Sunday, June 14, 2009

Geneva Pros and Cons

We moved to Geneva January 9, 2008. By John's first day of work January 14, 2008, we were all sicker than we'd been in years, and I ended up taking Joran to the emergency room, because there were no pediatricians available, and I just couldn't stick it out after several days of fevers and then complaints of earache. That was the beginning of more challenges than we imagined we'd encounter in this cross-continental move.

We were so excited to make this move! And so ready, too. Even though the Pacific Northwest felt like home, we were still wondering if we should try out Europe before deciding to settle anywhere. John was born and raised in Gouda, The Netherlands and I had traveled throughout Europe during a Junior Year Abroad program with Smith College. Coincidentally, that program had been in Geneva. Everything came together beautifully for our move and we had every reason to believe that it would continue so. We were both looking forward to many travels and more time with the Dongelmans family and I was looking forward to picking up that old romance with Europe.

I have to admit that the move clarified a lot for us. We got out of what was feeling like a bit of a rut... or at least some aspects of our lives that didn't quite fit. We have spent a lot more time with John's family. I'm so happy to know them better. I've experienced city life in Geneva and know it's not for me. I've experimented with balcony gardening and now know I prefer a yard full of dirt, rocks and deeply rooted plants. I am sure that the best thing for my family is wide open space, a forest, a little privacy, wildlife, and friendly neighbors. However much I love that we don't have a car and ride the bus instead, I prefer a car now that I have children. Cars provide the freedom, privacy and quiet time that we need right now.

There are a few top drawbacks of living here for us: cigarette smoke everywhere, lack of customer service, lack of general friendliness and smiles on the street, general disrespect for children and teens, less freedom to do as I please than I am used to in the USA. There was a law passed last summer that there will be no smoking indoors in Geneva, but because of the way the government works here and people fighting the law, it is not yet enforced. In any case, there are so many smokers on the street, getting away from it is impossible outside of our apartment. Even there, it drifts over from the neighbor's balcony. Even Jasmijn's first doctor arrived smelling like an ash tray.

The customer service is shocking. I frequently stand unacknowledged at a cash counter while cashiers finish talking or folding clothes until they're ready to help me. If I ask where something is, I am often met with an obscure wave in the direction of where the employee thinks the desired product is. Heaven forbid if I want to return something! I can expect a scowl and/or downright refusal. Caution going into a toy store, because children are generally not allowed to touch the toys until after they are purchased.

I'm used to smiles and hellos in most American cities, and I've known for a long time that this is not part of European etiquette, but it still turns out to be a real downer and have a huge impact on our daily experience.

I never thought I'd be so patriotic, but now I really feel the value of "the land of the free." Geneva has a lot of rules, and I know that those rules are, in theory, there to help people live peacefully and respectfully together (did I mention "in theory"?), but I find them so constricting and adding to a feeling of mistrust in others. I try to live my life in a way that is considerate to others, but I'm also all about the grey areas of life. I believe that a self-determined life is the best life and we should all be working to understand eachother and support eachother to live the life we see fit. I don't think we should be worried about telling anyone else how they should live their lives and making laws to enforce what we think is best for anyone else. Except maybe make a law against making a law. (wink)

As for what seems to be the dominant parenting philosophy, I've seen the best behaved young children here and the worst behaved teens. It makes me think that the small children must be behaving out of fear or other manipulation and then the teens must be rebelling out of anger at having been so disrespected. I've seen a number of children hit and shouted at in public. Joran was even swatted by his own doctor once. The doctor then gave me a lecture about not being authoritarian enough with Joran. We won't be going back.

Anyways, I have written enough of an essay about things I don't like about Geneva. I think I'll start fresh with another post to tell you about why I'm glad we made this move, what we've learned and how we've grown.


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