Thursday, July 23, 2015

Does living in Switzerland ruin you for American life?

The Frau sometimes feels like Switzerland has ruined her now American life. For her, repatriation has been hard. Some of it is because she built a big part of her career in Switzerland and so she's still working with a lot of these people and she misses being there. Some of it is because she misses mountains and lakes and trains that take her easily to them. And some of it is just because repatriation is hard. And because the U.S. hasn't exactly done much to improve itself since she was away. If anything, the situation here has gotten much worse for the average person. 

Hotel Giessbach on Lake Brienz
Look, Switzerland isn’t perfect. No country is. But there are so many things that Switzerland does right that the U.S. does not. And these are things that became important to The Frau over the last decade.  Things like work-life balance, public transportation, and easy access to the great outdoors.
The Frau wrote about how Switzerland ruined her for American life yesterday on The outpouring from readers has been crazy. She still can’t keep up with her inbox. Some wrote to her with stories of their struggles with work-life balance in the U.S. and some of these stories are heartbreaking. Others wanted to know exactly how they can get away to Switzerland too.

But The Frau wants to be clear: Switzerland isn’t always a box of chocolates either. Read her book and you'll find that side of things too. It’s a closed culture, so it can very hard to make friends. The language situation is beyond complicated. And it's hard to be a foreigner anywhere--and Switzerland makes it especially hard for some.

It takes a lot of soul-searching to find the best country for each person. The Frau is on that journey now. In the end, The Frau thinks that the country that is right for you is the one that has the most common with the things you value.

What do you think?

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

No hiking considered at an American mountain resort

The Frau had another bout of cultural confusion over the weekend. See, she went to a place in Illinois called Chestnut Mountain near Galena. First of all, there was no mountain, there was more like a Baden-sized hill. Still, the hills were beautiful and they made her homesick for Switzerland, as did the view of the Mississippi River from the “mountain” lodge. Any other Europeanized American think this view looks like the Rhine?
View from Chestnut Mountain balcony near Galena, IL

Anyway, The Frau mistakenly assumed that going to a “mountain” and ski resort meant there would be good hiking trails there in the summer. Instead, hiking is not even listed as a summer activity on the Chestnut Mountain website—BUT riding a Segway is.

Which makes The Frau wonder: Can Americans get any lazier?

While The Frau was eating lunch at the resort overlooking the Mississippi/Rhine, she spotted them: The people on the Segway tours, which one must pay $50 for the privilege to go on. Anyhow, the Segways appeared to be on a trail, which later she saw was marked accordingly. The website says it’s three miles long and it apparently goes over 220 rolling acres of terrain.

So The Frau has a question: Would it be breaking some American rule to hike on a Segway trail? She knows that hiking, like walking, is not really an American thing to do. But if she wanted to hike at an American "mountain" resort would that be ok? Obviously there is some danger involved as she could be run over by a Segway tour. But she’d be open to signing a liability form if it would mean that she could do a proper hike in Illinois.

Anyway, The Frau will find out next time. When she goes back to this downhill ski resort—with her cross-country skis.

Monday, July 06, 2015

The U.S. is very American. Unlike The Frau.

The Frau’s first Fourth of July on American soil in about a decade began with hot dog buns and Nutella, a surprisingly good combination.

Another good combination? Being in the U.S. when celebrating an American holiday. Because despite her attempts over the last decade to celebrate the Fourth by wearing her “America” t-shirt and having a Happy Meal at a Swiss McDonald’s, it’s not always the happiest thing to celebrate an American holiday when the country you are living in is having a workday.

Nevertheless, The Frau will never be 100% American ever again. She realized this several times on the Fourth of July.
Attempted 4th of July Party at The Frau's old
office in Zurich, Switzerland

The first time was when she was waiting in line with Toddler M to ride the red and blue blow up slide in Hinsdale. There was a guard in front of the slide, and he only let two kids on it at a time. Which meant the line was really, really long. The situation felt overcautious and American, and it brought The Frau back to Switzerland, when, during SlowUp events, there was a similar blow up slide and kids of all ages were on it, pushing and shoving their way up it. The Frau wishes there was a happy cultural medium, but when it comes to blow up slides, the level of cautiousness appears to be all or nothing.

The second time The Frau realized she was a little different now was at Centennial Beach in Naperville. She walked into the changing room and it was crowded with women and kids just standing there. She was confused as to why they were all standing around. Then she realized they were in line—for the five changing rooms with doors. Well. The Frau, having been trained European style, had no shame and just changed into her bathing suit right in front of them all, stuck her stuff in a locker, and went out to enjoy the beach instead of her privacy.

Anyhow, if The Frau was a little different this year, the American fireworks were the same. They were big and wonderful. And spending the entire weekend celebrating with various friends and family was too.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Classical Music in the United States versus Europe

The Frau went to see the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO) last Saturday night. They were playing for the third year at the Morton Arboretum in Chicago’s western suburbs. The concert was wonderful. It made The Frau want to see more of the CSO. Except…

Here’s the thing. Going to most musical events or shows can be a time-consuming, stressful, and costly thing to do in the U.S.

