This is an article that I wrote that appeared in Living in Nyon. Enjoy:
When I first learned that my family was going to be relocating to Switzerland my mind was filled with hopeful thoughts of chocolate bars the approximate size of a child’s arm; depositing large reams of untaxed money in a vault with one of the spinny, ship’s wheel locks as barrel chested, germanic security guards eyed my every move and skiing to the shops. Alas, none of these deluded fantasies have sprouted legs and walked across the parquet so I have had to console myself with a couple of bars of Frigor and a trudge to Migros…which is a bit like visiting the bank as I have recently put down a deposit on a steak. It’s off plan, but I have been told that it is a great investment and probably something my children can look forward to…
As the Easyjet (now there’s an oxymoron) flight rose above the English countryside it dawned upon me that I was now a ‘trailing spouse.’ The real star of show, here, was my wife; who had been headhunted and hired by a powerful conglomerate eager to profit from her communication and social media skills and I was merely human hand-luggage to be checked in at immigration or get crotch-sniffed by an indifferent Alsatian at customs. I would be Rainman to my Tom Cruise wife, looking on blankly as my worldly wife discussed unified string theory and art house cinema with the immigration guys…in French. Not only did I need to get to know a whole new country, and new ways of doing things, I’d have to do it all in French.
To compound matters I was also starting a new career; namely, I was going to be the primary carer to my kids. The poor little rascals looked at me with expressions of incredulity and amusement when they were told this news and to give them their due their expressions have remained remarkably consistent.
Now, whenever someone asks me what I do and I tell them, they nod sympathetically and look for an exit….whereas before they’d say: ‘Oh, you’re an animator,’ and their eyes would light up; whetted by the potential rich seam of pithy anecdotes an animator must have and how terribly interesting the field of animation must be (well, I’ve got news for you folks, it’s pretty dull. It’s twenty-five frames a second of graft, code and repetition.)
So now I scoot around the Canton of Vaud with my kids through rain or snow, I freelance a bit, I write and you know what? I’m happy. Switzerland is like that. The people are refreshingly content; they’re not showy or particularly materialistic (which is lucky, considering how much everything costs…) and they know that they live in a beautiful country which they enjoy in all it’s seasons and I do believe it’s rubbing off on me.
So, if I can de-weave the flowers from my hair and finish my museli then I can impart my completely inconsiderable knowledge of the Nyon area for recently landed, trailing-spouse greenhorns looking startled on the tarmac of Geneve aeroport as their befuddled kids look at them and shout: ‘WE WANT SOME LEADERSHIP…DAMMIT!’ If you’re struggling with Swiss life, your urchins (and no, that is not a euphemism) or need to take them somewhere to have some fun or just to give yourself a bit of a break then here are some suggestions:
Ecole Migros, Nyon Such is way of the Gallic world that the accepted way to teach French is that a French person talks at you in French and expects some of it to slip into your feeble anglo brain and that you will speak French or forever remain a savage. Ecole Migros is probably the best place to learn and caters for all levels – from hand wavers to translators.
Signal De Bougy, Signal A veritable Mecca for kids with a huge playground, electric karting track, minigolf, indoor play area, cafe / restaurant and Parc Adventure (tree climbing with harnesses – s’awesome). Is wonderful in summer but can be a bit grim in winter with only a coffee machine and the sound of your kid’s chattering teeth to keep you company.
Chavannes Centre, Divonne / Versoix Autoroute exit If you crave the mall then the Chavannes Centre is worth a detour. With a Manoir (department store), a Fust (electronics) and the ubiquitous H&M it also boasts an excellent cafe with – check this out – a playground so you can sip your renversé and watch your urchins climb/plummet/fight without leaving your seat.
Divonne Market (every Sunday) No one does markets like the French and Divonne market is a very good one and I find steaks taste way better when you have smuggled them over the border disguised as a child’s hat. Also, Divonne has an amazing playground and a Casino supermarché where you can buy ‘disgusting’ Anglo-American food like Marmite, Mint Sauce and Oreo Cookies.
Pfister, Etoy If you can get past the fact that it sounds like a masochistic niche magazine, Pfister has an indoor playground that is supervised so that you can wander round and look at the furniture – and very fine furniture it is – or just have a coffee. It took me at least 6 months before I tired of using the name as a gag. Maybe a year.
Natural History Museum (aka Dead Animal Museum), Geneve When the rain comes down or it’s too cold to go to a playground, kids like nothing better than wandering around a looking at dead things, especially dinosaurs. Museum shop is full of affordable tat as well. It used to have a two headed turtle, but it has been replaced with a bearded lady (joke! But there did used to be a two headed turtle…)
IKEA, Aubonne There is now an IKEA in Geneva, but the one in Aubonne has a supervised creche (which gives you an hour to buy tea lights and other things you don’t want or need) and a restaurant with a play area. Chips, meatballs and self assembly furniture – what could possibly go wrong?
Outdoor swimming pools, Nyon / Aubonne / Versoix Summer is easy with the kids because you can go to these large, communal oudoor pools. They are clean, well supervised and traditionally cold – so bring a sun top or wetsuit for younger kids.