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Sonja Guldi, Valais

My name is Sonja, I am a German writer living in Switzerland since 2009 with my husband and my two dogs. I write a blog named blueberriejournal about my trips and travels and all sort of things coming to my mind.

I guess most of expats coming to Switzerland live and work in Basel, Zürich, Bern or Genève which are the biggest agglomerations. Switzerland is a small state with about 8 million inhabitants from which about 2 million are foreign persons.

We live in canton Valais in south-west of Switzerland right in the middle of the Alps. Valais is a rural canton which main business sectors are tourism, fruit growing and viticulture – and it is a bilingual canton.In the west part (lower Valais) people are speaking French and in the east part (upper Valais) Walliserdeutsch.

First thing that really surprised me was that this language border is really a border. I had supposed that in a bilingual canton people are speaking both languages but I was wrong. Only few locals in upper Valais are speaking French and vice versa. We live in French speaking part of Valais but my husband works on the “other” side where the locals speak Walliserdeutsch.

So, biggest challenge for me was to learn French and I’m still struggling. I had French in school but that was quite a while ago.

What do I dislike?

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I miss a city. It is just that simple. We live close to Sion the capital of Valais. It is a town of about 50.000 inhabitants (yes, that’s the biggest place in Valais) and although you find everything you need and it has a lot of cultural offers it lacks on urban atmosphere.

What do I like?

The Alps are gorgeous. It is one of the most beautiful places you can find. We explore them a lot in our spare time (we love to go hiking with our dogs). Lac Léman is a bit more than one hour drive where top events like Montreux Jazz Festival or Prix de Lausanne taking place. We are a stone throw away from Italy or France (two of our top vacation spots) and we use this advantage whenever possible.

How does shopping differ?

The opening hours are very strict. On weekdays shops are closing at 18.30 and outside of Sion they often have siesta from 12.30 to 14.00 as well. Saturday closing time is even at 17.00. But a quite bigger issue is the pricing. Switzerland is an expensive country and although life in Valais isn’t quite as costly as in Zürich or Genève it is still at a very high price compared to the rest of Europe. So it doesn’t surprise that when it comes to grocery shopping you find German low price discounters like Aldi or Lidl everywhere and they are well frequented – and those who live close to France, Germany or Austria are crossing the border to do their shopping. But aside from the prices you have a great selection of all kind of food in Migros and Coop – and the goods have an excellent quality, especially the meat. My husband is an impassionate Migros and Coop shopper.

Are there many other expats?

According to official numbers about 21 % of the inhabitants of Valais are foreigners. Most are from Portugal, France and Italy. I don’t know any other Germans but that doesn’t matter. It helps me to improve my French.

Practical details

If you come to Switzerland you have to cover your own health insurance. Only few companies offer it to their employees like it is standard in Germany. Regular health insurance doesn’t have a dental plan. That is an extra you have to pay for. Only children to the age of 18 years have dental plan included.

It is also recommended to have an accidental insurance that covers the cost if you got injured during hiking, winter sports or just fall down the stairs doing household chores.

If you stay in Switzerland for more than one year you need to get a Swiss driving license. And for members of European Union that means you have to turn in your home country driving license because the possession of two licenses is not allowed (that was kind of an odd feeling). Good news is that you just have to make an eyesight test and – in case you want to drive trucks or caravans – a medical examination to get it (after you’ve paid a fee, of course).

If you get your car licensed make sure it is clean – inside and outside – and cleaning of the engine is an obligation. That is no joke. It is written in bold letters on the appointment confirmation you get.

It is usual to be on a first-name-basis inside a team but on the other hand the hierarchies inside a company are much defined.

It is good to be on time when you have an appointment, no matter it is business or personal. The Swiss mind that.

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