Sting sang about an Englishman in New York. I’m an expat in Gstaad. Isn’t that the same thing? Sort of? OK, so I’m not a multi-platinum singer-songwriter, but after 13 years as a "legal alien" I do know about expat life.
By Anna Charles
The Oxford English Dictionary defines an expat as someone who lives outside their native country. Over the years I’ve been asked dozens of questions about life in the mountains (“is it true you’re not allowed to flush the toilet at night or wash your car on a Sunday?”).
So when GstaadLife asked me to pen this column what, I wondered, should I tell future expats about life here? How would I encourageyou to get started with a new life in Gstaad? Taking the plunge I moved to the region with my family in 2004. Like many expats before and since, we’d been holidaying here for years before we took the plunge.
We’d toyed endlessly with the idea of relocating, dreamily running through various “what if?” scenarios (sound familiar?). Then one Sunday we tired of California and decided to take the plunge. Life had become an endless shopping trip for the latest gadget we didn’t need and, corny as it sounds, we hankered after teaching our boys to ski and eating rösti with fried eggs whenever it took our fancy.
A mere five weeks later we waved off a shipping container to Europe and boarded a plane to Zürich. Home sweet home Unlike the lucky few who own a holiday home in Gstaad, our immediate challenge was to find somewhere to live. We wanted flexibility so decided to rent.
House hunting in those pre-Airbnb days involved picking up the phone to local estate agents. This is still the way I’d go about it today. Airbnb offers some interesting options, but Gstaad is a small market and local agents have the contacts that count. The only wrinkle was that most rental contracts required a minimum term of one year. Twelve months felt like a lifetime so we opted to apartment- and chalet-hop on short-term leases (anything from two days to four months) until we decided where to settle.
I would do the same again because it gave us the chance to try out different types of housing. An ancient chalet with masses of scarlet geraniums tumbling from window boxes may look idyllic, but our experience was far from the dream (terrifically dark and draughty on rainy days with a microscopic galley kitchen). We tried a modern apartment in Saanen (great insulation, optimum room layout,
but bland as beige) and an unforgettable chalet clad in acres of 1970s pine. Vol-au-vent anyone?
Location, location, location
Moving around also gave us a taste for different villages and views. Early on we decided to live within walking distance of a train station (a decision we have never regretted), but perhaps you prefer solitude up a remote track to the bright lights of Gstaad? Sounds great on a sunny day, but winters here can be harsh if you’re not used to snow.
The fun very definitely stops when the diesel in your car freezes as you navigate icy hairpin bends on your way back to get the eggs you forgot when you bought that packet of Berner Rösti for dinner.
Your location also determines which authorities administer the fun stuff like taxes and permits. While much of the local area lies in the canton of Berne, venture seven kilometres up the road to Rougemont and you’re in Vaud. I could never have imagined how stark the difference in administration between these cantons, but that’ll have to wait until next time.
For now I’m off to have a cup of tea. Just like Sting.