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?

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Blick Cover Star

The Frau has come to determine that life is crazy.

You can come home from a Chicago zoo with your daughter only to be greeted online by friends in Zurich sending you pictures of the cover of Blick am Abend...that has your face on it.

How does this happen, yodelers?

You write one or two or three mostly positive pieces about Switzerland for a few American newspapers and then a Swiss tabloid tells you and the world that “You’ve saved Switzerland’s honor.”

Uh, have they read the book they're discussing too? 

And uh…did they ask permission to use the pictures they printed?

Doesn’t matter.

The Frau will just say this: it doesn't take much to be amazing in Switzerland.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Another State of Mind


Gr├╝ezi 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)


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