l moved from New York City to Basel, Switzerlandfor three months in 2020.
My time abroad was full of surprises, from the clean public transportation to $15 slices of pizza.
The city seemed to move more slowly than New York, and I felt safe exploring it alone.
I moved from New York City to Switzerland in 2020.
After accepting a job offer in Basel, my partner raved about the incredible quality of life, low crime rate and work-life balance – all of which had positively impacted his mental health.
His description of Swiss life seemed inscrutable to me as a… New Yorker feeling overworked and depressed during the coronavirus pandemic. So I three months worth of clothes packed in my bag and went to Switzerland to join him.
These are the things that surprised me the most during my time abroad.
Many Swiss people I met were nice and friendly, and they seemed to work much slower than New Yorkers
Everything moves fast in New York City. Your coffee order is made in secondspeople are constantly rushing to their next destination and conversations are short.
While it’s easy to label all New Yorkers rude, most of the time we’re just busy. And if you had to pay rent in New York, you’d probably be busy too.
When I moved to Switzerland I was shocked at how relaxed, polite and approachable the people I met were. However, it took some time to get used to the slower pace at which they moved.
For example the local barista seemed genuinely interested? into how my day went and was in no great rush. With a warm smile he handed my drink exactly as I asked.
As I walked to my table I noticed a man had occupied it while I was gone. When I approached him, he immediately apologized, removed the crumbs from his coffee cake and went to another spot.
The New Yorker in me was confused by our confrontation-free exchange. I think part of me would have been more comfortable taking the middle finger.
During my stay in Switzerland, I was both impressed and stunned by the kindness and patience of strangers.
I felt completely safe as a woman traveling in Switzerland
As a woman I am constant on edge about my safety†
In New York, I’m always aware of what I’m wearing, what time I’m in town, the safest route to get home, and strategies for avoiding offensive catcalls.
Being a woman in Switzerland was different. I felt safe walking alone and never tended to look over my shoulder for signs of danger.
One day I was having coffee with my Swiss friend and the sun had set by the time we left. We walked along the Rhine on our way home. When we broke up, I asked her to text me when she got home — something my friends in New York always do.
She giggled and said, “Girl, this is Switzerland. We don’t worry about that here.”
And according to research by Georgetown University’s Institute for Women, Peace and Security and the Peace Research Institute Oslo published in 2021, women in Switzerland often feel safer walking alone at night than women in the US.
The public transport I took was clean and on time
I’ve never had a problem getting around New York City. While the transport isn’t perfect — there are sometimes delays and it’s not always the cleanest — the city has so many buses, taxis and trains that take me where I need to go around the clock.
Traveling outside of New York City makes me nervous about tackling a new system of public transport† Fortunately, Switzerland exceeded my expectations.
I found that most people in Basel get around by bike or train. Since trains and buses were almost never delayed while I was there, I was able to get everywhere I wanted to with little to no hassle.
As an added bonus, public transportation in Switzerland felt immaculately clean compared to the subways, taxis, and buses in New York.
The people around me didn’t seem so absorbed in their phones
In the New York City subways, many people check their phones or open a book.
When I was driving public transport in Switzerland, I noticed that people weren’t on their phone very often† Instead, they seemed to be talking to each other and… enjoy the beauty of Basel through the window.
It was refreshing to see people so present.
As I became more immersed in Swiss culture, there were times when it almost felt wrong to pull out my phone. Often when I stopped to take a photo, I noticed several people staring at me.
In reality, I was just a millennial tourist with a phone addiction.
I noticed that the topic of race came up less often in conversations with my friends in Switzerland than when I was in the US
During my three months in Switzerland, I noticed that the topic of racing came up much less frequently in conversations with my friends than when I was in the US.
In the US it was natural for me to discuss racial injustice and my own experiences with racism with my friends.
I realized the difference in my Swiss friends’ reactions to the subject after an experience I had with a police officer, who I believe was racially profiling me.
When I returned to Basel after a day trip to France, a police officer kept me out of a crowd at the train station. He asked me where I came from and why I was in Switzerland. I told him I was from France and was visiting my partner, who was standing right behind me. The police officer then asked my partner if he knew me, to which he answered yes, and I was allowed to continue walking.
As far as I could tell, I was the only person of color in the crowd.
When I presented the situation to one of my Swiss friends, their response was, “Well, maybe he was just doing his job.”
I was disappointed that this was the response I got from more than one of my Swiss friends.
These moments made me miss my friends in America, who I’m sure would have listened, comforted, and confirmed my experience without making me feel like I had to explain the events multiple times.
Although the subject has not been brought up often in my conversations, I still believe that racism is a problem that needs to be addressed in Swiss society.
Racist Incident Reports Collected by the Swiss Federal Commission against Racism (EKR) increased by 30% from 2019 to 2020, and the proportion of the Swiss population targeted by racial discrimination has risen from 10% in 2014 to 17% in 2018, according to the Federal Bureau of Statistics†
Switzerland has a wide variety of cuisines available but the food was much more expensive than I expected
New York is a melting pot of culture and taste† While dining out in the city can be expensive, I’ve discovered affordable and delicious dumplings in Chinatown, Dominican cuisine in the Heights, and soul food in Brooklyn.
I knew I had been spoiled by New York food before going abroad, but I was still disappointed to find that traditional Swiss food turned out to be less flavorful and more expensive than I expected.
After raving about Swiss cuisine, a local introduced my partner and me to the national dish: a plate of potato and sausage called rösti†
Not only was my rösti bland, but it cost us an arm and a leg. I regretted not going with a more well known option such as the fondue.
Fortunately, there were plenty of other dining options in Switzerland.
Food prices seemed high across the board in Switzerland.
In a 2021 Eurostat-OECD survey By measuring the price levels of consumer goods and services in 37 European countries, Switzerland had the highest price level for food and non-alcoholic drinks, along with the most expensive restaurants and hotels.
I heard many different languages when traveling through Switzerland, which reminded me of New York City
My partner and I stayed in Basel, about a 200,000 inhabitants city which lies on the Swiss border with Germany and France.
Since completely different cultures and languages are just a bus, train or walk from the city, I heard a lot of German, French and English during my time there.
And in southern Switzerland, a beautiful region called Ticino borders Italy† Due to its proximity to places like Milan, Como and Varese, it has a heavy Italian influence.
The variety of languages and cultures in Switzerland made me feel closer to New York City, where each neighborhood has its own identity.
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