Bilingual kids.

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When people from two different countries get together, the question of where to live is not always as straightforward as it might otherwise be. The scales can tip as one person carries on as normal, while the other may feel like they are climbing a mountain just to reach where they already were, before they got on a plane to follow their heart.

The Norwegian and me chose Australia, a new country for both of us. The only flaw in the plan was the distance from origin. When Switzerland presented itself an as option, it seemed like it could be the perfect country, neutral in every sense.

Three small fellow passengers brought a new dimension to things. School days memories were already being etched, of best friends, and a yellow uniform, and possums in the playground. The idea of replacing this with the unknown was a little daunting.

International school seemed the kindest option, but the reality was a choice between that or having somewhere to live. Holding onto the positives about the cognitive benefits of being bilingual, we decided to send our English speakers to the local Swiss school.

People have commented many times since we moved about how easy it is for children to pick up a new language. Like many things, there are different ways to reach the same destination. To learn a language through immersion, even with additional language classes, is to get thrown in at the deep end. To say that it is easy is almost to undermine their efforts.

I stopped German classes after a year, too hard, the Norwegian too, work commitments. They felt like genuine reasons at the time, but it was humbling to look at the kids, who never questioned why we gave up when they couldn’t.

I was reassured by claims that children can learn a language within a couple of months. Our reality was more like a year, a long time for a child not to be able to interact with the world around them.

But now we have reached the point we were aiming for, and it’s bittersweet, because the children now speak a language we don’t understand, and with language comes cultural identity and belonging.

People will speak German to my child, before turning to me and talking in English. I find it strange that other people know a side of my children that I will never know.

There is no illusion at our place that the adults are more knowledgeable than the kids. You loose that once they’ve seen you struggle to buy a stamp, and when they know that year one homework is beyond your capabilities.

Our family language is English, but when their friends come over they speak German. Once, when even the Furby joined in, I had to shake off the feeling that I was an outsider in my own family.

As to whether they’ve been given a gift by learning a new language, that’s not for me to say just yet. I don’t know what memories will stay with them and if they will remember when their very foundations were shaken. That is their experience, one that only they can fully understand, and their story to tell.

Market day.

Apparently it can take around two years to settle into a new country. I’ve had 18 months where I’ve let new experiences filter in, holding off from making any judgements too soon. Now all those impressions are filling my head like scattered puzzle pieces, waiting for me to make some sense of it all.

I can’t quite seem to put it together though, because Switzerland is full of surprises and contradictions.

While I appreciate the cleanliness and efficiency, at times it can feel a bit, well, sterile. Then you can turn a corner and there is warmth and colour again. Smiles are directed your way and you wonder if the blank stares that rattled you the day before were just a projection of yourself.

I recently found my idea of a perfect Saturday in the form of the MaiMarkt at Frau Gerolds Garten. Moments of contentment can come when you find your place, as I did that day. With the sun on my face I took in the sights and sounds while my kids tucked into their bratwurst.

It was a good reminder to be true to yourself, in whatever context that may be, because in doing so everything around you can suddenly seem a lot brighter.

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Zurich cafe guide.

In Sydney, a daily cafe trip was my little ritual. Sometimes solo where I could linger with a latte or a chai. Other times with company, small children underfoot, snippets of conversation and cold coffee. On my office days it was a quick takeaway as I passed by. Even then, listening to the sounds of the barista at work and the gentle chatter around me while I waited was enough to lull me from hectic school run mum mode into something calmer.

The Norwegian shares my cafe love and weekend plans usually involve a coffee related destination. When we moved to Zurich, we would gaze out of the window on a Sunday as we pondered what to do with the day. We could go for a hike, that’s what the rest of the country was doing, but our heart wasn’t really in it. We needed a coffee to liven us up. The research began. It turns out there were some great little cafes waiting to be discovered.

I now have a selection of places to visit that are nicely scattered so that wherever I am in the city I’m never far from one of my favourites. Here they are:

Grande

I will always have a soft spot for Grande, my first good Zurich coffee. You can of course get coffee in Zurich, but often it’s not great. I was spoiled in Sydney and now I’m a bit fussy. It was the Norwegian who discovered Grande. In the early days before we had a place to call home, he came in one day proudly declaring that he had found a good coffee! The following day I went off to check it out for myself …

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After weeks of cafe withdrawal I could feel something realigning within me as I sat back in my chair and took in my new surroundings. The cool, cosy ambience inside, and the Limmat River on the outside. Sometimes you can just tell when a coffee is going to be good, and I wasn’t disappointed when my cortado appeared.

Café Noir

A cortado here will get you a Sydney latte. Grande may be my favourite cafe, but the coffee at Noir is amazing. I always end up ordering a second. Window shopping in the cute shops on Josefstrasse along the way is also a bonus.

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Bovelli

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Bovelli opened last year and comes from the same family as Grande. The cafe isn’t as cosy, but it’s in a great central location.

Milchbar

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It was an exciting day when we went to Milchbar at Paradeplatz for the first time. I took so many photos that day – the cool interior, the courtyard, the coffee, the cakes … Cafe heaven for me.

Babu’s Bakery & Coffeehouse

Babu’s has the bustling cafe vibe that I miss from Sydney. It’s not just me though, the kids miss it too. They also came along on our cafe expeditions and learned to appreciate the experience from an early age. When they were old enough to protest about being stuck in a high chair, a babyccino became part of our cafe language.

Wednesday afternoon means no school for children in Zurich and we’ll often go to Babu’s. Somehow we usually manage to get a table, and we can spend hours chatting away, with hot chocolates, cake, and a cappuccino for me. It’s usually on this sort of afternoon that I’ll get to hear their stories that can otherwise get forgotten to be told on a normal day.

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The local tourist.

Taking a wrong turn, flickers of recognition along the way. Is it possible these paths were once familiar to me?

Memories surface from what seem to be a lifetime ago.

The little dark haired child.

The teenager, too timid to venture far from home.

The young adult starting out on her journey, ready to find her place in the world.

Today I am back in my old neighbourhood. I might have taken it for granted if I had not had some distance, but travel has given me a new perspective. With fresh eyes I can see the charm and loveliness around me.

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