Saturday, June 11, 2011


My hand always rests – no, tightly grips - onto the top left-hand-side of my bag now when I’m out in the street. This only serves to make it look more obvious that I’m a tourist and not a particularly confident one.

Despite this, we achieved two huge wins this week – a place at the English-speaking International School for Sapphire and a home. A home!

The relief is huge but the disappointment that both were our second choices is also there buzzing in my head lurking, threatening to sour things. The waiting list for the city campus was so long that the coordinator told us that it was ‘nearly impossible’ for Sapphire to get in when school resumes on 1st September, but there was a space at the Founex campus, at La Chataigneraie. It’s a fair old commute unless we secure her a place on the school bus at an additional cost of three and a half thousand francs (and that's only if I can contact the bus coordinator to explain my location and situation. The power here seems to rest with the providers of the services, not the customer. We are to grovel and hope that they will decide to help us it seems).

“I don’t want to go there, we went last week and I hated it. It’s stupid.” My relieved smile faded when I put down the mobile phone. Ticking one huge thing off our ‘this is our life now, not a holiday’ list wasn’t going swimmingly. Her head was buried in the two enormous, uselessly-squared European pillows that have cricked all our necks. I decided it was best to leave her for a while, have a shower with the ridiculously short hand-held hose and rinse out some knickers in the bath at the same time……

“Mum, you were right. I’m just…… scared. I don’t want to go to high school….” We hug and talk and cry a little. What kid does look forward to joining the big, grown up kids who look like adults?

Our home isn’t the one we ached for; Karen’s place a block away from Love Chunks’ work and fully-furnished. Modern, inviting, fully set up. She recommended us and only us to the land agent as lease-breakers need to find their replacement or pay extra rent. We had the right paper work – the official Letter of Attestation for LC’s employment, specified monthly salary declaration and copies of our passports.

“Sorry Monsieur, but the regis has concerns that your salary is marginal for this rent,” she sniffed when he rang to inform them that we’d been offered another apartment (three bedrooms instead of two) at the same monthly rate. “I suggest you take it.”

So we have. Orange seventies tiles, two bidets that are likely to have boxes placed over them in order for some surface storage area, a balcony, dog-friendly, large shared garden and heating included.

What surprises me is how people yank out the light fittings when they move, leaving bare wires hanging from the ceiling. Same goes for curtains too. What’s the likelihood of their new home having the same sized windows?

Setting up this bare space should be exciting. That’s what I keep telling myself, but the sheer enormity of the expense involved has taken most of the joy away. Everything – EVERYTHING is twice the price and I feel the skin on my face dry up and tighten with anxiety at the price tags in front of me. I’ve never paid AUD 1799 for a much-smaller washing machine but the thought of rinsing and wringing more loads by hand in the bath isn’t an enticing one.

The expat sites are full of ‘Leaving Geneva – everything in our flat must go!’ adverts but the curse of a little city with big rents is that no-one has transport or the ability to move things, so the triple-seater sofa or big Pax wardrobe that ‘must be dismantled to get through the door’ is a liability not an asset.

Food is doubly terrifying and may even work in my favour because my appetite has dwindled. Paying CHF 9.90 for a ham and cheese sandwich ($11.14 AUD) and upwards of CHF 50 per kg for meat is …….. How do people live here? What on earth do they do? Tinned tomatoes and pasta have become regular dinners for us via the double hot plate in the hotel room. The most affordable meal we've had so far has been lunch at IKEA.

My guts are in continual churn mode as I see our travel allowance and personal savings rapidly dwindle to nothing. Never did I think that we’d be sitting on our pushed-together single beds, LC and I, hugging each other and wondering very seriously just how we’ll be able to afford to not only live but have some form of fulfilling life here. An enormous challenge awaits.


Elephant's Child said...

Oh Kath. Scary times for you all. Good, positive thoughts winging your way. And excellent that the new house has space for the four legged family member. Hugs.

Baino said...

Won't Love Chunks earn a Swiss comparable salary? Perhaps things will seem less expensive if he does. I'm surprised frankly as I think Australia's expensive. When we were in France, everything was comparable. The natives don't sound to friendly either? Poor Saph. It's tough going to a new school let alone in a new country bu she'll appreciate the experience down the track. As for taking fittings, they do the same in England. Some even take the carpet!

nuttynoton said...

well you have made some progress. Whatever school Sapphire goes to will be daunting but as baino says she will learn from the experience. As for the expense, even more expensive than I thought. It still must seem daunting but give it chance it will get better

iODyne said...

