Life in Lausanne: First Impressions


The Place:

Lausanne is a small, quaint and picturesque city of 130,000 people. I read an article about Lausanne before I moved here, in which the author noted how the town sits amid one of the most idyllic settings in Europe. Nestled on Lake Geneva or Lac Leman to the locals. A lake so large it reminds you of the sea, surrounded by the soaring peaks of the Alps. Yet the city perched across all its layers pays little attention to its beautiful vantage point. Taking no advantage of either its location or the bragging rights they so justifiably warrant, the town is almost unaware of its sheer beauty and stunning backdrop. The Audrey Hepburn of beautiful cities. A natural gem, but modestly unaware of just how stunning she is. The author had remarked that it was perhaps evidence of the beauty of Switzerland, because only in a country of such spectacular natural scenery could such a view be ignored.

A short distance, down one of the many hills leading away from the center of Lausanne, I live in a small suburb named PULLY. At least that is how it is spelt. It is pronounced Pooey!! Is it not the magic of the French language that a word spelt P.U.L.L.Y can be pronounced in a manner reminiscent of excrement, and still sound wonderfully sophisticated? A quiet and pretty little part of the world with spectacular views that I hope I never get used to.

The Language:

The French language makes everything sound beautiful. Even my name sounds better when spoken by a French speaker. Nat-ha-lie. You know you are at a severe disadvantage in the linguistic stakes when even English spoken with a French accent sounds more elegant than your own. Simply hearing, “Ow, ken I elp youh?” sounds vaguely poetic when spoken by a French speaker. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the French language when spoken by an English speaker, or more specifically by ME. “Merci” I say in my best French accent, to which they reply, “You are welcome” not at all fooled by my best monosyllabic attempts. “Parle vous anglais?”  I enquire, “Non, Just a little bit” they respond, before hearing my dreadful attempts at butchering their own language and quickly interject with complete full sentences of perfect English to save us both the embarrassment.

My mail sits in a huge stack, unopened until I can face the task of sorting it into what looks like important mail and attempting to decode it using Google Translator. Cleaning products and instructions on the back of food packaging all get the same treatment. I don’t know where I would be without Google, except to say I would probably have cleaned my wooden floors with furniture polish and made inedible food even more frequently by now. There is a fine line between determining which letter hits the trash bin and which receives the Google Translate treatment, and central to this decision making process is quite simply which letter looks more important. From this often futile exercise I can confirm the phrase ‘you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover’ (or in this case a letter by its appearance), holds true in almost every instance and should be avoided at all costs, even when resorting to desperate survival strategies to cope with receiving a deluge of mail in a foreign language. As it stands I have thrown away two unpaid bills and 3 months worth of rental invoices. You may imagine that there is perhaps an innate pleasure to be found in this. Yet, it is never ideal having to explain to my rather accommodating new landlord that the rent was unpaid because I ‘misplaced’ the rent bills.

I won’t delve too much on the supermarket shopping experience, because I think you get the picture. Let me just leave you with two points:

1). Frozen turkey breast may look exactly like chicken in a supermarket freezer, but it tastes considerably different in a chicken curry.

2). The sensational news in Europe right now is that companies are flogging horse under the guise of beef. However, when clearly labeled horse steaks (a popular dish here in Europe) find their way into your supermarket trolley because you don’t recognize the French words for horse or beef then you only have yourself to blame.

Kissing In Triplicate: The Swiss Kiss

For an Aussie abroad, the social awkwardness of greetings can pose quite the dilemma, especially when working in an international environment. The Swiss kiss 3 times starting on the right, the French kiss 3 times starting on the left. For southern Europeans it is twice starting from either right or left. The Brits kiss once if they know you and shake your hand if they don’t, and the North Americans? Well they leave out the kissing altogether and often opt for a hug. Such social etiquette makes for an entertaining night out when you find yourself at a party with colleagues! Can we not please find a universal greeting?

Savoring the Moment:

The Swiss may be efficient in most things, but one area they do not excel at is in rushing. This is especially true when it comes to eating. A sandwich on the run, or coffee to go, are almost entirely foreign concepts here. An hour lunch break should be the minimum time period in which to enjoy your meal, and the experience of eating should never be hurried. Food is to be savoured, enjoyed and if at all possible washed down with a nice bottle of wine. Two of my colleagues were sitting at a table in a café having a quick bite to eat while looking through rental ads in a newspaper trying to find an apartment to rent. Clearly aghast at such a counter productive use of a mealtime, the gentleman next to them leaned over and commented on their multi-tasking faux pas, “shame on you that your life is so busy you cannot even enjoy your meal properly”.  

Welcome Back to the Big Smoke: The Social Life

When I arrived a few concerned colleagues, hinted that they feared I would be bored living in Switzerland. “It is very quiet, I just hope you find things to do”, they had said. Clearly not realizing that flushing loos and sidewalks was all it took to excite me, I had replied, “Are you kidding me? Do you know where I have come from?” Even if I sat at home every night and watched CSI Miami it would be more than I had come to expect of nights out in Dar. I might as well have moved to NYC for the booming metropolis I felt I had found myself in. Movie cinemas, night clubs, vineyards, cafes, art galleries and even the previously despised global chains seemed to draw me in, there was a Starbucks, McDonald’s, Zara and…IKEA. Even if I never went to them, just knowing that they were here (I am ashamed to admit) was enough.