Even with the CSO playing closer to The Frau than in their usual downtown location, this still meant a 25-minute drive to the Arboretum each way, not to mention having to wait another 30 minutes after the show was over just to be able to leave the parking lot due to all congestion. (The Arboretum is not public transport accessible, in case you’re wondering.)

Anyway—The Frau was interviewing an American music professor at a German university on Monday. This professor thought that classical music had much more support in Germany and in Europe than in the U.S. The Frau asked her way.

“Because you can walk to it,” she said.

The Frau never thought about the arts and the support of the arts this way. But this, dear yodelers, may be exactly the reason that arts organizations struggle in the U.S.

When The Frau worked in Zurich, she would just walk over to the Zurich Opera House (a mere four-minute walk from her office) to see a performance. There was no driving, parking, or stress on her time. When the performance was over, she simply caught a direct train to her village, which left from the station a five-minute walk from the Opera House. This train came every 15 minutes, no matter the time of day or night. When she got to her village, she walked three minutes to her apartment.

Compare this to The Frau’s father in Chicago. He would also walk over to the Lyric Opera of Chicago after work. But then he would strategically leave the opera before the performance was over so he could rush to the train station to take a ridiculously slow train back to his Chicago suburb (that only ran once an hour in the evenings) home. When he arrived at the train station in his hometown, he either had to walk two miles home or have my mother pick him up. The lack of transport and good transport options in the U.S. is atrocious and it affects every part of life—even the support of the arts.

The Frau often wishes she could get a CSO subscription. But she’s just not willing to take on the hassle and stress involved with getting to Orchestra Hall and getting home--at least more than once a year.

What do you think about the situation for the arts in Europe versus the United States?

Monday, June 22, 2015

Toddler German Class in America

Toddler M is taking German class once a week, as of last Friday. The Frau is not sure if it will be effective or not (is three hours once a week enough to learn a language?), but she had to at least try one session for the sake of her daughter, since she knows first-hand how painful it is to try to learn a language when you’re old.

Toddler M’s summer German class is held in a park near a beautiful brick building with a clock tower. If the setting didn’t come complete with parking spaces the size of some small European countries, it could almost pass as Swiss.

Anyway, The Frau sat in on the first 20 minutes of the class because Toddler M didn’t want her to leave. While the teacher spoke German most of the time, she would still switch to English to discipline or tell the children to be quiet when someone else was speaking.

The Frau found all of this English unnecessary, but maybe this is because she is used to the real-deal-throw-your-daughter-into-a-Swiss-German-world-at-six-months-old-and wish-her-the-best-while-you-go-to-work method. And she has to say, this method works.

Because after class, the teacher reported that Toddler M knew a lot of German already and had a lot of potential. It was good to hear that her first three years in Switzerland had some impact and also that the YouTube videos in German that The Frau makes her watch are most likely helping too.

But in general, The Frau still wonders: How does an average American child learn a foreign language? The answer: They don’t.

American culture still seems to believe that learning a second language is either for poor immigrants in an ESL program or a luxurious pastime for rich kids. Language learning is not a serious undertaking supported by American tax dollars nor are there many programs for complete immersion even if you are willing to spend half your salary on them. It’s too bad because The Frau believes a second language for all Americans could be the key to a better understanding of the world for our citizens.

Not to mention, language learning is fun, at least if you ask Toddler M. After the class she said in a very happy English, “Mommy, I really love German!”

So needless to say, it was all worth it.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Naked toddlers and dogs in parks, oh my!

This episode of One Big Yodel is called How Not to Be American in America. 

The main character? You guessed it. The Frau.

Now. The Frau has been getting into trouble in America lately. It’s her first summer here in almost a decade so she’s having certain issues.

The first has to do with dogs.

In Europe, dogs go everywhere. In Switzerland, they don’t just ride trains—they have train passes. They even go to restaurants.

Not in America. The Frau knows this. So when Toddler M wanted to take her grandmother’s five-pound poodle to the neighborhood library, The Frau said no. But when Toddler M suggested the park instead, The Frau said yes.

About 15 minutes into the park visit, as Toddler M was proudly showing all the kids the toy poodle, a loud voice yelled from the street: “You cannot have dogs in the park! Some kids are scared of them. You’ll get a ticket from the police!”

One mother told The Frau not to listen to this yelling woman, that the toy poodle was more like a doll than a dog, but The Frau went over to check the sign near the park, and sure enough it said “no dogs.”

Why dogs cannot go to a park makes no sense to The Frau, but The Frau is Swiss in that she follows the rules, so she put the dog into the wagon, much to Toddler M and the other kids’ protests.

Two weeks later, The Frau found out that dogs were also not allowed…in the La Grange Pet Parade. This was all due to some bout of dog flu that had been going around a couple months prior. Again, it seemed ridiculously American to The Frau to have a pet parade without dogs, but so be it.

Then The Frau took Toddler M to the Arboretum.

At the Arboretum in Lisle, IL, there’s a little water pond that kids can play in. While in the pond, Toddler M ripped off her diaper so The Frau retrieved it and threw it away. Toddler M was still wearing a long shirt, so The Frau thought nothing of it. About ten minutes later, The Frau was told “Please put something on your child!“ by an offended old lady. And to think all those kids in Baden, Switzerland ran naked in the public fountains. Nakedness is not allowed in America—even for three year olds. Lesson learned, mitenand.


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