In a little over two weeks, our family will be in a new land. We are leaving Canada to take up residency in Switzerland.
I have been wanting to write about our impending move for quite some time, but haven’t been sure of what to say. Rather than offer a running commentary, and oh what a commentary, I thought I’d wait until the final pieces were in play. A retrospective, of sorts.
This isn’t the first time we have moved countries, however, the previous two times seemed much simpler, even if they were busy. The restrictions of the current pandemic haven’t helped the flow and, to add, this time there has been a lot more to do behind the scenes: long wait times on telephones, lack of clear information in some circumstances, a foreign language, uncertainty as to what to do next, documents of all sorts going backwards and forwards via mail, courier and email, vaccinations, scans, photocopies, selling vehicles, a multitude of individually completed address changes, new school enrolments, uniform purchases, government agencies to notify, banking, and the like. All of this seems in hand now, six months after we committed to leave, though at any minute we might find otherwise.
There is also the onerous task preparing the property to be rented. We debated whether we should sell or rent the house out, and for the sake of prudence (you never know what might happen in the ongoing flux of the current times we find ourselves in) we chose to keep it. Unfortunately, there is no property management company within a hundred kilometers and this has required that all the outstanding maintenance be done beforehand, and there was quite some of that. Renting out also requires that the house be clean throughout which is a series of tasks that take a lot of attention if they are to be done properly. Every corner of every part of this sizable house needs to be cleaned thoroughly: light fittings, windows, window frames and screens, trim, doors, ceiling fans, porches, garage, sheds, closets, walls, cupboards, appliances, benches, switches, outlets. Did I miss anything? Likely I did. I can tell you that toothbrushes have seen a lot of use in tricky corners, and we are nowhere near done. This is the sort of work that takes a lot of time, especially when you are still living life each day in the same space. And for me, at least, I have felt the imposition on the time I previously had to use in other ways, and I have also begun to be drawn into a tedium.
So much so, that there are times, like right now, where I stop cleaning and take a break.
Unlike in the previous two moves, we have elected not to send a shipment. Fortunately, we are moving into an apartment furnished with the basics and this obviates the need to send many items. Consequently, we have chosen to pack two bags each and dispose of the rest of our belongings. While this has been cathartic, there have also been decisions to make. Two bags each doesn’t hold a lot, and so choosing what to cull (either through donation or sale) and what to keep and take with us has had to be done with thought. Functionally, this hasn’t been too difficult. Even though the clothes we have chosen to take will not be enough for our eventual needs, we can always purchase appropriate things once we arrive there. The same goes with other small items such as ‘nice to have’ kitchen utensils.
There have been plenty of pleasant surprises along the way as well. The discovery of the 2001 Guigal Brune et Blonde and the 1986 Sauternes in the back corner of the cupboard…well let’s just say that it didn’t take long for the corkscrew to do what it does best, and the friendliness and accessibility of the Swiss Consulate here in Canada has been a delight, just to give two examples.
What played on my mind once we chose not to send a shipment was the limited space we had to bring items of personal value: books, photos, letters, journals, cards and other mementos. This has caused me to think deeply about how we might judge the significance of such items. I don’t have an answer, I just have a small collection of what I have chosen tucked away in the bottom corner of my red suitcase. If you asked me why I chose what I chose, I really couldn’t tell you other than to say: “it just felt right at the time.”
This is one of the emotional aspects one has to deal with, but there are more. Far more. A move such as this carries with it excitement, something others have continued to emphasize. But there are more feelings that cloud what is. There is hope that all will be wonderful, anticipation of new discovery, fear of the unknown, rising sadness of loss of place and people, doubt, and resolve. There really is no way to parcel all of these mixed and sometimes conflicting emotions up into one manageable whole and, therefore, I find myself in different places at different times, sometimes in conversations with myself.
At other times, I am talking to real live people, some of whom have asked: “how can you do such a thing?” In responding, it has been important for me to explain to them that the departure date is only one step in a long series of other steps, and that these will continue long after the plane touches down. The “thing” just doesn’t appear out of nowhere. By this, I mean that such a seemingly bold change comes as a consequence of the melding of the outcomes of a myriad of other events and choices of varying impact, over time. Certainly a spirit of discovery would have some influence but where did this come from? And when I decided become a teacher, which is a story of fortune in itself – literally choosing to take a left hand turn at a t-intersection rather than a right, I had no idea that it would offer me the opportunity to travel and live in the world that it has.
Therefore, I could tell you the date we began searching for a ‘new world’ to live in, and I could tell you the date we ‘signed on the dotted line’, but I could not definitively tell you how all of the events of the past led to this. What I can say is that there is an evident willingness to explore and an awareness that we cannot predict what will happen. I think this is an important point to make. We cannot control the future and, by now, eighteen months into a pandemic that has very much changed the world, this should be obvious to all. What we can control is ourselves, and as we take another step into an unknown, it is this we need to be aware of. How we carry ourselves at such times then affects what happens further on.
Clearly we will have to adapt ourselves in certain ways. Not doing so leads to culture shock and disillusionment. On the other hand, the blind adoption of the ways of others just for the sake of harmony, of getting by, fails to lead to an understanding of the new place we find ourselves in and this can lead to all sorts of false impressions. Adaptation must be thoughtful, must be done with who we are in mind, and must uphold the dignity of those whose home we have been invited into.
In three weeks time, I will be at the foot of The Alps, attempting to buy a sandwich (panino) in very poor Italian. When I am handed a panino that has a double serve of ham in it (because the vegetarian me did not communicate clearly) will I scream and stomp and point fingers, will I skulk away in embarrassment, or will I dig into my phrasebook and try and find the best possible outcome for all?
More to follow…no doubt.