Sunday, January 31, 2016

Busy in America

Grüezi, people. It’s been awhile.

The Frau has been busy. Yes. And she can’t help it. Because that’s what you are in America. Busy. Busy. Busy. If you’re not busy in America then you’re not worthy.

The Frau’s mother, who is retired, is also always “busy.” Small Child M, The Frau’s preschooler, has recently declared that she is also “busy.”

Heaven help a culture where preschoolers and retirees are always busy, but that is America for you, yodelers.  If The Frau, prime in her working adult years, wasn’t also busy, how would that look? “Busy” is a requirement for American citizenship.

So if you must know, The Frau has been busy for a very good reason: she has incorporated. Yes. Another fact of American life: the American government loves corporations more than citizens, so to be treated fairly as a writer or other independent professional in America who is even semi-successful, you must become a corporation. At least, that’s what The Frau’s accountant seems to say.

So welcome to Cross Border Content Inc, The Frau’s company. It still doesn’t have a website and it really has nothing to do with this blog, but it sure justifies The Frau’s American busy-ness, oder?

Now. If you can tell, thanks to a certain country, The Frau is slowly forgetting how to relax. So if someone over in Europe could please remind her what they did this month, she’d like to live vicariously through them. Newspaper and coffee at a café, all day? Hiking on a pristine mountain path? Swimming in a pristine 50-meter pool? Leave a comment: Busy and incorporated minds want to know.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Trying to Rationalize Emotional Questions

Many people casually ask The Frau: So are you going back to Switzerland?

They ask it in a tone you would use to ask someone what they are having for dinner.

But the answer is not as simple as dinner.

The Frau wants to say yes. Rationally, it makes sense to live in a functional democracy, rather than the broken American version, which is headed towards plutocracy.

But the truth is, The Frau doesn’t know yet.

There are still family issues to deal with as well as emotions and futures to consider.

And there are days when The Frau’s parents come over and they go to lunch together. Those days are nice. You don’t get those days overseas.

But, look, Yodelers. Let’s be honest: America is a disaster right now. Most people with an option to go back and live in a functional industrialized country should probably do it, right? There are even articles out there telling us where to move should Trump become president. (Switzerland is number one on the list.)

Here are some of the issues The Frau is struggling with:

The very American healthcare system that saves lives robs people with its greed. In fact, among Americans with health insurance, twenty percent still go bankrupt due to medical bills.

The Frau finds these statistics horrifying. She thinks the richest country in the world should be ashamed of itself.

Instead, some lawmakers push to repeal any progress that’s been made. Instead, the American government refuses to control the prices of healthcare. And prices aren’t reasonable. They’re stratospheric. They’re ridiculous. Even Americans making good salaries worry about financial ruin from health insurance plans that include ever-higher deductibles. Most plans pay 80% but leave you with 20% payments from hospitals whose bills can run in the hundred thousand to million-dollar range. To think The Frau once spent five days in a Swiss hospital and the cost was only $3,000. And Swiss insurance paid it in full. It does make one consider moving back.

Even Vice President Joe Biden worried about paying bills from his son’s bout with cancer. President Obama offered to loan him money. Yes. If our country’s leaders are struggling, what about the average American?

Healthcare is just one issue. There are many others.

The U.S. leads the world in mass shootings.
American politics is broken—even President Obama admitted this Tuesday night.
Only five corporations own the media, distorting information and therefore democracy.
The list goes on.

Look. While the Frau isn’t personally struggling, she knows that in America, it doesn’t take much to create a disaster when you’re part of a system that offers few safety nets and considers healthcare a commodity given to the highest bidder instead of a human right.

But then she looks at her daughter. And her parents. And how they play together every week. And then she cries when she thinks about moving far away again.

So. Back to that question: Are you going back to Switzerland?

Sorry, mitenand, but it’s not black and white.
It’s not rational. It’s emotional.
And it’s not a yes or no answer.
At least, not until a certain looming deadline forces it to be.

