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?

Yogurt

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.

Coffee

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.

Diapers

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?

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