August 1st in Switzerland is known as Swiss National Day, a national holiday celebrating the country’s birthday.
The day was designated to commemorate the founding of Switzerland in 1291 when members of three cantons came together, pledging their allegiance to the newly formed Swiss Confederation. Since that early document was first signed, the country has expanded to include 26 unique cantons. It has grown into a small but wealthy, well respected powerhouse in Europe.
Much like our American 4th of July, the national day in Switzerland is a public holiday celebrated with fireworks and parades, BBQs and bonfires. Every year on August 1st, locals gather to honor the country’s ancient and humble beginnings with good friends, good food, and good times.
As luck would have it, we were included in our first Swiss National Day celebrations this year.
Google says Happy Birthday Switzerland!
Language Tip: In the French-speaking canton where we live, the national day of Switzerland is known as Fête Nationale Suisse.
A year ago today on Swiss National Day, Travis and I moved into our house near Fribourg after nearly a month of living in hotels and Airbnbs. We didn’t own a single piece of furniture. For the first few weeks, we slept on an air mattress on the floor with only the echoes of an empty house to keep us company.
We didn’t have a car and were a bit confounded by the Swiss transportation system. We didn’t know about the bazillion types of insurance required, what taxes we’d have to pay, or about banking.
Did you know they don’t use paper checks in Switzerland?!
We didn’t speak French or German or Italian or Romansch, any of the four national languages of Switzerland. We knew barely a soul in our new host country.
Today, a year later, we’re humbled to reflect on how much has changed since last July, how much we’ve learned and grown, and how fortunate we are to have been able to spend a year in such a unique and beautiful country.
Despite Trav’s unexpected job loss – or perhaps because of it – we realized that more than anything else, August 1st is a day for us to rejoice in the lasting friendships we’ve made over the past year. And as with any kind of festivity, what better way is there to celebrate than with lots and lots and lots of good food?
In the early afternoon on August 1st, we heard a knock at the door.
Still recovering from days of severe sleep deprivation due to our recent relocation in Switzerland, we were lounging about our new apartment drinking coffee. It was one of the few food items we had left in our cupboards. We’d neglected to go shopping during our relocation, and grocery stores in Switzerland are closed on August 1st for Swiss National Day.
Knowing we very well might have to survive on nothing but coffee until Monday, we were grateful to find Nicole at our door, inviting us to lunch!
At the duly appointed time, we arrived promptly at their door in pajamas and spent the next two hours stuffing ourselves with Steak Parisienne, pasta, fresh bread, and caramel meringue with coffee for dessert.
Then we celebrate Swiss National Day with our Eritrean neighbors.
After lunch, we were a bit surprised to hear someone ring the shared doorbell for our two apartments.
Several weeks ago, we saw one of our neighbors at the bus stop in town and gave her a ride to the train station. The same neighbor had stopped by to invite us over for coffee as a way to thank us for the ride. Never ones to say no to socializing and coffee, we happily descended on her house with our roommate, Gintaré, and our friend and landlord, Simone.
Onnens is a small town, and though we’d briefly chatted with our neighbor over the fence, the language barrier had prevented us from being more social. We’ve learned some French but not nearly enough to carry on a decent conversation.
With Simone present to communicate in French when necessary, we finally met our neighbor’s husband and spent some time getting to know her two adorable kids, one of whom adores Touille.
In fact, she informed her dad she is going to get a dog soon.
Though we were expecting just coffee, they insisted we have “a little something to eat.”
A little. Bahaha!
Within minutes, they spread a traditional Eritrean feast before us.
They explained how they make injera, a traditional soft, spongy flatbread with sorghum flower while I tore off a corner. I was fascinated and surprised by both the texture and flavor. It was a bit like a thick sourdough flavored crêpe. After adding generous spoonfuls of a spiced meat dish and several other flavorful dishes, we all dug in.
It was delicious!
They followed it up with a ridiculously moist yellow bundt cake and more coffee. I was so stuffed by then, I didn’t think I’d ever be hungry again.
While we ate, they shared a bit about their lives as refugees in Switzerland, difficulties in finding employment, and singular desire for their daughters to have a better life here. Though their story is uniquely their own, I heard the same hopeful desire to one day return to their own country that I heard for years from my clients in Oregon.
