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An Emigrant Story

Swiss living is pretty alright.

Where I'm From

It takes at least 3 months, six passport photos, a cooperative employer paying a Swiss immigration lawyer, a willing Swiss landlord (good luck with that), a job contract, and tremendous patience for an American to move to Switzerland. In return, you get to pay 3 times what you did in Texas for groceries, twice as much for rent, and to live amongst a taciturn, clannish mountain people in a place full of the kind of ridiculous natural beauty that this native of the concrete swamp affectionately known as H-Town naively described as “Lord of the Rings-ish” upon first arrival.

Where I'm At

The Missus and I made the snap decision to move here in late November. Literally, it took all of about 4 seconds to contemplate. Houston’s great and its where I’m from, but the opportunity to set up shop, for however long, in the middle of Europe was too good to pass up. We arrived here in the beginning of March as legal immigrant residents of Zurich. Interesting times, to say the least.

This is Zurich at Night

Of course you give up a lot of things when you leave Texas, some of which you can think of and some of which you can’t. For most of those things though, there is at least an adequate substitute.

La Plaza at Longpoint and Bingle, in the Heartland

You’re going to miss Mexican food. It’s an immutable truth. The thing is, you’re going to miss Mexican food anytime you move north of Austin, east of Houston, or west of El Paso. Sorry Dallas, it’s the truth. And what passes for Mexican food in New Mexico, Arizona, and California doesn’t cut it. So I knew I’d miss Mexican food, but I knew I’d miss it if I went anywhere outside the homeland (which I consider to be within the Houston-Austin-San Antonio triangle, give or take 50 miles in any direction). The thing you don’t realize is that you’re not JUST going to miss Mexican food, you’re going to miss being that border-line uncomfortably full feeling that you can only get from larded up refritos, wrapped with fatty, salty, limey beef, cheese, cilantro, and salsa in a series of larded up tortillas. The Swiss just don’t sell industrial-sized white buckets of lard at the grocery stores. Hell, they barely even sell limes. But whatevs, it might make me live a little bit longer and it’s not like I’m never coming home again (I get 5 weeks vacation a year now, thanks to the largesse of European labor law – as a side note, not to get political, but it sucks to be an American worker when compared to the rest of the world).

They Do Not Have Fiesta

You’re going to miss certain parts of your home sports culture. Now it’s easier these days if you’re a Houston fan. Bob McNair has allowed Gary Kubiak to go full retard (which has been unequivocally proven to disqualify you from awards, including Super Bowls – ask Cuba Gooding Jr. how Radio turned out); Drayton McLane nickel & dimed the Astros with cynical PR moves, egotistical GM power-plays, and wholesale refusal to invest in the farm system or international academies; and Les Alexander went all in on a Chinese player with bad wheels, a lazy, sore-backed prodigy who had a fork in him, and a bunch of oddly-shaped role players – taken as a whole this means that if I’m gone for five years the odds of my missing any significant sports occurrences in the H are more statistically insignificant than the odds of any adult film star successfully “crossing over” into mainstream film success (DVDA is not as marketable outside the hotel room pay-per-view as one would think) multiplied by the odds of a major label rock band with decent music going platinum next year (if you try to bring up the Kings of Leon to counter-argue then you might as well walk around in in big red shoes with a plastic red ball on your nose because you are a mother-f$cking CLOWN), multiplied by the odds of Isiah Thomas and Chris Wallace serving as co-GMs of an NBA championship team. [Edited to include superfluous semi-colons to placate Vasherized and provoke Scipio.] But even knowing that, it’s weird to be in another country on opening day and it will be weirder still when college football starts. Of course I’ll spring for the college football package on ESPN on-line, but how often will I really get up at 3 AM to watch night games like I claim that I will now???

Obviously you’re going to miss friends and family. No way around this one, and it’s a bitch. There are other Americans here, along with a decent bunch of Limeys, and I’ve even managed to represent BC (t-shirt style) in a regular flag football game, but they aren’t the same dudes I’ve grown up with and lived among for the last 20+ years. But the truth is, you get to a certain age and marital status and you’re kind of past the time of your life where you get to spend big chunks of your free time sitting around hanging out. I can’t remember the last time I chewed tobacco all day while playing either a Madden or Tiger Woods golf tournament, but it’s been some years. Everybody’s married or breeding it seems, and to quote the lesser Hank (not the least, that is obviously Hank III) “all my rowdy friends done rowdied on down.” As for family, well, I’ll still see them over the holidays and regularly on Skype, so it isn’t all that different from moving to Austin.

Finally, and less importantly but no less disorientingly, you’re going to miss the Imperial system of measurement. I don’t know what the weather is when it’s in Celsius. I understand 0, but the rest is a great mystery. Similarly baffling are distances in kilometers and weights in grams. When you remove these things then you literally have no way to predict what you’re about to experience. The length of drives, sizes of portions, and how to dress for the day all become strangely bewildering.

These are the things that I knew I’d miss.

It turns out there are lots of things no one warned me about though. For example, Swiss German is not German. I mean it is, but it relates to the German spoken in Germany in the exact same way that Chaucer’s English relates to American English. Swiss German is an archaic language that sounds like a combination of the gag reflex and the throat closing that accompanies anaphylactic shock. Thus my high school German courses are essentially useless and I have no idea what anyone is saying.

This is My New Barbershop

Also, they use military time here for everything. Since I was never in the military, this means I have to constantly perform simple arithmetic to figure out when I’m supposed to be somewhere. This is more of a nuisance than you would expect.

I knew it would be more expensive here, but I had no idea how much more expensive. It’s comprehensive. A McDonald’s combo meal (which has replaced a pack of Marlboros as the international canary in the mineshaft for cost evaluation) costs 13 Swiss francs. That is almost $15. That’s crazy. The Swiss still encourage and celebrate monopolies (small “M,” not the board game) and they pass on the resulting savings to themselves, sticking you with large bills and no means to seek competition. Also, they pick and choose the portions of the EU thing they want to adopt, and price competition and the open flow of goods are not the things they’ve chosen. Neutrality is a big deal here, so long as it’s profitable.


So now I’m BC’s resident Swiss correspondent. It’s a better gig than Libya (too soon?).

Lake Zurich in the Evening
Lake Zurich in the Evening

Just like all of you, I wonder how bad we’ll be this year. I’ve accepted that we will not be good. Argue with me all you want, no QB, no RB, no OTs, and lousy and/or inexperienced DBs do not a successful season make. Also, I’m a little perturbed at some of the bizarre Aggie and Longhorn trolls that Jesus and Tipsy have drawn out on the ‘Cosm. We used to legitimately run fools who came with tired dead dog jokes and poorly punctuated and spelled hyperbolic rants about the coming season. Hopefully once the real season rolls around we will again. That being said, I check BC everyday and I cannot wait for football season. I know it’s awhile, but I don’t give two sh!ts about anything else sports-related in the US until then. I care about Arsenal, but it hurts too much to talk about it right now.