A Date in Every Country: A Series
Location: Zurich, Switzerland
Nationality: German but lived in Switzerland many years
Time: 5 hours
Will see again? Nope
Connected via: Bumble
When swiping in Switzerland, I found Tinder men to be alright but swiping on Bumble was a proverbial sea of handsome, stylish men, many of whom wore glasses. (I don’t know what it is about men in glasses but my goodness.)
So I match with this classically handsome man and he had something on his profile requesting the opener be more than a hi/hey which I find fair. I went with “What’s an album you could listen to without skipping a song?” - a good question right?! Feel free to use this :) I find that this attracts all sorts of responses. His answer surprised me as he said Bach. Not just Bach but a specific variation that I was familiar with. Not everyone loves classical music but I found his answer most definitely intriguing. He was quite surprised I was familiar with it. The conversation flowed from there. A personal pet peeve is when you happen to ask more than one question and they only answer the last one, completely ignoring the previous. He made a point to answer each one as well as engaging with my responses to his. Our messages grew so long that you’d have to scroll to see the entire response. We eagerly chatted back and forth for several days and he asked more about my dating plans and my writings. He was super passionate when telling me about his hobbies - wine and professional driving on local racetracks. He was studying on the side to be a sommelier. There’s something sexy about people who keep learning and are actively pursuing their hobbies. After confirming that I was ok that he was German, not Swiss, we agreed to go out the night before I left town.
When arranging the date details, he informed me he actually lived out of town and would be driving in to see me. He suggested sushi and I told him I loved sushi. He sent me the restaurant he has chosen and I looked up the menu. While I found some items within my budget the overall vibe was expensive. I made a comment about how fancy it looked. He asked what I meant and I confessed that I’d been eating sandwiches out of boxes that week.
Him: “The best is if a girl can do both - eating a sandwich out of a box and going out at a nice place.”
Him again, “Just to make sure that I am not under/overdressed: are you more team casual or elegant?
Well I’m living out of a backpack so elegant isn’t exactly found in my compression packing bags lol. Not sure I’ve had a guy ask how I’m dressing before but he seemed fine when I replied casual and explained that while I was traveling full time, my options were limited. He made us dinner reservations for Friday night at 6. He checked in every day, wanting to chat more and reminded me how much he was looking forward to our date. I must confess I was as well. The banter was both playful and intelligent. At one point he confessed that his Bumble name isn’t his real one. He lets me know he uses a different one for that due to privacy purposes. I’ve had this happen to me at least twice and both times things have gone very sideways. Does anyone have good experiences with someone who was using a fake name? I surely have not and while I understand wanting to be discrete, you are also showing your face so what’s the point of putting a different name? From now on, this qualifies as a red flag.
The day of he texted to say he’d gotten off work early and was on his way. I let him know I was out for coffee with an old friend but would race back to where I was staying to get ready then take the tram in. He announced that he was driving by the part of town I was staying in and offered to pick me up which I accepted. I realize not everyone is comfortable with this and I completely understand and respect that. Zurich is super easy to get around so if I felt unsafe there were loads of exit options. I didn't tell him my exact location but gave him cross streets nearby. This is yet another safety precaution I do when dating so no one knows exactly where I'm staying. He was making good time so I rushed home to do a quick change and attempted to jazz up my simple outfit.
He arrived and texted me to let me know he was out front and I wouldn’t miss his neon car. It was a FREAKING LOTUS. Now I’m not a car person but these seem beyond fancy and Holy Moses I’ve never been in a car like that. (Stop and google a Lotus right now.)
So I’m walking towards his car which is parked up on the curb (totally normal here) and doing my best to pick my jaw up off the sidewalk. He was quick to jump out and greet me. This man is tall and handsome, blonde with beautiful blue eyes and a strong jaw. For the record, he’s 6’4” and for my fun sized 5’5” self that’s TALL. Yes I know I don’t share pics of my dates but hopefully that helps ;) He helped me with the door cause Lord knows I have no idea how to open it. I have a theory that the fancier the car, the harder it is to find the handle. It’s a convertible which is lower to the ground than I thought possible and even with his assistance I, unceremoniously and literally, fell into the seat. Not so graceful me present and accounted for. After walking to the front of the car to check the curb for his exit because the car rides SO LOW, he does this little hop and slide maneuver to get his long ass legs into his tiny seat. The inside of the car is small, like “I’m sandwiched in a toboggan” small. I don’t know why I pictured us peeling out in this fancy car but it’s probably because I watched ALL of the Fast and Furious films…more than once. RIP Paul Walker. Well we did the exact opposite. We practically CRAWLED out of the parking spot as he very carefully tried to drive over the curb, one tire at a time, inch by inch. We managed to not bottom out but it seemed oddly dramatic, extremely anticlimactic and I must confess that I put my hand over my mouth and had to hold back a giggle.
