What’s It Like Being a Jamaican Living in Switzerland?
Interviews

What’s It Like Being a Jamaican Living in Switzerland?

What’s It Like Being a Jamaican Living in Switzerland?

Have you ever wondered what’s it like being a Jamaican living in Switzerland? On our “Jamaicans to the World” Facebook Live show, Jamaicans.com founder Xavier Murphy spoke with Nza. She is a Jamaican living in Switzerland.

Xavier: What is it like being a Jamaican living in Switzerland? Hi, I’m Xavier Murphy, the founder of Jamaicans.com. Today in Jamaicans to the world, we talked to Nza, a Jamaican who’s living in Switzerland. Nza, how are you? Welcome.

Nza: Thanks. I’m doing good looking forward to chatting (talking) with you.

Xavier: What part of Jamaica are you from?

Nza: Well, I was born in Kingston, but lived there, I think two years of my life, and then moved to about 15 miles out of Montego Bay, to my grandmother and then, around 10 (ten) or so I moved into Ocho Rios, to live with my mom.

Xavier: Okay. You went to the two cities, basically, you did the Kingston and then the Montego Bay.

Nza: Exactly, exactly. Yeah.

What’s It Like Being a Jamaican Living in Switzerland?

Xavier: How long have you lived in Switzerland?

Nza: It’s actually amazing how time flies. I’ve been here 27 years this month, actually.

Xavier: Wow! Tell us the story on how you got to Switzerland?

Nza: Well, I think whenever you get especially off the beaten path, because Switzerland isn’t really the go to place, then I suppose whenever that happens, it has to do with love. In the first instance, that was what happened and what brought me here.

Xavier: Okay, It was a love story that brought you there.

Nza: As in maybe 95% of the cases.

Xavier: Then you just said, let me settle here.

Nza: Interestingly enough, no. The original plan was not to settle here. The original plan was actually to go back to Jamaica. But then kind of life happened, and I started doing music here and then got into different obligations. And like I said, life happened, and plans changed as they do.

Xavier: Tell us a little bit about that, being a musician, a Jamaican musician there in Switzerland. Were you doing Jamaican music? Were you doing other types of music? What type of music were you doing in Switzerland?

Nza: They’re very big on reggae here, but they tend to more like the roots Reggae. The Bob Marley type of Reggae, although they’re also into their Sean Paul, and Sizzle and things like that. However, when I started doing music here, it was not Reggae. I started as a studio musician, and I was doing Jazz and R&B Soul. Stuff like that, initially.

Xavier: Okay. Okay. Did you eventually get into doing any type of reggae while doing the music?

Nza: I did. There’s a very popular Swiss Reggae Artist called Famara, and I did some collaboration with him and whenever he had concerts, or small tours, I would accompany him and do all kinds of a collaboration. That was quite interesting, because being here it was an all-white band, and first you’ll think like, I’m not sure if they’ll get this Reggae thing down at all, the drum and the bass line. But I must say, didn’t do a bad job at all. At times I kind of felt like I was at home almost.

Xavier: It’s not surprising. My dad is a musician who occasionally tours. He will tell me he says “he is just amazed”. He does Europe really, maybe once a year. He does Rock Steady, Ska tenors. And he would tell me how surprised he is at how quickly they pick up on the bass line on the music. And they’re here. They’re absolutely just awesome.

Nza: Right? Yeah.

Xavier: I’m following along the music lines now. Did it get to the point where people recognized you on the street as the lady in that particular band?

Nza: They did, because I was, I guess, the spot of color in the band. Not difficult to recognize me. But then, afterwards, I was doing my own stuff, plus collaborating with him. Then the thing is, in Switzerland, it’s kind of a tricky thing to live solely from the music business, And I had to at some point then decide, does this make sense, really. However, before having had to make that decision, I then went to Jamaica, and had the fortune to meet Mikey Bennett, who in a way, took me under his wing. I learned a lot during that period of time I was there at Grafton, and met lots of other musicians and was in that whole situation and scene. It was really cool. I liked that a lot but you had duties. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to really delve into that. But, we obviously still have contact, and it’s not totally out of the question that something might still happen.

What’s It Like Being a Jamaican Living in Switzerland?

Xavier: Good. Well, good to know. Can we search you on YouTube?

Nza: I’m sure you’ll find some material, at the moment. Like I mentioned before, I had to decide at some point, is this lucrative or not? And then I had to come to the conclusion. Not really, unless I decided to just kind of give everything up basically, and go live a touring life and whatever. And I didn’t see myself really doing that at that point either, because I also had a son, and clearly, you then have to make some decisions once children are involved. You have to be sensible.

Xavier: I hear you, I hear you. Go ahead and finish.

