A Year Living Back In The UK: The differences between living in Switzerland and the UK

The 7th March 2018 marked a whole year since my little family of four’s big move back to the UK from Geneva. I actually can’t believe that its been that long. This year has passed by in a flash; probably because there have been so many changes and exciting things happen in my families life.

I still can’t believe that we got through an international move, with a three month old and a three year old. (Who thought that was a good idea?) I certainly have vivid memories of how stressful that time was. The packing up of our apartment, the saying goodbye to our many friends, travelling to the UK, unpacking at my parents house in London where we were staying initially, before then finally moving into our new house in Oxfordshire. (Yes, we had bought a house amongst doing all of this!) This was all happening whilst our eldest daughter was still in the tantrum phase and I myself was feeling emotional after just having had a baby plus leaving our home in Switzerland. Oh the joys! But hey, we got through it and it is now over a whole year later. How did that happen? However, reaching the one year mark, has obviously made me reflect and think about all of the differences of living in both Switzerland and the UK.

As many of you readers know, I was initially very nervous and anxious about moving back to the UK. Geneva had been my home for over five years and as excited as I was about returning to friends and family, I hate change! That being said, we are all so happy in the UK. We love our house, the area in which we live in, we have all made friends, and are generally settled into life here, which is great.

As mentioned in a previous post, after my visit to Geneva earlier this year, it became very clear to me that the move back was in fact the best thing. However, that doesn’t stop me thinking about things that I do miss about living in Geneva, maybe a few things that I do not miss and certainly some things that I just don’t want to forget.

Disclaimer: Again this is a very tongue in cheek post. I am most definitely not saying one place is better to live than another. All of this post is just my personal opinion and mainly a way for me to remember what life was like living in Geneva, Switzerland.

Location

I have said in many of my posts how beautiful Geneva is. The main reason for this is its location. It is located right by the mountains and it borders France. It is situated on Lake Geneva which is beautiful whichever time of the year. It is a commuter city, so it is a fantastic location to be in to be able to travel to other destinations in Europe. In most cases you could fly to another country and be there in an hour. You can also drive very easily to other destinations in Switzerland such as Gruyere or Montreax, or to other beautiful places in nearby France such as Annecy, which myself and my hubby definitely took advantage off. The public transport is of course very good and reliable. (Something Switzerland is well known for) Trams would be on time and it was just so easy to get around the city. Although, I have to say that it wasn’t always so easy with a baby in a buggy.

We obviously now live in the UK, in a suburb of Oxfordshire. This is of course very different. I love our location, as we are literally a stones throw away to the shops and main high street. Everything we need is on our doorstep. If we want to get to the city, we are only 15 minutes on the bus and if we want to travel to the airport, be it Heathrow, Gatwick etc… a bus goes straight there and drops off by our road. We are only an hour away from London, so seeing my family is very easy and we can just visit them for the day, which is so much easier than it was when we would visit from Geneva, as we had no choice but to stay. We obviously wanted to see them but staying for a week especially with children too, was sometimes a bit much.

Although we live in a city, we are in a location where we can get to the countryside in ten minutes, which has been amazing!

Weather

The weather can’t be more different in Geneva, to how it is in the UK. Geneva has four seasons and is predictable. In the winter it is very cold, spring time it becomes warmer, summer time it is generally hot and sunny, and in autumn it is beautiful with orange and brown leaves falling off the trees; you get the gist, as I said its predictable! I always really liked this about Geneva, as it was definitely easier to plan ahead for things.

The summer in the city is particularly amazing. Yes, it can get hot! In the summer it can easily be up to or over 30c. Too hot for me if I am honest, with my pale skin. But I did find, that as I always knew that the temperature would be up in the thirties from around mid May through to September, I actually got used to it and I knew what to expect. I remember looking at the forecast and seeing that one day would be 21c and thinking to myself, wow, thats a cool day. Now in the UK, that temperature is easily seen as a heatwave! I have since adapted! It does help that in Geneva, they have air conditioning on all transport and shops, which makes things more bearable.

