Swiss Life Book

Life in Switzerland.
The not-made-for-TV version.

In 2006, American Chantal Panozzo moved to a spa town near Zurich ready for a glamorous life as an expatriate. She would eat chocolate. She would climb mountains. And she would order cheese in four languages.

Instead, she lived a life more in tune with reality than fantasy. Contrary to popular American belief, Switzerland isn’t just a setting in a storybook called Heidi. It’s a real place where someone with a master’s degree in communications can’t make a phone call, where you can be hired in one language and fired in another, and where small talk doesn’t exist—but phrases like Aufenthaltskategorien von Drittstaatsangehörigen do.

Swiss Life: 30 Things I Wish I’d Known is a collection of both published and new essays in which Chantal discovers that no matter how hard she wills her geraniums to cascade properly, she will never be a glamorous American expatriate—or Swiss.

Swiss Life: 30 Things I Wish I’d Known

By Chantal Panozzo

Published May 7, 2014

Distributed in part by Bergli Books (Basel, Switzerland)

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New book: 99.9 Ways to Travel Switzerland Like a Local

Part travel guide.

Part culture guide.

Total bucket list enjoyment.

Visit for more information or listen to the podcast about the book, created by, here.

38 thoughts on “Swiss Life Book”

  1. Hi there, I was just told about your book by a US colleague (we both work in Zurich though) this morning and I will buy it on Amazon now as reference material. I am releasing a fantasy adventure book (in DE + FR in June, with EN to follow next year) set in a parallel Switzerland targeted at young adults and their parents alike, where the heroes are (profoundly) swiss and gently poke fun at what being Swiss is about. My question: are you self-published? If not, who are you working with? I find it extremelly difficult with publishers here, way too small and conservative… Anyway, keep up the good work and have a great day! Chris

  2. Dear Chantal,

    being an expat in Switzerland, I must read this book.

    Can you advise on its availability – online shop/price?

    Thank you and I look forward to having an amusing time reading it.


      1. Hi Chantal,

        I so agree with your article Living in Switzerland ruined me. I grew up a military brat in Germany from 72-96 and I so agree with you. I never made it to Switzerland other than the times we drove up in the alps but it is nice to know that other people see the difference from working for other countries vs working in the US.

  3. Hi Chantal
    I can’t wait to read your book. I had a go on an Alphorn last summer and was enchanted but also wondered if taking it up might be a way to break down some barriers. Then there’s
    the queuing (or lack of) thing – still not used to that – my children have had to develop sharp elbows or would never be able to get off the tram in the morning!
    Good to know it’s not just me!

  4. Hi Chantal.

    So interesting to come across your article. I too lived in Switzerland for a decade and wrote a book that was distributed by Bergli (Culture Smart!:Switzerland) I’m in Toronto now and have been back here for five years. My eldest daughter was one when we moved there and my youngest was born there. In many ways, I’m grateful for the childhood they had there and try to hang on to some of the values. On the other hand, I’m glad they escaped the gymi system and are thriving in Canadian schools. Wish we could have a coffee and gab about this. It’s not often I find someone who gets it. Tschüss! Kendall

    1. I’m also from Toronto and live in Switzerland since 20 years. i raised my children bi-cultural and glad it worked. some Swiss people do accept Cdns and our way of thinking!

  5. I appear to be African American however my great grandmother came from unterkulm, married an ex-slave in missouri. Thus I have Swiss blood and as a banjo player of 40 plus years as well as a teacher for 30 plus years my great desire is to own and play the alphorn. Where do I get one? HELP!
    Thanks. I played bugle for many years in two marching corps, as well as the shofar in synagogue service; hopefully the technique is similar. Chantal, thank you for the help.
    By the way my Mueller relatives disowned my great grandmother Maria
    Mueller. Her father was from Wildegg,

    1. To buy an alphorn, I recommend Musik Kollegger in Davos:

      To learn to play, check out the Swiss Alphorn School near Gstaad. They have an alphorn class every summer for beginners.

      I have a travel book (un-tourist type) coming out in 2017 that will talk about this and many other insider Swiss things to do.

