Zurich: Painless Immigration

Posted on April 28, 2006

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by julie galante

Becoming a legal resident in a foreign country is often about as fun as, say, having a root canal every week for months on end (ok, that’s not really fair—I’ve never had a root canal, so what do I know? The point is that it sucks.). When my husband and I moved to Milan in 2004, we had to jump through countless hoops, obtain countless documents, and visit countless government buildings to become really, really, really legal.

We had to get fingerprinted and have our apartment inspected. The amount we spent on photocopying alone probably single-handedly kept Italy’s economy from collapsing. Given the decrepit state and odor of the Milanese immigration office, I never, ever want to see how Italians treat, say, criminals.

So when we moved to Zurich a few months ago, we were prepared for the worst, although crossing our fingers that Swiss efficiency applied to the immigration process as well. I received my Ausländerausweis (an ID card for legal aliens) after two quick and painless visits to a clean, well-lit Kreisbüro.

A few weeks later, a letter came in the mail for me from the immigration office. Thinking it was going to be a demand that I stand in line for five hours or have my chest x-rayed by a man with cold hands, I dreaded opening it. My jaw dropped when I finally read the contents of the envelope: it was an invitation to a free walking tour of the city (in the language of my choice) followed by a cocktail at the city hall. Seriously.

Dubious, I emailed them to say I couldn’t make the suggested date, but would be happy to come to a later one if they were indeed repeating the presentation. Not only was I welcome to choose a new date, but I could also bring my husband (who doesn’t understand German and thus threw his invitation away) with me. Wow.

Tonight we showed up at the city hall and were ushered into an excessively elegant conference room for a little welcome presentation, which was held in five languages, about the services that are at our disposal to help us feel welcome in our new home city. I was thoroughly amazed at how well I was understanding the French presentation when I remembered that it probably had to do with the fact that I had just heard the same presentation in the four languages that I have actually studied.

Anyways… then we were off for our free city tour in the language of our choice (we chose English). Even though we’ve been here for several months now, we did manage to learn a few things, including where to see the Roman ruins under the city and where to go for the best Züri g’schnätzlets (the typical veal and mushroom dish of Zurich).

After the tour we headed back to the City Hall for the cocktail hour, which included free-flowing wine and hot and cold appetizers. We chatted the evening away with a lovely British/Russian couple and a German student nurse. By the time we stumbled back out into the night, we were glowing with warmth for our welcoming new city.

I am never moving back to Italy. Well, at least not until I’m an EU citizen…

Photo via Caribb