Wednesday, October 31, 2007

My Glowing Pumpkin

Happy Halloween. Here is an image of our pumpkins. My husband did a cat face and I did a confused expat face. A confused expat consists of starry American eyes, a Swiss nose, and a stripe for a mouth. It's a face of someone that doesn't fit in in either place any more. Oh, could that be me?

Trick or Treat

Despite the fact that the Swiss don't celebrate Halloween, I wore my orange shirt and black pants all day and I'm about to light the pumpkins we carved on Sunday and enjoy them. But I did have my own set of trick or treating today--I met a friend who is moving back to the States in town and we walked back to her house and I got to go "shopping" in her house and choose any American food products I wanted to take. It was so great it felt almost more like Christmas than Halloween. Here is what was in my goody bags today:

2 bags of marshmallows
BBQ Sauce
Stuffing mix
Chip dip mixes
Seasoning packets
Cans of chili
Peanut Butter cookie mix
Crystal Light drink mix
Corn Starch
Brown sugar
Maple Syrup
Pancake Mix
A1 Steak Sauce
Gatorade Mix
Mac & Cheese
Ritz Crackers
Dryer sheets
Pumpkin Pie Mix
Bleach Sticks
Fajitia Kit

Wow. I guess it was a good Halloween after all! Thanks to my friend for the generosity!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A Shiny Certificate

Last week in class, our German teacher announced that after completing the next course, we could go to the city of Aarau and take the official Goethe Institute German test and upon passing receive a shiny certificate that says we have mastered German.

After being in the real world for over 4 years (gosh, how have I survived) I find this whole test/certificate thing a little funny. Especially because what one can do on a test seems to be about 6 months ahead of what one can do in real life. For example, about four months ago, we learned to use sentences with "weil" (because). I got 100% on the test from that chapter. But it wasn't until now that I'm starting to actually be able to use "weil" in normal speaking circumstances without stopping to really ponder the word order.

On paper, my German looks great. In the hardware store, it appears I have not taken German at all. So while I'll go and take the test to say I've mastered the German language, I'll come home and show my certificate to my Swiss friend Tom and pronounce in English that I've now mastered German.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Jumbo Breakdown

Every time we go to the Jumbo there is always some kind of crisis. Yesterday we took the bus there to buy an electric heater/fireplace since our apartment buildling can't seem to provide guaranteed heating services. Once in the Jumbo, we found the fireplace we wanted on the display but couldn't find it on any shelf in the entire store and we searched every department in order to avoid the worst case scenario--having to talk to someone.

Finally we gave up looking and I wrote down the name and model of the unit we wanted to avoid any kind of misunderstanding due to bad pronunciation. Then we went to the customer service desk and I managed to get across my point. I understood the woman when she told us that the last one left was the floor model and we could have it if we wanted it. We thought we understood that someone would bring it up for us (hopefully in a box) so we waited near the desk. And waited. And waited. Finally, annoyed and frustrated we went and got it ourselves. But first we wanted to test that it would actually work. So we plugged it into an extension cord and plugged the extension cord into the wall. And then we blew a fuse.

Actually I was glad about the fuse as I was annoyed with the service we had received anyhow. So after that, we pushed the electric fireplace up the ramp on our little orange cart. The size of it was very awkward--especially without a box as it couldn't fit in our cart, but rather set precariously leaning against it. At the check-out register, the woman looked at us strangely with this out of the box fireplace leaning against our cart and asked us something unidentifiable in Swiss German. We pointed to the woman over at the customer service desk. So she called that woman and made sure it was legal for us to be taking their floor model.

In the US, normally if you buy a floor model with no box or instructions, you get a discount, but like I said in a previous e-mail there is no such thing in Switzerland. So we paid full price and hoped for luck dragging the fireplace, boxless and vunerable, 3 blocks to the bus stop.

My husband has had a lot of practice manuvering strange objects on an IKEA cart and his previous expeditions paid off as he expertly leaned the fireplace on the cart and held on to it when we had to go over curbs. When we got on the bus he expertly lifted the entire thing along with the cart it was resting on, onto the bus and then off, down an elevator, across a busy road, and then up the steps into our building and finally our apartment.

Of course, when we got home 2 hours after the expedition began, our heating was working again. But I didn't care. I was happy to have my little fireplace, even if it is just a glorified glowing hairdryer. To me, it's beautiful and makes me feel more at home. And hey, anything in this strange country helps.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Wincasa is terrible

We still have no hot water or heat after a week now. And the problem has really been going on since March. All I want is a hot shower. Is that too much to ask? I feel like I'm living in Africa not in Switzerland! Check out the link below on Wincasa.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Pumpkins After All

Today while I was dragging my cart of groceries home I passed a small market and eyed two large pumpkins. Well, let me revise that and say two large Swiss pumpkins. This means small American pumpkins, probably the smallest size possible you could carve without hurting yourself. Finding a pumpkin of this size--and two no less--is very unusual--I had been checking for a few weeks now, but this was perfect timing. But my cart was full, so I ran home, dragged the cart up two flights of stairs, unloaded, and returned to the market with an empty cart.

I asked in German how much they were, knowing I didn't care anyhow, that this was my final chance for a decent sized pumpkin before Halloween. I have never spent so much on pumpkins before, I think in the US maybe we paid 5-7 dollars for one? These were 36 CHF total for two small American-sized pumpkins. But I didn't care. Somehow this week I've been missing home more than usual due to 5 days of no hot showers and the failed attempts to communicate something greater to our landlords than "the hot water is not working again. this is not good." And work has been hard too, with briefings for projects entirely in German that take me so much effort to figure out that I have no energy left to actually do the work after I've finally understood the assignment.