Geneva has a bad reputation for being a boring city, but during the summer months there is a real buzz about it and has a great atmosphere and it really feels like you are on holiday. Around the lake is particularly beautiful, with lots of people swimming, people out on the lake on boats and lots of picnics. All of this, with a big beautiful backdrop of the mountains. What is not to like? There are also big shallow paddling pools in nearly every public park, which is great especially if you have children. I spent many a day at them with my first born, who absolutely loved it! This may be the thing that I will miss the most. I know that my two daughters would absolutely love to be able to do that. I have to admit that I always felt very proud of Geneva, when my friends and family from the UK would come and visit at that time of year. There was just so much to do and show them all. Summer definitely shows Geneva off at its best.

IMG_1770One Of Our Favourite Paddling Pools in Geneva

However, as enjoyable as summer time was in Geneva, I probably enjoy living on a day to day basis with the UK weather a little bit more. (Gasp)! Yes, I know it can rain one minute and then be sunny the next, but the temperatures here suit me day to day. I certainly don’t miss the constant application of suncream. Yes it is harder to plan, and a few of our barbecues may have been rained off. In fact, a year ago when we moved into our new house in the UK, we had a moving in party and we all sat in the garden, whilst today it is -1 in temperature and snowing. Oh how I love you UK!

Talking of snow, this is something that is very common during the colder months in Geneva. It would generally mean minimal disruption as it happened during the same months every year and the country were used to it. Nothing really stopped like it does in the UK. People would still go to work and the public transport would still be running. Snow also means skiing or sledging up in the mountains at the weekends. The city of Geneva would be so quiet at this time of year, as everyone would escape to the mountains. I have to admit that sometimes this would be frustrating and at this time, I have to say that I really missed the hustle and bustle of a big city like London. It snowed in the UK last week and it was standstill but I also love this about the UK, snow is exciting!!! There is always a good atmosphere as all the children at least, are excited and are in the parks sledging, as all of the schools shut!

DSC_0093Cross Country Skiing In La Vattay in France

The Views

The views are a bit different in the UK, than they were in Geneva. There, we lived in a high rise building on the 8th floor. The exterior of our building was not attractive, but from our balcony we had such an amazing view of the Alps. I always found it funny that this view just became the norm to see everyday for us. However, we were always reminded how beautiful it was when we had visitors who would always comment and admire it. We were very lucky. I do really miss that view now.

DSC_0641Our Apartment Building In Geneva

DSC_0194Our Beautiful View From Our Apartment Building from the 8th Floor

Now in the UK, we certainly do not have that view. However, we do have a garden! This is something I missed so much whilst living in Geneva. Although we had our balcony, it could still feel very claustrophobic at times, especially during the very hot days. Although, it was so nice to sit out in the evenings with a drink looking at the view.

Now we are lucky enough to have a garden in the UK, and we love it. With two kids it is a must and last summer when the UK had its heat wave! Yes, the UK had a heat wave; we were able to sit out in it and have a bbq and the paddling pool.

Language

In Geneva, the spoken language is french. This is something that I found both amazing to live amongst and at the same time incredibly difficult and frustrating. It was fantastic to be around this every day. Although I was never fluent and I now really regret not learning more, I most definitely came back knowing and understanding more than I had arrived with and I could get by. I personally found understanding the french language a lot easier than the speaking part of it. But I know that this was a confidence thing and in all honesty, I did find that the Swiss people, didn’t have much patience with the expats trying to communicate in french. The majority of people can speak english, so if they found that you were struggling, they would instantly revert to speaking to english. This really annoyed my hubby in particular and he just carried on speaking in french to them wether they liked it or not. This may well explain why his french is a million times better than mine. Its obviously all perseverance.

