Thursday, January 22, 2015

Learning to Embrace the Awkwardness

The Frau is still acclimating to America. It’s hard for her not to feel like a foreigner in her own country when she takes Toddler M to school and the school is closed. Remember that American holiday called Martin Luther King Day? Neither did The Frau.

In other news, Toddler M’s preschool had both spirit day (wear your favorite sport team’s jersey) and pajama day last week. Mr. Frau was pretty excited about spirit day and told Toddler M that she could finally wear that beautiful Blackhawks sweatshirt he got her last year. And The Frau was hopeful about pajama day (despite its previous rejection by Toddler M) since it would mean less work getting Toddler M dressed.

But Toddler M had neither spirit nor desire to wear pajamas to school. So once again, for the second and third time respectively, she was the strange little re-pat kid wearing size 104 H&M skinny jeans and polka dotted blouses in a world of 3T and 4T Bears jerseys and snowman foot pajamas. In that little preschool, she alone represented the awkwardness of the entire re-pat universe.

Unfortunately, The Frau has decided that her little family pretty much won’t fit in anywhere, in any country, for the rest of their lives. Expat author Robin Pascoe’s book, Homeward Bound, a great read about repatriation, pretty much confirmed The Frau’s conclusion, so there it is, yodelers. Expats will always be foreigners both at home and abroad.

And there’s nothing we can do about it except embrace our awkwardness and wear our ties and dress pants on “wear your pajamas to work day.” (Which by the way, Mr. Frau’s company had for the second time and which, by the way, Mr. Frau purposely wore a tie and dress pants for in order to defy.) See, yodelers? There is no hope at all in The Frau Family of ever being normal.

C’est la vie. Oder?

Monday, January 12, 2015

An Apology to Zurich Weather

Lieber/Liebe(?) Zurich Wetter, 

(please excuse The Frau's gender confusion but "Wetter" is a "das" so how do you address it in a letter?)

The Frau is sorry. She never thought she'd miss your grayness. But of course, Facebook jealousy did its thing and last week The Frau was treated to a friend’s picture of her family biking under blue skies to the Zurich Zoo (caption: 17 C°) while The Frau was freezing her B-O trying to walk seven blocks on un-shoveled sidewalks to spin class (caption: -15 C° + windy).

It is bitterly cold in Chicago. The Frau doesn’t know why people choose to live here. Oh wait, she chose to live here. But it’s so cold she can’t even justify walking Toddler M, who refuses to wear mittens, home from preschool (nor would the stroller function on the un-shoveled and un-even sidewalks).

So instead, Mother-in-Law picks Toddler M up from preschool in her car since The Frau is strange and Swiss and still can’t bring herself to buy a car. Yet. But the whole -15 C °+ wind chill is changing her outlook. (Oh, and The Frau would also like to say that Mother-in-Law is really nice to put up with her strange and un-American daughter-in-law. Especially since The Frau can't function at all in Fahrenheit.)

Note to Chicago People:
Often there is barely any snow in balmy
Switzerland, even in the mountains.
Oh temperate gray Zurich! The Frau is sorry for previously writing about how much your weather sucks. Because a place that is so cold she is stuck indoors despite a sunny, snowy day is worse.

Suck it up, you say? That’s what The Frau thought too. Stop complaining and go outside in the snow. So she did just that. She went to the snowy woods for a walk. How cold could it be? Well, according to her Swiss watch, she lasted seven whole minutes before she couldn’t feel her face and had to run back to the car. And that was the other sad thing. The only way to get to the woods is to drive. Another reason she'll have to get that car soon.
Everyone in Chicago thinks Switzerland is the same in terms of weather. But you’re used to this, right? they say. They see Switzerland as freezing and snowy when in fact it is neither, except maybe snowy in the mountains. Sometimes. But definitely not last year.

In any case, there is a happy ending to all of this. Because yesterday it was a balmy -2 C° so The Frau went cross-country skiing in the snowy woods. The only thing that finally brought her back to the car was a pair of blisters. And that was reason to celebrate.

Liebe Grüsse
The Frau

Thursday, January 01, 2015

5 Things The Frau Loves About the US

Happy New Year, mitenand. As The Frau looks forward to her first full year in the US since 2005, here are some things she is loving thus far about “home.”
Chicago, USA
The people. Americans are so pleasant, yodelers. They smile. They chat. They always seem to have something nice to say. The Frau has to hand it to Americans. They make you feel happy. The Frau’s neighbor hangs bread on her front door at least once a week. Just because.

