Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Switzerland (and almost any land) is Better for Working Parents

Do working parents have it better abroad than in the United States?

Most experiences of working parents abroad appear to say yes.

About a month ago, The Frau wrote this piece for the Wall Street Journal Expat section: Working in Switzerland—What’s an Expat Woman to Expect?

Now back in the U.S. and witnessing the realities of
working American parents, The Frau is ever grateful that her
daughter was born abroad.
In case you want the short answer—an American woman can expect better work-life balance and extremely more supportive policies when working in Switzerland, despite a sometimes backwards mindset that a woman’s place is still in the home.

Stories of working parental woes are all over the American press lately.

Last week, a powerful New York Times opinion piece from writer Pamela Druckerman, The Perpetual Panic of American Parenthood, agrees that American parents have it best working elsewhere. The subhead: “Make our country great, by making it a bit more like the rest of the world,” pretty much sums up The Frau's feelings exactly.

Says Ms. Druckerman on leaving the U.S. for Paris, “I gradually understood why European mothers aren’t in perpetual panic about their work-life balance, and don’t write books about how executive moms should just try harder: Their governments are helping them, and doing it competently."

Another great quote from her piece was from writer Ms. Partanen, who, in her book, The Nordic Theory of Everything, says, “While Nordic citizens often don’t realize how good they have it, Americans seem not to realize how terribly they are being treated.”

That’s what really confounds The Frau. The great majority of Americans she talks to have no idea how bad they have it. No idea. They think the stress of trying to work and parent with no legalized parental leave, no legalized vacation time, and no legalized sick time is their fault.

Blaming the individual for what’s wrong instead of looking beyond to greater causes is sadly an American thing. We're very individual and we like to blame the individual too. We need to stop.

Even when moms have access to parental leave in the U.S., they face hassles to get it. On the cover of the Chicago Tribune’s Life+Style section last Sunday was an article about how insurance paperwork issues interfere when new mothers just want to nurture their babies.

Yes, the American system is broken. And The Frau plans to keep writing about it (global outlook included) until it is fixed.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Ten Reasons The Frau is Staying in the U.S. (for now)

Dear Yodelers,

Apologies, it's been awhile. The Frau is sorry.

Americans, as you know, tell you they are sorry when they don't-even-but-almost run into you. And they are sorry when they don't blog as often as they should too.

So here's a big American sorry. And another big American excuse: busy, busy, busy.

But The Frau can say she is busy and sorry. Because The Frau is an American in America. At least for now. 

Yes, The Frau and her family will stay in the U.S. until they are ready for another adventure abroad-–which they will be at some point-–especially if a certain horrid, disgusting excuse for a human being is elected in November.

Yes, it was hard to give up that Swiss C-permit, Yodelers. It was so tempting to run back to Switzerland before it expired, especially with the path to destruction the U.S. appears to be on. But alas, as some of you know, transitions–even good ones–are horrid. So are moving boxes, many of which have STILL not been unpacked even after two years. 

Also, it took The Frau 1.5 years to feel sort-of-normal in the U.S. and it was hard to think about transitioning back to Switzerland so soon. That is reason one for staying. For now.

Choosing between countries is never easy.
Reason two is that The Frau could not imagine telling Child M (yes, she is a little child now and not a baby or toddler!) that she could not just go over to Grandma's house whenever she pleased. Child M has a close relationship with two grandmothers now that could not be replicated if she was 5,000 miles from them.

Reason three is related to reason two--extended family support for working parents is amazing. The Frau has been able to travel for work (and pleasure!) and take on new professional challenges without worry thanks to two caring grandmothers that take care of Child M very, very often.

Reason four. Child M is at an amazing school that is perfect for her. It was a struggle to find the right place for her in the U.S., but this school is it. Changing schools again now is not an appealing option.

Reason five. The Frau has committed to being involved in local politics for the next year. She desperately wants to make a difference in a country that desperately needs fresh ideas and global perspectives. America needs more repatriates in politics because repatriates see their country in a way someone who has never left it simply can't.