Not being fluent in french absolutely effected my day to day life and google translate was my best friend. I could get by and it got easier but it could be as little as trying to find ingredients in a supermarket and reading what was on the back of a packet or asking for directions in the city, which bus to get, communicating with nursery staff, medical staff throughout both pregnancies during and after. But once I knew, I knew, and I guess by making mistakes or asking questions was how I learnt and picked up bits of the language. Obviously now we are in the UK, life in that sense is of course easier!!

Baby Groups

As mentioned in previous posts, I took my first born to a lot of baby groups, whilst we were living in Geneva. As well as being good for my baby, they were good for me, as it was so social and I met all of my friends at these groups. There were baby massage groups, music groups, play gyms. You get the gist, it was great! However, the only down side of these groups for babies, was the cost. It was expensive. But with EVERYTHING being expensive in Geneva, you do get used to it.

Now I am in the UK, I can’t believe the choice of things that there are to do  with babies, children and new mums, and the significant difference in the price. I also still can’t believe that you can go to groups for as little as £1.50 or even better, free! I still love these groups and as soon as I moved to the UK, I dived straight into them. I have been lucky, as I have met many new friends from going to them.

Opening/Closing Hours

Something that I will always remember about living in Geneva and maybe not miss so much; are the opening and closing hours of the shops. Everything, bar a few newsagent type shops, or petrol station shops and the odd coffee shop are officially closed on a Sunday. This took some getting used too and if I am honest, I don’t think that the mad moment of panic that goes through your head on a Saturday afternoon, when you wonder wether you are stocked up enough to get you through to Monday ever actually went. Oh what third world problems! But in all seriousness, you have to be organised! and the rush and busyness in the local supermarkets on a Saturday, were not something that I ever wanted to contend with. Especially with a baby in a pushchair!

Geneva on a Sunday is also a ghost town. This is due to everything shutting down and people heading out to the mountains to hike or ski. Now, this is something that myself, my hubby and friends used to do a lot! There really are such beautiful places to visit, only a stones throw away.

However, Sunday in Geneva could also be fun. Many of the yummy brunch spots were open on this day, and this was a great thing to do. I guess a Sunday in Geneva city just meant a chilled out day, which isn’t always a bad thing.

Now in the UK, I must admit that the fact that Sunday here is really like any other day, with everything open, I still cant help to be excited by this! The only thing that I would say, is that because we now live literally two minutes away from the shops, myself and my hubby take that for granted and we are constantly running out of the basics more, as we don’t tend to stock up, especially nappies for my youngest. So I was definitely a lot more organised in Geneva.

Entertainment

You guessed it, going out in Geneva is expensive. When I first arrived in the city, a lot of the social events were dinner parties at someones apartment, which were always fun. When we did go out, it would tend to be to the same places, but they were fun. We definitely had our favourite places which we took friends and family to when they visited.

Once we had children, there was inevitably less time or chances to go out as a couple. When we did, we obviously had to pay a babysitter who was amazing. However, the average charge an hour for a babysitter on a weekend night is 25 Swiss Francs an hour, so going out was a very expensive thing to do, so obviously it wasn’t done so much.

Now in the UK, I have realised over this year, just how much choice we have in terms of affordable restaurants, pubs etc. Every time I go out into the city, there is somewhere else that I put on my list to go to. The list may take a while to get through, but we now have my family very near to us, so if we ever need a babysitter, they offer to look after the children, which is just amazing.

Small Change

It will come as no surprise that banks in Switzerland, don’t deal in small change. So, if you withdraw 100 francs from the ATM, you’ll get a 100 franc note, not five 20s. This again made me chuckle and is most definitely something that shocked me when I first arrived in Geneva. I remember so clearly once my parents visiting us one summer and having to pay for three ice creams with a 200 Swiss Franc note. We were so nervous to hand it over, but I soon realised that luckily, you don’t need to apologise for not having anything smaller. Swiss shop assistants just give you the change without batting an eyelid. This is obviously vey different in the UK. The other day I was very happy to see that the ATM at the bottom of my road where I live, lets me take out £5.00 notes!

