What happens when an all American woman with a French-Italian name moves to Switzerland? American writer Chantal Panozzo tells all about it in her recently published book, Swiss Life: 30 Things I Wish I’d Known. With her trademark humor, she shares her evolution as an American transplant through all phases of withering and thriving as an expat in the extra clean cantons of Switzerland in 30 tightly written essays.
Chantal offers great lessons and reflections for any expatriate. As she warns in her Disclaimer, “Trying to continue your life (rather than take a vacation from it) in a foreign place is a challenge as undefined and daunting as the Swiss Alps.” The 30 essays are divided into six chapters which are “About” different phases of her expat life that she had “Wish She Had Known.” Many of her experiences and observations can be shared by most foreigners living in Teutonic Europe, but any expat or anyone curious about expat life can appreciate the isolation, bewilderment and triumphs that Chantal depicts as the outsider in a new place full of peculiarities such as Switzerland. In her first chapter entitled “What I Wish I Had Known About Myself,” she writes of her trailing spouse identity crisis with some heart aching poignancy and accuracy detailing the shift of balance in marriage and the daunting and sometimes defeating task of redefining oneself. She ends the chapter with this inner dialogue following a startling displacing visit back home. “What the heck was I thinking when we moved abroad? I had been thinking adventure. Not of being ruined for life no matter what country I lived in…Expats are possibly the most confused people on earth and I had permanently become one of them, floating between who I used to be and who I had become.” This sense of displacement amongst moments of discovery is a theme throughout the book.
With lots of doses of humor, humility and honesty, readers of Swiss Life will cheer with Chantal as she takes the plunge and decides to swallow her pride and publicly talk about her unemployment on Swiss radio, cringe with her as she survives a bizarre and boozy evening out with colleagues at a strip bar while trying to master the laugh-and-nod in fake comprehension, and gets her swollen breastfeeding breasts slathered in the classic Teutonic homeopathic remedy of quark. By the end, it is easy to feel the same twinge of homesickness alongside Chantal as she describes the importance of Skype in building a quasi-virtual relationship between her family back in the States and young daughter.
Her subtitle for the book is “Life in Switzerland. The not-made-for-TV-version.” The 30 essays she shares are indeed brutally honest and not meant for any channel, but I would argue that in fact Swiss Life could be the stuff for very good TV for the smarter viewer. While Swiss Life is Swiss specific, any German Way reader would find deep appreciation in this solidly written expat account.