1. life is just a series of challenges and compromises, wherever any of us is located.
2. Shorten the bag shoulder strap and shift it round under your bosom.
3. that poor purple Milka cow, but thanks for the photo.
4. Can you find for Sapphire, some other expat child? she is not alone in her experience.
5. feel the love and sympathy and support just rushing at you from back here, X X Ann O'D

Anonymous said...

Sounds like we should be organising a food hamper at this end


tracy said...

You'll get used to the money thing really you will. It feels like you're bleeding money for about three months, then slowly it goes down to a trickle, and then you'll be too busy getting trains back and forth to Milan and Paris to worry about the money you aren't saving.

I know this probably won't help, but kids in international schools are incredibly welcoming. Most of them have probably been started at two or three schools and Sapphire won't stand out as the new kid at all, because new kids are just part of the landscape and there will be other new children.

As for the curtains and the light fittings, I know. WTF?

Hang in there. It will get easier, really it well.

tracy said...

Oh, and PS don't buy anyone's stuff off the bulletin boards - you'll pay too much for it. Wait til you've made a few friends and then you'll hear about stuff and people will just give it to you.

River said...

An enormous challenge indeed. But three bedrooms has to be a plus. A study for Sapphire to do homework or just extra storage for everything that doesn't fit in the other rooms?
You'll adjust to the price of food, but check in with other ex-pats and maybe they can direct you to fresh food markets or cheaper butchers. Also, pasta is good for you.
I don't understand about the light fittings, why, why, why?
And bidets are handy for washing the sweaty feet....
When do you move in?

Pandora Behr said...

Ah challenges. As the others have said here, you will overcome. Just pleased Saph has a school and more importantly, you have a home. Sending love and healing, but it sounds like the worst is over.

Radge said...

Such a tough time but it will pass. When all is settled in a couple of months' time you won't even remember the current worries..

JIlly said...

Don't forget how tough you are young lady - you have a huge spirit of adventure, and you can do this. I love everyone's comments. We're all behind you - there's a lot of us out here in whatever land wishing you the best. xxx Jilly xxx

Pandora Behr said...

Ps. Forgot to say, bidets are great for soaking socks and smalls in - and I think the kitchen has personality. it's onwards and upwards from here.

Plastic Mancunian said...

Bonjour Kath,

Switzerland is expensive. When I have travelled to Zurich in the past, I've been shocked at the cost of food in particular.

I ate lunch in a subsidised canteen and was amazed that it cost more than a half decent pub meal in England.

I've heard that Germans take all of the light fittings etc. when they leave as well. Property prices are so expensive that everybody rents and they will say "nobody's having MY light fittings and curtains."

BTW I disagree with Baino - taking carpets and light fittings only rarely happens in England.

I still like Switzerland (though I can;t vouch for Geneva - having never been there).

Oh - and those bloody cows are everywhere. There was even one in the office I worked in.




Kath Lockett said...

EC - thanks. Milly the dog arrives on 13th July which'll help us feel at 'home'.

Baino, we *thought* that LC was on a good salary but now that we're here and facing the real costs (imagine having to pay fifty percent of your wage on rent and *then* cough up three months' worth BEFORE paying any actual rent? That's our nest-egg!), we see that we're probably one of the poorest UN families!

You're right nuttynoton - I know that I need to give things a chance - the shock'll fade and things will feel more familiar.

Thanks Marshall Stacks. As soon as we're in our apartment I plan on joining the Women of UN (or something similarly-named) for holiday contacts, friendships etc. I'm aware that I'm not exactly hilarious holiday material for Sapphire for another two months!

BS - yes please! Meat, spices (rarer than chicken lips here), anything from the Asian food spectrum (including rice) and toiletries. Why shampoo has to be twice the price when it all comes from China is a mystery to me....

Your advice is very welcome, Tracy. I've discovered that bulletin boards are mostly full of over-inflation and hope. In reality they should be paying the buyer to come and drag the stuff out of their tiny apartments.

River we think we're moving in this Friday (17th). The letter is entirely in French so we'll need our not-very-welcoming Welcoming Officer to translate for us on Tuesday. Plus, I might even try pushing her to phone the agent and ask for their advice on who the other folk in the building usually use for light fittings and curtains.

Pandora, I hope so. I hope that expat kids are exactly like Tracy (above) describes - been there, done that; so likely to be friendly and welcoming to her.

Radge I hope your comment comes true!

Thank you too Jilly. Hopefully by this time next week my biggest problem will be how to get rid of all the flatpack cardboard from IKEA :)

Ah, that's a great idea for a bidet, Pand! And you're right - the kitchen has 'personality', as do the bathrooms..... they're particularly engaging!

deepkickgirl said...

I don't know what to say Kath. I know things will settle down but it does seem particularly awful, everything you are going through.