I admired their courage and sacrifice for leaving Eritrea, a home they never wanted to leave.
I couldn’t begin to imagine the hardships they’d faced, and couldn’t help but compare it to our situation. Apart from a shared sense of homesickness, our situations are vastly different; considering we’re here by choice, are free to return to our native country any time, can travel just about anywhere we want, and have never faced persecution or statelessness, I lost any nagging feelings of self pity because of Trav’s job loss.
Now I’m simply grateful.
Even if he doesn’t find a job somewhere exciting or new, we’ll still be happy just to go home to the US.
This sense of peace from being surrounded by friends and solidly connecting with folks we’d just barely gotten to know continued into our third – and largest meal of the day.
Finally we celebrate over dinner with our Onnens family!
Shortly before 7 pm, we realized how late it was; we had dinner reservations at 7:30.
Thanking our gracious neighbors, we jetted home and hurriedly freshened up before meeting again out in our driveway. Francis had generously invited us to dinner at a nice restaurant and was patiently waiting with Carlos and Nicole. Along with Gintaré and Simone, the seven of us piled into 2 cars and chatted excitedly as we wound our way through Switzerland’s always green pastures to the shores of Lake Gruyère.
Travis and I rarely dine at restaurants, and it was a huge treat to go out to a fancy dinner with friends, particularly in Switzerland where we dine out even less frequently.
Francis had chosen a lovely restaurant, L’Unique, which we liked it immediately. With its giant, round log beams, A-frame windows, and lake setting, we just as well may have been dining at a trendy rustic cabin in Whitefish, Montana.
In no particular hurry to order, I was grateful that our group was content to chat, not only because I still wasn’t hungry but because in our last year here, we’ve learned to “slow down” and just enjoy spending time with friends.
For me, simply being unemployed has made me more generous with my time, but the culture of socializing here has also seeped in. Far fewer people watch TV, it’s expected that family or friends will share meals around a dinner table, and eating “on the go” is less acceptable.
I love all these things about life in Switzerland.
Instead of immediately ordering dinner, Francis ordered a lovely bottle of Gevrey-Chambertin, probably the most expensive wine I’ve ever had the pleasure of drinking.
We all shared life stories and laughed, sipped wine and took silly photos until dinner arrived.
By then, we’d been there so long, I was actually hungry again.
I can’t begin to remember what everyone ordered, but we all passed around bites of our own dish so we could sample everything. We had fun watching the server prepare Gintaré’s salmon tartar at our table before trying her salty, spicy dish.
My favorite was actually my own meal, tagliatelles fraîches au saumon fumé (smoked salmon pasta). Trav’s entrecôte de boeuf, beurre café de Paris (beef steak in a butter sauce) was also excellent.
You can’t go wrong ordering the smoked salmon tagliatelle at L’Unique.
The ice cream dessert with Bailey’s liqueur is the best dessert I’ve had in Switzerland.
Only able to finish half of my pasta, I asked Simone and Francis about “doggy bags” in Switzerland. We didn’t know if it was readily possible to take leftover food from a restaurant after a meal.
Though they both said it really isn’t common like it is in the States, Simone was quick to offer to ask the waitress on my behalf.
Without giving any indication she perhaps found the request tacky or odd, the waitress smiled and whisked away my plate, returning promptly with it neatly packaged in a to-go container.
Travis and I grew up in working-class families and regardless of how much money we earn, it’s ingrained in us simply not to waste leftovers. My mom would be appalled if I threw away perfectly good food.
We remained at the restaurant long after most of the tables had emptied.
We finally left well after dark, pausing in the fresh air outside to admire L’Unique’s cozy exterior in the evening light before caravaning back to the house to continue the festivities.
Travis and I brought out our only fireworks – a small box of poppers – and dispensed them around the circle for a few moments of noise and laughter. Then our party moved into Simone’s apartment where we cracked a bottle of champagne and talked until nearly 5 am, long after Swiss National Day had ended.
Exhausted but content, we fell into bed as the light of day cracked the morning sky on what felt like a new year full of untold promise.
More posts about saying goodbye as we prepare to leave Switzerland…