Monday, November 16, 2015

Missing the pristine

One of the things The Frau loves most about Switzerland is hiking. The paths are plentiful (60,000 km +) and pristine, and The Frau’s most recent experience last month demonstrates just how pristine.
path at 10:30 a.m.

To the right is a picture of the path to the Majingsee (near Leukerbad) around 10:30 a.m.

path at 3 p.m.
And to the left is a picture of that same path around 3 p.m. Yes. Heaven forbid a few fall leaves cover the path, but the leaf blower was doing his job in the middle of the Alps on a Monday. It seems excessive, this Swiss version of care, and yet when you get used to it and then don’t have it anymore, you miss it intensely.

The Salt Creek Trail, a trail in the Chicago suburbs where The Frau likes to inline skate, has been covered in leaves for the last few weeks, meaning she can no longer skate on the trail. And last year, the La Grange Park District just couldn't seem to put in the effort to make their outdoor ice rink useable even one time during the winter. It’s times like these when she really misses Switzerland. 

In fact, it doesn’t take much to feel like you’re living in a third world country after Switzerland. The Frau swims at the local high school pool in her American suburb and they’ve cleaned it once in the last year. Once. Someone in The Frau’s swim group told her  that sometimes the Department of Health shows up and closes the pool down. Even the air vents in the room are so filthy that one of the swimmers with asthma can no longer swim because of the room’s air quality.

This makes The Frau wonder—why? Why can’t a school pool that’s in a wealthy suburb, for which she pays the equivalent Swiss price to use (and for worse hours and service) not be regularly cleaned? It’s in a school! Is care and cleanliness in America too much to ask anymore?

Some might say the problem is money, but The Frau pays more in American taxes than she ever did in Swiss taxes. As she reads more and more books on political issues (Elizabeth's Warren's A Fighting Chance is a great one), it’s clear that while the average American taxpayer pays more and more, they get less and less for that honor. In the meantime, the billionaires are building their own pools in their backyards while the rest of us have access to a dirty pool twice a week for 1.5 hours beginning at 5:30 a.m. If that’s not inequality in America, The Frau doesn’t know what is.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

7 Things The Frau Missed About Switzerland

Sometimes you don't know what you missed about a country until you return to find out. Here's what The Frau missed.

1. Bread

The average Swiss eats 108 pounds of bread a year. There is a reason for this. Swiss bread is good, it's cheap (especially compared to the same quality American bread), and there's so much variety you could eat a different kind of bread for three weeks straight and not get bored. Or you could be like The Frau and eat Nutella and Zopf every single morning. Because you can.

2. Cheese

Duh. While in Switzerland, The Frau ate Raclette, fondue, and two entire blocks of Gruyère cheese from the grocery store. Almost every meal was some form of cheese and bread. She ate enough cheese for a year. It should have been illegal. But it wasn't. Because there's something more illegal back home: Calling Velveeta cheese.

3. Efficiency
The Leukerbad Therme

Yeah, yeah, the on-time trains. The fact things run like clockwork, which makes sense for a country known for timekeeping. And because of this, the amazing things The Frau had forgotten you could do. Like stand above Track 32 at Zurich's Main Station at 9 p.m. and realize you need toilet paper. Run into the Coop at 9:01 p.m. that's right across from Track 32. And still make your 9:08 p.m. train. Now THAT is Swiss efficiency.

4. Spas

The Frau misses the Swiss concept of wellness, which basically amounts to sitting in bubbling pools of mineral water. Americans think spas are places for a facial or a massage. It's not the same.

5. Well-traveled Americans

Ok, this is a strange thing to miss about Switzerland. But because most Americans haven't been outside of America, it can be hard to find people to relate to back home. And although it might be hard to find Americans in Switzerland, when you do find them, they are interesting and international and often the kind of people you can have a conversation with all night.

6. The hiking trails 

Almost anywhere you look in Switzerland, there are hiking trails ready to lead you elsewhere. The Frau misses Switzerland's great outdoors. In fact, in Illinois, there's hardly a reason to own a pair of hiking shoes.

7. Seeing kids outside

The Frau went running along Lake Zurich, and you know what? It was cloudy and cold. The ground was wet. But there were kids outside, properly dressed in rain pants and coats, watching the swans. Krippe workers pushed kids through the city and on hiking trails. And this was not a field trip that cost the parents extra money and extra enthusiasm. This was everyday life. The Frau misses this concept. So she brought Toddler M back a pair of Migros rain pants because she had outgrown her old pair. Today they are going to the park on a bike, even though it is cold and dark. 

If you left Switzerland, what would you miss?