It takes me back to when my sister began her big working holiday to Europe a few years ago. They chose Amsterdam for a variety of well researched reasons but it was an absolute nightmare. The bureaucracy was insane, the work situation ridiculous and housing, food, etc very difficult. They gave up after a few months and went to London, which had it's difficulties but was much more manageable.

I am at that, post holiday, home-is-best-never-going-anywhere-ever-again-travel-is-really-bloody-hard, point right now.

Sending you lots of good vibes and best wishes and give Sapph and extra hug from us all.

Vanessa said...

I don't have any great advice as I am not well travelled. As tough as it seems, remember you are on a great adventure, with each other, and time is a great healer. Can you email me your new address as I have something to send Sapphire to perhaps help her through this transition. (
If she was in WA, she would already be in highschool by her age. She will love it! I am sure it will be really hip and friendly with so many nationalities. Oh the memories she will create!
Hold on tight while you are on this rollercoaster xx

Anonymous said...

"The letter is entirely in French so we'll need our not-very-welcoming Welcoming Officer to translate for us on Tuesday. "

This is the digital age, ma'am...plenty of translating sites online ( should do the trick for starters)


tracy said...

Also, the third bedroom is FOR VISITORS. We never get any to Abu Dhabi, but you'll have stacks.

Cat J B said...

Oh Kath, it sounds daunting, but hopefully the worst is over and it's onward and upwards from here. Best wishes to you all :)

JahTeh said...

Kath Lockett, you lied to us! You've said we could all live on chocolate and you're in Switzerland, the home of Lindt and you want food?

I love "your salary is marginal for this rent" what a snotty put-down. There must be some way I can convert that to an all occasion insult.

Kari said...

I've been silently following your blog for a while (that sounds far creepier than I intended!) but have hugely admired your courage in packing up and moving to the other side of the world. And coping with having your bag stolen. And now setting up schools and homes! I'm sorry you ended up with 2nd rather than 1st choices, but hope the next few weeks get easier as you settle into having a house of your own and school / home routine.

Kath Lockett said...

You're right Plasman - even LC's work cafe makes a daily lunch there an unaffordable prospect and yes, cows are everywhere - patterned mailboxes, coffee cups, displays....

Glad you're back in one piece, Deep Kick Girl! I imagine that your sister's experiences in Amsterdam might be rather similar to ours......

Thank you Vanessa - my address is

BS we use online translators and an app all the time but a long contract is a bit too much to type in..... might as well make our 'welcome officer' actually do her job.

Flights Search said...

Good luck for you. Just like looking for the lowest airfares in the

Helen said...

I remember when my brother moved overseas, he told me later that he saw the prices of everything and panicked, and ended u sitting on a park bench with a sandwich feeling like a hobo (And kind of hoping that he looked like one so that someone would give him money for coffee).

The salaries over there are good, but the cost of living is higher, and settling in anywhere is expensive. I think once you settle in you'll figure out the tricks that other people use to cope. it can't be easy though, and my thoughts are with you and your family as you try to figure everything out.

ashleigh said...

Hmmm.... I did warn you that food was expensive. Switzerland is fiercely independent, and not part of the Euro zone. I suspect there might be some agricultural protection going on.

Australians love to whinge about high food prices, and our moronic daily press encourages such things. In actual fact our prices are pretty darn good. The Americans have a reputation for being even cheaper - but compared to Europe (and Switzerland in particular) we have it pretty good.

The thing about light fittings and such like seems to be related to renting, and "improvements" - whatever improvements you make are yours - so people take 'em, having paid for them.

As far as the salary goes - is it comparable to others doing similar work? Or was it some specially negotiated rate? Because if it not comparable then perhaps its time to seek a contract adjustment now before it festers too long. [Everyone else I know who has done an overseas posting says the same thing, though, and find that adjusting to eat like to locals do takes time, but when you can you also spend less.]

TamvdK said...

We miss you Kath!
I want to make you Moroccan spiced chick peas, sweet potato and lentil patties with hummus, feta and sun-dried tomato on top.
Crap news about getting 2nd choice, but hey an orange tiled kitchen is a GREAT substitute!
Sending lots of love and big hugs to you all,
Tam and Ange

Vanessa said...

oops, I meant your postal address so I can post something xx
(email it rather than advertise it)

franzy said...

You might not think it, but you're doing fantastically. You really really are. And tell Saph that being Australian carries a lot of cache in Europe and people will be genuinely interested to talk to her.

Nicole said...

Oh Kath. Your posts are making me cry. I'm going through a similar (although much smaller scale) thing at the moment with moving house. Compared to you I have it easy - we are staying at my mums house 10 mins drive from the new house while we paint, sand etc - but I've had that constant churning anxiety about everything coming together and the kids coping with such an upheaval. What am I complaining about? As you said, things WILL get better and you will start enjoying things. I hope it's soon for both of us!

