Imported Chocolate: Hi Dancoise!
Imported Chocolate: Thanks for having a cup of hot chocolate with me! A virtual cup that is!
Dancoise: I’m in the car and headed home. Thanks for having me! Can’t wait to get to the actual hot choggi as we say here in Switzerland 😉
Imported Chocolate: You’re very welcome! How was your day out with the fam?
Dancoise : Actually, I just had a few hours with the niece and nephew at the most rowdy play place ever, after baking all night and not having even 1 hour of sleep! So I’m great! 😉
Imported Chocolate: Omg! Yes! A new way to say hot chocolate! So, I will rephrase my greeting. Thanks for having a virtual cup of hot choggi with me. And wow! Only running on one hour of sleep? That’s hard core! Was the play place, the Swiss version of Chucky Cheese?
Oh wait! You didn’t even have one hour sleep! Whoa! You’re dedicated!
Dancoise: OK. I’m at the computer with my “hot chocolate” and ready to chat! It’s called Trampolino. It’s pretty awesome for kids, actually. I could imagine going crazy there as a kid. I only go crazy for the kids now, so I was running up inflated mountains, etc. on no sleep. But that’s me! 😉
Imported Chocolate: Lol! That’s so cool. I’m going to have to Google it. What is the weather like there now?
Dancoise: It’s gorgeous, actually. I want to say in the 26 degree range? I say gorgeous, because I’m from the dessert in So.Cal. Most Swiss would say too hot I think.
We live just about 150 meters from the lake so I love waking up in the morning and seeing the sun rise over beautiful Lake Zurich on days like these. And on a weekend like this, we BBQ on the balcony, take our son to the lake to feed the ducks and have a stroll. I really love how picturesque Switzerland is.
To anyone who visits, I say forget the typical “Eurotrip” where you ride the hop on hop off bus and visit museums. Switzerland is ALL about the nature. I won’t drone on about it, but it’s really some of the most luscious greenery I’ve seen anywhere.
Imported Chocolate: Lucky girl you, living by a lake! Your life sounds so romantic! Thanks for the tips! I know the measurements are different in Europe and I’m not even going to try to translate, but 26 degrees means it’s hot and summer over there, right? Lol!
Dancoise: My life is…interesting. Never boring that’s for sure. BTW 26 is 78 F.
Me: Oh that is perfect weather! My kind of weather! And the Swiss think that’s too hot!?
Dancoise: I won’t dare speak for the Swiss, just for my Swiss family. I believe it was hotter earlier in the day, but I’d say lower 70’s might be more comfortable. It rains a lot here so they’re used to milder temperatures.
Imported Chocolate: Ah, OK. Boo to the rain. Lol! OK, before I jump into the questions I have to ask, What is the origin of your name? I’ve never heard it before and it’s so beautiful!
Dancoise: 🙂 I love that question! I used to hate it because everyone would mispronounce it when I was a child. Well, everyone on my father’s side of the family has a name that begins with the letter “D” So when I was born, of course, the name had to follow the “D” rule.
Then my parents went to school together and they knew a girl Dancoise and both loved her name and passed it on to me. Her name is Dancoise Clayborn. I believe her family is from Louisiana and that’s where the French comes into play.
As for what it means…I don’t know.
Imported Chocolate: OMG!!!!!! I LOVE IT! That is a wonderful story! That name just gave me so many Ideas. Lol, but I digress and will throw a cap on my creative mind—on to the questions.
Dancoise: Dançoise Köchler is the proper spelling of my name …side note. :0)
Great! I’m looking forward to them!
Imported Chocolate: Oh, I forgot to ask, how do you pronounce your name?
Dancoise: Dawn-swahs Cook-ler. From 1999-2005 I went by “Dawn.” I love how I can put specific dates on that.
Imported Chocolate: Lol! I know. I laughed out loud at the date and going by “Dawn” thing!
So, first question. What part of Switzerland do you live in?
Dancoise: I live in the north, which is the German speaking part and the has the largest population of the three. I don’t know if you know this, but there is a French part, German part and Italian part. The French part is the second largest.
Imported Chocolate: I didn’t know that. Wow, this is really interesting to learn. I wonder if it plays any part in them never getting involved in conflict. It’s almost like they have three nations living together in harmony.
Dancoise: Quite the contrary, actually. Swiss are extremely peaceful and on average hate conflict…to a fault many times. You know they’re neutral and have been for some time. That neutrality carries through pretty much every aspect of life and their culture. As an outsider, is pretty obvious.
