I moved from New York City to Basel, Switzerlandfor three months in 2020.
My time overseas was full of surprises, from the clean public transportation to $15 slices of pizza.
The city seemed to operate at a slower pace than New York, and I felt safe exploring it alone.
I moved from New York City to Switzerland in 2020.
After my partner accepted a job offer in Basel, he raved about the incredible quality of life, low crime, and work-life balance — all of which had positively impacted his mental health.
His description of Swiss life seemed unfathomable to me as a New Yorker feeling overworked and depressed during the coronavirus pandemic. Self packed three-months worth of clothes into my bag and headed to Switzerland to join him.
Here are the things that surprised me the most during my time overseas.
Many Swiss people I met were kind and friendly, and they seemed to operate at a much slower pace than New Yorkers
In New York City, everything is fast-paced. Your coffee order is made within secondspeople are constantly rushing to their next destination, and conversations are short.
Though it’s easy to label all New Yorkers as rude, we’re usually just busy. And if you had to pay New York rent, you’d probably hustle too.
Moving to Switzerland, I was shocked by how laid-back, polite, and approachable the people I met were. It did, however, take some time to get used to the slower pace at which they moved.
For example, the local barista seemed genuinely interested in how my day was going and wasn’t in a major rush. With a warm smile, he handed my drink to me precisely as I requested it.
As I walked toward my table, I noticed a man had occupied it while I was gone. When I approached him, he immediately apologized, cleaned off the crumbs from his coffee cake, and moved to another spot.
The New Yorker in me was confused by our confrontation-free exchange. I think part of me would’ve been more comfortable with getting the middle finger instead.
Throughout my time in Switzerland, I was both impressed and stunned by strangers’ kindness and patience levels.
I felt completely safe as a woman traveling in Switzerland
As a woman, I’m constantly on edge about my safety.
In New York, I’m always aware of what I’m wearing, how late I’m out in the city, the safest route to get home, and strategies to avoid offensive catcalls.
Being a woman in Switzerland was different. I felt safe walking alone and never had the urge to glance over my shoulder for signs of danger.
One day I had coffee with my Swiss friend, and the sun had set by the time we left. We walked along the Rhine River on our way home. When we parted ways, I asked her to text me when she got home — something my girlfriends in New York always do.
She giggled and said, “Girl, this is Switzerland. We don’t worry about that here.”
And according to research by Georgetown University’s Institute for Women, Peace and Security and the Peace Research Institute Oslo published in 2021, women in Switzerland do often feel safer walking alone at night than women in the US.
The public transportation I took was clean and ran on time
I’ve never had an issue getting around New York City. Although transportation is not perfect — there are sometimes delays, and it’s not always the cleanest — the city has so many buses, taxis, and trains that get me where I need to go, around the clock.
When I travel outside of New York City, I get nervous about tackling a new system of public transportation. Thankfully, Switzerland exceeded my expectations.
I found that most people in Basel got around by bike or train. Because trains and buses were almost never delayed while I was there, I could get anywhere I wanted to go with little to no hassle.
As an added bonus, Switzerland’s public transit felt impeccably clean in comparison to New York’s subways, taxis, and buses.
The people around me didn’t seem as consumed by their phones
On New York City’s subways, many people look down at their phones or crack open a book.
When I rode on public transportation in Switzerland, I noticed that people weren’t on their phones nearly as much. Instead, they seemed to be talking to each other and enjoying Basel’s beauty through the window.
It was refreshing to witness people being so present.
As I became more immersed in Swiss culture, there were times when it almost felt wrong to pull out my phone. Many times when I stopped to take a photo, I noticed several people staring.
In reality, I was just a millennial tourist with a phone addiction.
I noticed that the topic of race came up less frequently in conversations with my friends in Switzerland than it did when I was in the US
During my three months in Switzerland, I noticed that the topic of race came up much less frequently in conversations with my friends than it did when I was in the US.
In the US, it was natural for me to discuss racial injustice and my own experiences with racism with my friends.
I realized the difference in my Swiss friends’ reactions to the topic following an experience I had with a police officer, who I believe racially profiled me.
When I was returning to Basel after a day trip to France, a policeman stopped me out of a crowd at the train station. He asked me where I was coming from and why I was in Switzerland. I told him I came from France and was visiting my partner, who was standing right behind me. The policeman then asked my partner if he knew me, to which he replied yes, and I was allowed to continue forward.
As far as I could see, I was the only person of color in the crowd.
When I brought the situation up to one of my Swiss friends, their response was, “Well, maybe he was just doing his job.”
I was disappointed that this was the reaction I got from more than one of my Swiss friends.
These moments made me miss my friends in America, who I’m confident would’ve listened, comforted, and validated my experience without making me feel like I had to explain the events multiple times.
Even though the topic didn’t come up often in my conversations, I still believe that racism is an issue that needs to be addressed in Swiss society.
Reports of racist incidents collected by the Swiss Federal Commission Against Racism (EKR) rose by 30% from 2019 to 2020, and the proportion of the Swiss population that’s reported being targeted by racial discrimination increased from 10% in 2014 to 17% in 2018, according to the Federal Statistical Office.
Switzerland has a wide variety of cuisines available, but the food was much more expensive than I expected
New York is a melting pot of culture and flavor. Even though eating out in the city can be expensive, I’ve discovered affordable and mouth-watering dumplings in Chinatown, Dominican cuisine in the Heights, and soul food in Brooklyn.
I knew I was spoiled by New York’s food before heading overseas, but I was still disappointed to find that traditional Swiss food turned out to be less flavorful and more expensive than I expected.
After raving about Switzerland’s cuisine, a local introduced my partner and me to the national dish: a potato and sausage-heavy plate called rösti.
Not only was my rösti bland, but it also cost us an arm and a leg. I regretted not going with a more familiar option, like the fondue.
Thankfully, there were plenty of other food options in Switzerland.
The food prices seemed high across the board in Switzerland.
In a 2021 Eurostat-OECD survey measuring price levels of consumer goods and services across 37 European countries, Switzerland had the highest price level for food and non-alcoholic beverages, along with the most expensive restaurants and hotels.
I heard many different languages when I was traveling through Switzerland, which reminded me of New York City
My partner and I stayed in Basel, roughly 200,000-person city that sits on Switzerland’s borders with Germany and France.
Because entirely different cultures and languages are just a bus, train, or walk away from the city, I heard plenty of German, French, and English during my time there.
And in southern Switzerland, a beautiful region called Ticino borders Italy. Because of the area’s proximity to places like Milan, Como, and Varese, it carries a heavy Italian influence.
The variety of languages and cultures present in Switzerland actually made me feel closer to New York City, where each neighborhood has its own distinct identity.
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