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How to melt away those little-town blues

March 23, 2011

Without meaning to brag, so far in my life I have lived in the following places:

  • London (pop 7.5 million, area 1,572 km2)
  • New York (pop 8.5 million , area 1,214 km2)
  • Buenos Aires (pop 3 million, area 203 km2)
  • Geneva (pop 185,598, area 15.86 km2)

Spot the odd one out.

The first weekend I arrived in Geneva, I took a hike up the Saleve, expecting to be wowed by the breathtaking view. The view is indeed wonderful, but instead of soaking it in happily I found myself suffering from palpitations, caused by the explicit visual evidence of just how damn TINY Geneva is as I looked down upon it. “That’s not a city…” I heard myself muttering to my companion, panic rising… “it’s a small bloody town.”

Yup, that’s it

For a confirmed urbanite, this was scary stuff.  My 80 year old neighbour in Buenos Aires used to lecture me about how lucky I was to be moving to Geneva. “It’s so small, and clean, and quiet..and the Swiss are so EFFICIENT.” he would say wistfully, stopping to point out the dog shit and pollution and traffic and chaos right under our noses on Avenida Cordoba.  But what he didn’t understand was that those words – small, clean, quiet – induce a kind of terror in me.

A city should never be small, clean or quiet. Efficiency is overrated. Give me messy Latin spirit any day.

However, since my panic attack at the top of the Saleve, I’ve come out the other end of a painful adaptation process. The little-town blues that Ol’ Blue Eyes sang about are not exactly melted away, rearing their head on a fairly regular basis in fact, but I am now worryingly accustomed to small-town life. So much so that on a recent trip to Paris I found myself almost, almost, initially at least, recoiling from the noise, the disorder, and all those people.

So first,take a minute to appreciate the advantages:

  • That 5 minute cycle to work (also a blessing for your colleagues who don’t have to breathe in the accumulated sweat from a 45-minute journey through Central London bus fumes);
  • Getting to the airport doesn’t require a half-day off work and a small loan;
  • A spontaneous drink with friends in the evening doesn’t necessitate an hours trip each way (you know you’ve been here too long when you veto a proposed trip to Carouge for dinner on the basis of the HUGE distance)
  • You will always run into people you know. For me, this is actually an acute horror (after an episode in Migros with an ex-flame, after a ‘relationship’ that basically only started because I kept running in to him, thereby crushing my resistance/better judgement), but I’m informed by other less socially maladjusted people that they find this a delightful part of Geneva life;
  • Easy access to the countryside. The first time I went on a run in Geneva I found myself stumbling through a pig farm within about 15 minutes. Bucolic rural idyll is practically on your doorstep for those of you who need to escape ‘city’ life;
  • The absence of a plethora of exciting edgy cultural events you could attend = more free evenings to wash your hair/clean your kitchen/go to a yoga class, and less guilt about never going to said cultural events.

Essential steps for adapting and surviving those little-town blues:

  • Buy a bike (we’ll have a post on how to do this without bankrupting yourself shortly) and enjoy the fact that it will take you no more than 20 minutes to get anywhere in the city.
  • When you walk down a downtown street at 8pm on a Friday night to find it deserted without a soul in sight, don’t dwell too much on the ‘Where the hell IS everybody, this glorified village is so dead’ thoughts…just go find a good bar/fondue palace to settle into with a friend. And as you scurry down the dark empty street just remind yourself that the crime stats are very low.
  • Regular weekend trips to real (by which I mean big, crowded, messy) cities. Milan, Paris, Lyon…(hell even Zurich will do if you can’t bring yourself to leave Switzerland) are only a short train ride away…with a myriad of others within 90 minutes flying distance. If you’re an urbanite you need to do this to retain your sanity, perspective and yes, your IDENTITY. Trust me.
3 Comments leave one →
  1. Nick permalink
    March 23, 2011 11:26 pm

    You forgot Gold Coast: pop 515,000, area 414.3 km²!

    • March 24, 2011 6:48 am

      Ha Noves, my friend Kate wrote that post, otherwise clearly the GC and Brisvegas would have been at the top of my list!

  2. Ivan permalink
    March 24, 2011 1:01 am

    Hey, just wanted to tell you how right you are and how I identified myself with yours articles specially having moved to Geneva from London 3 months ago….

    Keep posting articles please

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