The programs for kids. The Frau’s new town has so much for Toddler M to enjoy. Library story hours. Indoor playgrounds. Outdoor playgrounds. Breakfasts with Santa. Learning programs at zoos and arboretums. The number of things to do is amazing. And most are free or very reasonably priced.

The family. Having family nearby is great. Yesterday The Frau’s mother-in-law called to say she would pick up Toddler M from school and make dinner. Really? The Frau is still getting used to having a family support network in her backyard.

The house. While The Frau misses her castle view apartment, she has to admit: It is really nice to not be tripping over Toddler M’s toys. It is really nice to have four bedrooms. And it is amazing to be able to live in a house built by one of America’s most famous architects for the same monthly payment as a two-bedroom Swiss apartment.

The food. Within four blocks from The Frau’s house is a street that has all of these options: South American food, Mexican food, Vietnamese food, Thai food, Indian food, BBQ, American bar food, frozen yogurt, ice cream, movie theater popcorn, and more. The amount of food options in this country is amazing. The best part? There is free water at all of them.

What do you love (or miss) about the United States?

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

5 Things The Frau Misses About Switzerland

Happy Old Year, mitenand. As The Frau looks back over 2014, she can’t help but miss Switzerland, where she spent nine of the last 12 months (not to mention her last 8.5 years). Here are some of the things she misses most now that she’s back in the US.

The great outdoors. No one does the outdoors like Switzerland. With over 60,000 km of hiking trails, it’s about 59,900 km more than The Frau has access to from Chicago.

Disentis, Switzerland
The weather. Ok. The Frau never thought she would miss the grey Swiss winter. But she does. Because she forgot how cold it is in Chicago. She hasn’t been this cold since, oh, she lived in Chicago over 14 years ago.

The transportation. The Frau hates driving. So much so that she has refused to get a car thus far and has been riding her bike when it’s -8 c outside. Yes. She is crazy. And Swiss. She still can’t comprehend that she can’t walk or take a bus, train, tram, boat, or cable car everywhere.

The beauty. Switzerland is gorgeous. No matter how much she wants it to, the flat American Midwest just can’t compete with Switzerland’s rolling hills, sparkling lakes, and the Alps.

The adventures. There’s something about living in another country, especially when it borders five others, that’s exciting. Living in the center of the US, where Gary, Indiana is further than Germany used to be, is hard to accept after having easy access to the entire European continent for almost a decade.

What do you love (or miss) about Switzerland?

In other small print, The Frau would like to say merci vielmal to all of her readers in Switzerland and around the world. Thanks to you, her first book, Swiss Life: 30 Things I Wish I'd Known, has sold almost 1200 copies since May.

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Wear Your Pajamas to Work (and Preschool) Week

Pajamas are everywhere in America. In fact, it’s quite acceptable to wear them in public. After years of feeling like she had to put on a skirt just to take the elevator down to the laundry room in her Swiss apartment/office building, The Frau is trying to accept this American sleepwear-in-public trend, but to be honest, her family is having a hard time with it.

Wear Your Pajamas in Public Day is Every Day in America
Take yesterday. At Mr. Frau’s company, it was “Wear Your Pajamas to Work Day.” The Frau is not sure what wearing pajamas to an office is supposed to achieve, but in any case, Mr. Frau was told it was all about “having fun.” Well, in true Swiss fashion, Mr. Frau decided to have no fun at all and went to work in his usual button down and jeans (wearing dress pants usually takes office fashion too far in America).  Mr. Frau had to lead a workshop teaching people how to be managers and he just couldn’t imagine doing it in his PJs. The Frau can’t say she blames him. 

As it turns out, American offices have a lot in common with American preschools. The day after Mr. Frau’s “Wear Your Pajamas to Work Day,” it was Toddler M’s “Wear Your Pajamas to Preschool Day.” This event was so important it was printed on a flyer, which told us not to forget, because the day would be “all about having fun.”

Now The Frau didn’t mind encouraging Toddler M to wear pajamas, since it meant less work for her in prepping Toddler M for school, but strangely enough, Toddler M wanted nothing to do with pajama day and everything to do with wearing normal street clothes. Even upon arrival, where every child in her class was clearly wearing pajamas—and Christmas pajamas at that—Toddler M refused to put on her snowman feet pajamas, which The Frau had packed in her bag just in case. So there was little Swiss Toddler M, wearing street clothes in an American preschool filled with children in pajamas.