Multinationals aside, my concerned colleagues were thinking no doubt of something I had not even considered, namely the dismal dating prospects available for a 30 something single girl. Incidentally Lausanne seems to be one of the few places on earth where single women appear to be actually outnumbered by men, gay men, that is. Lausanne is in fact one of the gay capitals of Europe. Knowledge I conveniently discovered only after accepting the job. Borneo, Vietnam, Tanzania. Clearly I have never been one to place dating prospects high on my list when looking for new locations to call home. Although by this stage in the game, you would think I would have learnt my lesson by now. Next time I move I should consider such prospects, does anyone know if they have International Schools on oilrigs?

The People:

During one of my first weeks here in Lausanne, when I was feeling almost entirely overwhelmed by the daunting task of setting up a new life, in a new city, again. I found myself in the local motor registry trying to tackle the task of registering my car and applying for a Swiss driver’s license. Looking around I felt and perhaps looked like a fish out of water. I was questioning why I persist in making life so hard for myself, when I could simply move home once and for all, instead of soldiering on across the lonely battlefield that is the expat life? As if on cue, my contemplations were interrupted by a booming voice calling out to me from across the crowd of reserved-looking Swiss people, “Oi, hey, are you Ost-rah-l-ian?”. The man looked as out of place as I felt, shorts, thongs and a T-shirt amid the well dressed Swiss. In appearance he was a very close resemblance to Michael Moore but his distinctly Australian accent gave him away. You can take the Aussie out of Australia but you can’t take the Australian out of the Aussie!

It is one of my favourite aspects of being Australian, and perhaps it is on account of our relatively small population or the fact that we live so far away from the rest of the world, but when you find yourself in foreign lands with a countryman nearby, you nearly always must say “G’day” and have a good yarn. Stu was just the person I needed to meet on this particular day as feelings of homesickness started to set in. He had lived in Lausanne for years and although he was about to move back to Australia to start a new job, he assured me that I would love living here. On parting ways he gave me some advice that only an Aussie male could deliver, “You need to join the Rugby Club!”

My neighbours and colleagues have made me feel very welcome. Taking me out for drinks, inviting me for dinner, or dropping a fresh pastry in to me on a Saturday morning. Sociable and fun loving they know how to throw great parties, perhaps with too much free flowing wine, but what else would you expect in Europe?

And as for living in a city with so many gay men you might wonder? Well all I can say is that I am not surprised that there are so many single women in this world, because my gay friends do seem to set the bar rather high. With invitations to the ballet, baking desserts for morning tea, being the first to notice your new haircut, or new pair of pants, or simply telling me how gorgeous I look first thing in the morning standing over the coffee machine when in fact I feel (and often look) like total crap. Well-dressed, great fun, a love of dancing…the list goes on and on. Just a shame we have too much in common, in that we both find men attractive.

The Outdoors:

One of the reasons I moved to Switzerland, besides for professional motivations, was because of the multitude of great opportunities on offer in the way of outdoor pursuits. “I hear you are a skier? I look forward to showing you around the slopes at some stage” one of my colleagues kindly offered when I first arrived. When it later transpired that he was a daredevil off-piste skier who skied with an avalanche parachute, just in case. I made a mental note never to take him up on that offer. I love skiing and consider myself of intermediate ability, having first hit the slopes, thanks to my parents, at the age of 3. Yet what it means to have skied since you were 3 in Australia is markedly different to what that means in Switzerland. To start with I view a week of skiing, as a great way of getting IN shape, the Swiss on the other hand, who are remarkably fit anyhow, consider it imperative that they get in shape ready for the ski season. They start lumbering up for Winter, in the Summer. One thing is for sure, the day I go skiing with an emergency parachute that I can launch in the event of an avalanche is the day I take up doing Sudoku puzzles.

One thing I do love about the Swiss approach to physical activity however is that quite often it tends to incorporate alcohol. Taking a hike among the vineyards is not complete without stopping off for regular breaks at the cellar door for a little drop of vino. A day on the slopes wouldn’t be complete without a Vin Chaud (mulled wine) at the end. Luging down a mountain, can’t possibly take place without a sturdy meal of cheese fondue washed down with a bottle of white wine. Now that is my idea of exercise. It is all rather, civilized actually.

Those Perilous Swiss Roads and Why Julian McMahon Can Make Everything Better:

Ironic isn’t it? Given the far more dangerous extracurricular pursuits I have enjoyed in my time, it was a sealed road in the posh ski resort of Verbier, which served as the location of my first ever, serious accident in life. Following on from the previous paragraph, you should know that I was totally sober. The advantage I suppose of flying headfirst over the handlebars of a mountain bike whilst travelling at 60 KMs/hour in Switzerland (as opposed to say, coming off a scooter in Saigon, having a head on collision with a bus in Africa, falling from a flying fox into a ravine in Zimbabwe, being bitten by a Cobra while hiking in Borneo etc etc,) is that you can guarantee the hospital will not be too far away and more to the point you will be in good hands when you visit it in a bloody mess. Even I have to admit, I couldn’t have chosen a better place to face plant with a bitumen road. The doctors (and I saw 4 of them when I was promptly admitted) did an excellent job of stitching me up. The dentist fixed my broken tooth as good as new and the plastic surgeon (yes, this is Switzerland after all!) wants to see me again in June to see if he can get rid of the scar completely. At first I laughed at the suggestions I needed to see a plastic surgeon. Images of Nip Tuck and Julian McMahon came to mind and I couldn’t help but find the suggestions anything but amusing. Plastic surgeon? I fell off a bike! Why don’t I get a boob job and complete face-lift while I am at it? Still if the surgeon looked anything like Julian McMahon, then maybe it would be worth my time. Many people had suggested it, but the scar didn’t seem too bad and I was sure it would heal with time. I think it was a Pharmacist who finally convinced me otherwise, his broken English perhaps prevented him from recognizing the levity of his statement, “Look, you are very lovely, but…maybe you should consider cosmetic surgery”. It is not everyday, you hear such an honest insult from a health professional. When you hear advice like that you realize that maybe the Vitamin E capsules you have been buying, just ain’t going to cut the mustard. So, a few weeks later I found myself sipping green tea in delightful surrounds that seemed more like a day spa waiting room, than a place women go to subject themselves to torturous treatment all in the name of vanity. I was surrounded by one of two types of women, the stunningly beautiful glamour girl, whose perfect face and body made you wonder what she was doing in a place such as this in the first place, and more to the point how many times had she been here before and how much exactly had she paid to look like that. Or the other extreme, older women with big hair, fur coats, expressionless faces and perfectly pouted lips that reminded me of rubber. When it was my turn, the good doctor swished in, his designer label clothing not very well concealed under his white lab coat. He was very charming, which must be a good quality to have in his line of work. The consultation lasted a total of about 10 minutes, he was no doubt a busy man, and besides, time is precious when you are charging a few hundred bucks a minute.


International by name, but not necessarily by nature, I do miss the international diversity of my previous schools. My students are mostly corporate kids, lovely, hard working, motivated and very sweet but perhaps not as worldly as other students I have taught. I asked the question in one of my first Economics lessons of the year. Why are people in the world poor? The response I heard from more than a few students was “Because they are lazy”. Little capitalists in the making, it seems I have my work cut out for me, but I am up for the challenge.



Switzerland is expensive. When I first arrived I was not in the habit of checking prices in the supermarket that was until I found myself at the checkout counter with a bill of $67 and only 5 items to show for it. Dill, sushi, chocolate, water and a $32 slice of fresh salmon. Even more annoyingly, for that price I didn’t even get a plastic bag to carry it home in. A sample of other prices to make you thankful next time you open your wallet, $270 for a haircut, $110 for waxing, $15 for a gin and tonic, $25 for a hamburger……on the upside it does mean that no matter where else I go in the world, everything seems cheap in comparison. What? Only $13 for a bowl of hot chips? What a bargain. I was in Sweden recently and found myself commenting, “$30 for pasta and wine? You couldn’t get that in Switzerland”. You know something is seriously wrong, when you find prices in Sweden to be cheap.

Until next time, Nat X

Or, rather make that, Nat-ha-lie, and x x x

5 Responses to “Life in Lausanne: First Impressions”
  1. lausannerob says:

    Very well written Nat, like a true Australian not at all lost in Switzerland. You have a very exquisite way of wording your encounters. And now, it seems, you may be a part of the six billion franc cosmetic surgery tourism industry. I look forward to your further chapters.

    • Hi Rob, Thanks for your message. As you can see the Aussie abroad is enjoying Switzerland. As for the plastic surgery episode, it was a real eye opener. I don’t think I told you about my accident? It happened just 2 weeks after I started work, on a school trip to Verbier with the kids. Yes, not a nice way for the new teacher to make herself known amongst her students when lying sprawled out on a road in need of medical attention. The students were very caring, although I think the experience of seeing their new teacher with a hole through her cheek was far more traumatic for them than it was for me. Aside from that, settling in very well and anxiously anticipating the fast approaching summer, those snowy mornings are becoming more and more infrequent and the days longer. I look forward to your next blog also. nat

  2. Yvonne says:

    So great to be reading a Nattie blog again…..sounds a little hard after Africa actually but I had a broad smile by the end. We hope your bike scars will be gone soon…Enjoy every day and keep up the wonderful writing. xxxxxx

    • Thanks Yve, I am scouting out some good hiking trails for you and Paul for October if you come to visit. No bike riding for me 😉 Although maybe the best thing for me is to get back in the saddle again, so I could be tempted. nat x

  3. Elizabeth Fong says:

    Hi Natalie, Thanks for the invitation in to you amazing life. Don’t give up on the “dating prospects” life wasn’t meant to be spent on your own. You put a smile on my face, I really don’t like to think of you eating Horse. Hope your French improves and you manage those bills a little better. Bye for now look forward to hearing some updates. x

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