Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Why the Swiss don't smile and the Americans do

The Frau’s American experiment is teaching her a lot about the Swiss.

Namely, why the Swiss are like they are.

To understand this, she has been studying Americans for the last three weeks.

Americans are very effervescent in public. Perfect strangers bubble over with smiles and life stories. And then they disappear into their big cars and their big houses, lost forever to the person they just met. They don’t walk anywhere. Two steps into the car. Two steps into the grocery store and two steps back into the car to go through…the Starbucks drive-through. Or the ATM drive-through. Or the library book drop off drive-through. Therefore, Americans dress as if they aren’t going to see anyone for more than a few seconds and they are generally pleased to talk to anyone they see.

By contrast, most Swiss live in small apartments in buildings with many other people. They walk down pedestrian streets. They ride public transport. They go into coffee shops and stay two hours. They go into banks. They live a public life. So they dress like they’re going to be in public for a while. In other words, compared to Americans, they look really nice because they are on public display. But with all of this public life in Switzerland, The Frau is really beginning to understand why the Swiss keep to themselves. If they smiled at everyone they saw in a day, their faces would hurt. If they bubbled over with enthusiasm every time they saw a neighbor, it would be over the top.

All of this also explains why people in New York City might not be as friendly as people in a small US town. They can’t be. They would go crazy because there are too many people around to be nice too.

The Frau’s conclusion? The more life one leads in public, the less friendly one will act towards the public. Any yodelers agree or care to disagree?

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Swiss customer service nostalgia

The Frau never thought she would miss Swiss customer service, but it has come to this, yodelers. 

Now. As some of you may know, The Frau used to complain about Swiss customer service. In particular, she complained about those charge-you-by-the-minute-for-the-pleasure-of resolving-the-issue-we-probably-caused customer service calls in Switzerland. And after being in the US for approximately 16 days, she wants –at least the toll phone portion– of Swiss customer service back.

She would pay any amount of franc-per-minute to have it. Because, interestingly enough, a Swiss toll call ends up being cheaper than an American toll-free call. Here is proof.

Swiss customer service toll call

The Frau calls SBB to resolve a train ticket issue. She must pay CHF .50 per minute between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. to call the number. When she calls during those hours, someone answers right away. This is a real live person and they are located somewhere across the canton rather than across the world. For simplicity, The Frau imagines that they are in Canton Aargau. This person in Canton Aargau speaks five languages, including English. He may not sound thrilled to talk to The Frau, but the call takes five minutes and the issue is resolved.

Total time: 5 minutes
Total cost: CHF 2.50

American customer service toll-free call(s)

The Frau calls Comcast because her Internet service is not activating automatically. Thanks to Comcast’s 24/7 service line, she can call at night. She can call during the day. And she can call during lunch. But no matter what time she calls, a technical reason shuts down her call. Soon, she learns the truth about 24/7, toll-free calling. It means that no matter what time she calls, an automated voice answers. It means that it’s her lucky hour when someone on the other side of the world who speaks something kind of representing English finally talks to her. But this chance, as The Frau is calculating based on experience, is only 1 out of 5 calls. And then the chance that she will understand their English is only 1 out of 5 of those really lucky calls. And this is even with 8+ years of training in understanding strange English accents, yodelers. Imagine normal Americans who have never left America trying to translate such so-called English. This is why, twenty-four hours after trying to activate her Comcast Internet service, The Frau is still trying to activate her Comcast Internet service.

Total time: 41 minutes and counting
Total cost: $4.10 in prepay minutes and counting

Which service would you rather have, yodelers? The Frau knows her answer.

Oh, and by the way, The Frau’s book, Swiss Life: 30 Things I Wish I’d Known was published in May. If you still haven’t read it but are enjoying this blog, you really have no excuse–unless of course you are living in the US and are still on hold with Comcast. In that case, veil Glück.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Thanks for spending 250,000 francs with us. Now about that scratch…

The Frau has one word for her apartment handover meeting. Amazement.