  6. Dear Chantal,

    Moved to Basel 8 months ago and still attempting to touch base with “The Swiss Way of Life”. Your writing was at times humorous, touching, poignant and so identifiable in many ways! I loved the ending most of all. Especially since you didn’t attempt to tie up everything with neat little corners! Keep in writing please, as we need someone to tell us, “it’s ok” ! 🙂

  7. Hi Chantal. We moved to Basel the same year you came to Switzerland. it sounds like our experience is similar to yours except we’re older (my wife and I), have more kids (four) and are still here with no plans to return to the US anytime soon. I really enjoyed your piece, “Living in Switzerland ruined me for America and its lousy work culture”. It has become the link I send friends in the US when they ask me when we’re returning. They ask and I send the link. No explanation necessary. Anyway, thanks for providing this nice little tool. I’m getting your book (e-version) as I’m sure that will be worthwhile as well.

  8. While browsing the bookstore I happened to find “Swiss Life” and bought it. Instead of going back to work, I started reading a couple of chapters, laughing out loud. So poignant! Since I did the reverse by moving from Heidi Land to America without any English knowledge, I know exactly what you went through! The main difference must be that in America, everybody asks ” Where you from, you got an accent”. followed by, I’m part Irish, Italian and German. Nobody seems to be just American. Being Swiss, I need more precise answers and usually inquire as to which part is Irish, Italian or German, which in most cases ends the conversation. I look forward to reading the rest of the book, and probably recognizing friends and family members!!
    Ciao from Texas!

  9. Hi Chantal,

    I am in East Switzerland in a really small town about 100Km from Zurich. I enjoyed reading your article “Living in Switzerland ruined me for America….” I agree on most of what you said, however I do not agree on a few things and was interested to know if you were employed by a company in Switzerland before you moved from the US?

  10. Hello Chantal

    I’m an undergrad student in my senior year thinking of going to Zurich University of Applied Sciences for an engineering masters. Can you tell me what the educational environment is like there ? Also would I have an option to work as a student coming from US?

  11. Read your Vox piece, “Living in Switzerland ruined America for me”, it’s great and so relatable! Thank you for writing. I lived in Germany for a few years and almost all aspects your described are what I experienced. Will look into getting your book. I’m curious about your experience once your return to live in America. What’s the follow-up? Whenever I return to America, I do lament about those aspects I miss after having lived in a different country but I also can’t help but notice how wonderfully creative and ingenious America and the people tend to be. And I just love that, it enriches life so much. Can that individually driven spirit be found in the same way in Europe, I wonder?

  12. Hi Chantal,

    I much enjoyed your article on Swiss Life- I have to get the book!
    I lived for 17 years in Zurich and made the mistake of returning to the US where I had worked only briefly. I was shocked to find that I was expected to work 20 hours of unpaid overtime a week, next to no holiday, no rights as an employee for redress, no “notice” time- I could be fired at anytime for no reason and with zero job security. To top it all off, my salary was much less than in Switzerland, the taxes much higher and the overall quality of life markedly lower.

    And the Americans considered this to be normal!

    Your article describes exactly what I tried to tell American friends in the US: That they were being badly taken advantage of by the US employment system. None would believe it, as of course “America is the best place in the world”…

  13. I have lived in Zürich for 10 years and sometimes have trouble seeing the positive. This is a saving grace for me emotionally. I like your “reality” description instead of movie versions of Switzerland. I feel like I am reading someone who really understands my experience which is desperately needed at the moment.

  14. Hi
    I’m currently looking for work in Lucerne Switzerland can anyone help me?

    Oh and I just got your book.
    I’m a Administrative assistant at a daycare in Bronx NYC.
    What can o find for work in Swizterland ?

  15. Dear Mrs. Panozzo,

    As a political fugitive from the Netherlands, who just hoped to have found a save haven in Zürich (CH), I bought for about
    CHF 400,- a load of books on Switzerland, the Swiss and their history. One of the book I bought (and read) was your book on Swiss Life.

    Interesting book, which I am glad I had a chance to read it, although I wonder, if the book is about Swiss Life or Life as an American sees it.

