Let it snow

While I lived in Vienna, I was always self conscious about my German. Even though it was relatively fluent and accent-free, I would never be mistaken for a local; as soon as I opened my mouth, everyone knew. I believed that, in order to get things done or to be taken seriously, either I had to ask for help from a “local” or switch to English. So that’s what I did for eleven years. I never felt that I could be myself in that language and that was a major component of my foreignness.
Then we moved to Zurich. Since I do not speak Swiss German (yet), the next best choice for communicating was “High” German – that same language I was self-conscious about. My Swiss interlocutors clearly speak it better than I do; strangely though, I don’t feel as self-conscious as I used to. High German is not the language everyone grows up speaking here, and for me, that evens the playing field. I have yet to feel the need to resort to English. Who would have thought?
There is also the weather. Having been raised in a Mediterranean country and moved to Austria from California, of all places, I have had a hard time adjusting to Central European winters – and that’s an understatement. Vienna had too much snow, too many days (and weeks) with sub-zero temperatures for my taste. When we moved to Zurich, I was expecting more of the same. No one told me that, during my first winter here, snow would be so much part of the daily landscape for weeks in a row, that waking up to a winter wonderland day after day would eventually have no impact on me whatsoever (part of me still hopes this winter is unusual, but probably it isn’t). Compared to Zurich, Vienna looks almost Mediterranean. Do I like that? Not one bit. What did I do about it? I decided to buy a bigger snow shovel for my driveway and a more sophisticated ice scraper for my windshield. Who would have thought?
And then there is the bigger picture. After growing up and spending a big part of my adult life in big cities, I was in for a shock when I moved to Vienna: it felt so small! It took me years to get used to that. And now, I moved to Zurich, which is even smaller than Vienna, without even blinking. Who would have thought?
Is all this proof that one can get used to almost anything? That everything is relative? Or could it be that, with every move, I am becoming more adaptable and more open, more skilled at doing “the foreigner thing;” that I consciously choose to see the big picture and let go of all the little and not-so-little things that have made me miserable in the past; that I’m becoming good at the “if you can’t change it, embrace it” sort of thing?
I have not overcome my snow aversion for sure, but I have learned to live with it. And I do enjoy speaking German without feeling self-conscious – even when I’m back in Vienna.



  1. Anonymous

    This is how I see it: when one has relatively no problems then the weather, snow, accents, city versus country life bring seem to have a high impact but when one has so many tough variables to crack like kids, money, house, mortgage, career, health,aging & recession: snow & weather and lack of sun become mundane issues to pick on.

    Or may be I have just conditioned myself to have higher tolerance or to block unpleasant things..

  2. As a California transplant to Zurich, I can relate a lot to what you are saying. I still hate the cold, snow and darkness (I hated winter in LA!), but haven't come quit as far as you to embrace it. Kudos to you! I'm confident with my German, but much more so in Germany or Austria than in CH. I feel like speaking High German immediately signals I am a foreigner and they are going to judge me. I find your take on speaking German in CH very interesting.

    1. Thank you Ashley! I have fought winter for several years in Vienna and it has not made me a happier person, so I am being pragmatic here. I wouldn't go as far as to say that I am *enjoying* the winter, but at least I am learning not to let it get me down. Luckily, we get the occasional break like the last couple of days 🙂

  3. Hi there, interesting blog! I am Swiss, I lived in Zurich for the last 10 years, and moved to San Francisco last August, so I went exactly in the opposite direction 🙂 I agree, winter is much much more enjoyable here (22 degrees Celsius today..). And I can imagine how you must feel in small Zurich – I often feel lost in the big cities here in the US. As for the language problem… Swiss are a bit picky about high German, not all of them like it, so don't take it personal if they might refuse to speak it 😉 I also have language problems here: I hate that I'm still not fluent in English, and it doesn't help that the second question everybody asks is "Where are you from? You sound German!". I don't think Swiss English and German English sound the same, but anyways: It always makes me feel like a tourist, not a resident. I hope this will vanish after some more time. Anyways, if you have questions concerning Switzerland and Swiss people, I'd be happy to help 🙂

  4. Thank you! Very nice of you to offer.
    So far, I have found the Swiss very open with respect to High German, though I also met someone who very politely told me that he would rather speak English with me than High German 🙂 Language is a big integrator, so the more comfortable you get understanding and speaking it, the more "at home" you will feel. Enjoy SF!

  5. I grew up in tropical weather and despised the hot and humid weather that I took up figure skating as a sport to get out of the heat and spent many mornings and evenings at the rink. Then it was off to Southern California for college. Perfect utopian Cali weather for 4 1/2 years. Still didn't like summers too much though, it was too hot! Off to NYC right after graduation, the winters were cold, but they were short and I loved having snow days. Hot bowl of tomato soup, hot tea, and grilled cheese sandwiches. Playing with snow, having snowball fights in the street, sledding in central park, taking day buses up to go skiing in Vermont, it was magical for me. Now I am back in tropical weather and I am longing for snow days.

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