Imported Chocolate: Interesting. What led you to Switzerland?
Dancoise: My husband :-D.
Imported Chocolate: Score! An Imported Chocolate love story! I love love stories!!!!!!!
Dancoise: Interestingly enough, there are only two reasons foreigners come here: for a spouse, for a job or the combination.
People go to countries like France, Italy, Spain, Greece, etc because they love the country. That very rarely happens here, and I only say rarely because I don’t like to say never. I’ve yet to meet the person who came here because they just loved it so much and ended up staying forever.
That’s not because it’s not a lovely country, but it’s because it’s really difficult to break into the Swiss circle. That left me feeling a bit depressed and conflicted for quite a while when I came here. It’s difficult to feel like somewhere is home when you don’t have any native friends.
Imported Chocolate: Oh wow, this is interesting to know. I will come back to that topic in a second as it’s one of the questions I want to ask you, but if you don’t mind me asking, how did you and your husband meet?
Dancoise: We met at San Diego State University when he was studying abroad there. When we met I had just transferred and he was there for a second semester. The really interesting thing is that everything really just worked itself out. I thought that after his second semester it’d be ciao ciao, but I ended up doing my mandatory study abroad in Barcelona at the exact time he was going back home. So everything worked itself out and we’re here now.
Imported Chocolate: Aaaaw! It was fate! So did you move to Switzerland after Barcelona?
Dancoise: Yes, for eight months. That was a really awesome and difficult time.
Imported Chocolate: Why so? Again, if you don’t mind me asking.
Dancoise: You can ask anything, but I have my “Plead the 5th” cards ready.
Imported Chocolate: Ok, LOL!
Dancoise: I was living in a suburb of Zurich where they don’t speak much English. For example, in the grocery store, post office, bank etc. I didn’t speak any German at the time, so it was literally like restarting life. I had to learn how to speak the language, drive a manual car, maneuver these crazy windy streets and learn how to survive in minus temperature/bitter cold.
And the list goes on. I also had a difficult time at work and really had to fight to prove my worth to the team. In general, felt like I lost my freedom/independence entirely and I hate relying on anyone for anything. But the experience taught me a lot about myself and I grew tremendously from it. I’m thankful for the good and the bad.
Wow…did I just write two chapters of an answer :)??? I’M A TALKER!
Imported Chocolate: But your two chapter answer was perfect and inspiring! So no worries! I can relate to the “not liking to rely on other people” thing. I believe you just covered my third question which is: what were your initial thoughts on your new country in the beginning? Is there anything else you would like to add?
Dancoise: Well, that wasn’t my initial experience. I was “living” in Barcelona (BCN) for seven months before I moved to Switzerland. But I’d say of those seven months I was “living” in BCN, I was here 2/3 of the time. THAT was my first encounter and that was nothing, but amazing. But visiting somewhere is much different to living somewhere.
Imported Chocolate: Ha! I was just about to say that! What’s it like living in Switzerland as a black woman?
Dancoise: All I can do is throw up a huge grin :-D. And with that I’ll say that it is a very interesting challenge. It’s different as compared to being a black woman in the States and also very different to being a black woman in Spain. You only really find black people in the largest cities and as I did not live in one. When I first came here, people looked at me as if to say, “Wow they do exist!”
I want to choose my words carefully because I don’t want to be offensive to the Swiss.
What bothers me is that there seems to be a general acceptance of ignorance when it comes to people of color. For example, I was walking at the lake with my son on two separate occasions just this week. And both times – two different people- I had dogs bark and growl at me. And the owners both say, “Oh sorry, he just hasn’t seen a person of your color before.”
Imported Chocolate: O_O
Dancoise: Or babies some times cry because they’ve never seen a black person before. I think it’s sad and coming from California it’s shocking and unacceptable in this age of information. Now to answer the actual question…
Imported Chocolate: Wow! Yeah it really is!
Dancoise: The challenge is not getting upset at Swiss people for the staring because I find that Swiss people generally don’t mean it in a derogatory way. They are genuinely curious and I think on some fronts they would like to learn. The other challenge is not getting upset when people automatically assume I don’t speak German. If we go to a government agency, my husband and I, they will tell him, “She should do….” And I answer them in German saying, ” She’ knows what you said and she will do that” :).
Imported Chocolate: Ha! Love it! The good thing is you play a part in diversifying Switzerland and instigate a conversation.
Dancoise: I suppose the real challenge is getting comfortable enough to not take the staring, assumptions, etc personal and become part of the conversations in order to not only let them see, but also meet a positive black woman. Now let me flip it. It can also be a positive. I obviously stand out more than most, which is positive for things like business marketing and making connections.
Imported Chocolate: Exactly! I like your way of thinking. This is a way of thinking all black women who travel should have.
Dancoise: Well, I’ve done a bit of travel and you live and learn right?
Imported Chocolate: You sure do! So hair. Now how do you handle your hair there, because I know there are not a lot of salons (if any) that deal with black hair there.
Dancoise: Yes, there are, actually. There is an African community here and it is possible to get “hooked up.” But I take care of my own hair and do a pretty great job if I do say so myself hahaha! My mom had a salon for 10 + years so I know how to straighten my own hair. And I have my mom cut it when I go back home. Or I may get a cut here.
BTW, one of the best cuts I had was from a guy named Daniel at Tony & Guy in London and I’ve been trying to think of an excuse to go back to London so I can sneak in a cut :).
Imported Chocolate: Lol! You hear that ladies? If you’re ever in London look up Daniel at Tony & Guy! Lol! Thanks for the hair tips! You’re married so I’m going to have to flip this next question. OK, so, do you think a single black woman would have a hard time finding dates or love in Switzerland?
Dancoise: I actually have a friend from Chicago here – also black- and she as no problems at all. As I mentioned, black women are exotic here.
For anyone planning to come here single and ready to mingle, Thursday nights are the best. Thursday night at Amber and Jade I think they’re called. The other really popular one is….part of Movenpick and starts with a P. Palavrion—prime place to pick up a banker and the older men ready to spoil someone are at the Hyatt around the corner.
Imported Chocolate: All right! *puts on Beyonce voice* all the single ladies! All the single ladies! Lol! Are you paying attention ladies?
Dancoise: LOL. And one of the see and be seen places is ICON. OK I’m done 🙂
Imported Chocolate: Ladies start Googling these names! Lol! So do you have any crazy culture shock stories to share?
Dancoise: Too many. Let me think of the best one.
Imported Chocolate: Ok! :0).
Dancoise: Actually, let me just tell you about the first one. That’s easier. I lived in Spain in three cities for a total of about one year and one month before I ever came to Switzerland. So I had some experience with living abroad. The difference was that I had been learning Spanish for like six years before I ever went to Spain and had enough knowledge to get around with no troubles. Well, one of my first experiences here was going to the grocery store with my mother-in-law to be and trying to find bread crumbs.
I had my German dictionary and I found the word for bread which is “Brot” and the word for crumbs which is “Kruemel.” Long story short, it took thirty minutes and a huddle of like six people to figure out what I was trying to buy. That’s when the gravity of living in Switzerland hit me. I went home and cried for like an hour. Then I started taking German lesson the next week I think.
Imported Chocolate: Aaaaw, no! Yup, that sounds like a Culture Chock story for sure. And at least it put the fire under you to learn German.
Dancoise: By the way, “breadcrumbs” is “Paniermehl hahaha.” Has more of a Latin base. Well, I love learning language, actually. So I never resisted it. But we’re dealing with a couple factors here: 1. you can only learn so fast and at that point I had been living in Switzerland for only about a week maybe two. 2. There are two German languages here:
One is High German, or the German you would read / hear in Germany.
The other is Swiss German which is the common spoken yet unwritten language. It adds to the complexity of the situation, and no, it’s not like the difference between the Spanish from Spain vs. Spanish from Mexico. Swiss German has different grammar rules, different pronunciation and different words for a lot of things. So even though you may learn German in school, you won’t hear it spoken on the streets or anywhere unless you ask them to speak High German…which many are not keen to do and understandably so ~done~
Imported Chocolate: Wow! That sounds hella complicated! Lol! Good on you for learning! Because I don’t think I could learn.
Dancoise: I had help from my husband’s family and private tutor, but I’m learning everyday. Heck I’m still perfecting English. Wow “heck” how corny.
Imported Chocolate: Not corny at all girl! Inspiring!
Dancoise: I mean saying “heck” is corny.
Imported Chocolate: Oh! Ok. Lol!
Dancoisek: haha! Juicy question? Insert here….
Imported Chocolate: As far as laying down roots there, like finding a job and apartment. How hard is it?
Dancoise: Very! The market is great for fluent German speakers or people who go to University here OR for well connected people. But to just look through the newspaper and get a job that you remotely like. Not happening. When I first came here I was working for my in-law’s company for their American branch.
Luckily, it was a good fit and I worked there for a little more than two years, then we decided to start a family. I must say though, stay at home mommy is not my long-term gig. So I’m happy to have found something.
Imported Chocolate: Keeping on that subject, you started a baking business with some of the most beautiful cakes I’ve ever seen. Tell me more about that.
Dancoise: Thank you. I love baking and culinary arts have been a passion of mine since my aunt began inviting me over for cooking sleepovers when I was eight. On the business side, my mother has always run her salon business since I can remember and obviously that left an impact on me as I was working with her.
In high school I worked there quite a bit. So put those two together plus an opportunity that presented itself and you’ve got my “business”. My first cakes have made quite some progress and I hope that by this time next year they will be 200% better. Right now the business is growing so quickly that I’ve hired a personal assistant, now looking to hire kitchen help and considering a store front. Everyone cross your fingers for me please!
I’m so excited about this business that I haven’t been able to sleep for the past two weeks I think.
Imported Chocolate: That is awesome! Fingers all crossed!
Dancoise: And as a general statement, I encourage women to follow their dreams and never let someone make you reliant on them. I know quite a few expat women who don’t have any control of their money and have no prospects to get money and… let’s just say that’s not my preference :-D.
Yeah I actually have an appointment to look at a place next week!
Imported Chocolate: Awesome! Awesome! Awesome!
Dancoise: I’m going to take over Europe one cake at a time!
Imported Chocolate: Yes!!!!!!
Dancoise: Shout out to my personal assistant who had a very productive first week!
Imported Chocolate: Lol!
Dancoise: hahaha! True 90’s style
Imported Chocolate: *Funk Master Flex voice* Shout out to the PA!
Imported Chocolate: Only New Yorkers will understand that reference. What is the currency over there! Is it Euro?
Dancoise: No. Swiss Franc. We are not part of the union—neutral. I think the official policy is “Don’t start nothin’ won’t be nothin’ ”
Imported Chocolate: Lol! Right! I forgot! Does that currency get you far there? Are things expensive?
Dancoise: On average, things are three times as expensive here as they are in the US. And to illustrate that, my husband and I got 2 McDonald’s meals and apples pies for a grand total of Fr, 34 which would be $35.59.
Imported Chocolate: Oh hell no!!!!! DAMN!!!!! Point illustrated. Lol.
Dancoise: 2 chicken breast at the grocery store cost between $12-16.
Imported Chocolate: *Falls on floor!*
Dancoise: lol. It’s pricy, but the wages are better on average, even accounting for that, things are still expensive. Gas is …$7 or $8 per gallon.
Imported Chocolate: I’m so afraid to ask the next question. How much does the average apartment cost?
Dancoise: That’s tough. I’ve lived in kind of nice places but my friend had a studio for Fr.1800 in Zurich and it wasn’t like the ritziest neighborhood or anything, but it was kind of central. That’s just about $1900.
Imported Chocolate: Sounds like the expense of housing in NY, actually. Now lets talk food. What’s your favorite Swiss dish?
Dancoise: Well, my mother-in-laws Schweinbraten is pretty great, but nothing beats a homemade cheese fondue with a shot of Kirsch along side after a day of snowboarding.
Imported Chocolate: Snowboarding? Wow, look at you. What is Schweinbraten and Kirsch by the way?
Dancoise: Schweinbraten is roasted pork. Kirsch is a very high percentage alcohol made out of cherries or “Kirschen” hence the name. German is a very precise language. Not too much mystery behind it.
Imported Chocolate: Sounds yummy! What are some other dishes we should try if we visit Switzerland?
Dancoise: Yes, and Schnitzel although it’s origin is Austrian.You must try Swiss chocolates of course.
Imported Chocolate: We’re all about chocolate in these parts. ;0) What about art? Is there an art scene in Switzerland? If so, what neighborhoods can art be found in?
Dancoise: I’m sure there is, but it’s not my scene so unfortunately I have no insight on that.
Imported Chocolate: Lol! Ok. What are some sight seeing activities you can recommend, preferably the non touristy types—things only a local would know about.