    I was born in the Netherlands (yep!) and worked more than ten years in Germany (Switzerlands big – but less perfect – brother). Born as a perfectionist myself, actually, I feel quite at home here in Switzerland, but I know I will never be a Swiss. Why not? Because I don’t speak the Schweitzer-Duutsch dialect not well enough. I am convinced that to feel (not dependent of the others) as being a Swiss, an American, a German, a Belgium or whatever citizen, you have to have made the language of the country wished as your own.

    I read (probably) more German literature than the average German, crossed more Alp passes on bicycle than the average Swiss, I still won’t be a German, neither a Swiss. Why because every German or Swiss hears immediately that I am not originally from their country. As the American Noah Chomsky once stated, is now proven by science ( Your brain is different, depending on what language(s) you speak (see the functional MRI pictures).

    As a swimmer, I still don’t understand, which message this Swiss lady in the pool might have been giving you. Where as we always should remember, that even in Switzerland Nature pestered society with weirdo’s. The same goes for your neighbor with her CHF 5 piece. My first laundry room experiences (in Zürich of course) are totally different: Casuistics as it is called in my profession.


    Jeroen (Jerome) Maas

    1. There are different permits and rules for living in Switzerland depending on what country you originate from. Members of EU nations, for example, have better chances to be able to work in Switzerland than someone from the U.S. But mostly, it’s just a really great long German phrase 🙂

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  17. Chantal, I just read your piece from VOX, I am Irish / British but lived in the Netherlands for a number of years in the 90’s. So strange how your experiences are so similar to mine at that time. Obviously I did not have a child (being Male) but just the differences in work life balance etc. I lived and worked by the sea and it was not uncommon to go to the beach at lunchtime for a good splash about in the sea followed by a good lunch in a beach cafe.

    I have just spent a week in the Alps Skiing and just this morning drove thru central Geneva on the way to the airport, the difference in work culture is remarkable, I can certainly agree that in that part of the world , “lunch” is very important , to the extent that the best time to ski was actually 12 – 2, as there was no one around.

  18. Thank you so much! Swiss life and other Nordic countries seem like a charm which more and more Americans seem to be flocking to.

    Could a US Citizen who earns minimum wage and struggles to make ends meet move to Switzerland with same minimum wage and have it much better and be taken care of?

    Also, wonder what it is like for Master’s level students in Switzerland or Nordic countries that are non citizens?

  19. I spent 25 years living over seas as an American girl. I returned to the US in 2000 when we were expecting my daughter. In Europe you need a Ph.D. to be hired and promoted in your chosen field. When return to Germany after visiting the state I sat next to a woman from Brussels on the airplane. She asked me what I do for a living. I told her I was working in my 3 rd Ph.d and she believed me ! I said it as a joke to myself ,making fun of the obsession with credentials every where in Europe. It does not mean they are better at their jobs …it is the only way for them to have job security. You must also master the dialect in each European country that is respected or highly regarded. Like in My Fair Lady…the man who was an expert in determining where Aliza originated from..
    He declared, her accent was that of Royalty! Even Kate Middleton had a British voice coach to help her master her British Recieved English. Europe is very education and government job focused. It is a tougher place to succeed than compared to the USA. Here a woman with a cellphone and Ipad can work for herself! Not true anywhere in Europe! Over in Europe there is a cement ceiling over everybody’s head. So the climb real mountains and just enjoy life. They don’t care about financial success as model in by Madison Avenue in NYC or LA. They have their health & culture. They’re content with their traditions.

  20. I’ll have to check out your book after reading an article on I work a remote job now and make more than when I did working 40-60 hours, putting myself in danger for a stupid building to be secure. I have time, money, and a work life balance like you mentioned! When I saw that your husband coming home on lunches strengthened your marriage, I have to agree! My spouse works 10-12 hour days 4 days a week at our local college, so I show up and we disappear for a drive and lunch before I have to take him back. It really helps diffuse the long day. Now if I only had benefits… but life is a work in progress! The article talking about your book just inspires me to keep at it more!

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by Chantal Panozzo