Monday, July 06, 2015

The U.S. is very American. Unlike The Frau.

The Frau’s first Fourth of July on American soil in about a decade began with hot dog buns and Nutella, a surprisingly good combination.

Another good combination? Being in the U.S. when celebrating an American holiday. Because despite her attempts over the last decade to celebrate the Fourth by wearing her “America” t-shirt and having a Happy Meal at a Swiss McDonald’s, it’s not always the happiest thing to celebrate an American holiday when the country you are living in is having a workday.

Nevertheless, The Frau will never be 100% American ever again. She realized this several times on the Fourth of July.
Attempted 4th of July Party at The Frau's old
office in Zurich, Switzerland

The first time was when she was waiting in line with Toddler M to ride the red and blue blow up slide in Hinsdale. There was a guard in front of the slide, and he only let two kids on it at a time. Which meant the line was really, really long. The situation felt overcautious and American, and it brought The Frau back to Switzerland, when, during SlowUp events, there was a similar blow up slide and kids of all ages were on it, pushing and shoving their way up it. The Frau wishes there was a happy cultural medium, but when it comes to blow up slides, the level of cautiousness appears to be all or nothing.

The second time The Frau realized she was a little different now was at Centennial Beach in Naperville. She walked into the changing room and it was crowded with women and kids just standing there. She was confused as to why they were all standing around. Then she realized they were in line—for the five changing rooms with doors. Well. The Frau, having been trained European style, had no shame and just changed into her bathing suit right in front of them all, stuck her stuff in a locker, and went out to enjoy the beach instead of her privacy.

Anyhow, if The Frau was a little different this year, the American fireworks were the same. They were big and wonderful. And spending the entire weekend celebrating with various friends and family was too.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Classical Music in the United States versus Europe

The Frau went to see the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO) last Saturday night. They were playing for the third year at the Morton Arboretum in Chicago’s western suburbs. The concert was wonderful. It made The Frau want to see more of the CSO. Except…

Here’s the thing. Going to most musical events or shows can be a time-consuming, stressful, and costly thing to do in the U.S.

Even with the CSO playing closer to The Frau than in their usual downtown location, this still meant a 25-minute drive to the Arboretum each way, not to mention having to wait another 30 minutes after the show was over just to be able to leave the parking lot due to all congestion. (The Arboretum is not public transport accessible, in case you’re wondering.)

Anyway—The Frau was interviewing an American music professor at a German university on Monday. This professor thought that classical music had much more support in Germany and in Europe than in the U.S. The Frau asked her way.

“Because you can walk to it,” she said.

The Frau never thought about the arts and the support of the arts this way. But this, dear yodelers, may be exactly the reason that arts organizations struggle in the U.S.

When The Frau worked in Zurich, she would just walk over to the Zurich Opera House (a mere four-minute walk from her office) to see a performance. There was no driving, parking, or stress on her time. When the performance was over, she simply caught a direct train to her village, which left from the station a five-minute walk from the Opera House. This train came every 15 minutes, no matter the time of day or night. When she got to her village, she walked three minutes to her apartment.

Compare this to The Frau’s father in Chicago. He would also walk over to the Lyric Opera of Chicago after work. But then he would strategically leave the opera before the performance was over so he could rush to the train station to take a ridiculously slow train back to his Chicago suburb (that only ran once an hour in the evenings) home. When he arrived at the train station in his hometown, he either had to walk two miles home or have my mother pick him up. The lack of transport and good transport options in the U.S. is atrocious and it affects every part of life—even the support of the arts.

The Frau often wishes she could get a CSO subscription. But she’s just not willing to take on the hassle and stress involved with getting to Orchestra Hall and getting home--at least more than once a year.

What do you think about the situation for the arts in Europe versus the United States?

Monday, June 22, 2015

Toddler German Class in America

Toddler M is taking German class once a week, as of last Friday. The Frau is not sure if it will be effective or not (is three hours once a week enough to learn a language?), but she had to at least try one session for the sake of her daughter, since she knows first-hand how painful it is to try to learn a language when you’re old.

Toddler M’s summer German class is held in a park near a beautiful brick building with a clock tower. If the setting didn’t come complete with parking spaces the size of some small European countries, it could almost pass as Swiss.

Anyway, The Frau sat in on the first 20 minutes of the class because Toddler M didn’t want her to leave. While the teacher spoke German most of the time, she would still switch to English to discipline or tell the children to be quiet when someone else was speaking.

The Frau found all of this English unnecessary, but maybe this is because she is used to the real-deal-throw-your-daughter-into-a-Swiss-German-world-at-six-months-old-and wish-her-the-best-while-you-go-to-work method. And she has to say, this method works.

Because after class, the teacher reported that Toddler M knew a lot of German already and had a lot of potential. It was good to hear that her first three years in Switzerland had some impact and also that the YouTube videos in German that The Frau makes her watch are most likely helping too.

But in general, The Frau still wonders: How does an average American child learn a foreign language? The answer: They don’t.

American culture still seems to believe that learning a second language is either for poor immigrants in an ESL program or a luxurious pastime for rich kids. Language learning is not a serious undertaking supported by American tax dollars nor are there many programs for complete immersion even if you are willing to spend half your salary on them. It’s too bad because The Frau believes a second language for all Americans could be the key to a better understanding of the world for our citizens.

Not to mention, language learning is fun, at least if you ask Toddler M. After the class she said in a very happy English, “Mommy, I really love German!”

So needless to say, it was all worth it.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Naked toddlers and dogs in parks, oh my!