Crossing the road without waiting 

One habit that at first confused me, was seeing the rule-abiding Swiss waiting obediently for the green man rather than crossing a road without ‘permission’, even if there’s no traffic coming. Although, I quickly became used to this and consequently, this is now a habit that I still cant shake off now. (Which I guess is a good thing?) Being back in the UK, I see people crossing the road all of the time when the man is red and I find it so strange that even if I want to cross, I am literally rooted to the spot!

Expensive

I seem to have mentioned how expensive things are in Geneva lots throughout this blog post, but it is a fact, it really is expensive! This could definitely be tough, especially when like many, you are not paid in Swiss Francs. I love clothes shopping, and living in Switzerland didn’t change that, but realistically I couldn’t afford to spend money in many of the clothes shops there, so…. H and M was my best friend. Literally, from never really shopping there before in the UK, I was there a lot and my whole wardrobe, plus my daughters was from there. (No exaggeration) It was always funny when other friends would be wearing something from there or their children. You would always know exactly where it was from. I used to always know what stock they had in.

Every time, I visited the UK on holiday, I would always do a big clothes shop and bring everything back with me, as well as getting my haircut at a reasonable price!

Now back in the UK, it really is definitely cheaper for clothes. We all know the shops we are talking about. As I now live only 15 minutes away from town, I still get very overwhelmed with the pure amount of choice that there is. This goes for everything, from clothes shops, cafes, restaurants etc…. On a negative, this makes me spend more, so I have to restrain myself.

Other things that are expensive in Geneva is the daily, weekly food shop. Lets just say that I gasped every time it was time to pay the cashier. I never did get used to it. The main thing that made the shopping bill go up, was the purchase of meats. So like many, my hubby and I would try as often as we could to buy this from just across the border in France. However, there were tight restrictions on items such as meat and alcohol, so you really had to be careful. However, shopping this way, really made a difference.

Food

One of the things that I really miss about living in Geneva are the bakeries. There is literally one everywhere you turn, selling delicious freshly baked croissants, quiches, bagels etc.. You also find them in all big supermarkets too, so there really is no getting away from them. I obviously didn’t buy these all of the time, or I would literally be the size of a house, but there is just no comparison now being here in the UK, which in hindsight is probably a good thing? My eldest daughter loves croissants and its her occasional weekend breakfast treat. She most definitely ate them more frequently when we lived in Switzerland!

I will also miss cheese fondue. Yes, I am fully aware that my hubby and I can get out our much loved fondue set whenever the mood may take us, but lets face it, it is not the same. Going for fondue in Switzerland was a big cultural thing which I would always look forward too. This makes me laugh, as I had literally never eaten cheese fondue before I moved there. The restaurants would usually start offering it around late October time and as soon as the weather would feel cold enough, I would be there. There were a few restaurants in central Geneva, that were very popular for this dish. It was also a firm favourite amongst friends, after a day skiing up in the mountains a long with lots of wine! Yes, it was stodgy with all that cheese and bread, but it was good and a very sociable way of eating.

Then there is chocolate. This is a big deal in Switzerland and for good reason, they do it well. There are chocolatiers on every corner which is also very tempting, although luckily I do not have a sweet tooth. However, I always bought Swiss chocolate back to the UK with me, for Christmas presents, which were gratefully received.

In the UK, I have to admit that it is nice to be able to buy my old favourites and to be able to get a takeaway without breaking the bank.

 

To conclude, looking back there really is a big difference in living in both places. It was such a different culture in Switzerland and I don’t want to forget my time and experiences there, hence why I have been blogging about them.

There are obviously pros and cons about both. Yes, for myself and my little family of four, life for us living in the UK is generally easier, but there were many amazing things about living in Geneva.

When it comes down to it, the UK really feels like home for us. We have been able to buy a house and we are closer to family, which is so important to us. We always knew that one day we would be living back in the UK, but I am genuinely proud of being able to have experienced such a different culture and to be truly immersed in it. If anything, I now have this blogpost to remind me of things and to look back on with fond memories.

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