Friday, December 19, 2014

The Wear Your Pajamas to Work (and Preschool) Week

Pajamas are everywhere in America. In fact, it’s quite acceptable to wear them in public. After years of feeling like she had to put on a skirt just to take the elevator down to the laundry room in her Swiss apartment/office building, The Frau is trying to accept this American sleepwear-in-public trend, but to be honest, her family is having a hard time with it.

Wear Your Pajamas in Public Day is Every Day in America
Take yesterday. At Mr. Frau’s company, it was “Wear Your Pajamas to Work Day.” The Frau is not sure what wearing pajamas to an office is supposed to achieve, but in any case, Mr. Frau was told it was all about “having fun.” Well, in true Swiss fashion, Mr. Frau decided to have no fun at all and went to work in his usual button down and jeans (wearing dress pants usually takes office fashion too far in America).  Mr. Frau had to lead a workshop teaching people how to be managers and he just couldn’t imagine doing it in his PJs. The Frau can’t say she blames him. 

As it turns out, American offices have a lot in common with American preschools. The day after Mr. Frau’s “Wear Your Pajamas to Work Day,” it was Toddler M’s “Wear Your Pajamas to Preschool Day.” This event was so important it was printed on a flyer, which told us not to forget, because the day would be “all about having fun.”

Now The Frau didn’t mind encouraging Toddler M to wear pajamas, since it meant less work for her in prepping Toddler M for school, but strangely enough, Toddler M wanted nothing to do with pajama day and everything to do with wearing normal street clothes. Even upon arrival, where every child in her class was clearly wearing pajamas—and Christmas pajamas at that—Toddler M refused to put on her snowman feet pajamas, which The Frau had packed in her bag just in case. So there was little Swiss Toddler M, wearing street clothes in an American preschool filled with children in pajamas.

As The Frau said in her last post, assimilation hasn’t been easy.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Repatriation–even harder after Switzerland

Dear Yodelers,

Excuse the French, but since it's an official Swiss language The Frau won't hold back: Repatriation is a bitch.

Research says it is harder to go home than abroad. But research didn’t consider the Switzerland factor. And Switzerland makes it worse. Let The Frau explain.

Perhaps some of you know—Switzerland was recently rated the best place in the world to be an expat. It has one of the highest qualities of life in the world. Be born in Switzerland, and you’ve won the lottery of life, at least according to organizations that like to create surveys.

These facts do not make leaving Switzerland easy. In fact, they only set you up for disappointment. How can any other country compete?

Here’s the reality. It can’t. The Frau must accept that while there are some wonderful things about America—lots of personal space, spontaneous conversations with Target shoppers, being close to family—it is not Switzerland.

The Frau met with a fellow Swiss re-pat in Chicago recently and this woman still doesn’t have a car and she’s been back for two years. She takes a mini-bus whenever she needs to go far-flung places like Madison or Iowa City. She said it took her an entire year to adjust back to the US after being in Switzerland for three years.

Ok. Do the math. The Frau was in Switzerland for over eight years. Does this mean it will take her almost three years to adjust to the US, all other things being equal? What does that mean if her on-hold Swiss residence permit expires in two years?

In any case, you’ll be glad to know that The Frau has adjusted somewhat. She’s already forgiven the neighbors for not dusting their flowerpots. And she's driven the family car a few times although can’t bring herself to buy a second one yet. Also, Toddler M doesn’t yell “nein” at the American kids like she used to, although after enjoying a sleepover with one of her Swiss-American friends last week, she did resort to saying “ich auch” all the time for the following two days.

In other good news, The Frau tasted the best Magenbrot she’s ever had—and it was from Chicago’s German Christmas market. The Frau must say, American food does not disappoint–except when it comes to cheese. Oh well. Frohe Weihnachten, mitenand.

Friday, December 05, 2014

The Ultimate Swiss Christmas Gift Guide

Frohe Weihnachten, yodelers. In honor of Sunday Shopping Time, The Frau would like to make some Christmas gift suggestions. All items here have either been gifted to or given by The Frau and therefore they are 100% Swiss quality guaranteed—at least by her American standards.

The Frau wears her Edelweiss
with pride.
Edelweiss Shirt

This shirt is semi-required for anyone living in Switzerland so if you have a friend or family member that has yet to wear one, it’s time to give the gift of assimilation. With an Edelweiss Hemd, never again will your friend or family member show up incorrectly dressed for an August 1 Farm Breakfast. Whew.

Swarovski Snowflake Ornament
Swarovski ornaments don't
lose their value.

Ok, ok, so Swarovski is an Austrian company, but in honor of the Christmas tree in Zurich’s main train station, which is covered in Swarovski crystal ornaments, The Frau has been a collector of the annual crystal snowflake ornament since 2008.

SBB Mondaine Clock

Give the gift of time—it’s very Swiss. The Frau loves the SBB Mondaine Clock. Her husband does too, which is fortunate since she gave him this clock as a gift a few years ago. It’s now out of the moving box after its trip across the Atlantic and it’s still ticking away in Central European Time.

