Expat’ battle #1
USA | Switzerland

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Since the first post in 2015, this blog talks a lot about expatriation. And the best in it are all the fun cultural differences each expat encounters when living abroad, and which are making the locals smile. 

That why the “Expat Battle” was created. And the concept is simple: 2 expatriates talk about their experience in the other one’s home country.

For the first edition, it’s Melissa from Plaid Shirt Diaries who accepted to answer the questions. Her blog is a genius mix between travel and expatriation stories from an American girl (from DC) living in Geneva, Switzerland.

And I take the other side of the picture to open this new series. From Switzerland (Valais) to New York.

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From: Washington, DC, USA
(632’000 inhabitants)
Expat in: Genève, GE, Suisse
(195’000 inhabitants)

Use to speak: English
Now speaks: French
(err, “trying to speak French” would probably be more accurate ☺ )



From: Massongex, Switzerland
(1700 inhabitants)
Expat in: New York, NY, USA
(8,4 MIO inhabitants)

Use to speak: French
Now speaks: English


Expat since?
 March 2016 April 2015
My husband got a fantastic job opportunity and we were ready for a new adventure. I followed my husband who was transferred through his company.
Your immediate thought when you first set a foot in your country of adoption?
I had never been to Switzerland before, let alone Geneva, but my online research had warned me about how expensive everything would be. Even so, it’s safe to say that it never fully sank in until I saw the prices on a Starbucks menu our first afternoon in Geneva. Our hotel room wasn’t ready yet so we walked to the Starbucks down the street to use the wifi to peruse apartment listings, and the price of my tea was double what I would have paid in DC. I distinctly remember thinking, “Oh my goodness, what have we gotten ourselves into?!” WOW!!
Describe your hometown in 3 words?
More than politics. Small, quiet, green.
Describe your town/country of adoption in 3 words?

International and immaculate.

Huge, cosmopolitan, exhausting.
Biggest cultural difference?
Outside of the whole speaking French thing ?  Probably how almost everything in Geneva is closed after 7pm on weekdays and all day on Sundays. For those of us who are used to having the ability to buy groceries practically 24/7, you have to remember to plan ahead or you’ll be very hungry come Sunday – or be forced to brave a trip to the open supermarket at the train station, which you’ll find absolutely slammed with all of the other non-planners ☺ At work. The habits and employees rights as well as the way to get things done is “quite” different here. After many years as an over protected and well paid Swiss worker, the acclimatization is… how can I say that?… Rough.
What do you love the most in your town/country of adoption?
Its beauty. The sweeping mountains, sparkling lakes and picturesque countryside… and how could I not mention the bell-wearing cows! Its cultural wealth, its diversification, all the possibilities, ….
A local habit that drives you crazy?
When you go see a movie in English in Geneva, French and German subtitles fill the bottom half of the screen. I get so distracted reading them that I end up missing key plot events. Why was Newt named Norbert in the French subtitles for “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them?” Honking. All day, all night, from Monday to Friday, it NEVER stops.
What do you miss the most from your hometown/home country?
(besides family and friends)

That’s an easy one: Boxed macaroni and cheese (but whenever we make it out to the supermarket in France, I stock up on the “Mississippi Belle” version in their American food section).

The cured meat from Les Grisons! 
A culinary specialty you love from each place?

DC: Georgetown Cupcake

Switzerland: I’ve had some really good rösti… but am I allowed to name anything other than fondue?

Switzerland: The “Assiette valaisanne” (which is a huge plate filled with cured meat and cheese, served with seasonal fruits and bread).

USA: Mac’n’cheese.

Biggest difficulty in your everyday life?
Without a doubt, communicating in French. I took lessons every weekday for four months after we moved here, but people speak so quickly and then they throw in slang… it’s a work in progress. Being open to all the differences I encounter, without (over)criticizing. (And Heaven knows how good I am at bitching about everything!)
A local habit you developed really quickly?

Traveling. Geneva is very quiet on the weekends, especially during ski season when everyone seems to head up to the mountains, and we decided to follow suit the very first month of our arrival. We spent Easter weekend in Chamonix, France, where I went skiing for the first time in my life, and we’ve kept the travel groove going ever since.

Walking fast. Really really fast.
A funny situation which would have never happened in your home country?

We had a problem with our toilet running when it was left unattended and, not having yet learned much French, I resorted to explaining the situation to the confused plumber charades-style, complete with sound effects.

In our first apartment, we didn’t pay for electricity during several months, because we simply didn’t know we had to register first (but somehow, it had worked the entire time!)
Would you ever go back home?
Yup, that’s the plan. Yes. New York is too exhausting for me to imagine staying here forever.
An old habit you cannot quit
(and which is weird where you now live)?

American tipping. We always feel horrible if we don’t leave the 20 percent tip we were accustomed to leaving in the states, but our local friends have told us to only tip enough for a coffee, if anything at all.

Cooking. In a city like New York, spending time in the kitchen, doing my meal prep for the entire week, bringing homemade snacks and enjoying it makes people think of me as a star. Or a crazy person!
A last word in your new language?
Bises! Amaaaaaazing!

Thank you so much Melissa and good luck for your future in Switzerland!

Visit her blogInstagram et Twitter.

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20 Responses

  1. tres insctructif, concernant New York je m’y retrouve un peu quand j’ai debarque a Montreal et que le precedent locataire a recu la facture de mon electricite hihih il est venu tapper a ma porte tard le soir apres le boulot pour m’expliquer que c’est ma facture et pas la sienne je lui ai explique que je ne savais pas comment proceder 🙂

    1. Je ne savais même pas que tu étais à Montréal!!!! En tout cas ça me rassure de voir que je ne suis pas la seule à galérer avec les bases de l’administration, et même de la vie quotidienne! Bon week end et merci d’avoir partagé ton expérience 😉

    1. Je dois bien t’avouer que je donnerai beaucoup pour un peu de viande séchée ou une assiette de (vrais) fromages! Mais l’expérience a aussi ses côtés positifs et on s’y fait 😉 Merci de ton passage!

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