Monday, April 27, 2015

Another State of Mind


Grüezi again.

Without being able to grocery shop in another country on a whim or bike ride across a border for the heck of it, The Frau was suffering from a bad case of domesticitus after six months of American living. So she decided to take a trip to a foreign land: Hawaii.

Maui Swiss Cafe in Lahaina
Hawaii may be a U.S. state, but it did take care of The Frau's case of domesticitus because she was able to 1) travel on a plane for 10 hours 2) experience jet lag, and 3) listen to another language (Hawaiian)– yet she needed no passport for this experience. Mahalo.

The U.S. is so big, yodelers. The Frau forgot how big. Travel 10 hours from Switzerland, after all, and you are in the U.S. or China. Travel 10 hours from the U.S. and you can still be in the U.S. It’s mind blowing.

Anyhow, you’ll be happy to know that The Frau was thinking of all of her dear Swiss friends when she took this picture of the Maui Swiss Cafe.

Meeting the Swiss at appropriate altitudes
And, she had an hour-long conversation in German with Martin, a Swiss man from Nussbaumen, on top of Haleakala Crater at 10,000 feet. Both The Frau, Mr. Frau, and Martin found each other since they were the only ones up there wearing appropriate clothing like jackets and winter hats. Everyone else was wearing Hawaiian jackets (in other words, beach towels) and screaming about how cold it was. People from Switzerland know how to dress for 3,000 meters.

But The Frau digresses. The point is, the world is small, yodelers. The Frau realized this at the top of Maui, as Martin proudly showed her his Swiss Alpine Club card, just how much bigger living in Switzerland has made her small little American world.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Transport Talk

The Frau can accomplish a lot from a car in America.

Today, for instance, she returned books to two libraries and visited an ATM—without ever leaving her car—or NPR News.

Yodelers, The Frau has gotten lazy. It only took six months after 8+ years without a car to not think twice about getting behind the wheel. Even for short, walkable trips.


Is The Frau assimilating?

Yes and no.

Yes because she does drive to Toddler M’s school and her local library—at least when the weather is bad and she is in a rush—even though they are both walkable.

But no, because she will never consider going to the Starbucks drive-through. At least, she hopes she will never stoop so low.  Also, for now, her family has only one car, something quite rare in American families, where the average household has more vehicles than drivers.

In another interesting bit of transport trivia, statistics from Metra, Chicago’s commuter train system, make it (get this!) more punctual (95%) than the SBB (87.7%). Granted the SBB runs across an entire country and considers much more than just trains in its stats (and probably also considers "on-time" in a much less forgiving way), but still. The Frau was very surprised.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Language Learning in America

The Frau spent last weekend with some expat friends who were visiting the States from Switzerland. Their daughter, Toddler S, speaks Swiss German. And when The Frau heard her speak, she couldn’t believe how much she had missed hearing the language.

But the best part was that Toddler M and Toddler S played like they had never been apart. Although they were starting to play exclusively in Swiss German back in September, this time Toddler M spoke English and Toddler S spoke Swiss German. But they understood each other perfectly. Kids these days.

Anyway, that fact that Toddler M still understood Swiss German six months after leaving it behind made The Frau extremely happy. One of her big regrets lately is that Toddler M isn’t being immersed in another language at the time in her life when it is so easy for her to learn.

Sure, every Tuesday, Toddler M gets approximately 30 minutes of Spanish at her preschool, which is the American idea of language learning, but The Frau longs for a preschool that immerses the child completely instead of teaching the language like a class. The Chicago area has several of these preschools, but alas, none are in her very white and English-speaking neighborhood.

So. The Frau is doing the best she can. This means that Toddler M watches a lot of Peppa Wutz and Bummi on YouTube, she meets with a German expat and her child once a week at the local library (which involves more German for The Frau than for Toddler M, but that's another story), and this summer she’ll go to German School. Granted, this German School is American in that it only takes place for three hours once a week, but hopefully it will be enough for Toddler M to keep her language retention going. Another part of the American Experiment continues…

Frohe Ostern, mitenand.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Enjoying life. A foreign concept.

An American friend recently returned from a six-day trip to Belgium and France (because only an American would fly a total of 10,000 miles for less than a week’s vacation) and came back amazed.

“Now I get it,” she said.

“Get what?”
An American with a newspaper, a coffee, and a
relaxed outlook, oh my!

“How hard it must be for you to be back.”

When asked to clarify she said, “I mean, people over there, they actually take time to relax and enjoy life!”

What a concept. Too bad most Americans find this concept foreign.

Nothing demonstrates this concept more than Starbucks. In the U.S., Starbucks has a drive-through. What does this say about our culture?

The Frau refuses to go to a Starbucks drive-through even though she loves Starbucks coffeehouses because they are pretty much the only place she can go to eat or drink in her American town that doesn’t try to rush her out the door the minute she puts her fork down.

Needless to say, The Frau is dreaming of her old Swiss haunts, like her vacation rental in Locarno. (Pictured above)

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Redefining motherhood one continent at a time

Going from mothering in one culture to another isn't easy.
Here's something that often goes unnoticed unless you move between cultures: your beliefs are shaped by them. Sounds obvious, but experiencing it can be a shock. 

Because The Frau became a mother in Switzerland, she gradually adopted Swiss parenting ways only to realize that they made her awkward as a mother in the U.S. 

All it took was a small "food fight" at her local American library to question everything she believed as a mother. She wrote about her multi-continent parenting issues for the New York Times yesterday. 

How does culture impact your parenting?

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Birth in Switzerland and American Citizenship

Once The Frau became a mother in Switzerland, she realized something: Some Americans giving birth in Switzerland didn’t want their children to have U.S. Citizenship. 

Photo by Brian Opyd
They don't really have a choice, since in most cases, a child born abroad to at least one American parent is American by default. However, there is a trend of not registering these children with the American government. The Frau researched this story for over two months and talked to expats around the world. The result? This piece in The Wall Street Journal.

Anyone else notice this trend among American expats in Switzerland (or the world)?

Also, if you’re interested in expat issues and are not already part of the WSJ Expat Facebook Group, The Frau highly recommends becoming a member. 

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?


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