The Frustration and Fascination

It was easier in America. There, I’ve said it.

You would think that having a large international community would be positive attribute when moving to a city such as a Basel. However, I wonder if it is more of a problem, an inhibitor. Having a big collection of expats makes it all so simple to meet people like yourself: there is no shortage of English-speaking societies and interest groups. Most non-native English speakers know some of the language if you’re in need of assistance in shops. It isn’t exactly difficult to relocate to Switzerland if you don’t know German/French (but do know English). And it’s easy to forget that Basel is officially in the German-speaking region for all the English-speakers you come across.

I’ve heard it mentioned a few times – English speakers don’t find it easy to properly settle here. One girl I was speaking to remarked that she’s lived here for the best of part of a decade and although she speaks some German doesn’t feel precisely integrated. I know what she means. It feels like I’m afloat in a community of English speakers from across the globe, not really attatched to the city at all.

I’m missing the vital connection point…

It isn’t that the Swiss are hostile, I don’t think. From what I’ve seen of them the Swiss-Germans are cheerful, likeable and with a very dry sense of humour.  I’ve heard it said that the Swiss and Germans have no sense of humour. That’s almost certainly said by people who aren’t able to detect dryness. The difference between the Swiss and say, Americans, is that Swiss people are more reserved/reticient/politely-distanced. A Swiss person won’t randomly start chatting to strangers in the bar, nor will they make lighthearted small-talk waiting for the bus. I guess because it could be construed as intrusive. They don’t cold-shoulder foreigners…they just seem to keep out of their way.

So as it stands I don’t really have many properly local friends. I remain aware at the back of my head that there exists a whole community of native Baslers in the same city as me…but beyond my reach. I feel that my need for friendship and socialising is being met,  I have plenty of activities and people of various nationalities who I’m on good terms with…but it’s a very different scenario from when I was in the States, and that keeps on nagging at me. In the States I had no problem making friends with resident Philadelphians and Americans. Having them was one of my favourite parts of the whole year. It now feels like I’m missing something while I’m in Switzerland.

For 1 year it doesn’t matter. Five years neither. After ten, twenty years I could see it really mattering. It matters to me.

I think it’s the language barrier at work…again. You can speak German as fluently as possible. If you want to try and integrate with the Swiss people then you need to give Swiss German a whack. And it has to be the “right” Swiss German: each city/region has its own dialect and is fiercely proud of theirs. Despite it being a localised thing, there are several language schools in Basel offering classes on “Basler Deutsch”. And even then – from various anecdotes I’ve heard to date – it doesn’t guarantee that you’ll fit in perfectly.

It’s something that’s coming to my mind now, 6 months into my year. Would I want to come back to Switzerland in the future? If so, what would I need to think about? Fluent German and fluent dialect? That’s what it would take, wouldn’t it?


The difficulties that come with living in Switzerland frustrate me. Why isn’t it easier, damnit? Yet on the flip-side, the more difficult things are the more I get fired up to overcome them. Which is why Switzerland holds such an allure.

In the months leading up to Fasnacht (Carnival night) the cliques (societies that take part in costumed parades, etc) go out and about in the city. I was walking home last week after work and came across a dancing bear. Down our street last Friday there was a Gryffin and Wild Man dancing their way across Kleinbasel. Late on Saturday night my bus took me past a troupe of clowns playing marching band music. The Kellers where these cliques meet and have their own bars are hidden from the public eye 360 days of the year, only open to outsiders during Fasnacht and Kaellerstig. Basel has a rich culture & fascinating culture hidden just below the surface, away from foreign eyes.

Then there was Museumsnacht not that long ago: all of Basel’s museums open until 2am with one pass. I managed until midnight looking around the Kunstmuseum, Basel Historiches Museum, the Munster and the Tinguely Musuem. It isn’t something I’d ever come across in the UK – but the fact that a small city such as Basel has SO MANY high quality museums/cultural centres is quite amazing.

Yesterday I went over to Davos Klosters with Zurich’s International Hiking & Outdoors Meetup group for a beginners ski course. We couldn’t see anything due to the misty snow clouds for the entirity of the day…until of course we boarded the train home. Then I was treated to one of the most beautiful rail journeys I’ve ever been on.



Jaw dropping doesn’t really do it justice.

Instinct tells me I’m doing the right thing: that it’s all going to be worth it. That if I just keep trying it will all work out. It’s little moments like those which convince me its true.

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