Whenever I step aboard the return flight to Switzerland, I feel like Alice in Wonderland falling through the hole into the land of miniature. I have an 8-hour flight to transition to what awaits on the other side of the Atlantic. I squeeze my 5’10” frame into compact seats designed for dwarfs. I eat baby-sized servings with doll-sized spoons on a mini tray.
In the Geneva airport, I tower above Europeans while lugging baggage twice as big as and three times heavier than theirs. Not all expats are hoarders, but like many of my compatriots living overseas, I bring back as much of the homeland as possible, hence my bags are laden with Tootsie Pops, cake mixes, chocolate chips and other American staples.
When the taxi pulls up in front of our twin house, my husband leans out the window to announce, “Oops, honey, I shrunk the house.”
Switzerland is a “petite” country; the price of real estate is premium. There are no sprawling ranch homes or suburban mansions here. Our yard is the size of a postage stamp. Surface wise our ground floor is no bigger than an American garage. But we are lucky we have four floors stacked like baby’s colored building blocks. It’s great! This way I don’t need a gym membership; my home is a StairMaster.
Our kitchen is three-square meters. The refrigerator is smaller than the mini bars in most American hotels. The fridge, stove, and sink are within an arm’s length, so I can remove foodstuff, sauté veggies and wash dishes simultaneously. But I rarely do any one of the three. It is a one-butt kitchen, and I am always the first volunteer to butt out.
Europe has a different scale of measurement and I am not talking metric here. Cupboards are more like the size of American drawers. Walk in closets? Forget it. My sister’s Barbie wardrobe was bigger. Appliances are also more compact. Our microwave fits in a kitchen cupboard. The washing machine holds five articles of clothing or the equivalent of two American sweatshirts.
But there are benefits. The streets are so narrow that when you’re riding through the village, you can reach out and shake hands with your neighbor opening her shutters.
You also learn to be less wasteful especially now that we pay for every sack of garbage, two dollars for an 8-gallon bag.
Size is relative. By European standards our house is of a standard size. I am used to the different dimensions for the most part, but whenever I return from the wide-open spaces of the Midwest, I suffer from reverse culture shock.
For years, I was tempted to live into my sister’s spacious basement in the Chicago ‘burbs. Then they bought a new mega refrigerator! Now I am considering moving into one of the compartments there. I’d have first dibs on leftovers and my brother-in-law is a great cook!