Dancoise: So I mentioned that Switzerland is all about nature.I would recommend going to Rigi, Uetliberg, JungfrauYoch, Davos, Zermatt or one of those kinds of mountains for a hike in the summer, of course. And if you’re here in the winter, then come ski/snowboard. As compared to Cali, at least, the mountains are much more challenging and so far nothing beats a view from the Alps on a clear winter day.
Lugano is gorgeous and of course in the Italian part. It’s very scenic with a wonderful lake and Milano is only 30 minutes away. Btw that’s one of the most amazing thing about living in Switzerland within 3 hours you can be in 4 different countries. From me, I’m one hour to Germany, one hour to Austria, three hours to France and two and a half hours to Italy.
Imported Chocolate: Sounds perfect! Which brings us to day trips. What are some that you take?
Dancoise: Rheinfall. It’s a gorgeous natural waterfall. I want to say the biggest in Europe. Don’t quote me. Side note: public transport it phenomenal here, but make sure to be on time because they’re not late and they don’t wait.
Geneva is of course is great. I liked the tour of the UN building. Vaud is probably not on most tourist maps but is out of a picture book— nothing “special” to do there, but its wonderful, and so is Montreux.
Imported Chocolate: So Rheinfall, Geneva, Vaud and Montreux are the day trips that you take? And speaking of public transportation, what are the forms?
Dancoise: I don’t really explore the country like that and I never have really explored it as a tourist, but I have been to all those places.
We have Trains, trams and buses. All of them are very clean, quiet and convenient.You can get multiple day passes, I believe, and lots more information at sbb.ch.You can nearly time your watch by a train because they are on point with punctuality. There are direct connections between Zurich – Geneva, Zurich – Milan, Zurich – Munich.
Imported Chocolate: A punctual public transportation system? Sounds heaven sent!!!!!!!
Dancoise: I’ve come to expect it, but that’s after almost four years of living here on and off, but then I go to Spain for the summer and learn that life can be more laid back.
Imported Chocolate: Nice! You’ve said that the Swiss avoid conflict, so I m taking this to mean that Switzerland is pretty safe as far as crime goes, right?
Dancoise: Yes, as compared to the US for sure.They operate largely on the honor system and it would be a grave crime against society to not follow suit. Does that mean we’re crime free? Absolutely not. There are pick pockets (rare).Other crimes have to do with residents, I believe. Travelers are really pretty safe.
For example, my husband’s friend lost her wallet in the middle of a ski resort and she got it back with every last cent in it on the same day.
Imported Chocolate: Wow! To retrieve your wallet with every penny is rare indeed!OK, the penultimate question. What advice would you give women of color who dream of achieving what you’ve achieved (business woman in a foreign land not her own), but are too afraid to leave their comfort zones and live full-time in a foreign land?
Dancoise: The cliché is pretty true. What do you have to lose? In my opinion, you can only gain by experiencing life, AND if it turns out to be temporary… fine. I guarantee it’ll be one of the best decisions you ever made in your life.
As far as business goes though, you’re either a risk taker or you’re not. If someone is letting what other people might think or say stop them, then they need to remember that:
1. You only have one life to live and you can’t rewind. If it’s your dream your true friends and family will be behind you. They will also be supportive. Whoever isn’t a true friend or supporter will only tear you down, so keep the positive people in your circle and keep moving toward your dream.
I haven’t made it all the way yet, but I have an enormous amount of self belief and determination. We’ll check back once I’ve “made it” :-D.
Imported Chocolate: Love it! Great words of wisdom! Is there anything else you would like to share before we go?
Dancoise: Lastly, don’t believe what you’ve heard about places. Go out there and discover the world for yourself. And that’s all folks!Thanks so much for the interview it was great fun!
Imported Chocolate: I had fun too! How do you say goodbye over there?
Dancoise: Ciao! Aufwiedersehen! Adieu! We say all of them. Oh and Tschuess.
Imported Chocolate: I’ve always liked Adieu because of Shakespeare so I will say Adieu! :0) Adieu!
Dancoise: Ciao Ciao.
Imported Chocolate: Enjoy the rest of your day!
Dancoise: Its 9:30pm. Gnight :).
Imported Chocolate: Ooop! LOL! Goodnight!
NOTE: Have a cup of hot chocolate with me! If you’re a local or someone living abroad full-time — I would love to speak with you. If you would like to join me for a virtual cup of hot chocolate, please email me at email@example.com.
Tune in next month for another cup of hot chocolate in our next destination!
All photos belong to Dançoise Koechler. I do not own any rights.