She was prepared for the best that Swissness could offer. And still. She was…here is a nice way of saying it…dumbfounded.

It’s more the concept of the thing than the thing itself. It's the fact that you could spend over CHF 250,000 on rent while living 8+ years in a place and still be subjected to scrutiny over a small crack on a light switch plate (not her fault! already noted on the move-in protocol, yippee!) or be shown that a piece of 40-year-old plastic is broken with a sad shake of a head and point of a finger. It’s almost unbelievable except it’s Switzerland, so it’s believable.

Here are a few highlights from the handover:

One of the apartment managers actually ran her finger over the top of one of the doorknobs and proclaimed it not clean enough. This same woman proceeded to pull the lining out of the fridge to check the cleanliness of that. Thanks to the fact that The Frau spent CHF 2,000 getting the place cleaned, the cleaners kept working as the woman kept criticizing so The Frau got her money's worth.

Two 40+ year-old pieces of plastic that held the window shade cranks were documented as broken. Yes…they were 40 + years old. Should this be surprising or The Frau’s fault?

The glasses in the bathroom that the movers packed by mistake were pointed out as missing and it was recommended that they be shipped back to the rental agency from the USA, once they arrived. This seemed stupid and costly to The Frau. The issue was resolved after a quick run to Migros when The Frau proved to the rental agency people that yes, the glasses could be replaced for a mere 5 SF and a little last-minute moving stress.

How much will all of this “wear and tear” cost The Frau beyond the 250k she already spent in rent? She’ll let you know in two months. Apparently that’s how long it takes to get any of your deposit back. Perfect timing, since by then her Swiss bank account will be closed and she will get to pay bank transfer fees on top of any small remaining pocket change. Yippee.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Frau's American Experiment

The Frau doesn’t want to write about it because if she writes about it it will become real, but there it is: The Frau is leaving Switzerland.

Sort of.

Let her explain.
Good-bye, Switzerland. Hello, American experiment.

A lot of things have happened this year. Great things, like her first book being published, interesting travel writing and copywriting projects, and fun days at cow parades and so on. But some pretty terrible things have happened too. A very close family member passed away. Another one got diagnosed with cancer two months after that and is currently going through some really rough treatment. Alone.

Things like these make you think about being 5,000 miles away for almost a decade sometimes. So do things like Toddler M getting bigger and turning into Little Girl M. And sometimes our 80-year-old neighbor feels more like Toddler M’s grandmother than her grandmother.

But then again, The Frau loves Switzerland. She feels Swiss. She loves the lifestyle here. She doesn’t want to go “home” because she’s not even sure it’s “home” anymore. Also, she’s not sure she remembers how to drive a car or deal with tardy trains.

Enter Swiss bureaucracy.

Thanks to the wonder of a VeryLongGermanWord The Frau still can’t pronounce without stumbling, The Frau is being allowed to conduct an up to two-year American experiment without giving up all of her ties to Switzerland. Swiss bureaucracy has agreed to put her residence permit on hold for up to two years.

This means The Frau is moving to America, but can come back to Switzerland within the next two years and be given back her residence permit like she never left. She’ll even continue to work on Swiss-related books and projects for Swiss companies so will surely be back for a few weeks here and there in the meantime. It’s the best of both worlds…so which world will she choose?

Will spontaneous conversations with Target shoppers make her swoon? Will she dance like Maria in The Sound of Music over her newfound personal space? Or will she realize a little country in the heart of Europe has stolen her heart?

Only time and this blog will tell.

If you enjoy reading this blog then you might also enjoy (insert shameless self-promotion pitch here) The Frau’s first book: Swiss Life: 30 Things I Wish I’d Known. Sure to see her country like she never has before, she will be writing the sequel, American Life: 30 Things I Wish I’d Known, during her two-year American experiment.

More details on how to put a residence permit on hold will also be a topic on this blog in the coming weeks. Stay tuned.




Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Swiss hospitality at its finest

One of the views from the Torre Bar in Baden
The Frau writes a lot about the wonders of Swiss hospitality in her day job. But sometimes she questions it. I mean, least night she went to the Torre Bar with two friends. The bar has beautiful views over Baden and they sat right below the castle ruin and drank glass after glass of the Spanish version of Prosecco. It was very pleasant.

Except. 

Doesn’t good hospitality also include a few peanuts or olives if you are spending the equivalent of $150 on drinks? Not according to the Torre Bar. Instead, For SF 7, we received exactly one shot glass full of olives. That was it. It was astounding in its scarcity. We each had two toothpicks worth of olives and looked at each other in disbelief.

Except that it really wasn't disbelief. Because unfortunately, this isn’t the first time something like this has happened and situations like these are starting to define Swiss hospitality for The Frau. Take the Mövenpick Wine Bar in Zurich. Granted, they have a great deal on Tuesday nights with all you can drink Champagne for SF 35 and it is again, very pleasant.

Except. 

Go there with your same group of three and the wine bar will serve you the million franc appetizer plate with only two breadsticks. Even though there are three of you. Again, wouldn’t a little Swiss hospitality just add an extra breadstick for goodwill?

And that’s the thing about Switzerland that confounds the Frau to this day. As so-called leaders in the hospitality industry, you think they could throw you a small bone in the shape of a few peanuts for your business. But time and time again, this seems to be asking too much. But then again, the Swiss are rich. Coincidence?

Anyone else have the answers?


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The wonder of European pharmacies

The Frau loves the European healthcare system. Especially the pharmacies. Walk in to an Italian pharmacy wearing your bathing suit and a pained expression and walk out ten minutes later with cream, bandages, and the satisfaction of knowing you survived the sting of a jellyfish and everything will be ok. No waiting, no doctors, and little expense. This was The Frau’s experience last week in Italy.
 
Pharmacy in Levanto, Italy
Which reminded her that Swiss pharmacies are as great as Italian ones. Baby M has green puss coming out of her eye at 4:56 p.m. on a Saturday? No problem. Rush to the pharmacy across the street, talk with head pharmacist for one minute, receive eye drops for CHF 7, and by Monday the pink eye is gone and Baby M can go to school and Mommy can go to work.

If this doesn’t seem great, consider the dire American alternative. The health clinic. No, you cannot just go directly to the pharmacy with your pink eye or your sting. Two hours of waiting, $400 to see a doctor for five minutes who spends more time on the computer than looking at your sore throat, and then you still have to go to the pharmacy, wait in line, and spend another $100 for medicine. It wastes time, money, and gas, since you most likely have to drive too. Please America, it's time to change from a doctor-centric society to a pharmacy-centric one. Please?

Do you love European pharmacies?

Monday, August 25, 2014

Where to eat in Basel and Zurich


The Frau had a work meeting in Basel earlier this month so she was introduced to the Markthalle. Yodelers...this is everything The Frau has been looking for in Zurich for the last eight years and not yet found. Plates of Indian food for CHF 8. Half liters of soda for CHF 2. Then there was Thai food, Turkish food, Ethiopian food, and more. The Markthalle put Cervelat and overpriced hash browns (i.e. Roesti) in their proper place: far, far away.

The Frau asks you: is there any other place in Switzerland where you can get ethic food for less than your rent? Not to mention, the Markthalle is atmospheric (it was built in 1929 and renovated from 2009 to 2011), it's all the variety of food you could want under one roof, and it's only two minutes from the Basel train station. Oh, and did The Frau mention it's affordable? There are also small shops, a fresh produce market, and free toilets. 

And for those looking for where to eat in Zurich, well, you're in luck: The Frau just wrote an Insider Guide for CNN Travel on Zurich. It includes her new favorite place for a burger: Holy Cow. (That's what you'll be saying anyway when you see the prices–a gourmet burger for CHF 10! It really exists, yodelers.)

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