Mourning the dream; lessons about foreign national ownership in Switzerland

The hard part was working up the guts to make an offer. Swiss Alps abodes don't come cheap after all.

What came after was easy: the offer was accepted, we secured the deal with a small deposit to the notary, the contract was drawn up, we got in touch with the bank, there were congratulations all around.

This was it, the culmination of the dream. Within a few months and after several formalities, we would officially be popping open a bottle of bubbly and raising a toast to our vacation abode in the Swiss Alps.

We were all set to sign. We were so excited. We could barely contain ourselves. Every time we saw the agent's phone number appear on my husband's phone we would smile knowingly at each other ... one step closer to Swiss Alp ownership!

It might seem quite spoiled, but after years of living and working in the Middle East, we were so excited at the prospect of putting our hard-earned money towards something tangible, something real. We were trading in years of dusty labour for a lifetime of mountain air.

We weren't going into this blind. We knew the place we were buying, we'd spent two weeks a year in the village over the last seven winters. We knew the cashier at the Co-op, recognised the man who operated the cable car, were on a first name basis with the family who ran the ski rental shop and would have the crew from the ski school over for drinks at least once every visit. We knew we were buying a home. 

The very first time we visited I told Smilin' Vic in no uncertain terms that THIS would be where I would one day retire, spending my mornings drinking coffee on the terrace in the shadow of the Eiger, hiking in the summers, skiing in the winters, writing and drinking wine in the warmth of the fire burning in the hearth and the glow of the fading afternoon light. 

If it sounds overly romantic and picturesque, it's because it is. Ask anyone who's every visited the Bernese Oberland. 

They'll probably reference the Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau. Or they'll tell you about the best schnitzel they've ever had. They'll go on and on about that one time they went off piste during a snowstorm, or about the steaming hot bowls of pasta they enjoyed on the terrace one afternoon as snowflakes big as cotton balls floated down around the deck. They'll reminisce about sunny après-ski sessions drinking gluwein in t-shirts at the foot of the piste, followed by Swiss fondue or raclette at the local guest house. They'll talk of afternoons hiking and catching glimpses of mountain goats, and the cow bells and edelweiss, the rugged and beautiful flower that prefers the purity of the air you find at 2000 plus meters. They'll definitely reference the moon and the stars, lighting up the mountains like a silent 70's disco, rocking the audience in the valley below to the beat of natural ecstasy. Yes, if it sounds like a dream it's because it is.

And for about 2 weeks, we were pretty sure we owned the dream; it was firmly in our grasp. All that was left was a few last-minute checks and formalities from the notary, who contacted the local canton to begin the procedures for foreign national ownership.

Which is when the hardest part came. The part where we learned that even though the home we were purchasing was listed as ''available to foreign nationals'', it was in fact NOT available to foreign nationals. By some weird chain of events, the flat we were purchasing had never been registered for foreign ownership. And because the village's quota was for 66% of homes eligible for foreign ownership and since the two other flats (= 66%) in the building were already registered, we were SOL. Because the flat had always been owned by foreigners the question had never come up. But the hitch was that those foreigners either had Swiss citizenship or were residents in Switzerland at the time of purchase, making the whole matter a non-issue for them. Not so for us, as we checked neither the citizenship nor the residency box.

And that's how the dream slipped so tragically through our fingers at the 11th hour. To say we were devastated would be an understatement. If it would have been about money, we could have at least said we'll work longer, harder and make it happen. But this is final; it's about the law. And there's no getting around it. The dream is shattered.

We spent yesterday mourning the dream. And then we woke up this morning, we watched the dream burn its final embers and left it there to die. Sometimes that's all that's left to do. And we walked away, not yet ready to start dreaming again, but expat resilience definitely held firmly in check. 

One day soon we'll be ready to dream again.

It is, after all, what expats do best.