This month's masthead is dedicated to adjusting to life as we now know it. All four of us have shown various signs of coping. Loki specifically has shown his coping strategies quite explicitly. Some days it breaks my heart. Other days, it makes me want to leap for joy to see him cope so eloquently. Juno seems to be the most steadfast. A dog who rolls with the punches and is excited to discover a new adventure each day. We all know if we don't give her an adventure, she'll make up her own!
The photo in the header came from a walk last week in Morges. I didn't feel like going downtown as the sun as well my own energy levels were setting. At Independence Park, where we start our downtown walk, Juno chose our direction for us toward the shoreline away from the downtown. It was serendipity. The sun and the Alps were breathtaking next to the quiet shoreline. The photos below don't do justice to the peaceful surrounds.
Unlike most of Wild Dingo's mastheads, aside from some minor lighting enhancements, this banner is not photo-shopped. I chose the photo in the banner because Loki looks like he's coming to terms with his surroundings. He's still unsure but he has no choice so he tries to make the best of it. His face looks accepting but cautious. Juno, as always, looks forward toward her coming adventures.
A concrete pier awaits us as two gentlemen share a quiet snack.
Last week's cultural training shed a huge light on our experience so far. Mr. Wild Dingo's company has provided outstanding ex-patriot services in the way of helping us adjust to our temporary home here. The company offered re-location consulting to help us find a home, get registered as residents in the towns, contact a fence contractor, set up gardening services, give us tips on where to shop and how to recycle and help us fill out forms for our Swiss drivers license. Anything we need in order to live here, we simply ask the re-location consultant--well to a certain degree. When we first heard about cultural training, I thought, "How hard can living in Europe be? After all, I am a European descendant. They can't be that different from us. It's not like I'm moving to a third world country where I have to think about clean water and survival." Was I ever wrong.
Our cultural trainer has a Ph.D in international business consulting and a breadth of experiencing helping executives and families adjust globally so they can succeed. She's written many books and her client list includes many Global Fortune 500 companies and world-known business leaders. The two day course was eye-opening for us, but especially for Mr. Wild Dingo, who is now working with many Swiss people. He came away with ideas to help him be successful in a challenging job situation. Without getting off into a tangeant, let me add that it was comforting to hear her tell us that Mr. Wild Dingo's job was one of the most challenging ex-pat assignments she had ever heard in her many years of coaching executives in cross-cultures.
Where do I begin? Switzerland is so amazingly diverse. Obviously. For one thing, the country has four languages. Nothing says more about the diversity than a fellow blogger who wrote about Switzerland's Multiple Personality Disorder. (Go read it and laugh your ass off.) The Swiss are heavily rooted to their home towns. They won't move too far out of their own canton and have a hard time comprehending how an ex-patriot actually moves here. Don't be offended if a Swiss person asks when you are moving back. It's not that they don't want you here (or maybe it is) but more that they have a hard time understanding how a person can displace themselves so far from their home. They are well-traveled and educated. They speak many languages. But their roots are planted close to where they were born.
Typically when you look at a map of Switzerland from the angle of Italy below, France to the left, you see the lakes and perhaps the cities. Perhaps you notice the Alps bording Italy and France. If you look at map of Switzerland upside down however, from the perspective of Germany, you really notice that the country is literally divided by the Alps. It never occurred to me that the Alps ran right through and not around the country. The valley in between the Jura and the Alps runs from Geneva to Zurich. It is not a large plataeu. In fact, that viewpoint of Switzerland from Germany demonstrated quite strongly how limited their natural resources are and the challenge the Swiss faced to produce their own resources. The hardship of living off limited resources in the beginning of the country's early development is a huge factor in understanding psychology of the Swiss.
It isn't bad enough that Swiss German is different than High German, the language spoken in Germany. n the German speaking part of Switzerland, there are over 46 dialects of Swiss German. And they can hear them all and know who is from where based on the dialect. It's a little like New Jersey, Massachusettes and New York. They all speak English right? But it can take a while to pick up words based on dialect. I can't image how difficult it would be in German.
While the Swiss are diverse in their language and even their values, the main thing that unifies the country is its politics. Switzerland was the first real democracy and everything here is voted on. The Swiss take their voting very seriously, about as seriously as their cows. They value their democracy and though there are large diversities between the groups, they bond on that underlying belief. Sound a bit familiar?
Some may notice that the Swiss seem a bit unfriendly. I personally have not noticed this, but it can be quite noticeable in business. The fact is, they don't smile as much as Americans. They are not unhappy. They are not mad at you. They simply do not engage in the effort of smiling as much as Americans do. It is not uncommon for a Swiss man to be confused and misinterpret an American woman who simply smiles as she walks by. I've only experienced this phenomenon a handful of times. Instead, I have had many more friendly and warm encounters with the Swiss. They are genuinely helpful. They will ask if you want them to speak English if you are struggling. They apologize profusely for their poor English, which I find endearingly polite yet unnecessary. When was the last time an American ever apologized to a Mexican for speaking poor Spanish? They are patient with our poor French skills.
They are incredibly punctual and precise. They take a great deal of pride in the quality of their work and service here has been (for us) phenomenal. While our fence may have cost us a great deal of money, the professionalism, speed and quality were worth every CHF. They are unyielding when it comes to perfection and quality. While this sounds like an admirable quality, it can be a huge barrier in the business world.
While all of this seems small in the ways of adjusting, there are probably 87,000 other adjustments each day that we face in addition to simple cultural differences. Physical adjustments impacted all four of us in different ways. There are more pollens here, which change constantly with the farming and planting, which causes both of Mr. Wild Dingo and to have more sinus headaches or stuffy noses.
