Swiss mom an ‘unofficial cultural ambassador’ in America

She kept dreaming of being on a plane that never reached its destination. Those dreams stopped about a year after moving to Colorado.

This content was published on January 4, 2020 - 11:00
Michele Andina and Susan Misicka in Denver

“The pilot would drop us off in a desert, or in the Alps, or the luggage would blow away,” remembers Regula Grenier, who has lived in Colorado since 2007. She sees the end of those dreams as a sign that she’s finally found the right place to live.

Originally from EinsiedelnExternal link in central Switzerland, Grenier quips that she was “made in Germany” since that’s where her parents conceived her.

“My spirit of travel and adventure started in the womb,” she says, explaining that her parents – both of whom had lived, worked and travelled abroad – passed on that interest in seeing the world. “Switzerland is such a small place; you have to explore.”

At 16, she moved to Geneva to be an au pair and loved it, especially the chance to experience a new language and culture. Later, she did the same in Virginia. “I fell in love with the US culture and freedom,” she says. She could only renew her one-year visa once before returning to Switzerland, where she studied tourism management in Lucerne.

A touch of Swissness on a kitchen shelf

“In the Swiss hotel business, I brought the world to myself. But my long-term goal was always to live and work abroad,” she says. A job at Crossair followed, but she quit after 9/11 and the grounding of Swissair. She spent three months travelling in India, Thailand and the US before finding a job with an American tour operator offering European river cruises.

It was on a business trip to the headquarters in Boston that she fell in love with an American coworker. They maintained a long-distance relationship for a year before he moved to Switzerland and they got married. It was hard for him without a job or the language, so Grenier suggested a new start for the both of them in the US. With no jobs lined up, they decided on Denver – a place she had never visited.

“I was disappointed in the city and the fact that the mountains were so far away – and not as dramatic as in Switzerland,” she recalls. Yet she stayed and found work at a shop selling European goods; later, the manager offered her an office job in the related sausage factory. The job lasted eight years – longer than her first marriage.

A new start

Now she’s married to the factory’s maintenance technician. They live in Thornton, a Denver suburb, with their two children. After her second child was born, Grenier quit her job and is mainly a stay-at-home mom today. As a certified Grief Recovery specialistExternal link, she gives group and one-on-one courses in her community. She’s also a prolific writer, having penned a column for the Einsiedler AnzeigerExternal link newspaper since 2008. In her column, called Briefe aus Amerika (Letters from America), she describes aspects of American culture and traditions that stand out to her as a Swiss. Recently, she published a “best of” booklet featuring about 90 of her stories.

Posing in front of the house, Grenier’s eldest is unimpressed by the SWI paparazzi.

“I kind of see myself as an unofficial cultural ambassador and educator for the Swiss about the reality of life in Colorado,” she says. If she has the chance, she’d also like to write an autobiography.

Grenier visits Switzerland every year or two with her children. Her husband Leo is more of a “homebody”, but he’s been once. When her first child Cody was a baby, she tried speaking Swiss-German to him, “but it felt weird”. However, he recently expressed an interest, so now she tries to make a point of teaching him some of her native language. Yet these days she dreams and even writes her grocery lists in English. And she can’t imagine going grocery shopping Swiss-style.

“It’s not a pedestrian nation. Even if I try to walk somewhere, it’s almost impossible,” she says. Soon, a new train service will link her town with Denver. “It would be a 20-minute walk to the station, but my neighbors would say ‘Are you crazy?’”

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