Apr 11, 2022


And the Tiny Woes of a Generic Europe

My last memories of Europe are strong and fond. I spent a year in Zurich, Switzerland as a student in college. I made so many friends—both locals and transplants—studied and worked in the city at various times, and did my damndest to learn the local language.01

It’s jarring now to visit a city (Lisbon, Portugal) that brings back potent European vibes, but as a complete outsider.02

I made a list of what struck me the first few days in Lisbon:

… but I still have no idea what this place is actually like.

Without knowing locals, and without speaking the language, it feels like you can go a mile wide and still only make it an inch deep. I’ve been eating and seeing and doing for a week, and I don’t feel like I’m making forward progress.

Anyway, just a tiny woe—and one obvious in hindsight—to accept. Good impetus to find old friends and make new ones. And overall, it has been lovely here.


  1. For those of you familiar with Swiss German, this is a complex undertaking. I really just learned high (AKA “standard” AKA “Germany”) German and reveled in the few Swiss words I picked up. ↩︎

  2. Writing this now, I’m reminded that being an outsider is a fractal. My feeling after a year in Switzerland was that if I’d stayed and worked my whole life at it, I’d always remain an outsider. The degree and nature just change. A friend there said it best: “All it takes is the slightest emphasis on the wrong syllable and you know: they’re not truly from here.” This gave me mad respect for everyone who immigrates to another country. Tenfold if you can’t obviously pass—after all, I felt this as a European-looking guy. ↩︎