Reason six. The Frau really does like living in a house again. Space is nice. Not having to share a laundry room is nice. Not having to live up to Swiss standards of cleanliness is nice.

Reason seven. The Frau spent 8.5 years traveling Europe and needs to travel North America. She recently had the pleasure of discovering both Alexandria and Georgetown around the DC area and seeing a bit of Phoenix. And Indiana. Yes, even Indiana was surprisingly wonderful in its own way.

Reason eight. English. Living among those speaking your native language allows you to be fully engaged, rather than always an outsider looking in (although The Frau still sometimes feels like an outsider in the U.S.).

Reason nine. Switzerland will always be there. Child M's ability to have a close relationship with older family members will not.

Reason ten. The little things: New Glarus, Wisconsin gives The Frau a little Swissness when she needs it. Amazing restaurant food without walking distance from her house, especially of the ethnic variety at amazing prices. Free water. Libraries with English books. 

Of course, with all the positives, there are many negatives to American life right now. But that's another blog post, mitenand...

Monday, August 22, 2016

America's Little Switzerland. Really.

Grüezi, People.

The Chalet Landhaus Inn
The Frau recently went back to her Swiss home away from home, New Glarus, Wisconsin, for a very good reason—to participate in her first-ever triathlon.

But this was not just any triathlon, mitenand. This was the Alphornman Triathlon. So how could she not participate?

The race began with three men playing alphorns. The race ended with a four-hour Volksfest concert featuring Swiss choirs, Swiss music, Fahnenschwingen with alphorn accompaniment, and a few Wilhelm Tell Guild remarks in Tell Shooting Park. The festival even featured a group from Switzerland itself, the Jodelchörli Alpsteinblick Abtwil.
Volksfest in Tell Shooting Park, New Glarus, WI

The Frau spoke German with a couple of the men from the Swiss group and English with a couple of the people from the New Glarus groups. She fit right in with her strange American Swissness, right there in her own country. The entire weekend was wonderful. The Frau highly recommends a visit to New Glarus for those who feel at home in both Swiss and American culture.

The thing that is great about New Glarus (besides the chalets and cheese options) is that you can come, park your big, fat American car that you really hate being required to have, and not move said car for an entire weekend. The whole town is walkable, there’s a bike path that runs through it, and the Frau’s favorite new restaurant, Sugar River Pizza, is a two-minute walk from the Chalet Landhaus Inn—even with a certain four-year-old taking her time.

Room with a perfect view. If you're The Frau.
In fact, The Frau had such a nice long weekend in New Glarus for the second time this year, that she is going for a third time soon. To do another triathlon. She’s now addicted to both New Glarus and triathlons. C'est la vie, mitenand.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

A Bit of Swiss. In Indiana.

The Frau went to Indiana for vacation last week. (Yes, Yodelers, you heard The Frau right. Indiana. The part not far from Gary. Yes.)

The sunset from the beach in Dune Acres with the
Chicago skyline in the background
Now, after running around places like the Alps, Italy, China, and Spain over the last decade, The Frau never thought she’d go to Indiana for a vacation, but Indiana, specifically the lake-hugging area between Dune Acres and Beverly Shores, has a lot to offer–including, who knew, a little Swissness.

Therefore, if you must know, The Frau recommends going to Indiana for those looking for a little Switzerland in the Midwest. (And also for those who love climbing dunes and enjoying sunsets on the beach.)

Wooded path to Mount Baldy
First of all, this area in Indiana’s northwest corner boasts a lot of biking and hiking paths. In the Indiana Dunes State Park, there are over 16 miles of trails and there are 50 miles more if you count the trails in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, which surrounds the state park. There are paths through marshes, bogs, along the lake, in the dunes, in the woods, and through the prairies. It’s wonderful.
The Three Dune Challenge in
Indiana Dunes State Park
Dune path to the lake
Then, there are pedestrian and bike crossings that go over busy streets like U.S. 12 and U.S. 20 so you don’t have to wait for traffic or fear for your life as you cross the street. (The Frau wishes the Chicago area would take as much care of its pedestrians and bikers as the area between Gary and Michigan City does.)

