Expat Voices: Chantal Panozzo on living in Zurich

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It’s easy to live in Switzerland without a car, but what’s up with the tunnels and 15-letter words?

Name: Chantal Panozzo
Nationality: American
City of residence: Zurich
Civil status: Married
Occupation: Freelance writer and copywriter
Reason for moving to Switzerland: Job opportunities/adventure
Lived in Switzerland for: 3 years

What was your first impression of Switzerland?
It’s beautiful and orderly. And everyone was staring at my white socks.

What do you think of the food?
The chocolate and cheese are two reasons to live in Switzerland by themselves. The restaurant food…well, besides Hiltl and a few other places, it’s pretty mediocre for the price you’ll pay. And unless you like to hold a sausage in one hand and a piece of bread in the other, you’re pretty limited for street food.

What do you think of the shopping in Switzerland?
It would be nice if the grocery stores were actually open at times I felt like going. But they have really fresh food including lots of local products, and the farmer’s market is year round.

What do you appreciate about living in Switzerland?
The location in the heart of Europe. The cleanliness. The public transportation. The endless hiking and biking trails. There is no easier place to live without a car.

What do you find most frustrating about living in Switzerland?
The language and bureaucracy. For English speakers living in the German-speaking section, it is really difficult to learn the language because they have two languages — High German (the written one) and Swiss German (the spoken one). And it doesn’t help that everyone wants to speak to you in English.

The bureaucracy can be frustrating, especially for Americans and other non-EU residents because most of us are required to be on yearly permits — which take four months to renew each year. It is also hard to deal with a country that has 26 states and 26 sets of rules. So you might live in one state and work in another. Or you work in one state and your spouse in another. And in that case, you have different holidays.

What puzzles you about Switzerland and what do you miss since you’ve moved here?
I’m puzzled by how amazed people are with tunnels. A completed tunnel always warrants a party with melted raclette cheese and brass music—even though neither one of those should be in a tunnel.

I miss cheap stuff. Free water with ice. Eating out without breaking the bank. Having a wide variety of things to choose from. Customer service. My own laundry room.

How does the quality of life in Switzerland compare to the quality of life in other countries that you’ve lived in?
The quality of life is very high. Having woods to walk in or a mountain to climb outside just about every doorstep in Switzerland is a reality that is hard to give up. But then again, they don’t have deep-dish pizza. No place is perfect.

If you could change anything about Switzerland, what would it be?
Make the written and spoken language the same in the German-speaking area. It would really help us foreigners with the language learning curve. Or at least make it illegal to have words longer than 15 letters. Please?

What advice would you give to a newcomer?
Give yourself time. It took me almost three years to get comfortable here. Three years to finally be able to talk in High German at the 2-year-old level. And three years to make Swiss friends. Be patient and open. You will accomplish all of these if you put yourself out there and try. And in the meantime, you can read my blog.

Expat VoicesIf you would like to share your perspective about life in Switzerland and contribute to Expat Voices, send an email to with 'Please send me an Expat Voices questionnaire' in the subject line.
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