Expat Voices: Walter Guariento on living in Dietikon, Zurich
Italian chef Walter finds living in Switzerland exciting – except the food! The insular Swiss attitude may be a 'hard nut to crack', he warns.
Name: Walter Guariento
City of residence: Dietikon (ZH)
Date of birth: 19/12/1973
Civil status: Happily married
Occupation: Chef de Cuisine at The Proof of the Pudding Cookery School,www.proof-of-pudding.com
Reason for moving to Switzerland: Well, Jane (my wife) had one of those job offers that you can’t refuse from a Family Office in Zurich, so she moved to Switzerland in June 2009 and I followed in October
Lived in Switzerland for: 4 months
What was your first impression of Switzerland?
Very exciting. After having spent about four and half years on a small island (Guernsey, Channel Islands), it is a very big change to get to a country where you can get snowy mountains and placid lakes side-by-side, with a vibrant international community and friendly locals
What do you think of the food?
Hmmm... tricky question for a chef. Honestly, Swiss food is not the most adventurous or challenging flavour-wise I have ever encountered. The older generations tend to stick to meat and potatoes, but there are so many different restaurants springing up everywhere that you are never stuck for a good night out. Living near Zurich, we have access to Italian, French, British, all kinds of oriental, Indian and everything in between. On the other hand, most of the restaurants are a bit on the old-fashioned side when it comes to menus.
Bread freshly baked by Walter and his students
What do you think of the shopping in Switzerland?
If you asked my wife, she’d say it’s fabulous. I think it’s a bit overpriced, with a heavy reliance on brands and a lot of ‘bling’, but it reflects the more European view on fashion, and the higher prices are understandable once you consider the higher purchase power that salaries have in the country. You can still find bargains, but you have to steer clear of main streets to find them.
What do you appreciate about living in Switzerland?
The very low crime rate must be up there on the list of good things about Switzerland. Great public transport, with a capillary network and always on time. (We rarely use our car to go anywhere.)
The numerous village fairs everywhere mean that you are never stuck with something to do on a weekend and the street markets have always the freshest produce, from flowers, fruit and vegetables to cheese, meat and fish.
What do you find most frustrating about living in Switzerland?
Switzerland, despite the large international community (or maybe because of it), tend to have an inward attitude on certain aspects of life, and it may be a bit of a hard nut to crack.
Bureaucracy is something that takes a bit of getting used to; you’ll need permits of one sort or another for almost everything and every permit needs to be paid for. And be mindful of the bill if you go out for dinner… the markups are needlessly eye-watering.
What puzzles you about Switzerland and what do you miss since you’ve moved here?
I can’t get over the fact that smoking is still allowed in public places. The smoking ban has been delayed twice already and even when (if) it comes into force, it will still make a lot of allowances for a lot of places… if you are a non-smoker better avoid bars and restaurants on the weekend when they are full.
What do I miss? At the risk of sounding snobby, I miss good food. But in the end, this is why I started again my Cookery School (www.proof-of-pudding.com).
How does the quality of life in Switzerland compare to the quality of life in other countries that you’ve lived in?
When all things are considered, Switzerland beats a lot of other places hands down. You can find the good and the bad everywhere, but if you embrace the Swiss way of life while still maintaining your identity you will definitely find it very rewarding. Is not by luck that Swiss cities (especially Zurich) are regularly classified in the top five best cities to live in
If you could change anything about Switzerland, what would it be?
I’d definitely ban smoking in public places and reduce the amount of bureaucracy involved in every aspect of life. And I’d get shops to open at lunchtime
What advice would you give to a newcomer?
Be open minded to a different culture, especially if you are new to the European way of doing things.
Make sure you come with a stash of funds because the initial settling-in will be expensive.
While expat communities are very good as an introduction to a different country, try to go out and meet the locals, they’ll give a perspective much better than any guide book.
If you are coming to Switzerland looking for work, be ready to look for a while and don’t give up at the first hurdle.
And learn German.
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