Chameleon.

I follow Lonely Planet on Instagram. The other day I was scrolling though my feed and there was a photo of the ‘Switzerland’ guide. Someone was planning a trip. How exciting, I thought, mentally adding it to my list. Then I remembered that I live here.

I wonder what I would be saying about Switzerland if instead of moving here 18 months ago, I had visited for a week or two …

Would I be reminiscing about the wonderful chocolate, and the cheese, the efficient trains and the fresh air?

As it is, I’ve been challenged this last week by the differences in the cultural codes I am bound to. Everyday life has ups and downs wherever you are. Sometimes the challenges can seem greater when things don’t make sense in the first place.

It’s taken this long for my daughter to learn the language, and thankfully with the German has come friendships. She recently spent an afternoon with a friend and I had assumed that the baton of responsibility had been handed over to someone else for a few hours. I found out later that no adult had been keeping an eye out for them. Of course that is normal here, but it is not normal for me. There is a cultural difference between an inherent belief that the world is safe, compared to an inherent belief that it is not.

My feelings are compounded by the fact that the more integrated my daughter becomes, the deeper my sense of floundering. The rules here are starting to make sense to her, yet I’m not sure they will ever make sense to me. If we stay on this path then at some point our values will start to diverge.

People say that it is enriching to live abroad and to experience another culture. Certainly it can be character building. Sometimes I think maybe it would be better to simply visit a place. I would surely see the beauty in Switzerland more clearly if I had a guidebook and an itinerary. Instead I am trying to find my place in an unfamiliar land with no guide to lead the way.

I need to find my bearings again. My suitcase is packed for a trip home next week. For a few days at least, I will blend in.

Festival.

Tomorrow is Sechseläuten, a traditional spring festival that takes place in Zurich on the third Monday of April.

The climax of the celebration is the burning of the Böögg, a giant snowman figure filled with explosives, which symbolises putting an end to winter.

Legend has it, that the quicker the Böögg’s head explodes, the sooner summer will come, the hotter it will be and the longer it will last.

I wasn’t sure how my kids would feel about witnessing a snowman been burnt to death (and then being used as a barbeque), so we stuck to watching the children’s parade. boogg 7

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Time travel.

I’m visiting Norwich soon, the fine city where I was born and grew up. I have mixed feelings when I go back, excitement together with a sort of disquiet. I want it to feel like I am coming home, but it doesn’t really. It’s taken some time for me to look forward to these visits, for many years I preferred to stay away.

There’s a sense of going back in time when I go, of being 14 again. I was a good teenager, never any trouble, but my mum would probably tell a different story. She only knew a different me, an irritated, terse, cross version. If I’m honest that’s the only me she’d ever known until recently. Because the backdrop of our relationship was the darkened sitting room of our family home.

My mum got M.E. when I was around 14. Back then no one believed it was an illness, not even the doctors. But I saw it, how her body just shut down. How she lay on the sofa for 20 years. Too tired to move, her body sensitive to light and noise. I retreated to my bedroom, the only place I could go without feeling that the energy was being sucked out of me.

I had to escape. To university. To Norway. To Australia. Far away.

We talked, but there were words in the place of real shared experiences. Like reading a book where you imagine the scene and create an image in your mind. I’m not sure how close her version was compared to my reality. She was too weak to leave the sofa so she missed the part of my life where I was at university, and in Norway, and in Australia.

But then something amazing happened. She got better. A new treatment worked. She grew stronger. I’m not sure what changed, what made her say “yes” to a new option instead of the usual defeated “no”. Maybe she was ready. Maybe she saw the sadness in my brother and me, that our mum was there, but wasn’t really. Perhaps she could see for herself. The passage of time becomes more evident when a baby is born, and the birthdays that follow celebrate the passing years.

Whatever the reason, she came back to us. She came to visit me for the first time, when I was 38, in Zurich. She saw the home I had created with my family. She was part of my real life. For the first time she got to see the real me. The nice me.

“Don’t look back,” they told her when she was well again. We don’t talk about when she was ill, it’s too painful for her. She knows she has missed out on too many years of her life. So she looks ahead.

She is excited about us visiting soon. She has lots to show us, new places she has discovered since leaving the house. But she has an altered perception of time, almost like she wants to continue where her life was paused before. She can see that I’m not a child, I never really was, but I’m not sure that she believes it.

One of the strange things about moving abroad is that you become a visitor in your own country, torn between the past and the present. You stay somewhere that isn’t yours, and your time needs to be managed, there simply isn’t enough of it to fit everything in. But it’s important for me to take the time to wander, to look around, because it’s in these quiet moments, when I’m alone, that I see things that take me back and make me smile. When I experience a feeling deep inside that reassures me I am in a place that I can always call home.