L’étranger

One of the things I love about where we live now is this: ‘La place des Suisses de l’étranger’.

Switzerland is a small country, yet one in ten Swiss people live abroad, making it the country with the highest population of citizens living beyond their borders, whether permanently or temporarily. The square dedicated to the Swiss diaspora just happens to be in Brunnen. You can read about it here (in several languages, bien sûr).

They call this group of citizens abroad, the ‘Fifth Switzerland’. The other four are those who speak the official languages: German, French, Italian and Romansch (although the latter is only spoken in the Grisons or Graubünden canton). Not to overlook all of the foreigners who live in this country, representing a quarter of the population, and whose default language is English. Making my native tongue a sort of unofficial official 5th language.

The square itself is a dramatic piece of land built up by a local landowner on recovered ground in an area known as the ‘Wehrihaggen’ from 1906. It was officially acquired by the Swiss foundation, Stiftung Auslandschweizerplatz, on the 700th anniversary of the Swiss Confederation in 1991.

It’s a windswept, open space surrounded by the panorama of lake and mountains. Somehow this geographic setting perfectly symbolizes the relationship with the Swiss and other lands. Open to the world, yet firmly anchored in their place.

Perhaps this is why I feel at home here. Despite the language barrier, the ongoing lack of social contacts due to coronavirus and a certain sense of detachment that comes from moving country. There is less a sense of being a ‘stranger in a strange land’ than I used to feel in France, even after so many years there.

Or it may be that I’ve just gotten used to feeling like a stranger. I’ve now been away from my home country almost as many years as I lived there. And, as I’ve posted before, it no longer feels quite as much home as it once did despite the people, family and friends, to whom I still feel so connected.

Et toi? Where do you feel most at home?

16 comments

  1. Mary Katherine · April 22

    This is interesting – I had no idea so many Swiss lived abroad, or how many foreigners lived there. At the seminary where I work, we use the term “internationals” to refer to those not born in the U.S. – more politically correct, I’m sure. It certainly looks beautiful there. I wonder how you’ll feel about your new home a year from now, when you’ve had the chance for more social interaction.

    • MELewis · April 23

      Nor had I, to be honest! Until I sat down to write this post, I had not really paid much attention to the square beyond marvelling at the view, and of course loving the fact that such a place existed. ‘International’ is a convenient term, isn’t it? Sounds so much more exciting and far less charged with negative meaning than ‘foreign’. But I wonder: are Canadians international in the US? We’re kind of like close cousins, I suppose…

  2. Dale · April 22

    Such a beautiful place to not quite feel at home – yet!
    I’ve never lived anywhere outside of my home town. Well, for six years in a couple of different towns but not worth mentioning.
    Who knew the Swiss were more at home elsewhere?

    • MELewis · April 23

      It is astonishing to think so many Swiss their homeland, when it is so beautiful. But then again, the same can be said about Canadians, right? 🤠 I’m a bit jealous of your hometown roots, Dale. It must be wonderful to feel that sense of belonging there. I think I never quite got over leaving Canada for the US when I was a young teenager — it never felt like home to me the same way, although moving back was also challenging. Yet it hasn’t stopped me from changing countries since!

      • Dale · April 23

        I love your adventurous spirit! Of course, I’ve never really had reason to leave… I do love my home and don’t know if I could even move across the country, much less out of it!

  3. kairosia · April 22

    The idea of home! One of my favorite themes! I love that food writer M.F.K. Fisher, long an expatriate from California living in France, once wrote that where you live doesn’t make less difference as you get older. It becomes, rather, a more vital question.

    My now-Chicago daughter lived in France for nearly 15 years. We had this home conversation just last week. I told her that much as I have loved France, I could not live there as an ex-pat. I never would feel I belonged. What’s odder, though, is that a a 40+ year resident of the US Pacific Northwest, I still call my native land, Chicago, home. Those are my people, my landscape, even my climate, although I have owned this NW home for decades, I devote myself to its upkeep and beautification, and here are my friends along with nearly 50% of my family. Here is where I prefer to crash. Where is home is perhaps THE great question.

    • MELewis · April 23

      I agree! Home is also a huge theme for me, as well as identity. I guess the two are linked, as we get our sense of who we are from where we come from, right? I read M.F.K. Fisher’s memoir many years ago and still have it on my shelf. Must revisit it again soon.
      I can understand how you might not imagine ever feeling at home in France, although having family there makes it easier. Interesting that you still feel so tied to Chicago. But then again, the idea of home is so charged emotionally. I find that when I try to go ‘home’ as I remember it from the past, it doesn’t really exist anymore. Either things change or memory plays tricks on us. Probably both. 😉

  4. Garfield Hug · April 23

    A beautiful land indeed! If I can choose to live in another country, it would be Australia. I like Perth where it is just 5 hours flight from home in Lil Red Dot and is a place where I can fish and go about to farms buying farm produce. This is where I could be comfortable in until I miss the food of Singapore LOL!

    • MELewis · April 23

      I dream of visiting Australia one day! Perth especially. You are lucky to be closer in Singapore… I think for me the food would not be as much of an issue, but as I get older the idea of going so far from ‘home’ gets less appealing. Hopefully one day soon!

  5. margaret21 · April 23

    As a child, and as an adult too, we moved around a great deal. I’ve never lived anywhere longer than seven years, and often it’s been far less than that. If I had a fairy godmother, she would confect for me at least a settled childhood. On the recent census, I defined myself as European. Since Brexit, ‘British’ no longer cuts the mustard.

    • MELewis · April 25

      I don’t know why, but this surprises me. Although I knew you’d lived in France, I had no idea your life had been so nomadic! It is one thing to choose to move around as an adult, but another to have had it imposed upon you as a child. That must have been hard. I think most children wish for things to stay the same, forever (at least, that’s how I always felt). Funny you feel more European than British. Maybe another move in the future?

      • margaret21 · April 25

        Probably not actually. In our 70s and 80s now, so we’ll stick to holidays. Like you, we’ve found a fine address for our purposes.

  6. Ally Bean · April 23

    I’m fascinated by your realization that you feel more comfortable where you are now than where you were before. That’s wonderful really. From your photos of Switzerland I can see why you like it there. I don’t miss anywhere I’ve lived before, but wouldn’t say that I’m totally at home where I am now. I think I’ve become less concerned with where I am on this planet, more concerned about who I am with on this planet. Kind of home is where my heart is, I guess.

    • MELewis · April 25

      You are way ahead of me! I would love to feel like I carried my home around inside me but, while this is a goal, it is far from being achieved. Not sure why I feel somehow more at home here. Certainly not because of my connections with the people locally as we don’t speak the same language (despite being able to get by in English most of the time, it’s really not the same.) But there is a sense of safety I never had in France, although I do miss things about the country and its people. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  7. mistermuse · April 23

    Many years ago, on a European vacation, I spent 4 or 5 days in Switzerland, and I agree about feeling more “at home” there than in the other countries I was in. It just didn’t seem as ‘foreign’ (due at least in part, I’m sure, to the fact that everywhere I went, most of the people I encountered spoke English). And, of course, the scenery is unequaled. I can readily see why you love it.

    • MELewis · April 25

      Switzerland is hard not to love, isn’t it? Of course that doesn’t prevent me from feeling day-to-day frustrations. The cultural differences are more subtle, but they’re still there. On the other hand, we are surrounded by borders so it’s just a hop, skip and a jump to somewhere else. Which I will take full advantage of as soon as this blight of a virus is under control. Hope you are able to travel again soon!

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