Nza: I then decided, I can’t live off this basically. I decided to train to become a teacher, a language teacher. And that became my day job, basically. But when you love music, and it’s a part of your life, you can’t, not do it. I left it for about a year or so. And then I just got really itchy and had to go back to it. However, not as a front person because I just didn’t have the time for that. So what I do now, is to basically support. The first voice of Switzerland winner, I support her when she has concerts, when she’s on tour, stuff like that.

Xavier: Excellent, excellent.

Nza: You still have your foot in the water.

Xavier: A couple of things you touched on. First you have a son there. Is aware of his Jamaican-ness? Was he born in Switzerland? And do you do things to keep him into his Jamaican-ness? Tell us a little bit about that.

Nza: Okay. Is he aware of his Jamaican-ness? Yes. So much so that once when he was younger and he was in kindergarten, and they had a kind of a parent get together thing and the children, they had to introduce themselves because it was the first year. And they had to introduce themselves and say something, their hobbies and whatever. He said he’s Jamaican, and a little bit Swiss. I thought that was hilarious. I love that [laughter]. Obviously clear what he identified with, and his name is Marley.

What’s It Like Being a Jamaican Living in Switzerland?

Xavier: Okay. Well, on the language, you’re saying you’re a Language Teacher. What language do they speak, German or French? Are you teaching English? Give us a little bit about that, and have you learned any other languages?

Nza: First of all, Switzerland is very unique in that, it’s a relatively small country. But they have four languages that are spoken here. Like in different parishes, I guess you could call it. You have German, or Swiss German, you have French, you have Italian. Then there’s a language that’s unique to Switzerland called Romansh. That sounds a bit like Italian mixed with German somehow. They are those four languages. In the area where I live, they speak Swiss German, but I teach English to the people here. As to your question, if I speak any of those languages. Yes, I speak Swiss German. However, when you move to Switzerland, for example, let’s say the Swiss German area of Switzerland, you initially learn High German. Now, the equivalent is possibly broken English and English. Although I think it kind of depends, because like Jamaica has different types of Patois or different variations on Patois, you also have that in Swiss German as well. The equivalent can vary. However, you learn High German, but in the end, you’re actually learning two languages. Because, when you speak High German to a Swiss German person, they’ll understand yes, but then they have problems. They’re uncomfortable answering you in High German. Also, historically, they have some beef (disagreements) with the Germans and whatever that plays into it as well. So you learn High German and Swiss German basically, when you live here.

Xavier: I see. How are Jamaicans viewed in Switzerland? When someone comes up, how are they viewed? How you think Jamaicans are viewed?

Nza: Actually, in a very cool way I would say. Thanks to Bob Marley first of all, because he is the ambassador. And like I mentioned before, they love Reggae Music, roots Reggae, i.e. Bob Marley, that’s the first thing. Then secondly, it’s also well known as a beautiful tropical island, beaches, of course Usain Bolt and you’re quite well received as a Jamaican here.

Xavier: Well good. And the people, how would you describe the people? The Swiss people. and again, I know Switzerland. I visited, twice actually, I came through twice. I came through Geneva, which is probably more international. I don’t know if you are in a place where it’s the less international. But how are the people? Describe them. What would you say?

Nza: Okay, well, first of all, as to where I’m located. I am in Basel, and it’s not as international as Geneva. Definitely not. However, compared to other places in Switzerland, I would say it would be among the top three international places in Switzerland. Because we’re on the border to Germany and France, we have the big multinational pharmaceutical companies here, Novartis and Roche, which, of course, attracts lots of expats and so on. So it’s pretty international here in Basel. s far as the Swiss are concerned, I think in general, what I would say about them is that they’re very reserved. You’ll notice that a lot if you especially if you come from the Caribbean, because we make contact very easily. You can just step out your door, you walk, and you don’t even have to walk a couple of meters, and you already in conversation with somebody, that’s how easy it is for us. Here, that just does not happen. I had to learn that pretty quickly at the beginning when I came here because I went out the door, saw someone walking by saying “hi”, and they kind of look at you, like, do I know you kind of thing. I was a bit of, okay, I guess this does not work like this here. They need time to kind of check you out, see if you’re okay. I think they’re very careful in general with everything and whereas that can have its positives, it obviously has a negatives as well.

Xavier: I see, I see.

Nza: However, I would say though, once they decide that you’re okay, and they kind of take you into their circle, then you’re in.

Xavier: What’s an activity that you love doing in Switzerland? What’s something you love doing there?