Once safely over the towering 2 inch curb, we cruised through the streets of Zurich but with a missed turn (or three) our 10 min drive turned into 30 with considerations for rush hour and too many one ways. We finally, and randomly, found a parking garage. At this point we discover that we still had to walk 15 min to the restaurant. The driving proved to only make us late for our reservation. We got out of the car and of course I required his assistance but somehow still managed to stumble a bit. I don’t know that I’m meant for the fancy life haha.
We had to put the top on the car once he changed out of his driving shoes. Yes, driving shoes. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a tiny sticker in the corner of the window. This sticker caused a very strong internal reaction but I didn’t want to jump to conclusions. It said - No Fat Chicks. Talk about a GIANT red flag. I’ll be honest, I had considered that this wasn’t his car and he was simply borrowing/renting it to try and impress me. Maybe the sticker wasn’t his…? I didn’t know and while I was very tempted to say something, starting a conversation like that in an underground parking garage seemed less than ideal. That and up to this point, he had said/done absolutely nothing else that was concerning. He’d been a complete gentleman. I did my best to put it out of my mind all the while hoping it was not his car.
We walked the 15 minutes to dinner and the restaurant was pretty empty. Once the host took us to our table, my date did not like the table and requested we be moved to a different one so we weren’t seated near the only other people in the restaurant. The host was quick to change our table and we did a bit of shuffling before we settled into our spot. I headed to wash up while he looked at the menu. Upon my return, he asked about the wine menu and what I thought. I let him know that since wine was his specialty, I was happy to let him decide plus the descriptions weren’t in English with several pages of extensive options. He was aware that I didn't speak German but did not offer any help in translating the menus for me. He quickly took charge, ordering the wine and asking if some chef selection of sushi would be ok. I had barely had a change to look at the menu, on top of that I can't read German so I agreed.
The conversation continued as he filled me in on his different jobs, his house, and how he got into fancy cars and wine. I made sure to ask him questions about his dating experiences and we had an interesting dialogue about his challenges of making new friends there. This was his personal experience but it was not the first time I heard that it can be hard to build a community there. He said you could be friends with someone for a year before they’ll invite you over to their place for drinks or a party. Apparently this is part of the reason there’s such a great cafe/happy hour culture in Switzerland. I had experienced a fantastic example of this after work culture when I went to dinner/drinks with my couch-surfing host that I was staying with. She and her friend invited me to join and we went to the coolest spot! It reminded me of a food truck collective with lots of outdoor seating and tons of people unwinding after work. I even mentioned to my host how it would be such a great spot to meet people. She mentioned that it’s not really how it works and apparently you would not just walk up and introduce yourself to another group even if you found someone attractive. Seems like a cultural rule that I would be very tempted to break as there were quite a few attractive people enjoying after work drinks.
Sushi arrived and it was delicious as was the glass of wine and the after dinner coffee. I must confess while we talked about many things, the conversation seemed stilted and even forced at points. With more than a few lulls, it simply did not flow the same way it had via text and the banter came off as sarcastic at points. His vibe went from classy to a bit pretentious. Meeting people online can lead to circumstances where once you meet in person, it can be hard to connect the person you chatted with for days with the person in front of you. Unfortunately this was a perfect example of that. We had to get back to the car before the parking garage locked for the night. As we wrapped things up, he looked at me and said,
“What should we do about the bill? Should we split it? I’m ok either way.”
WHAT. THE. FUCK.
There were no pauses between those questions. What the hell was I supposed to say?! No it’s not ok!!! I’m internally dying as I calmly reply, “Sure.” I have no idea if my face was showing my shock or not.
Now it should be noted that when I agree to go on dates, I NEVER expect the men to pay for everything. Every single one of the dates, I have ALWAYS offered to pay for myself. That being said, most of the time they pick up the tab but not always and that’s fine. Sometimes they'll pick up the first one and I'll insist on picking up the second one as the dates often include a change of location. It's been an interesting thing experiencing first hand culture norms regarding who pays. That being said, coming from my personal perspective and experience, when someone asks you to dinner, makes the reservation and does all the ordering, it’s because they are paying. I didn’t even get to look at the goddamn menu! To be fair, it did cross my mind to mention that I was on a budget when we arrived but it also felt weird to bring money up immediately upon arriving for our date. On top of that, I thought that it was pretty crystal clear in light of my SANDWICH IN A BOX comment and my LIVING OUT OF A BACKPACK. Were those not clear as to my current situation?!
I’m legit dying inside as this is bloody Switzerland, the most expensive place and this meal is going to be way past what I would have chosen to order for myself. I don't even know how much the bill is but I have a sinking feeling in the pit of my sushi-filled stomach. The server came with the credit card machine and I practically wept as I handed over my card. Sweet lord, I didn’t even want to know how bad it was. He’s just sitting there like this is normal. (You just bragged about all your money and jobs and fancy hobbies but it’s ok, I’m fine. REALLY.)
GUESS HOW MUCH I PAID FOR MY OWN DAMN DINNER??!?!?! ONE HUNDRED THIRTY-THREE FRANCS!!
That’s $137.40 American if anyone cares to know. I will no longer be eating. Fasting for the next week seems like the only option. I’m in literal shock. I should have spoken up at the beginning. I should have insisted he translate the menu so I could order my own food. I don't mind splurging a bit every now and again but this was literally several days food budget on just one meal. Thank goodness the sushi was good. I had looked at the menu in advance to make sure it was within budget as I was planning on paying for my own meal but the moment he took over ordering everything for us, I wrongly assumed that he was picking up the tab. This lesson was painful on my pocketbook.
I looked up the menu later and still can't get over the fact that this man ordered me a single glass of wine costing $84 as if it was nothing!! I would have sipped that baby wayyyy slower if I had known it cost more than a train ticket from Zurich to Geneva! HMMPH. My continued frustration comes from wondering why he thought it was ok to spend whatever amount of my money without asking if it was ok first. After hearing from both Swiss and Germans, splitting the bill is normal but a man ordering for you is not. While he might have been sincere in asking if it was okay to split, it felt increasingly awkward in the moment. I completely accept that I should have spoken up regarding my budget, refused to let him order on my behalf and/or told him I wasn't comfortable spending that much. To be honest I was in shock and felt uncomfortable with the entire situation. I find it much easier to think of appropriate responses for situations like this well after the fact. Does anyone else have those brilliant conversations with themselves in the shower, perfecting exactly how they should have responded in the moment? Just me?! Ugh. All in all, definitely not ideal but not the end of the world.
If only that was the end of it. I had the walk back to the car to fix my pained facial expressions. I had a few minutes to agonize over some mental math before we jumped back into the tiny car, practically sandwiched together. He still managed to make several wrong turns on the way back, lengthening a car ride that I was anxious to end. He pulled up on the curb again to drop me off and I turned to thank him for the evening. My manners got the best of me but I was still in shock at this point and hadn’t really registered what just happened. I go for the hug which turns into a light goodnight kiss. There wasn’t any room to maneuver in the car so I allowed it to happen. I pull away and he goes back in for more. At this point I’m realizing that he thinks something is going to happen. The kisses are like the conversation, a bit bland and generally meh. I breakaway and let him know that I have to take an early train and need to pack tonight. He goes back in, still trying to persuade me with his lips and I’m trying to explain that I’m staying at a friend's place and he absolutely cannot come upstairs. He said, “I thought you had an airbnb.” I corrected him as I was couch-surfing and remind him again that I have to get up early. He goes in for another kiss and I stop him, casually asking if he’s trying to change my mind. He looks at me and says,
“I’m used to getting what I want.”
I’M SORRY WHAT?!?!!? You did NOT just say that. HELL NO. Seriously?! WHO SAYS THAT?! Even if everything had gone flawlessly, you had picked up the tab and the chemistry was off the charts, the moment those words came out of your mouth, you’re done. Absolutely not. On principle alone, you shall not get what you want sir.
I did that panicked little laugh we women do when we are uncomfortable and replied, “Well not tonight you aren’t.” I reached for the door. DAMN LOTUS! I can’t even find the handle to make the dramatic exit this moment calls for. UGH. He sees me struggling with the door and gets out, walking around to come help me. I exit (albeit falling out of the car one final time) with a quick thank you and stride away ready for this evening to be over. As he says goodbye, he has the AUDACITY to say, “Write something nice about me in my chapter!” ARE YOU SHITTING ME?!!
It's hilariously out of touch. Nice things about you??! I'm just writing the facts but it doesn't paint the prettiest picture. In my mind, he’s now turned into some underwhelming James Bond dating villain, accent and fancy car included. I walked down the street torn between laughing hysterically about how bad that was, crying over how much my wallet hurts and the sheer ridiculousness that is my dating life.
So much for my last night in Zurich. I absolutely cannot wait to hear what you all think. With reflection, I'm keenly aware that I should have spoken up on multiple occasions. I am definitely curious if men pay for dates in your country, specifically if it's normal that they order for you then split the bill. Perhaps I completely misread the situation and made assumptions based on my own cultural experience. I also realize that there isn't one way to date in each culture. So many people have different experiences and different expectations. I know I could have handled things differently and I will aim to be more straight forward regarding my communication both prior to my dates and while on them. I do want to note that no matter who paid and how the date went, there's never an assumption of intimacy. Dating is not a transaction where if they pay or drive or plan activities they are entitled to anything physical. Nothing is "owed" to another person, be it your time or your body. While I typically avoid dinner dates, I'm thinking I should probably go back to that. Live and learn, often the hard way. The next date has to be better than this. It simply has to be!
To the very gracious humans who have requested my Venmo, it can be found below. I'm beyond grateful for your generosity and how you all are so supportive of my journey and these crazy stories.
Switzerland recovered epically by showing off its glorious mountains as I packed in more than a few hikes in the days following and even completed my first via Ferrata. While the boy did not, Switzerland most definitely captured a piece of my heart.
TEASER: After recovering from this mess by climbing some beautiful mountains and finally completing the epic trek that brought me there, I managed to find a last minute date in France.
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