Ann ODyne said...

re food: the Swiss were starved during WW2 and probably have an attitude as a result.
Yes yes - make your welcome officer earn her lunch money.
Tracys contribution above very good to read.
Re Europeans and houses: friends bought a place from Germans in Brisbane and when they took possession all the curtains and lights were GONE!
Recall all the many interviews with rich actors who say 'I became an actor because my parents moved a lot and I was always the new kid'? - we will ALL be saying "I know her!!!" when Sapphire gets an OSCAR in 2022 and you are all jetting everywhere.
much love from down here

Helen said...

I notice Milly the Dog's arrival is 13th - give her a kiss and a tummy rub and an ear pull for me! If she can stand it after all the kisses etc she's already got from you lot!

I hope you are already feeling better since that post went up.
One thing I did when overseas was to carry stuff like passports & othr docs (& less used cards?)(, which you don't have to pull out at every stop, in a rectangular calico bag worn around my neck under shirt.

w/v = "cotsheep" BAAAAAAA LOL

Claire said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Claire said...

You are so brave.
Hang in there.
Claire xxx

Expat Too said...

I'm an expat in Abu Dhabi too, just like Tracy! The taking the light fittings and curtains thing happens here as well - and now I know it's a European thing :-)

UN salaries are supposed to be fabulous (or at least that was what we were told by the personnel who flew in and out of Darwin on R and R from Dili) so I think the point about negotiating an adjustment is a good one. Easier said than done, but if LC can manage it so much the better.

The Aussie Embassy will be a good place to discover the local social club - something you'll find you need after suffering the linguistic exhaustion that is so common when one lives in non-English speaking countries. Hearing another Aussie accent can actually make your day.

International schools are generally more welcoming than not, although I find it depends on the student body. I know it's not PC to say this, but Brits who come from the southeast corner are a snobby bunch so I wouldn't rely on them for any help. Most other nationalities are fine.

Europeans love dogs - so I hope Milly helps you break the ice. Another helpful tip comes from a friend who lived in France for a while - join a "learn to speak French" group and you'll find it has lots of great side benefits.

I'm sure you'll eventually adjust and begin to get into the groove of your fabulous adventure. It's just so difficult to begin with!

River said...

I've been renting for most of my life and I take my curtains and light fittings too. When I get into a new home I take down the owner's stuff (if there is any) and put up my own much loved favourites. it makes it more "home" instantly. When I leave I put back the stuff that was there when I moved in.
Do you need me to send you some vegemite?

Helen Balcony said...

Hey Kath, are spices allowed through the post in Switzerland? Cos I can easily send you a care package. they don't weigh much.

Sorry to the other Helen for forgetting to type my comment name correctly and causing confusion!

w/v - UMSDUSTR, a Swiss house cleaning implement from Ikea which noone has ever worked out which end is which.

Anonymous said...

Don't take any notice of rude and sniffy Swiss misses. Once you're all settled in and have your little pooch for hugs and face licks, I'm sure you'll start to feel less panicked. Perhaps the locals know of cheaper places to shop and eat and will share?

Margaret said...

Kath, I just read your most recent blog entries! I'm so sad to read of your difficulties and bad luck - some of these things are hard to believe; you've really entered a foreign land!

I think Sapphire will find students in a very similar position to her at school, and they will support each other.

I hope the worst is over for you and I'm sending you happy, peaceful vibes! :)

Anonymous said...

Reading about your journey brings back memories of my own, very similar migration woes. Some as a kid: Germany - Italy – Iran - Switzerland - Italy – Germany (lots of different schools and I hated my parents for it. Eventually I loved them again though). And then, I did it myself (compulsive self-punishment?) from Germany to Australia almost 12 years ago. Oh, how I hated Flemington and everything in it and about it! And what with the Australians who always wanted to know how I was instead of saying 'hello' even though they were perfect strangers to me?

Oh, the language barriers... ("what do you mean the obstetrician is in the theatre right now? Can I please see a doctor who is not attending a matinee?")

Ah, the learning curve... so steep even though I moved from one western country to another... needless to say, these days Flemington rules and I agree with a fellow supermarket shopper that the weather has been crazy indeed – after we exchanged brief information about our well-being (I'm beginning to suspect "not bad" actually means "quite shite").

All the best, and I'm looking forward to the next instalment of Geneva 101!

ropcorn said...

Wow, so you have moved from Australia then. Sounds like a huge transition for you. But I'm sure things will get better in time. Good thing there is an IKEA there with affordable prizes at least. ;-)

ringBali said...

Move from Oz ? There must be something important out there