I’ve been sitting on an “Apartment Hunting in Switzerland” post for quite awhile now, but have been too busy to give it the attention deserves…due to the all-consuming activity of Apartment Hunting in Switzerland! Now that I have finally obtained an honest-to-goodness, brick-and-mortar, monthly-rented apartment of my own, I can finally sit back and reflect on the whole process…or at least, I can sit cross-legged on the floor against a wall and reflect on the whole process, as none of my furniture will be shipped over from the states for another couple of months.
It sounds uncomfortable–and indeed it is–but I kind of enjoy the challenge of seeing how little I can live with for two or three months. Can I sleep on a hard surface and make do without a microwave? It turns out that yes, I can…I’ve just developed a bit of a limp and a bad habit of staring at simmering pots of water, coaxing them to boiling point with my hungry gaze.Anyway, the first thing I can report about my apartment-hunting experience in the Swiss canton of Vaud is that I have developed a very handy mathematical formula that you can use to determine how long it will take you to find an apartment here, if you ever need to. Ready? First, take a piece of paper and write down your anticipated rent range, your annual income and your ideal square-footage. Got it? OK now crumple up your paper and throw it away, and add 3.5 months to whatever time estimate you already had in mind.
Of course I’m being facetious, but the point is that the real estate market here is intense and not necessarily rooted in logic. It’s competitive like job-hunting in a recession is competitive: no matter how brilliant your application looks, scoring the big offer is most likely going to be down to a combination of luck, good timing and knowing the right people. I had none of those things when I started my apartment search, and I am so grateful to have finally stumbled upon the first two. I should also add that I had the invaluable help of a professional consultant, whose services I was able to access via the university that will be employing my husband. She was able to help me navigate some of the darker aspects of Swiss apartment-hunting, such as identifying one or two scams and telling off would-be slum lords attempting to take advantage of a clueless foreigner. As I said – invaluable.
For awhile, I was too depressed to keep count of how many apartments I applied for/visited, but it was well over 20. That number may not seem too high, but more than once we were on the brink of signing a contract when the rug was pulled out from under us, making the number of failures seem even greater and more unfortunate. BUT…whining and lamenting aside, I could not be happier with the outcome of the hunt, and I am grateful that the wait has been so worthwhile. Our new place is a 10-minute walk from the Lausanne train station, it has two small terraces and 1.5 bathrooms, and the windows are huge and bursting with light. There is a dishwasher — a first for me — and oodles of closet and shelf space. Heaven!
Having moved into one of the country’s major cities, I finally feel like I am living in Switzerland properly now. I hear the sounds of the city and see the people going about their daily business…I see the buses on their daily routes and watch the garbage men collect the neatly sorted bins. I read the French advertisements for Swiss products, like Stimorol gum, Rivella soda and Swisscom cell phone plans. I take walks in the two nearby parks (plus a jaw-dropping botanical garden) and see the birds, meticulous gardens and happy families. Summer is a great time to settle in to a new apartment in Switzerland…everything seems alive and conducive to a fresh start.On the logistical side of things, I must admit that not having furniture and belongings to worry about at first has been a bit of an advantage, because the administrative requirements for moving to an apartment in a Swiss city are rather all-consuming. Here are some of the things I’ve had to attend to in the past few weeks:
- ‘Announcing myself’ to the city – a process that involves two trips to the city’s bureau of administration, a dossier of every key document I own (marriage license in two countries, passport, visa, work contract, etc.) and an exorbitant fee.
- Registering with roughly a dozen different utility and communications services, some of which I already know I will not use, but must pay for anyway because it is the law.
- Changing my official address on every Swiss piece of information I own (visa, driver’s license, insurance, car title, etc.)
- Itemizing and estimating the value of everything I own–and everything I anticipate owning once our belongings arrive from the States–in order to obtain mandatory insurance policies against every sort of disaster one usually tries not to think about.
- Dealing with people who mistakenly believe I am stealing the parking place in front of the apartment, for which I in fact pay a monthly fee. Apparently, due to the high population densities of Swiss cities, parking is so sacred that a new car on the block can be the target of some pretty disproportionate responses, including a lady scolding me in French and reporting me to the city judge, and a man blocking my car with his SUV and damaging my wheel hub.
- Making appointments with repairmen and overseeing their work, since a Swiss rental agency won’t let you move into an apartment unless it is in tip-top shape. This is a blessing and a curse, because it means the apartment is absolutely lovely and amazing and perfect, but it also means that if it is anything less than lovely and amazing and perfect when we move out, the rental agency will know who to bill!
- IKEA (self-explanatory).
As I am on the brink of being fully moved and installed in Switzerland, I have been reflecting a bit on my eight (!) months here. Despite the difficulties and adjustments, even I – the most anxious of travelers – can see that it has been very fruitful and full of successes. If you can tolerate another list in the post, I’ll share some of these here:
- Becoming a real French-speaker…not quite fluent yet, but definitely conversational!
- Becoming comfortable and capable in Swiss culture, and beginning to feel at home.
- Establishing myself in my new career and learning how to excel in it.
- Meeting new people from more different nationalities and backgrounds than I have encountered in the rest of my life so far, even in college.
- Learning to love little things about Swiss life that you don’t necessarily read about in the guidebooks. For example, manicured single-species lawns are not nearly as big here as in the U.S…instead, the cities are dotted with patches of tall native grasses, wildflowers and natural shrubs. As country girl, this makes me feel at home and acts as a buffer against the concrete trappings of city life.
I hope there will be many more things to add to this list as time goes on. Of course, if I say this out loud I will probably receive three or four thick envelopes from the Swiss government in my mailbox tomorrow, but I will go ahead and say it anyway: I think the hardest part of moving to Switzerland is over. Now I can actually begin to experience it!