Long ago before I knew what “Isch guet gsi” meant, before I had proper fondue at the end of a 40-minute winter snow trek in the dark to a log hut in the middle of the cold, before my son was born and before tattoos 2, 3 and 4, I wrote a silly post about this new silly city we had just moved to.
I wrote about how I wanted to settle in the “soft bits between the status and wealth”. I wrote about the charm that poked its head out amongst suits and silent trams and rigid adherence to timetables.
Three years in (wow!) and I feel at home. A grand statement from a old soul who has been (willingly) dragged around Europe for a handful of years. Home was an interesting problem. Defining it is one thing, finding and experiencing and holding on to it is another. And I’ve found it. And I don’t want to let it go.
In the exploration phase of our being married together, my wife and I regularly had conversations which featured questions and statements like “why not Vietnam?” and “if you got that job in Belfast…”. It was just that type of bravado that led us to triple jump to Zurich via the Canary Islands and Den Haag in the first place.
Now our conversations dip and roll over and under such sultry touch points of getting a five-year chip from our company and making manager, of whether the schools in the area are close enough for Little Guy to walk to, and if our retirement planning is on track.
And it has been a great relief, really. Spain was great, The Netherlands incredible. But living in these places always felt like we were sleeping over somewhere without ever taking off our shoes; perhaps not comfortable enough to commit to staying, perhaps with an eye toward somewhere with a shoe rack.
In the 40 months we’ve been here, we’ve had ample time to construct a life and livelihood that satisfies us more completely than I thought was feasible. In constructing this life we’ve built up structures to support our growth and let our feet sink into the ground beneath us. Above ground is the personal and professional fulfilment that this city affords to those who seek it out. Below ground our roots are growing deep and wide as to learn the idiosyncrasies of the language and the people who speak it, and to learn the history of these people and the culture they’ve created.
And this is a stupid metaphor but I say it earnestly because we literally did it: we planted a seed here in this land; our baby was born here and will anchor us to this place, possibly for a longer time than I ever wanted to admit.
What is Zurich to me now? No longer is it the next new city to turn over and around and upside down. No longer is it the short-term plan with the eponymous insurance company and reputation for sneaky banking and squeaky-clean streets. It’s the city that’s shown us the hardest arrival, but in surviving the Plinko pins down to reality after the shine faded away, we’ve begun to decipher the cobbles in the old town, started to time the trains and trams and buses, found our handholds in groups of like-minded expats, and gotten waist deep in the way of things. (We even have some Swiss friends, I mean, I nodded at a guy on the tram and he almost nodded back, that counts, right?)
In finding and settling in the soft bits of the city, we’ve found that the soft bits—are us. We’ve made this city our own, our home by finding the other lost souls floating about and anchoring ourselves against and, finally, with the local tribe. Perhaps our time in Spain and The Netherlands was simply not long enough for us to feel at home. Perhaps. But I like to think that our time there was not long enough because those places did not invite us to take off our shoes, so we always kept an eye open for opportunities elsewhere. And here we are. Elsewhere. In our pyjamas with our feet up drinking wine at 11 am, because at home, we do what we want.