Hiltl Cookbook

The Frau enjoys her Hiltl cookbooks even more so on this side of the Atlantic. Because now she can have a taste of Europe’s oldest vegetarian restaurant without leaving the comfort of her new American house. 

Swiss Toilet Paper Holder

Let your friend or family member be reminded of Switzerland up to five times daily when you give the gift of a shiny new chrome Swiss toilet paper holderClearly, there are great benefits to this gift, including the fact that no one else will give it. Not to mention, it makes ripping your desired amount of toilet paper easy and prevents the embarrassment of unrolling an entire roll of TP without meaning to.

Radius Design City Lights

Ja, ja, The Frau has the Baden version.
Entschuldigung, yodelers. Radius Design is a German company. However, we can like it because it creates with Switzerland in mind. Specifically for those of us lucky to love Baden (yes, Baden!) and Zurich. Choose your city (London and Paris are options too) and then choose between a coat hanger or a candleholder and enjoy your city’s landmarks in a whole new way. 

Book about Switzerland
Swiss Life Book

The Frau is biased since she's the author of Swiss Life: 30 Things I Wish I’d Known, but hey, she realized she needed a Swiss gift that was priced under $20 for this list and guess what? Only an American product could be priced so advantageously. Available at Orell Füssli or online.

Anyone else have Swiss-inspired gift suggestions?

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Sehnsucht for Thanksgiving

A strange thing happened this year.

The Frau spent Thanksgiving with her family. Granted, she still had an expat Thanksgiving in the sense that she celebrated it the Saturday before the actual holiday. But it was the first time in 14 years or so that she celebrated Thanksgiving with family.

It was wonderful.

But it also made The Frau realize something: Namely, that she had acquired another family while in Switzerland and she missed them.

The Frau missed her expat family. For the last five or six years, she’s spent Thanksgiving with the same group of friends. And it was as strange not to be with them as it was to be with family.

No matter how The Frau does things these days, she finds herself longing for something else. Maybe that’s only a normal part of life as an expat or ex-expat. When you learn you can live life many wonderful ways, you wish all of them could somehow be combined. But they can’t. So if you’re like The Frau, you find yourself digesting a good portion of Sehnsucht for Thanksgiving.

Sehnsucht. A German word. How appropriate. Hard to translate, it involves a deep emotional state of longing.

Will you, like The Frau, be passing around the Sehnsucht this Thanksgiving? Longing for real family? Longing for your expat family? Either way, The Frau will say this: she understands. En Guete, mitenand.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Lanternenfest in America

The Frau joined a German Spielgruppe in Chicago. Ja, ja. She did it so Toddler M could continue her German, but instead The Frau continues her German while all the Kinder run around speaking English.

C’est la vie, yodelers. However, you’ll be pleased to know that Toddler M still yells “nein” at a good portion of kids in the US, although she saves her “neins” for the American children at the local library instead of the ones at the Spielgruppe. Kids these days.

Anyway, The Frau digresses. One of the benefits of being in the Chicago Spielgruppe is that they organize events around holidays The Frau is familiar with.

Like Lanternenfest.

Unlike Halloween, which ended up feeling almost as foreign as Sechselaueten used to, The Frau knew Lanternenfest. She celebrated it last year with Toddler M’s Kinderkrippe.

Toddler M's lantern
was naturally
Swiss inspired.
But of course, The Frau was new to the German-American version of Lanternenfest.

This version included:

-Battery-lit candles. (What? A lack of open flames around toddlers? The Frau tried to gracefully adjust to the safety standards of her own country, but it wasn’t without a feeling of loss for the excitement the open flames used to add to the event.)

-Kids spoke English while parents spoke back to them in German.

-The parade route was a pathed walking trail that went over an American highway. (The Frau tried to imagine there were some cobblestones, but that was difficult with the sound of traffic, yodelers.)

-A potluck buffet filled with hot dogs and hot chocolate. The Frau thought she’d fit in by bringing Birchermüsli, but barely anyone ate that. They all wanted hot dogs and tortilla chips. Live and learn, yodelers. Next time The Frau will make sloppy joes.

Anyway, it’s almost time for Thanksgiving and only time will tell whether it will feel as foreign to The Frau as Halloween did. In the meantime, if you’re looking for a x-mas present about fitting in and not fitting in, check out  The Frau’s book, Swiss Life: 30 Things I Wish I’d Known. It would make a great gift. Even if The Frau is a little biased.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Moving Day. The Swiss Version.

The Swiss have a special culture. And sometimes The Frau needs to be reminded just how special it is. By Mexicans.

In particular, the wonderful Mexican movers that unpacked The Frau’s container yesterday.

Her Mexican movers were careful, gracious, and did a great job. But they couldn’t help but comment on the packing job that the Swiss had done, since they had the unfortunate task of well, un-doing it.

If you can't imagine the extremes the Swiss go to with packing, it's your lucky day because The Frau is going to show you just all that this wonderful culture is capable of.

Package number 40 of 342 upon arrival.

Package 40 being unwrapped.

Oh, a collection of shopping bags. Thank goodness it was bubble wrapped for extra protection. Now, if the shopping bags got this much wrapping care, imagine a bike. Or better yet, don't imagine it. Just enjoy it.

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?


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