The one where I complain

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It’s been almost one year since we moved here. I have three posts planned for so long I almost forgot about them. And I also have so many great ideas for the site and so little time to put them into play. I dream of having, apart from the travel stories, another area for travel guides, with helpful information that we have discovered while we visited the places.

I also dream about an area dedicated to saving the planet. Here, next to different articles on how we could help nature recover from the traumas we have created, I would like to also have a few DIY projects to reuse things that we would otherwise throw away. I’m not that good at arts and crafts, but I had situations when I should have thrown something away and felt bad about it, so I tried to reuse everything I could.

I know, I’m dreaming too much. The problem is I don’t have or can’t find enough time to also make them a reality.

How’s the blog going

My lack of time may be a lack of motivation. And not because I don’t enjoy working on this site, although this is also a reason sometimes, but also because sometimes I don’t enjoy anything. I had lots of problems with the site due to the lack of knowledge I had when I started it.

Out of everything you can see here, I only knew how to write before I started. This is what I’m good at, creating content. But there are so many things to do when you own a site, that my knowledge base started to grow in areas I couldn’t even imagine a year ago. I started to put more work when taking pictures, even though I don’t plan on becoming a famous photographer.

After I had already started to work on it, I realized I could make my site multilingual, and I had to change my site builder. With a worse one, apparently. And one that’s not mobile-friendly. Because, yes, in the 21st century, at GoDaddy, you have to choose between a multilingual and a mobile-friendly website.

And the whole administration layer doubled due to the multilingual component because it’s not the site builder that handles it, but me, while designing it. I have two sites to handle, a task that doesn’t make my life easier at all.

As a bonus, the new site builder doesn’t have an integrated blog area, so I had to also make a separate one. The same goes for the social media bar I had to design myself.

The same thing applies to the brand identity area. In any normal site builder, you define your brand colors, fonts, buttons and all design elements that you want to reuse across your whole website, which makes things so much easier. But not for me, I had to do everything by hand, and I learned more RGB codes than I have ever wanted.

Then I realized my Google ranking won’t ever increase if the website is not mobile-friendly, so I started to think to make a switch since I had no more ideas on how to make it work.

In the meantime, I started to read a lot about social media, to try to grow my audience. Yes, my 20 Instagram followers and 10 Pinterest ones like my work a lot. I also started to read a lot about SEO, maybe one day I’ll learn how to write more online friendly since I’m pretty sure my style is not what Google has in mind.

I have renewed my domain a few days ago and I still wonder why I did it. If I keep it up, no one will ever read what I write here. At least I have a place where I can complain…

How to learn a new language in Switzerland

So, now that I finished complaining about wanting to complain, I should start writing my scheduled complaints. Yes, everything above was just the beginning. The real complaining is just starting.

Right after we moved here we looked into language classes. Because no matter how much we said we don’t need it, for me it’s horrible to not be able to read a newspaper or a piece of information from the bus station. For me, not being able to read every single thing because I don’t know the language is like being uneducated, like having a handicap all of a sudden, and it’s frustrating.

So, with the help of our landlord who’s nice, we registered for some German language classes. If we would have gotten the B permit, we would have received a welcome gift with language classes, as far as we heard. But we have only managed to get the L ones, for a limited time only, so we cannot enjoy these benefits, as we cannot ask for a VAT refund from Germany (another reason to complain).

I have a feeling that our landlord wanted for a long time to convince her husband to get to classes, so this was the perfect moment for all of us to register. After we intensively used their website, which of course was full of contradictions, we managed to understand the following about the classes:

  1. The first 2-3 weeks are just to get to know each other, and we won’t pay for it.
  2. We’ll get some useful materials from here and, in case we decide to take the class, we will pay for these.
  3. After the 2-3 weeks’ time, we’ll receive the bill to pay for them.

So we got to class. The place was perfect, really close to our office, and the times were as good as possible, right after work. If you remember, my husband took a few German classes at his previous job, but I knew nothing (John Snow…), I was only playing with Duolingo from time to time. After the first session, I almost left crying.

For starters, everything was in German. I mean everything. How to pay for the class, how to use the book (it was divided into three areas that were meant to be used in parallel, so we needed an explanation for it), what was our homework, how to gather around in groups for certain assignments. I didn’t understand a thing and I think neither of the other people did.

The class had people from so many cultures, and with so different interests that I think we did not have a thing in common, no matter how much we tried. A shortlist of the people in the class looks like this: two Romanian IT engineers, a Spanish chemistry engineer, two housewives from far away lands, a very shy lady from Korea, two au-pair students from Sweden, John – our landlord, and another girl from Singapore who was studying in Basel.

Since it was the cheapest class on the market, I think this was the place where people were sent by the Social Services to learn the language so they could find a job, and also an easy target for students that wanted to learn more about the local culture, and also people like us, that would have wanted a better class, but couldn’t afford it (for reasons I will explain in a separate post).

So the whole class was a mess, the teacher barely managed to make herself understood, and we left the place disappointed. But before we left my husband and John made me go and talk to the teacher and ask her to translate some things next time, and to explain that I did not understand a thing and I would need a different rhythm. Honestly, I thought that joining an A1 class automatically means I have NO German knowledge whatsoever and that I DO need her to translate in the beginning.

Seeing this disaster of a lesson, we decided to not pay for it right away, but to wait and see how it goes. So we kept the received materials in perfect shape, thinking we may want to return them. The next class proved I was not the only loser in there, since everyone had different homework, although all of us listened to the same instructions. We did not set this up, but it couldn’t have turned out better even we would have.

In the meantime, while my frustration was growing, we started to look into our possible options, even if our budget couldn’t allow much. Luckily for us, we have a friend that’s been studying German for a while because he was also thinking of relocating. He recommended his teacher, a pretty young lady, who was teaching German by Skype.

After we talked to her, we decided together on a schedule, and thankfully her prices fit into our budget, since she wasn’t asking for Swiss prices, but for Romanian ones. In this case, we discussed with our class teacher, we explained that the way this class is going is not fit for me, we returned all the materials she had given to us, and we split up politely and civilly.

Or so we thought. Three weeks later, we received the bills for the whole class. Both bills were adding up to around 1000 CHF, so not exactly pennies. Of course, we lost our mind and decided to write them an email and explain the whole situation, thinking it was probably a communication issue and maybe we did not make it clear that we only came to the trial classes.

Their explanation was abysmal, to say the least. If we would have just shown up, took the trial classes, and then gave up, we wouldn’t have been expected to pay. But because we registered on-line, we had to pay the full price.

The truth was that, when we registered, it was written next to the “Enroll” button that clicking it meant agreeing to receive the bill. But in a different area of the same site, it was clearly stated that the first 2-3 weeks are trial classes and are therefore free of charge. These trial classes were happening only if you just showed up without registering first, which seems pretty stupid to me.

So 2 students, in the same conditions, but as a teacher you knew about one of them and the other one was a surprise, were treated differently. We explained this and we send them the screenshots with the site areas where these things were stated, but the best we could get was the option to “withdraw” for the smaller fee of 100 CHF per person.

We eventually choose this option, it’s not like we could easily have fought them, but it left us with a sad memory of the whole thing. Two weeks later John also gave up, but at least he managed to make them wave the 100 CHF fee as well.

And I have to say that the Swiss colleagues were advising us to pay the full price, because this is “the Swiss way”, to pay if you clicked the “Enroll” button, even if the site had inconsistent information. At least we have that: we’re not Swiss enough yet and we still have it in us to fight for what we think is fair for us.

About services in Switzerland

Another problem I have here is the cost of various services. I apologize to the male audience who’s going to get bored now, but I need to vent.

I like to think that in Romania I was a woman that took great care of herself. It was not cheap, but not too expensive either to go to a beauty place once a month to dye my hair, enjoy a manicure and not enjoy a waxing routine. And I was not the only one to do this, lots of other women do this regularly.

But here, all of these cost a fortune. And I’m not the only one saying that, since I have an embarrassingly low salary (more on this later), but also people that are born and raised here. I often see women with a nice manicure, but not professionally made, and for any hair-related work they usually go to either Germany or France. This indeed is one of the advantages of living in Basel, but I assume not everyone has it and some just have to go to Switzerland.

Although I was initially a dyed redhead, I soon realized I would not be able to maintain this deluxe shade in here, and by deluxe I mean it has to be refreshed monthly. I initially tried to migrate to a balayage, using my natural color on the roots and the red for the ends, but I soon realized the ends still need intensive care.

So I put all my efforts into reaching something similar to my natural color, after a few years of the intense treatment that made my hair a light bronze and also almost destroyed it. Now I can go to a beauty salon once every three months, when my gray hair is already too visible to be unnoticed, and when I also have to get a haircut anyway. It’s the only way I find it acceptable to pay almost 200 euros per session.

When it comes to waxing, the story is similar. Even though I usually do this at home or when I go to Romania, I needed to do it here once when we were leaving for the Maldives. I found a place in Germany with good prices and great reviews, but it was closed so I had to go to Switzerland.

In Romania, I used to pay around 100 RON (~ 25$) for legs and arms waxing plus eyebrows shaping, and here I paid 108 CHF, which is around 115$. It’s huge! I have to admit the services were really good, the technician made me feel comfortable even while not speaking the language, I really cannot complain about her work. But still, 115$?

I don’t even want to start about a manicure. I can hardly find anything below 100 CHF for a gel manicure, and for a semi-permanent manicure, the price is around 80 CHF. If I draw a line and assume I’d be doing all of these every month like I used to, I would spend around 400 CHF.

Before moving here, we made our calculations to find a number to make us realize if a product is expensive or not. Initially, we were translating everything in Romanian lei, so everything felt very expensive (1 Romanian leu is about 0.25$). But then we realized we weren’t earning our money in lei, but in CHF, so, according to our calculations, we were multiplying the price of products by 2 and asking ourselves: would I spend this amount in lei for this product in Romania?

According to this coefficient, these services would cost around 800 lei in Romania. I used to spend around 500-600 for it, and this with high-end beauty salons, not just any option available nearby.

About being lonely as an expat

Probably the things mentioned above are happening because I don’t have girls around to ask for advice. Since I work in a technical field, I’m usually the only girl in the team, sometimes even the only one on the floor. But in the tiny company we work now, I’m the only girl. That’s weird. I mean, I’m not a girly girl, but sometimes you need a feminine vibe around you.

For example, I went through the most feminine tragedy ever and I couldn’t share it with anyone else but my husband, who just shrugged and carried on. For the first time in my life, I had bought a very expensive face powder before leaving Romania. And I mean expensive. I took care of it like I was taking care of my phone, I even had a velvet cover for it. I think it was worth as much as all the other make-up I own, which says a lot about my girl powers.

And one morning, because I was sleepy beyond normal, I managed to drop it on the ground. O-M-G! Of course, it broke in thousands of small pieces so I also had to clean up the floor, and I managed to save just a little part of it. My heart broke and I felt our account dying a little bit thinking of this wasted money. When I turned to my husband to complain, he had the usual man approach: well, what can you do, buy another one.

He, as any other man, doesn’t understand that when women complain, they do it because they want some understanding and support, not because they want to hear solutions to their problems. They can find solutions by themselves just fine. An Alan Pease classic, I might say.

I went to the office and I couldn’t complain to anyone there either. And to bother friends in Romania for this thing feels stupid. Of course, I realize it is stupid, and that this is a first-world problem, but it’s one of the moments you realize what it means to be far away from everything you know.