Thursday, January 07, 2016

The secret place The Frau goes to feel foreign again

It's strange, but sometimes you miss being a foreigner.

The Frau's hometown, Naperville, IL, has a solution for that.

Food stall outside the Asian grocery store in Naperville, IL
It's called the H Mart

It was here, in this Asian grocery store last week, that The Frau gripped her shopping list (filled with items she needed to cook some Asian and Indian dishes from her Swiss Hiltl Cookbook), pleasantly overwhelmed with the feeling that she may never find half the things on it.

Most of the people in the store were not speaking English. There were words on the food packages that The Frau couldn't read. Even the vegetables were foreign. 

It was wonderful. 

In fact, it was so foreign and wonderful that The Frau has decided that her New Year's resolution is to come here at least once a month to enjoy that foreign feeling--at least when she's not getting enough of it feeling like a foreigner in her own country.

To think, Yodelers: H Mart has always been there, in The Frau's childhood Chicago suburban village, just waiting for her to come in and appreciate it.

And that day has finally come.

Sometimes it takes being an expat and then coming home again to understand the joy of being out of your element. Many find only fear in this situation. And The Frau is concerned that too many Americans these days find differences scary. To those Americans, The Frau recommends a passport and an airline ticket. Or if that's not possible, then the second best thing: a trip to the local H Mart. 

Repats: Do you have a secret place you go to feel foreign sometimes?

Monday, December 28, 2015

Why is Switzerland so expensive?

Prices Zurich
Zurich is one of the most expensive cities in the world.
The Frau has always wondered why Switzerland is so expensive. So she decided to officially find out.

The good news? 

Yes, it is more expensive (lots more expensive!), but if you're working there, you'll save lots of money anyway. 

Read more in The Frau's latest piece for WSJ Expat: Why Switzerland Causes Price Shock and What You Can Do About It.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

One Big Yodel Christmas Gift Guide

Swiss products are more famous than Swiss people. Which is perfect since The Frau would like to offer you a very Swiss gift guide.

See below for ideas to make your Christmas as Swiss as possible. Some are clichés. Some aren’t. You decide.

Raclette Grill

Nothing says Switzerland quite like a big cheese grill. The Frau’s old Swiss neighbor is proof. When The Frau went to visit her in October, she made Raclette. Thirty slices for three people, to be exact. If you’re in Switzerland, you can find a great Raclette grill everywhere. But if you’re in the U.S., like The Frau, you can find them online. En Guete, mitenand.

Caran d’Ache Anything

Did you know the Alps are a source of natural graphite? Well now you do. Caran d’Ache started as a pencil factory in 1915 and today it’s a Swiss writing instrument and manufacturing icon. The Frau and Little M love their colored pencils.

ASANDRI Clothing

ASANDRI is a Zurich-based Swiss fashion label that creates beautiful, high-quality clothing for professional women. What’s more? You can now find ASANDRI fashions in Baden, approximately 100 feet from where The Frau used to live. The store is called Villa Paul. Not in the fashion capital of Baden? Well, that’s ok. ASANDRI is also available in Zurich, Klosters, New York, Vienna, and, yes…Houston.

Jakob Schläpfer Scarf

Speaking of Swiss fashion, maybe you’ve heard of St. Gallen? It’s the capital of the Swiss textile industry. Jakob Schläpfer fabrics, anyone? Never heard of them? You must not be Chanel, Vivinenne Westwood, or Marc Jacobs, who all use silk from this famous St. Gallen-based company. Now that you’re educated, it’s time to get fashionable. A beautiful Swiss-inspired scarf design from this company is available here.

You know you've made it big time as an author when your book is
displayed near "Heidi Das Stickerbook" at Zurich Airport.
Heidi. Das Stickerbuch.

The Frau brought back the Heidi Sticker Book for Little M in October and it was a big hit. There are over 100 stickers and two beautiful Alpine backdrops to arrange them on. Viel Spass, mitenand.

Do you have any Swiss gift ideas? Maybe the display at the Zurich Airport will inspire you. (see right)

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?


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