As The Frau said in her last post, assimilation hasn’t been easy.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Repatriation–even harder after Switzerland

Dear Yodelers,

Excuse the French, but since it's an official Swiss language The Frau won't hold back: Repatriation is a bitch.

Research says it is harder to go home than abroad. But research didn’t consider the Switzerland factor. And Switzerland makes it worse. Let The Frau explain.

Perhaps some of you know—Switzerland was recently rated the best place in the world to be an expat. It has one of the highest qualities of life in the world. Be born in Switzerland, and you’ve won the lottery of life, at least according to organizations that like to create surveys.

These facts do not make leaving Switzerland easy. In fact, they only set you up for disappointment. How can any other country compete?

Here’s the reality. It can’t. The Frau must accept that while there are some wonderful things about America—lots of personal space, spontaneous conversations with Target shoppers, being close to family—it is not Switzerland.

The Frau met with a fellow Swiss re-pat in Chicago recently and this woman still doesn’t have a car and she’s been back for two years. She takes a mini-bus whenever she needs to go far-flung places like Madison or Iowa City. She said it took her an entire year to adjust back to the US after being in Switzerland for three years.

Ok. Do the math. The Frau was in Switzerland for over eight years. Does this mean it will take her almost three years to adjust to the US, all other things being equal? What does that mean if her on-hold Swiss residence permit expires in two years?

In any case, you’ll be glad to know that The Frau has adjusted somewhat. She’s already forgiven the neighbors for not dusting their flowerpots. And she's driven the family car a few times although can’t bring herself to buy a second one yet. Also, Toddler M doesn’t yell “nein” at the American kids like she used to, although after enjoying a sleepover with one of her Swiss-American friends last week, she did resort to saying “ich auch” all the time for the following two days.

In other good news, The Frau tasted the best Magenbrot she’s ever had—and it was from Chicago’s German Christmas market. The Frau must say, American food does not disappoint–except when it comes to cheese. Oh well. Frohe Weihnachten, mitenand.

Friday, December 05, 2014

The Ultimate Swiss Christmas Gift Guide

Frohe Weihnachten, yodelers. In honor of Sunday Shopping Time, The Frau would like to make some Christmas gift suggestions. All items here have either been gifted to or given by The Frau and therefore they are 100% Swiss quality guaranteed—at least by her American standards.

The Frau wears her Edelweiss
with pride.
Edelweiss Shirt

This shirt is semi-required for anyone living in Switzerland so if you have a friend or family member that has yet to wear one, it’s time to give the gift of assimilation. With an Edelweiss Hemd, never again will your friend or family member show up incorrectly dressed for an August 1 Farm Breakfast. Whew.

Swarovski Snowflake Ornament
Swarovski ornaments don't
lose their value.

Ok, ok, so Swarovski is an Austrian company, but in honor of the Christmas tree in Zurich’s main train station, which is covered in Swarovski crystal ornaments, The Frau has been a collector of the annual crystal snowflake ornament since 2008.

SBB Mondaine Clock

Give the gift of time—it’s very Swiss. The Frau loves the SBB Mondaine Clock. Her husband does too, which is fortunate since she gave him this clock as a gift a few years ago. It’s now out of the moving box after its trip across the Atlantic and it’s still ticking away in Central European Time.

Hiltl Cookbook

The Frau enjoys her Hiltl cookbooks even more so on this side of the Atlantic. Because now she can have a taste of Europe’s oldest vegetarian restaurant without leaving the comfort of her new American house. 

Swiss Toilet Paper Holder

Let your friend or family member be reminded of Switzerland up to five times daily when you give the gift of a shiny new chrome Swiss toilet paper holderClearly, there are great benefits to this gift, including the fact that no one else will give it. Not to mention, it makes ripping your desired amount of toilet paper easy and prevents the embarrassment of unrolling an entire roll of TP without meaning to.

Radius Design City Lights

Ja, ja, The Frau has the Baden version.
Entschuldigung, yodelers. Radius Design is a German company. However, we can like it because it creates with Switzerland in mind. Specifically for those of us lucky to love Baden (yes, Baden!) and Zurich. Choose your city (London and Paris are options too) and then choose between a coat hanger or a candleholder and enjoy your city’s landmarks in a whole new way. 

Book about Switzerland
Swiss Life Book

The Frau is biased since she's the author of Swiss Life: 30 Things I Wish I’d Known, but hey, she realized she needed a Swiss gift that was priced under $20 for this list and guess what? Only an American product could be priced so advantageously. Available at Orell Füssli or online.

Anyone else have Swiss-inspired gift suggestions?


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