And even though I know that in case we have an emergency, our loved ones will be here in 24h tops, we are still aware that we’re mostly alone against the world. And it hurts. No, you’re not making friends in your 30s like you were doing as a child. You’re not the same. They are not the same.

If you think about it, not even in your country you’re not making new friends in your 30s. Most friendships start in childhood or school. Some friends appear later, at work, but not always. And it’s way harder when you don’t speak the language.

Think about it: you’re a Swiss citizen, you lived here most of your life, you speak Swiss German, you have your childhood friends close by, and you share common interests, hobbies, and the social background. Just how tempting it is for you to become friends with the Romanian couple from your office?

This would mean to meet them, speak only English, try to see if you have anything in common and find all sorts of differences since you grew up in different cultures. And why would you do that when you already have your friends you can count on, to whom you can speak your language, and share the same interests?

That’s right, the motivation to do it is not that great. Well, except for the fact that we’re adorable, but this is quite hard to find out without trying first.

We also miss our friends and family so much! Before we left, my best friend was pregnant and then another friend told us the same news (they gave birth one month apart). I managed to see my best friend before she gave birth, but I wasn’t there that day, and I would have loved to be there. I would have loved to hyperventilate with her husband and to welcome Eduard into the world.

I cannot even remember the other friend being pregnant. The pregnancy was young when we left, and the next time we saw them the baby was 4 days old. For me, it’s like the baby girl appeared from nowhere, this is how unreal this pregnancy felt like because we weren’t there.

Because there are very few bank holidays here, and we don’t have enough vacation days either, we had to miss events. And it hurts to make choices when you would want to go to all of them. And yes, we have sent money to people like we would have been there, but it’s not even remotely the same. From our wedding, we don’t remember the money and gifts, but we remember the people that were there and had fun with us on our special day.

It’s hard not to be there! And don’t get me wrong, people are visiting us, we are really happy about this. But it’s not easy for them. Everyone has a limited amount of vacation days a year, just like we do.

And let’s be honest here, Basel is not a bucketlist destination for anyone. It’s not like millions of tourists want to come here every year. Also, realistically speaking, no one has to come and visit us. We decided to leave, not them, so we have to bite the bullet and accept the consequences of our decisions.

About cultural differences in Switzerland

Another thing that bothers me about the country we have chosen to live in is the very traditional society it has. Due to many reasons, in Switzerland, most women stay home and take care of the children. Some of the reasons being the high costs of childcare, the tax system that can make a one-income family earn more than a two-income one, and the school system that has children going home to have lunch every day, lunch that is expected to be freshly out of the oven.

What I can see though is that none of these reasons seem like they’re these women’s decisions. They don’t seem to have too many options, unfortunately. I don’t know yet for sure, I only have a rough idea, but it looks like most women stay at home and take care of the household and men go to work. A thing I don’t like from so many points of view!

Once, we went for a bank appointment to discuss our pension plans and, while explaining the Swiss pension system, the consultant felt the need to tell me that WHEN I’ll stay at home with the children I shouldn’t be worried because I’m still covered by my husband’s pension plan. So WHEN not IF.

I’m surprised I didn’t throw tomatoes at him, but I thought about his poor wife, having to wash and iron his shirt afterward. Still, this situation doesn’t seem to bother them, I often see families with at least two children, so I may be missing something here. But for now, this is how it looks like, and we’re putting serious thought into planning our future when we’ll have children.

I know people will throw lots of tomatoes towards me. It’s OK, I’m used to it. I know it’s easy to say “If you don’t like it, go home!”. And I also know I can really “go home” anytime I want to.

But I had to complain a bit. And to explain that not everything is like a dream come true. And to share some things that we encounter. I promised from the beginning I’ll write about our life in here with complete honesty, and the reasons to complain are part of life. It would be hypocritical not to say them out loud. And I haven’t even started my job! Will be continued…

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