If you rent a beach house in Dune Acres, a lakeside resort village, then you will also enjoy practically car-less streets, Swiss-style hills, lake access, and a quietly well-located wooded area that allows you to get to the State Park, many hiking and biking trails, as well as to Chesterton via bike instead of car.

European Market in Chesterton
Chesterton, a small village in the area, hosts a European Market every Saturday. How European the market is is debatable, but The Frau did find this gem: A Bit of Swiss.

Bit of Swiss
At first, The Frau was annoyed because A Bit of Swiss wasn’t really very Swiss. It had homemade breads and Danishes that were very yummy looking, but not very Swiss looking. But then, after she ate a raspberry Danish, she got less annoyed. Because can you blame A Bit of Swiss for not being Swiss? It’s owned by an American named Tim. The reality is, it’s an American bakery with a few French baking traditions thrown in for fun. Which is great. Just not Swiss.

This begs the question: Can an American ever be Swiss? The longer The Frau has been back in the U.S., the less Swiss she is becoming. And while she’ll always carry a bit of Swiss in her heart, like the Bit of Swiss bakery, in the end, good or bad, she’ll always be more American than anything else.

Monday, June 20, 2016

How do you feel about U.S. policies after living abroad? Disappointed.

Moving Abroad: It can change your view of your own country’s policies. The Frau speaks from experience. When she lived in Switzerland and experienced Swiss policies personally, she was constantly contemplating and comparing them with her homeland’s. Her overall conclusion? The U.S. has a lot of catching up to do in its compassion for its people.

Lady Liberty…as seen from a road in France.
Take paid leave. The Frau never considered how important it was until she had her daughter. Sitting on the couch in her Swiss apartment seven weeks after giving birth, tears flowed constantly. She was sometimes still in pain and was also having problems feeding her daughter, who, at six pounds, still couldn’t seem to gain weight. The Frau couldn’t imagine going back to work at that point. And with Switzerland’s 16-week maternity leave (14 weeks of it were paid), she didn’t have to. In fact, by law, she couldn’t. Forever grateful for giving birth abroad, it made The Frau wonder why the U.S. is still questioning paid family and medical leave. And it also made her feel that her own country, as the only high-income country in the world not to grant paid family and medical leave to its citizens, was grossly behind in its compassion for its people. She was glad (but also, in a way, very sad) that another country treated her better as a new parent than her own would have.

Then there was healthcare. In Switzerland, health insurance is mandatory, offered by privately owned companies, and never tied to employment. The fact that health insurance is independent of work means that when someone in Switzerland loses their job, decides to try being a freelancer, decides to stay home with their children, or heck, decides travel the world for half a year, they have the ability to do so without worrying about a loss of healthcare coverage. When The Frau was laid off from her job as a copywriter in Switzerland in 2009, she never had to worry about losing her heath insurance (or paying for it, since Swiss unemployment pays a minimum of 70% of your salary for 18 months). The Swiss healthcare system gives its people a freedom that The Frau, like many Americans who have stayed in unfortunate jobs due to health insurance reasons, had never experienced.

Finally, guns. The Frau didn’t like being surrounded by so many guns in Switzerland (the Swiss are 4th in the world in guns per capita—behind the U.S., Yemen, and Syria), but they were a part of the Swiss military and civilian responsibility, so she learned to accept them.

Switzerland has similar freedoms to the United States concerning gun ownership. Like Americans, the Swiss have gun ownership rights and the right to carry them in public. Switzerland had one mass shooting in 2001, which killed 14 and injured 18, but even after that, an anti-gun referendum failed to pass. According to a piece in Time by Helena Bachmann which sited government figures, violent crime in Switzerland is 10 times less than it is in the U.S. Maybe it helps that in Switzerland, heavy machine guns and automatic weapons are banned. Another idea a more compassionate America could adopt.
But enough about how The Frau feels after living abroad. Here’s a piece The Frau wrote for VICE last week about how other Americans feel about their own country's gun policies after living abroad.

