Von Dancoise Miller


25. Juli 2022 um 14:40

The Unfiltered Truth About Being Expat in Zurich

In this first episode of the expat column, Dancoise tells us how she ended up in Zurich and shares 2 reasons to stay and one to leave.

[Listen to this article]

There are just 2 reasons why you move to Switzerland and only one reason why you leave. I’m not going to make a ton of friends with this column and that’s ok, but as a newbie in Zurich you’ll be grateful to read the unfiltered truth about what you’re really getting yourself into. As an expat, you will feel like the truth is finally emerging. And as a native Swiss citizen, you will begin to understand the gaping chasm between Swiss nationals and the other 25% of yahoos trudging around Zurich city complaining about the very Swiss culture nuances that have created the beloved “Swiss Quality” brand and the coveted Swiss neutrality that brought them to the country in the first place. For the next several weeks this column will bring you the voices of real expats living in the city, their experiences, opinions, hopes, dreams and perceptions of what makes Zurich the enigma giving rise to much debate in our local expat community everyday.  But first my story.

My name is Dancoise and that is pronounced like Francoise, but with a “D”. Throughout my years in Zurich I’ve been known for many reasons: dancing on table tops at Mascotte as a university student, organizing events for expats as I tried to settled in, selling delicious Mexican food with a lot of pazzaz at festivals, but arguably I am most well-known as The Cake Lady: the California starlet who brought the Hollywood energy of Food Network’s “Cake Boss” to Switzerland. Growing my business and my persona in Zurich gave me a unique opportunity to see many sides of the country through many socio-economic lenses and these are the experiences that I will use as the basis for the articles I share with you each week. But first, the story of how I arrived in Switzerland.

In 2011 I came to Switzerland long-term to “try things out” according to my then Swiss partner and if you have followed our Expat Ladies Zurich Spring Whatsapp chat group as well as our daily “Good Morning Ladies” podcast, you know my story quite well. Giving up my life in San Diego wasn’t something I was keen to do, but if it was just a “trial” I was willing to sell my convertible, leave our beautiful Irvine Company apartment behind, and say goodbye to 146 days of sun each year, because the deal was that if I ever wanted to go back, that I absolutely could. So in 2011 after selling all of my possessions in just 2 weeks, I came to Zurich to test out life in Switzerland full-time. In 2018 I discovered that it was never really a trial, got divorced by recommendation of my loving physician in 2019 who informed me of rampant depression among local women and at the start of the pandemic in 2020 began a custody battle that would unveil a “class justice” system that I never believed could exist in Switzerland. Don’t worry, we will unpack all of these topics in future articles and podcasts. But even with all of the darkness of my story, I can honestly say that I love that Switzerland is a central part of my life and I would not change a day of my story.

«Expectations are high and if you want to survive in Switzerland you have to be on board»

Switzerland has a pretty great PR team as far as setting expectations goes, so you already know to expect hills alive with the sound of music, towering ubiquitous alps, gorgeous velvet chocolates and quality everything like you have likely never seen before, but here are a few of my favorite things about Zurich that you may never expect to appreciate aside from reading it here:

  • Old people  - Just around 10:00 everyday when all the work traffic dissipates, all of the old white haired seniors come out with their shopping trollies to take care of their daily business. Seeing so many older people be active makes me look forward to old age.
  • Abscense of “good” neighborhoods - Switzerland really is about consistency and that’s even down to their neighborhoods. There is no such thing as a “bad” neighborhood in Switzerland and that doesn’t happen by coincidence. It is Swiss law to mix each neighborhood with citizens of all socio-economic levels and in doing so they avoid the all too common “us against them” conflicts of countries with greater economic disparities.
  • Indepence of children - although I opposed it vehemently, children are expected to develop a keen sense of independence from a young age and that starts with walking to school alone. As a native Californian, the thought of my 5-year old child walking to school alone is terrifying, but in Switzerland it is a must. These days, I truly appreciate the level of freedom that my children have in the absence of fear for their safety. More to come on parenting in Switzerland.
  • Push for self improvement - the idea of Swiss quality is great, but if you haven’t grown up in the Swiss culture it is an intimidating concept to align with in work and in life. From expectations at work to final cleaning rituals before handing over an apartment, expectations are high and if you want to survive in Switzerland you have to be on board. This means constant self improvement, which can be a challenge, but like they say, “If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.”
  • The honor system - How wonderful is it to walk past a cabinet full of fruit and see a little change box to collect money for the fresh food and produce available to afternoon walkers on a Sunday? The Swiss culture believes in believing in people and you will see that the honor system is how many aspects of life work. It is how things were in the “old days” everywhere and I love this little bit of tradition that still exists even in the city.

“Ok Dancoise, but what is this about 2 reasons and one reason,” you must be saying, scratching your head in curiosity by now?

Say it with me veteran expats: love or loot! I´ll clarify this in a minute.

Switzerland is truly one of the most gorgeous and green places you will ever see, but with the cost of living keeping it in the top three of most expensive places to live in the world, most are dubious of the viability of living well in the country, especially when considering living in the city of Zurich. And even for expats who have been frequent visitors to the city, the Swiss - who always seem to keep a safe emotional distance - do not pull you in with the warm embrace of countries like Spain, France or Italy. In fact, the experience of departing Switzerland even after a longer stay leaves you feeling like there is no love lost. More on the expat perception of Swiss culture in a future article.

«These expats come to the country abundantly enthusiastic»

So why do expats come to Switzerland to live and why do they stay? The most common brands of expats are the “trailing partner” and the “gold-getters” as I like to call them. “Trailing partners” travel for love and typically have been enticed by their native Swiss companion to just “try” enjoying all of life luxuries that Switzerland has to offer. These expats come to the country abundantly enthusiastic and ready to make Switzerland their home. They are very happy to make connections, get involved in the community, and etc. The “gold-getters” are the ones who come specifically for work. They enjoy the novelty of the new country, leverage the cost of living and leaves the country at every chance to enjoy the benefits of Swiss level earning. Both for their own reasons are sticky reasons to stay and we’ll talk about how these are reasons that mark the beginning of the “gaping chasm” described earlier. More on bridging the gap soon.

And the one reason expats leave? I will address the reason expats leave in a separate article, because the complexity deserve a different level of care. So in exchange for your patience and your likes and comments under my Tsüri related posts, please enjoy a candid conversation with local comedian and Australian expat Chris Darwa who will be performing his live comedy set “3 Grams and a Baby” in Zurich and Edinbourgh for the next several weeks chronicaling his tumultuous start in Zurich nearly eight years ago. Also follow our Expat Ladies Zurich page to hear stories from two of our ladies later this week.