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The big visit to Zurich

Grüezi, People.

The Frau is in Zurich. After a year away, The Frau is back for a visit.

And you know what? She thought she might feel like a tourist, but instead Zurich feels like home. It feels like she never left. It feels like Switzerland is embracing The Frau and The Frau is embracing Switzerland.

So far she's given a reading, gone to her first Swiss wedding, hiked the Alps, gone to two spas, done some writing and copywriting, visited old colleagues and friends, and most importantly, discussed construction schedules and tunnel transport with her old Swiss neighbor over 30+ slices of Raclette.

While visiting old friends in Zurich the other night, The Frau tried to explain to other expats how hard it is to make new friends with Americans back home. 

You know, those friendly, ever-smiling Americans. 

The problem is, once you tell your life story to the average American, and your life story comes to the part about living abroad, suddenly, their eyes gloss over. 

They can't relate to you at all. 

"Oh, you lived in Sweden?" they'll say. "That's nice."

End of story. The average American doesn't want to hear any more.

This is hard for the repatriate, who can't wait to share their experiences.

But until it was recently required for Americans to have passports to go to Canada or a Caribbean island, only 10% of Americans had passports (now 20% do). But still. About nine out of ten Americans can't relate to a repatriate at all.

At one point a few months ago in Chicago, The Frau's husband exclaimed over another American's bumper sticker. It said "CH." 

"Wow," said Mr. Frau. "Switzerland! What connection do you have to it?"

The other American looked at him confused. "What? The CH is for Clarendon Hills," he said.

Clarendon Hills is a Chicago suburb.

So there it is. The hardest part about being home. While your world is big, most Americans' worlds aren't. 

Coming back to the big, wide world solves this.

Needless to say, it's good to be back. 

Thursday, October 01, 2015

One Year in the U.S.

Ja, ja, yodelers. The Frau is officially one year into her repatriation experiment.

It hasn’t been an easy year. As Dr. Nan M. Sussman, who researches expat and repat issues has said, repatriation is harder than expatriation.

Dr. Sussman is right.

She’s also correct in saying that it takes at least a year to feel comfortable in your home country again.

One year in, The Frau feels better. She’s not exactly 100% American (will she ever be?) and many American things still piss her off (certain political parties especially) but alas. The Frau is happier than she’s been in a year.

Which begs the question:

Will The Frau return to Switzerland next year?

She doesn’t know. She is returning to Switzerland this month to see how it feels to be there after a year away. Will Switzerland feel like home? Or will it feel like a foreign country? Or somewhere in between?

Only one thing is now certain: the desire to return abroad, whether it is next year or in ten years, will always be there for The Frau. She wrote about this recently for the Wall Street Journal in a piece called The Eternal Expatriate. Once an expat, always an expat, yodelers.

The Frau is excited about her upcoming trip to Switzerland though. (Warning: small promotional blurb ahead.)

For those who are interested, she is speaking on repatriation and expatriate issues as well as reading essays from her work-in-progress, American Life: 30 Things I Wish I’d Known, at an event sponsored by the American Women’s Club of Zurich. It will be held October 16, 2015 at the BellaVista Wine Bar from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Contrary to popular belief, you do not need to be either an American or a woman to attend. See flyer.

The Frau is also teaching at the Zurich Writers Workshop from October 23-25, 2015. There are still a few spots available if you’re interested in attending.

Monday, September 21, 2015

5 Reasons to attend the 2015 Zurich Writers Workshop

As some of you know, The Frau co-founded the Zurich Writers Workshop in 2010, back when she longed for an English-language writing community in Zurich.

Founding the workshop taught her that sometimes as a foreigner, if there’s not something you want in your country of residence, you have to create it yourself. Then you don’t feel so foreign.

In any case, since the founding of the Zurich Writers Workshop, many other English-language writing opportunities have emerged in Zurich thanks to groups like The Woolf and Writers on Board. In fact, there are more options for English-language writers in Zurich than ever before.

Which brings us to the sixth annual Zurich Writers Workshop, which will take place October 23-25, 2015. The Frau has the honor of teaching one of the courses and she would love to see you there.
In addition to two intensive workshops, the weekend also includes a Sunday afternoon author reading and panel discussion, which is open to the public (although prior registration is necessary).

Here are five reasons you should attend, brought to you by the very biased opinion of The Frau:

1.    You’ll learn how to improve your fiction writing. Emylia Hall is ZWW’s fiction author in residence this year. The author of three novels, including one set in Lausanne, she'll be teaching a workshop on the craft of fiction with a focus on sense of place. Students will also have the opportunity to have their worked critiqued.

