Thursday, February 26, 2015

Reverse Cost (and Culture) Shock

It’s no secret that Switzerland is expensive. But The Frau is surprised by some of the prices in the U.S. In fact, there are certain things here that are much more expensive than they are in Switzerland.

Here are a few amazing ones:

Decent Cheese

Good cheese is a good price in Switzerland
The Frau somehow knew her American repatriation would be fraught with processed cheese. So she avoids the rubber Americans call cheese by spending way too much money on Gruyère and Emmentaler. Any cheese that is decent in the U.S. costs a lot of money. Think about $44 a kilo. Or more. And also: Why do American cheese sellers cut Raclette cheese in triangles?


What is up with the yogurt prices in the U.S.? The Frau used to be able to buy 1000g of plain yogurt at Migros for about $2. In the U.S., this same amount of yogurt can be $7 or more. Huh? Not to mention, Switzerland offers much more selection when it comes to yogurt. It puts the U.S. to shame. The Frau sees a yogurt maker in her future.


Decent coffee is super expensive in the U.S. The Frau bought some Starbucks Christmas coffee–after Christmas–and it was still about double the price she used to pay for a package of coffee in Switzerland.

Sparkling Water

Sparkling water is so expensive in the U.S. that The Frau asked for a SodaStream for Christmas. She loves it, by the way. In Switzerland, The Frau used to pay 25 cents for 1.5 liters of bubbly water in the grocery store. In the U.S., sparkling water is about five or six times that price. The Frau has no idea why.


Toddler M still wears diapers. This is unfortunate since diapers are never on sale in the U.S. Never. Ok, maybe sometimes they are $1 off. But otherwise, they are the same price they are in Switzerland—but without that lovely buy 3 for the price of 2 sale that used to happen every month. Since The Frau almost always waited to buy diapers during Swiss sale time, she now spends at least a third more on diapers than she used to.

Conclusion? The U.S. is not cheap, especially considering how much lower the salaries are here. However, there are still many things that are cheaper in the U.S. than in Switzerland. The ones that are amazingly so will be discussed next week. Bis dann, mitenand.

Anyone else see things that are a lot more expensive in their home country than in Switzerland?

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Fixing the furnace. A multicultural story.

The first time a radiator repairman came to The Frau’s small Swiss apartment, he shook The Frau’s hand, introduced himself, and then proceeded to take off his shoes.

A lot of hot air.
You need it in Chicago this winter.
The Frau thought this was both overly formal and overly informal at the same time. Herr Schumann, someone she just met two seconds ago, was walking around her apartment in his socks. It’s not like they were on a first-name basis or anything. So, sorry, yodelers, but as a newly expatriated American, she found the whole situation kind of gross. 

Well, fast-forward almost a decade and The Frau found herself letting two furnace repairmen into her big, fat American house. And you know what? She was offended. First of all, they didn’t introduce themselves. Or shake her hand. And then, they slogged up the wooden staircase in their snowy boots.

At this point The Frau was not only wishing for heat during a -10 Celsius Chicago winter. She was also wishing for a little shoe removal action.

But no. Up and down and out the door and back went the repairmen in their big, snowy boots. They were very friendly, just not very Swiss. Not that you can blame them, since Chicago is, after all, not Switzerland.

The Frau thought about asking them to take off their shoes. But this felt so un-American and she’s trying hard to be American these days so she said nothing.

Anyway, when they left The Frau’s house, she happily had heat. But she also had ten minutes of floor cleaning to do too. Which, when you’ve just spent $500, isn’t exactly an added bonus.

Shameless self-promotion section: if you enjoy little stories like these, you may enjoy The Frau’s book, Swiss Life: 30 Things I Wish I’d Known. It’s now available via Bergli Books in Basel as well. 

Friday, February 13, 2015

What You Never Thought You'd Miss about Switzerland

Here’s something The Frau thought she’d never miss about Switzerland: mold.

And yet there it is, yodelers. About four months into her American Experiment, The Frau misses mold.

Will those strawberries go bad before you can eat them?
That depends. Which country did you buy them in?
Mainly, she misses it in her refrigerator. Does this make any sense? The Frau doesn’t know. But somehow she finds herself nostalgic for those Swiss strawberries that used to go bad five minutes after she bought them. Well, ok maybe not those. More like the ones that molded after 24 hours. Mold was like proof that they were the real deal fruit product, oder?

The Frau also misses bread that hardens in a day. Even freshly made bread in America doesn’t get stale in a day. This perplexes The Frau.

The Frau also misses being able to buy a ripe banana. (And also being able to weigh this ripe banana and put a price sticker on it BEFORE purchasing it so that when Toddler M is begging for a banana while still being held hostage in the shopping cart she can eat it without this whole process being considered stealing later.)

But in general, here’s the thing that scares The Frau about America. The food here doesn’t go bad. She buys a nice batch of fresh cilantro on Sunday and it’s fine to use the following Saturday. It’s also usually still good the following Saturday after that. This kind of concept just does not exist in Switzerland.

Now. On one hand, it’s great. The Frau only needs to shop for food once a week in America and she saves a lot of money not having to rebuy produce that has molded before she intended to use it. In Switzerland, she went to the grocery store at least every other day and only bought for meals about one or two days in advance.

But on the other hand, it’s frightening. What the heck do they do to American food that they don’t do to Swiss food? Buy normal food or buy organic, no matter which version you choose, it still lasts longer in the U.S.

So. The Frau may not last long in the U.S. for fear of the consequences.

Anyone else love their Swiss mold?

Friday, February 06, 2015

Cross-country skiing in Switzerland

The Frau is skiing. And she is skiing the way she knows best—on flat land. It’s a relief, actually, to know that her cross-country skiing this year will not involve those pesky large hills people from Switzerland refer to as flat land.

Chicago has had a lot of snow this winter (the fifth-largest ever snowstorm left 18 inches in the area last weekend), so The Frau has gone cross-country skiing four times already and has plans in the works to go snowshoeing too.

Granted, it’s not the same, yodelers. There are no mountain vistas or places to ski that don’t involve some traffic noise, but alas, there is also a lot more opportunity to ski since The Frau now has built-in babysitters otherwise known as grandparents nearby.

In any case, all of her winter sports activities got her thinking about her favorite places to cross-country ski in Switzerland, a sport that is often ignored in a country that favors the downhill version. Still, despite its mountains, here are some great places to do cross-country in Switzerland—although some versions are flatter than others. Viel Spass, mitenand.

Disentis-Trun is a beautiful 15-km cross-country ski trail
In this fairytale Romansh-speaking area of Switzerland, you can enjoy a 15k cross-country ski trail of medium difficulty. It runs between the villages of Disentis and Trun, but you can ditch the trail at various train stations that run along the valley if you want to shorten it. Don’t be put off by the trail’s initial steep descent —it soon flattens out about 2k after Disentis. Bonus: this trail isn’t too well traveled, giving you a full appreciation of the picture-book landscapes.

From Oberwald to Niederwald, you can cross-country ski through 12 picturesque villages in the Goms Valley on an easy 18k prepared trail. If you get tired halfway though, you have many options for a hot chocolate break and it’s simple to take a train ride back to where you began.

Einsiedeln has a lot to offer cross-country skiers of various levels including the advantage that there is not an Alpine skier in sight. Choose your distance (up to a half marathon) and follow the trail signs. These trails tend to be busier than the previously mentioned ones because of their proximity to Zurich.

Take the lift up to Tannenboden with the downhill skiers. Ignore their looks of superiority. The classical and skating 4k loop at Tannenboden is short, but picturesque. As you ski in the clouds, dog sleds will probably race by you. Bonus: This trail is perfect for those with downhill skiing partners because you can both do your thing and meet for lunch at the mountain restaurant.

Berg means mountain and the Zugerberg is true to its name. Cross-country skiing on this mountain overlooking Zug and Lake Zug involves many ups and downs. And they are big ones too—at least to those from the flat American Midwest. In any case, the mountain is worth a visit—even at night since it offers a 1.1 kilometer lit trail for both classic and skating skiers. Daytime trails include an 11-kilometer classic loop and a 11.5-kilometer skating loop. Neither are recommended for complete beginners.

What cross-country trails to do you love in Switzerland?

Friday, January 30, 2015

Why all Americans should hate the Superbowl

One of the things The Frau loved about being in Switzerland was forgetting all about huge American sporting obsessions like the Superbowl. Unless of course, she checked Facebook, where American friends were posting obsessively about it.

Now that she’s back in the U.S., she can’t avoid certain American sporting pastimes, but she is doing her hardest to try—at least when it comes to the NFL. This has less to do with not caring about sports and more to do with the overall inequality in the country these days.

Is The Frau crazy? What does American football have to do with American inequality? Well, actually a lot. See, the National Football League is classified as a non-profit organization.

Yes. You heard The Frau right. The NFL…which pays players millions and charges a devoted fan thousands of dollars for one Superbowl ticket…they are tax exempt in the eyes of the American government.

Which brings us to Americans abroad. Who are not tax exempt in the eyes of the American government, even though they must also pay tax to the country they are living in and have no representation in the U.S. despite their tax liabilities.

Does any of this make any sense?

No. The United States not a lot of sense these days makes. And the Superbowl pretty much represents everything that’s wrong about the U.S. these days: rich getting a tax break while the rest of us pay.

Anyone else refusing to watch on Sunday?

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


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