Nza: Okay. Well, one thing I must say, Switzerland is not a party place. Like in Jamaica or the Caribbean where we have carnivals and we have these jump-ups stuff like party every weekend. Well, doesn’t really exist here. However, there are clubs, the thing that people do here generally on a weekend, for example, is meet up with friends and they go out to a bar, or they go out for dinner and they sit and chat (talk). Maybe they go to the movies, something like that. That’s also quite reserved. It follows the line. Although, I must also say though, over the years they’ve kind of opened up a bit. There’s something called a street parade that happens in August where really millions of people now actually, I think they reached the million mark last time in Zurich, where they play house and techno and whatever. They’re trying to loosen up a bit. To be honest, there’s not like there are tons of activities like that to choose from. However, if you’re a nature lover then this is the place to be.

What’s It Like Being a Jamaican Living in Switzerland?

Xavier: There’s one thing I learned from a friend of mine. I visited Germany and that was the first time I visited Switzerland. And they say, people from a Western culture, we love to do multiple activities for the night. We go to a movie or go to a party, and if we go to dinner, we chat (talk) with our friends that is the activity for the day, it’s done, that’s it. If we go to a movie, it’s just the movie that’s the activity.

Nza: Exactly. If you’re lucky you have drinks after the movie but it depends how late the movie goes. That’s another thing too. In Jamaica, when you go to a party, the party goes till all wee hours of the morning. It ends when the last person leaves. Here you definitely have a curfew, cut off time. And then after that, you know even if the club’s still full. Sorry, very punctual here, very straight.

Xavier: What do you miss the most about Jamaica?

Nza: Where do I start? The most I would say the food, because the food that you get here is so different. Most of the ingredients any way that you would need to cook a Jamaican meal, are not available here. If you are lucky and you go to an Indian shop you will find some ingredients that you recognize from home. Maybe in the Chinese shop as well, but it’s really difficult to get your hands on food that you love from home. I would say the top, top thing is the food.

Xavier: Okay. Nza, be specific now. What yuh (you) miss? Is it the patty, is it yuh (your) ackee and salt fish. What is the one food you miss then? I’m trying to set you up here. I’m trying to say, listen, anybody viewing this, Nza need some patties so when yuh (you’re) make a stop there, you need to stop and get that. I don’t know if it’s patty you need.

Nza: Can I name more than one? Or am I only allowed one?

Xavier: You could do two or three.

Nza: I was saying that patties? Yes. And then jerk chicken for sure. Because I always say whenever I get back to Jamaica the very first thing
before I do anything else. Once I get out the airport, the next stop, jerk chicken, and then anything else can happen.

Xavier: Pan chicken, pan jerk chicken.

Nza: Exactly.

Xavier: What advice would you have for anyone who says you know what, I’m thinking of making a move to Switzerland and come there to live and work. What advice would you give anyone if they were thinking of doing that?

Nza: What I would say, first of all, try to learn a bit of the language before-hand. Because even though you get by with English pretty well. Because you’ll find that many people want to practice their English so you can get by with English. However, if you want to work and so on, then it’s really necessary to be able to speak the language. So, I would start to get my head around that before-hand. Secondly, try to read up as much as you can on the culture, just how people are in different situations, because it is quite different to the way we do things. And not let you get a culture shock when you arrive. I would say those are probably the two things that you should do.

Xavier: And may I add this, bring the warm clothes.

What’s It Like Being a Jamaican Living in Switzerland?

Nza: Yes, although depending where you are. In Basel, we tend to have mild winters.

Xavier: Okay.

Nza: You don’t need these big jackets and things normally, but you know, with all the things changing now you’re not quite sure what’s going to happen. But yes, obviously, think, it’s not tropical, we have seasons. And, another thing that’s really good here, of course, is the security. It’s a really safe place, crime rate is really, really low and something like 2%. When you hear on the news, oh, they had to go rescue a cat out of a tree, then you know, okay, the world is good [laughter]. Okay, it’s like a bubble.

Xavier: Nza, I appreciate you spending some time with us to tell us your story and telling us how you got to Switzerland and a little bit about the Swiss people. Any closing thoughts? And also can you teach us how to say goodbye in the German Swiss or Swiss German way.

Nza: Okay, closing thoughts? Yeah, I would just say in general, that as a Jamaican, no matter where you may be, it’s just really important to try to keep that bit of your culture and your people in as close to your heart as possible because I think this is what helps to keep you sane in those difficult moments. And how to say goodbye in Swiss German. Okay, it’s “uf wiederluege”.

Xavier: Uf wiederluege.

Nza: Uf wiederluege.

Xavier: Uf wiederluege , uf wiederluege.

Nza: Almost, Almost. [laughter] uf wiederluege

Xavier: Nza, uf wiederluege. Blessings. Thank you and again, thanks for spending the time with us.

Nza: No problem. You’re welcome. Thanks for having me.

About the author

Xavier Murphy