2.    You’ll learn that it only takes 800 words to launch a writing career. The Frau is teaching a workshop called Miniature Memoir: Writing and Publishing Personal Essays. Writing a personal essay is one of the best ways to break into freelancing. During The Frau’s workshop, she will take you from essay idea to international writing career, one miniature memoir at a time.

3.    You’ll be able to ask questions. The author reading and Q&A session on Sunday afternoon, October 25, is open to the public for a fee (with prior registration). The Frau will be reading from her book, Swiss Life: 30 Things I Wish I’d Known as well as from her work-in-progress: American Life: 30 Things I Wish I’d Known and Emylia Hall will be reading from her new novel, The Sea Between Us. And then you’ll have the opportunity to ask everything you’ve ever wanted to know about writing, not writing, life in Switzerland, and life after Switzerland.

4.    You’ll meet other writers. Form critique groups, find a friend, or just get inspired. The workshop welcomes 30 writers from Switzerland and abroad who are as passionate about writing.

5.    You’ll love October in Zurich. October is a stunning time to visit Zurich—if you’re not already there, that is. The leaves peak about the week of the workshop and there are no tourists but still plenty of sunshine. 

Questions? Visit

Monday, August 31, 2015

The German Chicago Expat Group

Recently, The Frau was interviewing a researcher who studies repatriation and her advice to struggling repatriates is 1. To find a way to continue their language skills and 2. To join expat groups related to their former countries.

The Frau is already doing both. 

See, The Frau went to an outdoor concert in Burr Ridge on Friday evening. She did not attend for the music (it was the kind of concert where old white men in the audience played air guitar to the tunes); she attended for the opportunity to speak German with a group of expats from Germany who have a lot of Geduld for her Deutsch.

Bad American music, but good
German conversation.  The Frau with her
Chicago-based German friends.
It may or may not make sense, but as an eternal expat at heart, The Frau feels most comfortable when surrounded by some level of challenge or discomfort. So she seeks out situations where she can continue her fish out of water existence. Meeting up with Chicago’s unofficial west suburban German expat group is one way to continue both her language skills and the strange sense of enjoyment she finds from feeling like an outsider.

Anyway. The outdoor concert in Burr Ridge was amazing because people were allowed to drink wine and beer. As one may or may not know, Americans cannot just crack open a can of beer when and where the spirit moves them. The Frau’s German friends were laughing because while beer and wine were acceptable at this outdoor American concert, smoking cigarettes was not.

To smoke, one had to set their beer on their lawn chair and go to the parking lot.

Parking lots are the new American smoking lounges.

You can’t smoke in American restaurants and bars—even in outdoor seating areas. And you can’t smoke at the local outdoor swimming pool either. Nor can you smoke directly outside the door to a public place—you must smoke at least 15 feet away from that door.

So in most public American places, you must leave the outdoors to smoke outdoors. The Frau can’t say she minds, as it is refreshing to be able to breathe after almost a decade spent holding her breath in Switzerland, but it is an interesting cultural phenomenon, especially when viewed through the eyes of The Frau’s German expat group.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Don't Bike On My American Road, You Crazy European!

The Frau became an avid biker in Switzerland. In her village, she'd go out the door and bike up road that led to the castle above her town and to the woods beyond that. The only danger around was the police, who once pulled her over for biking in a pedestrian zone.

Back in Chicago now, The Frau wishes she could keep up her biking. It's a nice way to get a workout and avoid using a car, but unfortunately, she doesn't like biking around her Chicago suburb. The roads are filled with potholes and it's hard to find a road without a lot of traffic. Bike lanes are non-existent and sidewalks aren't wide enough for someone with a bike trailer. 

There is a lovely path through a forest preserve to the Brookfield Zoo, which The Frau biked last weekend, but the forest preserve it goes through is divided into sections and one must cross multiple-lane highways at least five times before they get to the zoo. And there are no overpasses or underpasses for biker and pedestrian traffic like there are in Switzerland. It's quite dangerous. 

Today solidified the cultural mindset towards active Americans. The Frau was biking home from a local farmer's market, pulling Toddler M in a bike trailer, when a driver passing her said, "You shouldn't ride that on the road."

Wow. Excuse The Frau. But where should she ride her bike? On the non-existent sidewalk? If any fellow American has an answer for where The Frau should ride her bike in America, The Frau is all ears. Because come on, people. Have overweight, inactive Americans driving large vehicles won the right to all American roads? 

So far, due to a lack of bike lanes and safe pedestrian crossings, sadly, The Frau must say yes.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin