expat?

A: Learning the language.  It is frustrating not being able to communicate and the only way to remedy that situation is to learn the language, which, in Berne is Swiss German (not high German!). Of course most Swiss can speak some English but to really belong I believe you have to speak the language. One of the ways I learned was to give a general ban “no English” to all my friends (my husband included) until I felt comfortable with the language. Then practice, practice, practice!


Q: What do you think are the positive and negative sides of living in Switzerland?

A: I love everything about Switzerland.

  • The scenery. I live right on the foot of the Jura, in the winter when it snows those hills look like someone sprinkled powder sugar on them. Beautiful. The Bernese Alps are only two and a half hours away if you are into winter sports or hiking.
  • The people. Everyone I’ve met here is kind, fun and warm. They make me feel like I belong and am at home.
  • Everything is on a smaller scale. Distances, for example.
  • Some things take getting used to a little, but they have their good side, too. For example, the stores generally close at 7pm on weekdays, 5pm on Saturdays and are not open on Sundays. Plan ahead!
  • When the Swiss do something it is with gusto! They “discovered” the roundabout a couple of years ago – now they are practically at every road crossing. And, they really do help the flow of traffic.

I know of nothing that would be negative, sorry.


Q: What are the best things to do in the area? Any particular recommendations for future expats?

A: Where I live now? It’s a small town, you can walk your dog and talk to the neighbors, watch the grass grow and enjoy life. In the area are the mountains for hiking and lakes for boating or swimming. Very low-toned.

If you want to include the whole canton of Berne, there’s something for almost everyone. Sports, culture, courses, parties, you name it and you can find it somewhere. Find someone who shares your interests and they’ll show you where to go.

Although the city of Berne is the capital of Switzerland, it still feels like a small town. A friend of mine from Rio felt like he was being smothered in boredom in Berne. I guess it depends on what you are used to as to whether or not Berne is your kind of place.


Q: Do you have plans to move to a different country or back home in the future?

A: At the moment our plans are to stay put. Still, who knows what the future will bring? Where’d I put my crystal ball??


Q: What tips will you give to expats living in the country?

A: Learn the language, Swiss dialect. It shows the Swiss that you value them.

Enjoy the great food specialties and the breathtaking scenery.


Q: Do you have favorite websites or blogs about Switzerland?

A: I have been living in Switzerland for a good number of years. This year (2016) I started a blog with my personal and close-up views of Switzerland. I touch on many different topics in Swiss everyday life and include stories and anecdotes of what my life is like.  I try to keep the tone light, humorous and still be informative. The posts are in no particular order but range from when I first came here to ummm, yesterday. I am honored when people read and enjoy what I write. The website is called “Cowbells and Chocolate” and the address is: http://www.cowbellsandchocolate.com