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.

Friday, August 07, 2015

Dear Frau: How Can I Move to Switzerland?

The Frau has been a bit overwhelmed lately. Her inbox is still overflowing from the Vox piece about how Switzerland ruined The Frau for American life.

One of the things many people asked in their emails was this: How Can I Move To Switzerland Too?

Out of exhaustion and guilt for not replying to every person, The Frau has decided to answer this question here. But she’d like your help, yodelers. If you’ve moved to Switzerland from elsewhere, what was your path? If you don’t mind leaving a note in the comments, it would help a lot of people who are tired of America and ready for a country whose government actually cares about its people.

That being said, as The Frau has said before—and has also written an entire book about—the reality of life in Switzerland is not always a box of chocolates either.

But for those who still want to go abroad, The Frau’s recommended path is her own:

Work for an international company in your own country for a couple of years.
Once they like you, ask if a transfer would be possible.
If they say yes, great. You’re set. Hopefully moving costs and bureaucracy are taken care of. (Well, the bureaucracy never ends…just so you know.)

Another path?
Go abroad as a student. The Frau met with a nice young man from Chicago this week who wants to get out of Chicago. His plan is law school in Australia. That works too.

Another path?
Go visit Switzerland and try to network while you’re there. This could work, eventually, never say never. Or hey, apply to jobs in the country via various job boards or through a recruiter. Just know that unless you have VERY unique skills (especially if you’re from the U.S. or Canada—in other words, NOT living in the European Union), your path will be hard. The Swiss government requires any company giving a foreigner a job to prove to them that they couldn’t find a Swiss person to do that work. Or a non-EU person. Americans are third-string in Switzerland. That’s why it’s better to try the first two paths if you can.

Still have questions? Any yodelers have answers or other paths? Leave a comment.

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?


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