This episode of One Big Yodel is called How Not to Be American in America. 

The main character? You guessed it. The Frau.

Now. The Frau has been getting into trouble in America lately. It’s her first summer here in almost a decade so she’s having certain issues.

The first has to do with dogs.

In Europe, dogs go everywhere. In Switzerland, they don’t just ride trains—they have train passes. They even go to restaurants.

Not in America. The Frau knows this. So when Toddler M wanted to take her grandmother’s five-pound poodle to the neighborhood library, The Frau said no. But when Toddler M suggested the park instead, The Frau said yes.

About 15 minutes into the park visit, as Toddler M was proudly showing all the kids the toy poodle, a loud voice yelled from the street: “You cannot have dogs in the park! Some kids are scared of them. You’ll get a ticket from the police!”

One mother told The Frau not to listen to this yelling woman, that the toy poodle was more like a doll than a dog, but The Frau went over to check the sign near the park, and sure enough it said “no dogs.”

Why dogs cannot go to a park makes no sense to The Frau, but The Frau is Swiss in that she follows the rules, so she put the dog into the wagon, much to Toddler M and the other kids’ protests.

Two weeks later, The Frau found out that dogs were also not allowed…in the La Grange Pet Parade. This was all due to some bout of dog flu that had been going around a couple months prior. Again, it seemed ridiculously American to The Frau to have a pet parade without dogs, but so be it.

Then The Frau took Toddler M to the Arboretum.

At the Arboretum in Lisle, IL, there’s a little water pond that kids can play in. While in the pond, Toddler M ripped off her diaper so The Frau retrieved it and threw it away. Toddler M was still wearing a long shirt, so The Frau thought nothing of it. About ten minutes later, The Frau was told “Please put something on your child!“ by an offended old lady. And to think all those kids in Baden, Switzerland ran naked in the public fountains. Nakedness is not allowed in America—even for three year olds. Lesson learned, mitenand.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

On being home

A couple of weeks ago, The Frau went to see a Young Naperville Singers concert. The theme? To be home.

As devoted yodelers know, The Frau has struggled with the concept of home for a long time. As an expatriate and repatriate, she often floats between two or more places and divides her heart accordingly.

The Frau sang with The Young Naperville singers for nine years of her childhood. She was the first child to ever audition for the choir back in 1984.

Anyway, in that auditorium on May 3, as the children sang, The Frau felt something amazing. She felt like she was home. The music, the children, the theme. Many of the songs were about Ireland, about travel, and about finding home. It was beautiful. And timely.

The Frau almost cried.

Which brings us to Bakers Square. It’s one of those family chain restaurants with so-so food but a welcoming atmosphere for all ages that includes crayons and a $3 children’s menu for Toddler M and a buffet of American classics like roast beef and mashed potatoes for Mother-In-Law and Great Aunt.

Anyway, the so-called seniors in The Frau’s family wanted to go there yesterday. For dinner. At 4 p.m. Because yes. Some people eat dinner that early in America.

Anyway. Bakers Square is not a place The Frau would choose, but it’s a place she used to go every week during her childhood because her grandfather loved it.

The food, again, was so-so, but the experience was wonderful. Toddler M was laughing with her grandma and great aunt. The Frau was relaxed since Grandma and Great Aunt had taken care of Toddler M for the afternoon. And so The Frau must admit: in this horribly lit American chain restaurant with a sticky table and so-so food, once again, she felt like she was home.

Have you found "home" in unexpected places?

Thursday, May 14, 2015

New Books About Switzerland You Might Like

As a writer, The Frau considers reading part of her job. And naturally, she likes to read books about Switzerland since she writes about Switzerland. (If you're interested, read The Frau’s latest piece, Why Switzerland So Often Tops Quality-of-Life Surveys, for the Wall Street Journal.) Below are three new books to consider.

Vision for America by Werner Neff

One of the best ways to understand Switzerland—especially if you’re an American—is to read Neff’s short book, Vision for America. In this book, Neff, a Swiss citizen who now lives in Colorado, USA, compares various Swiss policies on healthcare, taxes, politics, and more with their American counterparts. He praises the friendliness and openness of the American people, who immediately made him feel at home, while also urging the starkly less unfriendly American government to have more compassion for its people—a timely and necessary topic in the U.S. these days.
Coming Out Swiss by Anne Herrmann

What does it mean to be Swiss when you’re born in America to Swiss parents and have spent your life in the U.S.? That’s the question Anne Herrmann tries to answer in Coming Out Swiss, her memoir about identity. In the book you’ll also learn facts about cheese, chocolate, and that Adolf Hitler had an account at UBS. The most fascinating quote in the book, at least to The Frau, who is questioning this very thing right now, is on page 51 of the hardcover version: “In America, they say you can’t go home again; in Switzerland, they know that even if you leave, sooner or later you’ll be back.” Hmm.

Fodor’s Switzerland 2015

Ok, The Frau is biased on this one since she contributed to updating the Eastern Switzerland chapter of Fodor’s Switzerland, but researching this book made her fall in love with St. Gallen and especially its Drei Weihern—if you do nothing else this summer, go swim there. On the other hand, researching this guide was definitely not very easy thanks to the Swiss hospitality industry who were in general, very unhelpful and unhappy to assist her with her updates. And this guide is probably best for tourists or people who are fairly new to Switzerland and for not terminal expats, who have probably already been to most of the places in it.

But enough about what The Frau thinks. Any new books you’ve enjoyed lately?


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