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first days in geneva

Traditionally, when Claudiaexpat moves to a new country, she shares her first impressions. Here are the ones on Geneva.


I hesitated before sharing the impressions on my first days in Geneva. This is not a long-term assignment, and we don’t know how long we’ll actually live here. Uncertainty and changes, however, are the constant elements of a mobile life, and I don’t want to waste any occasion to explore the feelings that come from relating to a foreign culture.

I arrived full of prejudice and convictions, sure to find a clean and ordered city, with lots of rules, and money paving the streets. I was particularly terrified by the idea of having to comply to strict rules after years of carefree life in countries very far from Switzerland, and not only geographically.

first days in geneva


I was quite surprised during my first days in Geneva, to realise how many foreigners live here. And not the kind of foreigner I had expected – UN workers in suits and brilliant and elegant lawyers from overseas. The foreigners I met (and still meet) are people coming from literally everywhere in the world, many of them can hardly afford a suit.

During my first days in Geneva, when I had not built a social routine yet, I used to go out almost every day for a walk and a bit of shopping at the supermarket. I was stunned to realize that I hardly heard French. The language of the people I came across in the streets or the trams spanned from Portuguese to Russian, from English to Spanish, from Tigrinya to Arabic.

Both the people and the city did not confirm my idea of a modern, rich and ordered place. The neighbourhood where I live is made up of ordinary people, modest persons who stop in the streets to greet each other and chat.

first days in geneva

Flee market in Plainpalais

Here is another thing I noticed in Geneva: people are quite warm and kind. On trams (again: trams and supermarkets are my main reference points 🙂 ) they let their seat to the elderly and the needy, they play with children, don’t seem to mind noises, and seem inclined to exchange a word rather than ignoring what is going on around them.

Overall, apart from a bad experience in a hospital, the impression I have from this city is of a human place, where interactions still play an important role.

It felt so funny at the beginning to move within a place where many things work well. I had to reverse what had become for me a natural attitude after years of living in countries very different from my own. Instead of making an effort in understanding very different rules, during my first days in Geneva I found myself striving with letting myself go to simplicity. No fear in crossing the street, swift payment at the supermarket (again) cashier, trusting online operations because they actually work. This is a fun and interesting feeling.

What’s also interesting is to realize what things stroke me most during my first days in Geneva:

  1. the quantity of paper used to advertise – cinemas regurgitate with pamphlets, brochures, little books;
  2. how many beautiful cafés the city has – most of them are really pleasantly designed and have their own peculiar atmosphere;
  3. how snail mail is still widely used, lots is done by letter;
  4. how people look at you in the eyes and say bonjour all the time and everywhere;
  5. on Sunday the city is dead – I still have to find out how people spend their time here, if they do not go out of town in many of the wonderful and easy to reach places around;
  6. how books are part of the city! Not only libraries and bookshops abound, but you can find loads of selling points and exchange of used books, literary initiatives, and so on;
  7. how people tend to recycle instead of buying new things. Every neighbourhood has a “box” where you can put any kind of things you do not use anymore, and it is always full of new stuff, because people actually take home the things they find;
  8. how noisy and chatty people are at the cinema before the movie starts (sometimes even after).

Knowing my fascination for faraway cultures, people ask me if I would like to stay longer in Geneva, and I say yes, I would. After the experience in Jakarta and all the health problems I had, it feels to nice to be able to relax and to live in a place where things work. Besides, Geneva is so conveniently placed. I still can’t believe I can go home by car! My children live very close to me now, and low cost flights take me everywhere around Europe. I am enjoying being able to move around, it gives me a sense of independence I had forgotten. I don’t know how things will turn out for my husband’s work, however, and I might very soon find myself to write my “Goodbye Geneva” 🙂 !


Claudia Landini (Claudiaexpat)
Geneva, Switzerland
April 2019
Photos ©ClaudiaLandini
except the main one by Pixabay


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