Anyhow, as I was buying the two pumpkins the seller switched to English and asked, "Are you from England?" I guess who else would be buying two large pumpkins. The Swiss just buy them to cook with. I said no, I was from the US and then the guy asked me if I went to Pickwick's Pub (the English pub in Baden) a lot because he had never seen me there. I said no, I never went to Pickwick's. Then he smiled and asked how long I had lived here. It was really amazing just the fact that he was friendly as most people around here never smile let alone talk to me, so all-in-all it was a good exchange. It was almost American in style.


A couple of years ago, I might not have been too excited about the greatness of customer service in the United States. Especially after being on hold for what felt like hours listening to bad elevator music only to have my hopes dashed by a human voice that transferred me to another set of musak. But, hey, the call was free, so what can you expect?

In Switzerland, there is no such thing as free. It doesn't matter if the company you are giving business to messed something up, you will still pay them more for the privilage of trying to resolve it. There are no toll-free numbers, rather special extra toll numbers for issues like this.

For example, with the SBB online ticket ordering, they send you an e-mail stating that if you have a problem with your order you can call them for only 10 cents a minute (plus whatever outrageous rate your phone company charges you) for the pleasure of trying to get to the bottom of your unresolved order. They put it so nicely, like they are doing you a big favor by making you pay to call them.

However, despite the overpriced calling scheme, (the Swiss will make money off of you no matter what!) you never have to wait for someone to talk to and there is only one short automated menu to get past which asks which language you prefer--German, French, or Italian. So I just stay on the line and hope for the best. Both times I called I got someone to speak with me in fairly good English and today, the young woman I spoke with acutally called ME back within ten minutes after having solved my problem. So despite having paid I don't know, five dollars, I did not waste 20 minutes like I would have on a toll free number in the U.S.

So while there is no perfect customer service in the world (and I'm a cheap person, so I can't believe I'm saying this) I'd rather pay a little for service. Even if it's to resolve an original service that was non-existant. After all, time is money. And I deserve a raise.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Cold and Helpless

This morning I woke up to a freezing apartment and got into the shower, thankful to warm up. But only cold water came out and I had no hope for improvement as this is a recurring problem at our apartment. I was too cold to even attempt washing my hair at this point so I wore a hat all day at work thinking that when I got home it would all be fixed since my neighbor, wearing the thickest sweater I had ever seen, told me the experts were coming to take a look. Between her nagging to our building maintenance guy, and my husband's cute attempt at a German e-mail to our leasers, I decided it would be taken care of.

At home at 7pm, I finally took off my hat, my head itching from the long hours of wear. The apartment was warm, so at least the heating was fixed. But still no hot water. To me this was unbelieveable. It's been on and off since Saturday, not to mention on and off since March. We pay a staggering amount for rent (think over 2,000 USD a month--this is the norm in Switzerland, it's not like we would choose to pay such an amount). And our neighbor is very angry as well--she went out and bought an electric heater--and given prices in Switzerland, I'm sure it wasn't exactly a bargain.

But believe it or not, the most frustrating thing isn't the lack of hot water, it's the feeling of powerless to do anything about it. In the US I would have been on the phone, I would have been writing e-mails or even letters using my persuasive copywriting skills to get across my disatisfaction. While the problem may not have been fixed right away either, I would have at least felt like I was getting my feelings out.

In March, when our hot water went out, I had to deal with it myself since our neighbor was on vacation. I wrote out a German script and read it over the phone. But I never understood what was said back to me so I just kept repeating my script. Then I'd call another number and repeat the same thing, wondering the entire time what the final outcome would be.

Six months later, my German is much better, but I still can't get across something like issues concerning building maintenance and anger. I want to write a letter of dissatisfaction, and I'm going to try it out--using the few words I know like "unbelieveable". I know it won't be what I really want to say, but maybe I can get a little closer now that I can write sentences greater than 4 words in length. Tomorrow morning is German class, so I will have my teacher check it and we'll see if I can shake my helplessness away--at least with a few tedious hours of work.

Monday, October 22, 2007

I no longer fit in anywhere

When you live abroad, you see new places, but you also see where you came from in a way you never could before. When I visit home now, I question the people that drive from one store to the next in a strip mall, waiting as long for the closest parking spot to the next store as possible when they could have walked much faster. I question the big cars with one driver in them. I question the necessity of 24-hour shopping. I will never be able to live in my own country again as a blissful citizen, one who knows no other way of doing things.

But I cannot become Swiss either. No matter how good my language gets, I will never speak like a local. I will never feel comfortable barging in front of people in lines, even though my skills are improving. I will always complain about the lack of choices in grocery stores—there is no such thing in Switzerland as an aisle of only soda and no concept whatsoever of root beer. I will always want to call someone by their first name the first time I meet them, not have to wait a year while we politely size each other up. I will always start a business meeting with a topic like what I ate for lunch instead of the business at hand—small talk is in my blood.

In both countries, I have seen the good and bad, and understood each by separating myself from them even though I have lost my old identity in the process. But I still hope that when I return to live in the United States—even though I may question many things I never would have before— that I will never question that I am home.

Friday, October 19, 2007


Despite the fact that I haven't gotten a raise in over a year of working in Switzerland, I am making more money than before, at least in US dollar amounts. The falling dollar only makes the Swiss Franc worth more--despite the fact that both currencies are struggling against the Euro. When we arrived in June 2006, 1 USD was about 1.27 CHF. Today 1 USD is 1.18 CHF.

My Swiss friend Tom recently returned from a trip to the US where he practically bought out the US. (All this week he was dressed Ambercrombie and Fitch style--jeans, converse sneakers, button down and zipped sweatshirt). He didn't check the rates beforehand and was just assuming the amount from that last time he went, which was 1 USD to 1.5 CHF. Boy was he happy when he returned and saw he had spent much less than he thought!


Blog Widget by LinkWithin