The water here seems hard and for the first few weeks I had skin trouble. I also managed to get a cut on my lip, which I never had before, that wouldn't heal for weeks. It was maddening how painful and annoying it was to be unable to open my mouth fully. And for anyone who knows me, they know how mentally painful it can be for my yapper to be forced shut.
After discovering that cut lips can be caused from low iron levels, I looked to the water I was drinking. Simple observation showed that the water was heavily treated, perhaps with potassium. In CA we used potassium to soften and remove extra iron from our well water. However, we also used reverse osmosis to remove extra potassium in our drinking water at home. The white chalky residue build up on our pots and pans here told me I was probably drinking in too much potassium which could affect my own iron levels. Unfortunately, I cannot take iron supplements as I have a condition that will lead to me retaining too much iron. Instead, I manage my iron levels through diet. An $8 tube of Blistex and a switch to Evian (yes, they all drink Evian here) finally heeled my lip within a week. I also switched the dogs to a filtered water as well.
It's amazing that something so basic as the water can affect a person, but it does. That's just a small look at the physical adjustments we face. The stressors are small, but they add up.
Even with all the support that comes through an ex-patriot work program, it can still be difficult to cope. There is not a single stage in the graphic below that we have not visited more than once. In fact, it's not uncommon to repeat the stages over time, nor is it uncommon to go through many in one day! And we've only been here six weeks.
We shake our heads constantly and ask "What are we doing here?" With all the support you get from the program, it can feel very lonely because the cultural differences are so large it can feel like nobody understands. It's nice to know the program understands. They even listed not one, but two hot lines to call if you ever need someone to talk to. Our cultural trainer had mentioned that sometimes children will call on behalf of their Moms or Dads! When companies send you on an international assignment, they are dead serious about helping you succeed. We remind ourselves constantly of that and embrace the changes. After all, you can't really know yourself until you've faced a life change or two.
I think the hardest part for me is watching the dogs deal with change. If I told Loki we were going home today, he'd probably go purchase his own plane ticket and drag his crate by his teeth to the airport toss it into the cargo of the plane and hop in the crate and plane himself. He's that homesick. I can see it. I think he misses his acres of free running space and the familiar surroundings. Mr. Wild Dingo even noticed himself that Loki misses his training and school. After the two years of complaining about me taking the dogs to training all the time, he now understands the value of it for Loki.
Juno on the other hand rolls with the punches. I'm not sure where she prefers to be but she doesn't seem to show much stress with the changes. O.K., maybe she tried to jump out the window last week, but I'm pretty sure that wasn't a suicidal attempt.
Loki is alert to every single noise. While he's adjusting to the neighborhood noises, he's still on alert in town. The first day in the farms, there were loud "gun shot" noises that are devices used to scare the birds from the crops. Juno kept walking and never noticed the noise. Loki braced himself to the ground and did an all-over scan of the topography for who was out to kill him. After all, we know the Swiss prefer Bernese Mountain Dogs over Formosan Mountain Dogs. Over time, he's come to ignore the loud shots.
I'm extremely concerned with Loki's reaction to the environment. For sure it's not his diet. He's definitely developed an allergy, most likely to the grasses or the pollens. He rolls in the grass as much as he can to scratch his back and neck but I'm afraid it's probably making him worse. I've always had given him fish oil in his diet and occasionally in CA he'd scratch a little bit. I couldn't find fish oil anywhere here yet, so I just stopped giving it and his scratching is non-stop. One night he didn't sleep a wink (and neither did we). He frantically paced and scratched the entire night. Since then, he's refused to sleep in our bedroom on his own bed. Who knows why. At the moment he's on prednisone and a large dose of fish oil from the vet. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that once he goes off the prednisone, the fish oil will keep his scratching down to a minimum. Above all, our health and our dog's health are the things I value most and nothing stresses me more when one of us is sick.
When I saw the opportunity to take some photos with the sun setting, Loki was having difficulty feeling confident. Normally, he's a soldier and will stay exactly where I put him until I tell him otherwise. But close to the water, he panics. Any movement from the water, a wave or a duck, will cause him to abandon his post. Rather than be the heavy about his obedience (a down is a down), I realize his behavior is out of stress and take the pressure off using delicious rewards. There's no better way to cope with change than a tastey treat.
"Hey Daddy-O, I'm a little sick of chicken for dinner. Why don't you take a swim and wrestle us up some duck for dinner?"
"Princess, all the ducks in the world wouldn't get me to jump in that lake!"
I finally got a badly needed haircut the other day. I bit the bullet and just walked into a salon and said "Give me the same color and cut, keep the layers around my face." And now I look like I could be in a White Snake music video. Thankfully, I don't stress about bad haircuts. After all, hair grows out and that's what hats are for. Still, lucky for me, Mr. Wild Dingo digs the new cut. Then again, I'm pretty sure if I search his CD collection, I'll find some White Snake somewhere.
A wee wave comes in.
"WTF? It's the Lake Leman-ness Monster! I'm outta here!"
"Sigh. And they call him the guard dog."
Later, Loki surprises me and hops onto the retaining wall edge of the lake without a prompt from me.
"One small hop for a Formosan dog, one huge victory for Formosan-kind!"
He shows me he is adjusting. On his time table.
All these little challenges can seem so minor and insignificant. But added up and piled on, no matter how nice the people in this country are, no matter how beautiful the landscape and how much opportunity there is to travel, it can be overwhelming and it's so easy to ask "why did we do this?" But none of that matters. We're here now. And this is life--as we now know it.