Avoid Making Assumptions: Lessons as an Expat in Switzerland

Beautiful Switzerland

Evening storm with sunlight reflection. Lac Lemàn

Evening storm with sunlight reflection, Lake Geneva

“It is a bitter-sweet thing, knowing two cultures. Once you leave your birthplace nothing is ever the same.”  Sarah Turnbull

Relocating to a new country is like having your first baby. You can imagine your future as a new parent but you can not really know until your child arrives. The same is true of relocating to a country in which the language, culture and customs are indeed foreign. This enormous transition can be quite an emotional roller-coaster but never fear, you are up for the challenge! Where ever you have relocated, the pros and cons were probably weighed at length and the pros won. So when challenges occur, focus on what brought you to your new location. Remind yourself of the positives and laugh about minor frustrations.

It has just been over a year since I relocated to Lausanne, Switzerland for the adventure of a lifetime with my wonderful husband. As all humans, I often forget the lessons I have learned . . . one being it is best to avoid making assumptions because often ‘things are not as they seem’. During this first year in Lausanne, I have been reminded (often with a dose of embarrassment or hilarity) to avoid making assumptions. Here are a few interesting and funny stories in which I have been reminded to check things out with someone local or observe longer before making an assumption since we see only a small portion of the whole truth.

The Crows

The street we live on is the pathway to the public High School also known as a ‘gymnasium’ in Switzerland. Daily, teenagers walk up and down this side street to go to school. Already assimilating as a Swiss resident, I noticed in horror for several days that all kinds of trash was scattered in the street by a trash can and in an adjacent park and in front of our flat.  My assumption: those teenagers were making a mess in our quiet village Pully! Shortly after my assumption regarding the culprits of trashing the neighbourhood, I was sitting on our balcony and I was humbled to see the true culprits . . . large crows! The crows were taking out one piece of trash at a time, eating what they could and then scattering the trash all about our little village. Oh no, really? I laughed so hard at my silly assumption!

Our friendly culprits

Our friendly culprits

Community Laundry Customs

Our apartment community washer/dryer. Pully, Switzerland

Our apartment community washer/dryer. Pully, Switzerland

Community laundry facilities are common in Switzerland. My husband and I asked our relocation company and our leasing company several times exactly what the laundry procedure was in our building.  We received no response after multiple inquires regarding the laundry procedures via email and in person. SO, after a week I decided I needed to wash some clothes! My assumption was that I could use the washer and dryer if no one else was using it (like our original flat in Lausanne) and that the laundry card I found in the laundry room was for everyone’s use.

In a few days, a tenant and the landlord came by our flat to express their anger and outrage regarding my use of the laundry facilities. It ended up that I used someone else’s paid laundry card and washed clothes on someone else’s designated day of the week for laundry!  A huge faux pas in Swiss culture to say the least.  I have to say that it felt like a bit of a set up for failure since we made more than a concerted effort to find out the procedure for the laundry in our building. But perhaps the local tenants, landlord and leasing company ‘assumed’ that we should know how this system works. Now I know my designated laundry day and I never, ever stray from this day!


Naked feet at Lac Léman

Naked feet at Lac Léman

Who would know that if your are old enough, young enough or really any age that you can simply change into your bathing suit with no cover. I have witnessed several individuals changing or drying off in various stages of nudity. My assumption: Swiss are socially quiet and rule oriented which is mostly true; however, when it comes to swimming and sunning things are a little bit different than in the States.  So, when you least expect it you run into some form of nudity while someone is either changing or sunning around the lakes or pools Switzerland. The majority of younger girls (10 and under) do not wear bathing suit tops just their bottoms as it I think should be. My adult daughter always wanted to swim without a top when she was a young girl. She would have fit in perfectly in Switzerland!

Remember in your daily life . . . avoid making assumptions. We only see a small portion of the total reality and more often than not ‘things are not as they seem’. Patiently observing often allows us to see more truth than we could have imagined. Traveling the world or relocating to a new country is a fantastic opportunity to accept a different culture, relax and enjoy the ride! It is, after all, the journey that brings us true joy.

The long and winding road that leads me to your door

“The long and winding road that leads me to your door” Paul McCartney.

Helen H. Thomas, Licensed Clinical Social Worker providing E-therapy services via http://therapists.psychologytoday.com/rms/name/Helen_Hobart_Thomas_LCSW_Fort+Worth_Texas_197844

You express your own divinity by being alive and by loving yourself and others.”
― Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom


About HelenHThomas

As a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, I am honored to work at Cook Children's Medical Center as a Clinical Therapist providing supportive counseling for the parents of our tiniest patients in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. I feel infinitely thankful to share my life with my best friend and life partner, Dr. Charles R. Thomas (Chuck). Spending time with my wildly fantastic adult children, their spouses and our exceptionally wonderful friends makes my life complete. Life is good!
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Avoid Making Assumptions: Lessons as an Expat in Switzerland

  1. Maija Remlinger says:

    Just discovered your blog, Helen.Very nicely written. Love the story about the crows.

    • HelenHThomas says:

      Thanks Maija!! I will be blogging quite a bit on adolescents and parenting adolescents if that is of interest to you. Follow me @ helenhthomas.me. Headed to the US for a couple of weeks but I will see you when I return. Best!

  2. Joan Hines says:

    I am very new to the area. My husband I have been here only 7 weeks from Connecticut. I enjoyed both of your articles.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s