Two Sides of One Coin

Duplicitous Expatriate Living

5 franc piece

5 franc piece

Take a coin out of your pocket or your purse. It can be a US quarter, a 2 Euro piece or a 5 Swiss Franc piece.  I currently live in Switzerland where change matters just a little more with coins representing 1 Swiss Franc, 2 Swiss Francs and 5 Swiss Francs . . . they add up! Same with 1 and 2 piece Euros especially considering the exchange rate. Now, rub your coin in your hand then look at both sides closely. Both sides are composed of completely different engravings, yet are the same coin. Like so many other things in life, living as an expatriate forces you to first differentiate (make or become different in the process of growth or development) then integrate (to form, coordinate, or blend into a functioning or unified whole). Moving to a new country can be quite disconcerting; however, you slowing notice that the uncomfortable differences melt into one world . . . your world.

Duplicitous is defined as being deliberately deceptive by pretending one set of feelings and acting under the influence of another. This might seem like a harsh adjective to describe the experience of expatriate living; however, those who are or have lived as an expatriate might understand this conflictual internal turmoil.  As for me, I spent many of my first days in Switzerland feeling certain emotions and acting like I was feeling completely different emotions. As they say, ‘fake it to you make it’. While in the mist of assimilating to a new culture, you might have a nagging feeling that you are betraying your native soil (the far reaching state of Texas for me).  Simultaneously, you try to focus on the positive aspects of your new home while missing your special creature comforts of the home in your rear view mirror.

Frio River, Texas.

Frio River, Texas.

You see both places are beautiful to me; my native soil of Texas and the incredible sight of the Suisse Romande (the French speaking area of Switzerland). We humans, like other animals, are highly adaptable. Things that seemed odd, frustrating or almost unacceptable in a new location become things that you participate in, embrace and yes, will miss when you leave.  So eventually, rather than having a duplicitous nature, you again feel integrated and whole. It really is okay to love two places with your complete being. Those of us who have more than one child, might remember struggling with the idea that a parent can truly love more than one child differently yet equally. It is a miracle after the overwhelming, all encompassing love a parent feels for their first born that another child also steals your heart completely. After living in Texas for the majority of my life, I have a strong attachment to the Lone Star State and now I truly love so many things about the Suisse Romande.

Evening storm with sunlight reflection. Lac Lemàn

Evening storm with sunlight reflection. Lac Lemàn

Returning to Texas from beautiful Switzerland is in my immediate future. As I have contemplated this move, I know that I will have to re-assimulate to living in the states and that my view of Texas and the US will never be the same. After time, I have grown accustomed to life in Switzerland. Things like: easy recycling, public transportation (imagine a Texan without a car!), living in an apartment/flat rather than a rambling ranch house, crystal clear water everywhere, unmatchable views, and the five Swiss food groups of cheese, chocolate, bread, sausage and wine. Most of Switzerland would rate a 90 -100% for walkability as much of the rest of Europe does. I will really miss being able to walk almost everywhere or hop on the bus, train or metro. My son and I recently skied in Zermatt and the train from  Lausanne took us to the heart of Zermatt which is a no car village. Simply brilliant!  In addition, the Swiss as well as most Europeans have a much different and relaxed view of alcohol . . . you can drink alcohol almost anywhere except behind the wheel of a car. It is nice to be treated as an adult!

There are things of course that I will not miss in Switzerland like the random Swiss imposed lecture . . . I have received quite a few! Let’s see I have been lectured for unknowingly using the wrong laundry day in my apartment building, my dog peeing in the street, trying to take a picture of white asparagus in Globus, and running to catch a bus (the driver waited for a nano second and opened the door) to name a few.  Curiously enough though, the longer I am here the closer I get to giving a random lecture to a complete stranger . . . scary! Even though I do not totally understand what is behind the Swiss lecture, I believe it is more about holding on to cultural values and less of a personal slam. One time on a bus, I was receiving a pretty good lecture from a relatively strange looking woman. When I told her that I did not understand what she was saying and asked if she spoke English she said “don’t crack your knuckles, it is bad for you”.  Wow! Then she launched into the things she does that are not good for her like eating  too much chocolate . . . la vie en Suisse.

In addition to not missing Swiss lectures, I will not miss wine being measured in restaurants . . . very carefully measured. I will not miss some unfriendly merchants when I am attempting to speak my best French and to spend money in their store . . . rude.  I will not miss the closed nature of many Swiss people in public. It is not in their general nature to be talkative and friendly in public. My best guess is that the Swiss regard privacy as paramount and it is against their nature to ‘intrude’ into another person’s privacy. Gosh I miss the easy-going spontaneous friendliness of Texans!

Downtown Fort Worth, Texas

Downtown Fort Worth, Texas

So I am leaving the Suisse Romande in less than a week with excitement to return to a meaningful career and be reunited with family and life-long friends. At this same time, my heart holds a great fondness for the fantastically beautiful Switzerland and the many wonderful friends who have shared in the ups and downs of expatriate life. So for now, au revoir Suisse Romande!


Helen H. Thomas, Licensed Clinical Social Worker providing E-therapy via

“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!
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2 Responses to Two Sides of One Coin

  1. MaitoMike says:

    I enjoyed reading about your Suisse Lectures! I wonder if I’ll ever face the same advice from strangers when I visit. I’ll probably feel very awkward, but ultimately I’ll do my best to interact with them and get myself into a lengthy discussion on life and traditions. XD

    • HelenHThomas says:

      Mike, thank you so much for your kind words. Your blog is excellent and inspiring. I really appreciate you encouraging students to travel especially while the weights of full time jobs, kids, aging parents, etc. can slow you down a little. Plus, as they say, you must leave home to find it. One thing I knew but now REALLY know is that traveling is much different than relocating! I love this quote from Anthony Bourdain: “If you’re twenty-two, physically fit, hungry to learn and be better, I urge you to travel – as far and as widely as possible. Sleep on floors if you have to. Find out how other people live and eat and cook. Learn from them – wherever you go.” All good things for you in 2015! Helen

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