During the same evening that we moved into our new house in Switzerland, our landlord, Francis, introduced us to Carlos and Nicole, the couple living downstairs. Originally from Portugal, they were apparently excited to meet the new American tenants – typically referred to thereafter as “The Americans.” In less than a month, they would introduce us to Nicole’s brother and several sets of their friends, all of whom warmly welcomed us into their Portuguese family.
After warm introductions all around – 3 kisses on alternating cheeks, as per Swiss custom, Carlos & Nicole promptly invited us to “take a coffee” on their patio. We were also incredibly excited to meet our Portuguese neighbors, so we eagerly accepted their invitation. We can never turn down coffee.
Francis also joined us, as did his sister, Simone, who happens to be Carlos and Nicole’s landlord. The six of us proceeded to while away several hours on their patio, sipping cappuccino and devouring all manner of tasty cookies and snacks that Nicole continually laid out for us.
They weren’t kidding when they said Portuguese like to eat, and they know how to do it right!
We found them to be incredibly hospitable, open and friendly. It was immediately obvious that as foreigners here in Switzerland, they understood our homesickness and many of our struggles to adjust to a new culture. They gave us the run down on taxes we’d have to pay, what to expect things to cost, where to shop to save money – all kinds of things. As native Swiss, both Francis and Simone contributed helpful information with humor and talked about growing up in Switzerland and how things have changed over the years. Swapping stories and navigating the language barrier, we had a thoroughly enjoyable evening.
The next day, Carlos and Nicole gave up their entire Saturday to drive us around Fribourg, to buy a few necessities and give us the lay of the land. We stopped at a pet store for treats for the critters, visited some furniture stores, and found two grocery stores that turned out to be significantly cheaper than where we’ve been shopping.
Hallelujah for Carlos and Nicole! Now we can actually afford to buy groceries in Switzerland.
Then, after an entire day of babysitting, they still apparently weren’t ready to be shuck of us. Inviting us to dinner, they rolled out a royal smorgasbord. Wine, fresh bread, salad, chorizo, chicken, pork, horse (yes, horse meat) – they made us raclette – Portuguese style.
We had never even heard of raclette, nor had we seen a raclette grill before.
After heating the grill for about an hour, Carlos placed the different cuts of meat directly on the hot stone, cutting them into smaller pieces as they cooked. We all chose pieces directly off the raclette as we found them cooked to our liking. Though it differed from the traditional Swiss raclette, which usually just involves cheese, bread, and veggies, we loved it. Trav and I stuffed ourselves with more meat in one meal than we’ve had since arriving in Switzerland.
Meat is incredibly expensive in Switzerland, and we’ve met nearly as many vegans as meat-eaters.
Again we stayed until the wee hours, sipping Port and trying several different kinds of their ice cream. Needless to say, another fabulous evening.
Since that day, Carlos & Nicole have continued to astound us with their friendly generosity. Right after meeting us, they gave us an extra key to one of their cars and insisted we use it anytime we need it. They have a second car and only need both during work hours.
Who are these people?
They’ve invited us for dinner multiple times. They’ve invited us down to take a coffee with their friends, whom we also liked immensely, and Touille loves their little pug, Eva. They introduced us to Nicole’s brothers and extended family.
At times, one of the greatest benefits of the language barrier or cultural differences is that we really have no idea what’s going on. Everyday things become surprises because we can be in the midst of a conversation with friends speaking German, French, Portuguese, or any crazy combination of the three, usually with some English thrown in, and we’re the only two who aren’t fluent in at least two of those languages.
So it was that when Carlos invited us to “take a coffee” one day, as we’d done any number of times at their place, I didn’t realize he meant to go to a cafe in a nearby town. Trav was just arriving home after a work week in France, so without even coming home first, we made plans to pick him up at the train station and head to the nearby town of Romont. Trav’s always up for anything!
We knew Nicole’s brothers would be joining us, but we had no idea that their girlfriends and a handful of other family members would make their way to the cafe to join us. A couple of hours later, our table of four – plus Touille – had swelled to include 7-8 more people, an adorable chihuahua, and briefly another dog I wanted to steal immediately. SO cute, and I’m not a dog person so much as a cat person.
It’s always a bit awkward meeting new people, but I was amazed at how welcoming and open they all were, and how enthusiastic about meeting Americans.
We’re really not that cool, yo, but they made us feel interesting and welcome. They primarily spoke in English out of deference to us, but I enjoyed the snippets of Portuguese and French that became natural side conversations. I’ve always found the Portuguese language to be beautiful, and the more I hear French, the more I also appreciate its cadence and want to learn it. We really want folks here to be comfortable around us and not feel like they’re constantly bending over backwards to accommodate us, but for now, we appreciated their thoughtfulness.
We left the group with awkward goodbyes, trying alternately to kiss three times (Swiss custom), twice (Portuguese custom), or hug (our personal American custom). I feel like we’ve been somehow unofficially adopted into a whole new Portuguese family, one we didn’t expect to find in Switzerland.