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Living in Switzerland: It Changes Your Respect for Your Personality

One of the first things The Frau noticed upon moving to Switzerland was how quiet the Swiss were. They were quiet on public transport. In the office. And even on the streets.

Once, The Frau and an American friend even got yelled at for being “too loud” while talking with one another at a tram stop in Zurich—even though they were only talking in normal American voices.
Quiet, peaceful Switzerland.
A great place for American introverts.

It took awhile for The Frau to realize this, but a quiet and reserved culture like Switzerland does something really amazing for quiet and reserved people: it allows them to be themselves—especially in the workplace.

Those who live or have lived in “loud” America might understand this to a larger degree. Because if you’re an introvert in America, you are told from a young age that something is wrong with you. Never mind that about 50% of the population is just like you. Quiet is taught to be loud in America. Because in the U.S., loud is rewarded in both work and life.

So at any time, there are a lot of introverts pretending to be extroverts in America. The Frau used to be one of them. But after moving back to the U.S. after living in Switzerland, The Frau learned that her personality should be respected too. So now, as she recently wrote about for, she is an unapologetic introvert.

Has living in Switzerland (or another culture) made you realize something good about your personality?

Monday, May 02, 2016

The American public transportation system. It makes you want to drive.

Yodelers. There is something wrong with the American public transportation system. It's so good (insert sarcasm) it makes you want to drive.

But then, you don’t want to drive, because then you sit in endless traffic (because everyone else has come to the same conclusion that their public transport system won't work for them) and then you have to pay $30 to park, and then you can't even find a place to park.

Ok, ok. Maybe The Frau got spoiled by Switzerland. But based on all the Americans complaining about traffic, commutes, and lack of public transport options, maybe, just maybe, The Frau has every right to complain.

New York's La Guardia Airport, for example, DOES NOT CONNECT to New York's metro system. Imagine a European city not connecting its major airport to its train or subway system. It's just unthinkable. 

Well, the La Guardia example meant that it cost The Frau over $100 to get to a friend's house in a taxi. Americans pay the price for their lack of public transport every time they have to drive and park or take a taxi. It's insane.

The Frau’s sister recently had to change apartments in Boston. She now lives 6 miles from work. Sounds good, right? But to get to her office via American public transport, it takes her…drum roll…90 minutes.
There are no extra rides when you need them in the U.S.

This is not a joke. This is how broken the American transportation system is.

So The Frau’s sister tried driving. Took 45 minutes and cost $27 a day to park. But on days there is a baseball game, the parking garage kicks you out at 4:30 p.m. Even though you are required to pay $27 for the DAY. 

Desperate, The Frau’s sister tried biking to work. Took 45 minutes (wow, faster than public transport!) but the route is along busy roads and doesn’t feel very safe nor will it work during half the year in the snow.

Now let's go to another American city: Chicago. Compared to Boston, Chicago’s transport system is amazing. As amazing as a transport system is that doesn’t connect major train stations with other forms of transport can be, that is. As amazing as a transport system can be that can take you 15 miles in 20 minutes, but then take 45 minutes to go the last 1.5 miles of your journey. Will Chicago ever consider bus-only lanes? That is the question.

Needless to say, The Frau misses Swiss public transport. Seeing the Gotthard Tunnel getting ready to open on June 1 does not make this any easier.

See, it took the Swiss 17 years to build a 35-mile long tunnel through a mountain. In comparison, it took 70 years for one Chicago suburb just to repave 10 miles of their roads. Yes. Supposedly this summer, after 70 years, the suburb next to the one The Frau is living in will fix the pothole-ridden roads and The Frau might be able to bike down the street again.

Oh, America, there’s a reason The Frau works from home.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin