Sunday, December 28, 2008

Duty Free Jewelry

I admit it. I am not really a shopper at 35,000 feet. But thankfully, many others are. On our 10-hour flight from Zurich to Chicago, we witnessed a woman debate and try on one Swiss watch after the next while the flight attendant made recommendations like, "well, this one is the best for the value," and "sorry, we don't have that one on this cart, as someone already bought that model today." etc.

I also experienced a watch purchaser on a Swiss flight from Zurich to Athens. This shopper debated between two watches so long that other passengers were chiming in to help give him advice like, "well, that one's really a classic, but if you're a more trendy type, get the other". Or maybe they were just speeding him along to get the cart out of their way so they could pee. I don't know.

Actually, I have always been grateful for the in flight shoppers surrounding me--especially on long flights as they really fill the time between crappy sandwiches and landing time. If you think watching someone try on watches or purchase cartons of cigarettes is boring, try doing it at 35,000 feet and it suddenly becomes as entertaining Jon Stewart.

But I have to give the Swiss airline credit. They forgo the typical gadget-heavy Sky Mall catalog for something much more sophisticated. It's a magazine of tastefully photographed watches, jewelry, and cigarette cartons. From the first time I flew Swiss, I fell in love with a Swarovski Crystal necklace in the duty free airline magazine. "What's happening to me?" I thought, "I'm now falling for something I never thought possible--airport jewelry."

The thing is, besides my wedding rings, I don't even wear jewelry. But something about the thin air above planet earth makes anything possible. So whoever said, "Let's sell to these suckers" was the smartest marketing person since Bill Bernbach. At least I haven't decided to turn into a smoker yet, as the prices for the cartons of cigarettes sure make it tempting.

Anyhow, since then, every flight I've taken with Swiss I've reminded my husband of how nice this necklace is. So finally, the persistence paid off. I received this very necklace for Christmas. Apparently my husband finally bought it on a flight from Warsaw to Zurich because he got upgraded to business class and was in the front aisle seat and therefore wasn't embarrassed to be buying jewelry from a cart because up there, none of the masses in economy could see him.

I wear my duty free necklace proudly and look forward to my flight back to Zurich, where I will most likely fall prey to the next installment of the latest and greatest that any airline duty free magazine could ever offer.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas in Four Languages

In honor of the holidays, I've written how to say "Merry Christmas" in the 4 official languages of Switzerland.

German: Frohe Weihnachten

French: Joyeux Noel

Italian: Buon Natale

Romansch: Bellas Festas

It comes as no surprise to me that naturally, the German greeting is the longest at 16 letters. If you ever read a magazine like the inflight magazine from Swiss where they have various languages like German and English side by side, you'll notice just how inefficient German really is,as the text tends to be at least 1/3 longer to say the exact same thing. Oh well. Enjoy the season and Merry Christmas from One Big Yodel.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Big Sales in the U.S.

Wow. Things in the U.S. are even cheaper than I remember. Even stores at the Chicago Outlet Mall, where I spent at least 5 hours shopping today, are cutting prices big time--and not just on some items--but literally everything in entire stores is on sale. I have never seen anything like it--especially the week before Christmas.

Today for example:
Everything in Benetton was 50% off the lowest prices.
Everything in Tommy Hilfiger was 40% off the lowest prices.
Everything in Kenneth Cole was 36% off the lowest prices.
Everything in Spyder was 30% off the lowest prices. (Yeah, new ski jacket! I'm ready for those Swiss Alps)

I wish I would have had my camera to document all the discounts. And these are reductions off already reduced outlet prices. Still, the stores weren't that crowded. The only one that had crowds was Coach. I never had to wait for a dressing room. Or hardly at all at the cash registers. Honestly, it's a little scary for the economy. Not to mention for my limited luggage space.

I also discovered Half Price Books, a great chain store that sells and buys books, magazines, DVDs and more. Thank goodness for the M Bag from the US Post Office. The M Bag allows you to ship any printed material for $3 a pound from the U.S. to Switzerland. You can bet I'll be sending one of those before I return.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Can't Afford that Shirt? Layaway!

There is something going on here in America. People have no money. In fact, they have negative money. But in America, this does not seem to stop anyone from buying. See, in America, there's always another way. After all, this is the country that invented debt. If debt isn't working, try something else.

So layaway is back. Layaway is a method of paying for something without having to pay for it all at once. But instead of getting the item and paying for it later, like with a credit card, with layaway, you pay a small amount first plus a small fee for the privelage fo doing so, and then the store puts away your items in some kind of dark, back room until you have paid the entire amount. And then you get your stuff.

On the show Nightline last night, an entire section was devoted to Americans buying clothes from Burlington Coat Factory on layaway. Now I don't know about you, but if I had no money, I would not buy an entire cart full of shirts on layaway. Not only is this irresponsible, but by the time the stuff is paid off and finally able to be worn, it will be completely last season.

My advice? If you're that hard up for clothing, visit a second hand store. That $5 layaway fee at Burlington Coat Factory could probably get you 1 or 2 shirts right off the bat at Goodwill. And yes, the stuff may be last season. But then again, by the time you pay for your layaway items, so will they.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Culture Shock

The longer I live away from my own country, the more interesting it gets to come back. After 2.5 years abroad, I find myself with these European habits that I no longer think twice about. So even though I know how things are in the U.S., I am still surprised to rediscover so many things I'd forgotten about. So much so, that after visiting the grocery store, Dominicks, in La Grange, IL, for example, I was disappointed, in true tourist fashion, not to have taken my camera. Now it's in my purse, ready to capture the strange but formerly normal.

So far, the following things have struck me:

1. When grabbing a U.S. citizens form at the Zurich Airport, I said, "Entschuldigung" to the people surrounding the stand who were filling out the form. Then two minutes later, I realized how dumb it had been to speak German to these people, who were obviously all U.S. citizens. Duh.

2. Towards the end of the 10-hour flight from Zurich to Chicago, the Swiss flight attendant asked me if I wanted anything else. I said, "Just some more water, please." She answered, "Still?" And I took it as, "You still want more water, you little greedy indulger, haven't you had enough?" But all she meant was "not sparkling?" But the thing is, we English speakers just don't talk about water that way. If she had said, "mit oder ohne" it would have been perfectly normal. Oh well.

3. The sizes of drinks, food, carts and people. All basically huge.

4. While shopping my first full day in Chicago, I was looking at clothes and very surprised when other shoppers were waiting for me to finish looking before they would start looking at the same rack of stuff. Personal space is like everything else here. Huge.

5. There are cup holders in the grocery store shopping carts. Wow. Wouldn't want to get thirsty while shopping in the 10-acre store.

6. I could have eaten my dinner while shopping for groceries. While shopping, I was handed a free sample Starbucks mocha (thank God for that cup holder), cheese and crackers, a granola bar, and cookies. All 4 American food groups. 1 shopping excursion. I haven't gotten that much free stuff in 2.5 years in Switzerland.

7. What I thought was the chip aisle was not the real chip aisle. 5 kinds of chips is not enough to warrant a chip aisle, but my European brain just figured it was. My mother-in-law corrected me and directed me to an aisle with at least 250 kinds of chips. Whew. I could have really missed out on that American-sized decision making.

8. When checking out at the grocery store, I got ahead of the cart so I could start packing the groceries, but then realized that wouldn't be necessary. Yes, it's official. My has my brain switched to a new normal.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Six Reasons to Work as a Writer Abroad

Six Reasons to Work as a Writer From Abroad

1. You differentiate yourself. There are thousands of writers in New York City. But most editors want fresh perspectives on things. It's easier to be memorable when you can write about things no one else could. Not to mention, an international perspective is highly regarded by many publications.

2. Stories. You barely have to try to come up with ideas when crazy things happen to you every day. When you have to bring your xmas tree home on a bus, for instance, stories just come naturally.

3. Characters. If you're into writing fiction, there's no better place to live than abroad, where people have habits and styles of communicating that challenge what you're used to and create possibilities for characters you never would have thought of before.

4. You'll want to write all the time. Especially if you live in a country where English isn't spoken, writing becomes an escape and a daily drug that keeps you sane.

5. Travel Writing. It's easier to carve a nitch out for yourself if you live in an exotic land. With slashed budgets, publications are more and more likely to hire someone that's already living in the local they want to cover so they can avoid paying travel expenses.

6. Less Competition. Chances are, wherever you decide to live abroad, there will be English publications. And if you're in a non-English speaking country, you will have less competition for those jobs. So if you're good, your ideas are more easily accepted and you'll most likely be able to find some steady work while you keep reaching for those dream publications.

Anyone else have any points to add? Of course, being a writer abroad isn't all fun and games--permits to work can be an issue, cashing checks for pubs back home can be challenging, and many of your favorite publications won't be readily available at a reasonable price. Still, in my opinion, the pluses outweigh the negatives. But then again, there are days I'd give anything just for a big English bookstore.

Working as a Writer Abroad

For any of you interested in a day in the life of a writer living abroad, I was interviewed by Kristine, a writer and creator of the blog, TeleTwenties, which is a great source of information about being a telecommuter. Check out her blog where other recent posts include "Are Home Offices Lonely?" and "Working from Home in a Tough Economy."

Friday, December 12, 2008

Snow in Switzerland

Since it's been snowing all week, I just wanted to share a few photos as it's very beautiful. The snow isn't really sticking on the ground, but it's beautiful on all the trees. Here's a few pics. Enjoy.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Christmas in Switzerland

It's been snowing non-stop for about 32 hours now, so it feels very Christmasy around Baden. The town looks very festive with all its colorful lights (shown above, taken before the snow). On Sunday I even roasted a marshmallow after my husband was done roasting the traditional Swiss sausage in the Baden Christmas fire pit. I got a few looks from the twenty sausage roasters, like, oh my God, she's breaking the rules and bringing her own bag of marshmallows, but I didn't care. One boy stared and asked his mom what I had before finally realizing, "oh those are marshmallows". Someone needs to show these people there's more in life than sausages. Why not me? I'm not ashamed to be a lone marshmallow in a world of sausages. This picture proves it.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

5 Reasons to Become an Expat Now

Should you move abroad? Here are 5 reasons to pick up and go live the life many dream of but are too afraid to do.

1. Career. Studies show that those who work abroad fast-track their careers, broaden their professional capabilities, and increase their pay. “But wait, I’m the trailing partner,” you think. “How can this be a good thing for me?” Even if you don’t end up finding the perfect job in your new country, chances are you will reinvent yourself and discover a new talent or finally have time to explore other interests. For inspiration, check out the story of The Antiques Diva, who turned her love of antiques into a European tour company. Or Petite Anglaise, who just published her first novel based on her experiences in Paris.

2. Travel. There is no easier way to see a new part of the world than to live in it. Think of all the places you can go from the new location within a 2-hour flight. As an expat, you’ll probably travel more in your few years abroad than most people do in a lifetime. Check out where I’ve been the last couple years on the sidebar of this blog if you need proof or inspiration.

3. People. Some expats like to hang out with the locals, some stick mainly to expat groups. Either way, the people you meet abroad will be colorful. Whether I’m hanging out with my non-English speaking neighbor with a dictionary on the table between us or at a party with people from 14 countries, the characters I meet are like those from novels. Plus, things are never boring when you’ve got a Swiss and a Spaniard discussing the merits of punctuality.

4. Stories. Things will happen to you that you just can’t believe or even imagine right now. Complain, be shocked, whatever, but embrace them when they happen. Friends and family, possibly even the entire world will love them. They are things you will never forget. For example, I wrote about one of my crazy experiences in Switzerland and it was published in the Christian Science Monitor.

5. You. You will never be the same again. You will question things you didn’t before. You will notice things about your homeland that those that have never left it can’t. If there’s any reason to become an expat, it’s to do it for yourself.

If you are living abroad now, why did you move abroad? Was it the right decision for you?

Monday, December 08, 2008

A Country of Teachers and Policemen

I have never heard of a better summary of Switzerland than the one I heard at a party on Saturday night:

"Switzerland is a country of nothing but teachers and policemen."

The best part? It was said by a Swiss person, who admitted to this reality, when a party-goer from Sweden complained that he now knows his building's trash bin is under video surveillance after being called to the police station, showed a video of himself throwing out trash in the unproper bag, and fined 250 Swiss Francs for the "crime".

If the police have nothing better to do, then I want to know why they still have not recovered the stuff that was stolen from us in August. That kind of thing, however, they could care less about. For some reason it just doesn't have the appeal of solving The Case of the Mystery Trash Bag.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

More on German vs. Swiss Christmas Markets

One thing that was much more enjoyable about the German Christmas markets versus the Swiss ones I've been to, is that the music that was played at the German markets was actually, imagine that, Christmas music. The photo above is of the castle courtyard in Stuttgart where we watched a brass band play everything from Jingle Bells to Hark the Herald. It was fun to sing along while sipping Glüwein.

The other night I walked by the Baden Christmas festivities which included one small ice rink and not much else and they were playing some rock song I had never heard of that had nothing to do with Christmas. And last year in Zurich, my husband and I went to see the Singing Christmas Tree, which consisted of a choir standing in the formation of a Christmas tree wearing Christmas outfits. Needless to say we were very disappointed when the Singing Christmas Tree began singing "Age of Aquarius" in accented English. It just seemed kind of crazy to go to all the trouble to dress like a Christmas Tree and then sing American rock and Broadway music. But maybe it's just me.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Looking to Interview a Full-Time Blogger

As some of you know, I work as a freelance writer. Currently I have an assignment with Swiss News (The National English Journal of Switzerland) that includes profiling a blogger that makes a living by blogging. To qualify you must:

-Blog as your full-time job (have a strong financial return from activities related to blogging--can include book deals that arose from your blog, working as a blogging consultant, writing for several blogs, etc.)

-Blog in English

-Preferably be an Expat (Extra bonus if you have a tie to Switzerland)

If you fit this profile (or know someone that does) and would like some publicity for your blog, please leave a comment with some way for me to contact you.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Stuttgart Christmas Market

So. The verdict is that the Germans aren't bragging. Their Christmas markets are much superior to their Swiss cousins. Here are a few photos from the Stuttgart market for proof. More to come soon.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Swiss Gardening Essay in The Christian Science Monitor

My essay, "An American at Swiss Gardening Boot Camp," that ran in the November 20th print edition is now online. You can read it on The Christian Science Monitor website.

Monday, December 01, 2008

December Expat Adventure Column in Swiss News

In honor of yet another holiday shopping season without a car, my latest Expat Adventure column, published today in Swiss News, is called, "Costco Girl in a Car-Free World." You can read it on the Swiss News website. Enjoy.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

German vs. Swiss Christmas Markets

According to many Germans I have talked to, Swiss Christmas markets are really lame compared to those in Germany. So far, my only experience at a Christmas market in Germany was in Waldshut, which is a tiny town on the Swiss-German border. It was festive and much cheaper than its Swiss counterparts of similar size.

The German claim of superiority in all things celebration I will be testing myself as I head to Stuttgart soon to find out just exactly how to celebrate the holidays German style. According to one German friend, Christmas is just another excuse to build a month-long festival centered around that favorite German pastime—drinking. Silly me, I thought I was going for the ambiance and Christmas items.

Oh well. Happy Thanksgiving. My third one spent at the office.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Swiss Politics: "Yes, We Can" (Copy, that is)

So there is a big election in Switzerland on November 30th. And according to Susanne Hochuli, a political hopeful who has mailed me a postcard, "Mit Deiner Unterstützung: YES, WE CAN!" (With your support, yes, we can). Now first off, she is flawed in her targeting, because "no I can't" do anything to help her with my sad foreigner status, except make fun of her inability to advertise herself as anything other than a copycat.

The sad thing is, she's not the only one using this phrase. I've seen it on other Swiss political ads as well, hers just happened to appear nicely in my mailbox. I find it hilarious that Swiss politicians are ripping off Obama's "Yes, we can." Do they have nothing more original to say? But here is Susanne Hochuli. She's running for the "Aargauische Regierungsratswahlen". Wow, what a mouthful. I only wish I could pronounce something so important that it is worthy of more letters (31) that even entire alphabet can proclaim. But alas, I asked my husband too, and the results were a resounding, "No, we can't."

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Pumpkin Raisin Walnut Bread

My sister e-mailed me this receipe the other day and I made it last night and just had to share it as it is really tasty not to mention perfect for expats looking for a little taste of autumn/winter.

It comes from page 132 of the newest version of the Better Homes and Garden Cookbook(unfortunately I have a really old version so it's not in there).

Pumpkin Raisin Walnut Bread

Makes: 2 loaves (32 slices)


3 cups sugar
1 cup cooking oil
4 eggs
3 1/3 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1.5 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2/3 cup water
3/4 cup raisins
3/4 cup chopped walnuts
1 15 oz can pumpkin (for those of you in Switzerland, you can usually find a can of pumpkin at Jemoli or Globus. Will cost like CHF 5, but it's worth it!)

Shortened version of the diretions:

Mix everything together.
Bake 55-65 minutes on 350 F (175 C).

Monday, November 24, 2008

It was worth it

Here's the finished tree. Totally worth the unconventional transport.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Christmas Tree Transport Success

We got our xmas tree a little earlier than usual this year. November 22. It's the earliest I've ever gotten a tree in my life. But without the landmark of Thanksgiving in Switzerland, we figured we'd just jump in and start enjoying everything Christmas has to offer. Especially since it had been snowing all day.

Actually, we didn't even think real trees would be available since it's not even Advent yet, but went to Jumbo, the Swiss version of Home Depot, and were pleasantly surprised to find real trees for sale. In fact, some of their normally priced CHF 60 trees were on sale for CHF 30, and for that price we just couldn't hold back our holiday spirit.

The only downside? We came by bus. But thing thing is, this is our third Christmas in Switzerland so we have experience-at least when it comes to unconventional transport.

Two years ago, this tree thing wasn't so easy. We had no experience. We had no IKEA cart. We had no confidence in our transport abilities. Trying to deal with a tree on a bus was awkward and embarrassing.

But this year, we knew just what to do. We were as smooth and suave as you could be with a 6-foot pine. After tying the tree in netting available at the Jumbo, we simply leaned it against our trusty IKEA cart, which we've now used to transport everything from electric fireplaces to gas canisters. In retrospect, this was much easier since at least if dropped, it couldn't explode or something.

Unfortunately, I didn't have my camera to record the experience. But as soon as we got home I took this picture of the tree leaning against the cart. So for all you who don't have a car, don't let that stop you from getting the tree of your dreams. In this land of cheese and chocolate, anything is possible. This tree success story is proof.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

I miss junk

We had our neighbor over last night for her 74th birthday. I hung a "Happy Birthday" banner above the door and she loved it and wanted to know where we got it. When we told her it was from the U.S., she commented how they just don't have fun paper stuff here like they do in England and the U.S.

She then oohed and ahhed over the painted pumpkin my aunt sent me and the little pumpkin garland my mother gave me last year. It was all new to her, this crazy decorative stuff.

I guess I never thought about this, but it's true. I'm lucky to find a card for anything other than a birthday, not to mention crazy stuff to hang around the house. There aren't any "Happy Birthday" paper plates, cups, or coordinating napkins. There aren't any fun banners or other kinds of "junk". And it took my neighbor to point this out, but I really do miss fun creative stuff that I can waste my money on like that.

I've been meaning to post this photo I took at the Charlie Checkpoint museum in Berlin, and it seems appropriate here.

There's no history without junk. Love that.

Also like this one.

Anyhow, I come from a family of packrats. My grandmother saved napkins, placemats and pretty much anything she could get her hands on from restaurants. She had drawers and drawers of this stuff and I used to love to play with it all as a child, imagining where each piece came from. I used to have a nice collection of hotel bath soap and shampoos myself until I moved to Europe where I'm lucky if there is any soap at all in hotel rooms. And if there is it is usually a no fun at all dispenser on the wall that I just can't take with me. Sigh.

But my husband couldn't be happier about having less junk. He doesn't miss the excitement of a bathroom cabinet exploding with goodies each time he opens it. But sadly, I do. So imagine my complete surprise when he brought me back a few shampoos from his fancy hotel in Paris a few weeks back. It really made my day.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Interview on Freelancedom

As a writer living abroad, I was interviewed yesterday on a great blog called Freelancedom. If any of you reading my blog are interested in freelancing or becoming a writer, I highly recommend the Freelancedom blog where writer Steph Auteri shares her wisdom after a full-year of supporting herself freelance style.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Essay about my life in Switzerland in The Christian Science Monitor today

The essay that runs in the Monitor today (by yours truly) is about being trained by my Swiss neighbor in how to garden to achieve amazing things not heard of elsewhere--like drinkable gutter water. I titled it "Gardening Boot Camp." Not sure if they changed the title.

Alas, the piece only runs in the print edition today, but I am told it will run soon online and will post a link to the essay on this blog then.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The English Argument

Never argue with a non-native English speaker about your English. Because you’ll never win. I have done so and failed numerous times, beginning in fourth grade, when a new neighbor moved to Illinois from Switzerland and her idea of a Swiss “hello” was to circle every grammatical and spelling error in my “Neighborhood News Magazine” and pass it along to my mother.

Now that I’m living in Switzerland, I’ve moved on to new levels of English correction. For instance, Germans use the phrase “Something on top” to mean “something extra”. Never mind the fact that I advised that in this context I would not say “something on top” in the headline because it could mean something sexual. They insisted that because they used this English phrase in German and it was clear to them that it would be clear to any English speaker reading the ad. In the end, after much argument, they did change it to “something extra” but wow was it a struggle for them, not to mention for me.

One of the things that happens when you’re advising non-native English speakers on English matters is that you start to doubt your very knowledge of English. Not to mention, things start sounding normal after you hear them wrong hundreds of times. Starting an e-mail with “hello together”, what’s wrong with that? I don’t had an idea. But if you do, send me a mail. It would please me.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Hello Together

Hello together,

What is up with my e-mail communication? Has anyone else noticed strange e-mail habits happening to them since living abroad? Before I moved to Switzerland, I never signed e-mails off with “Cheers”. I don’t know if this is a British thing or a non-native English speaker Swiss thing or what, but I do it all the time now. Previously, I think I just signed my name or wrote, “thanks” and my name.

Maybe it has to do with the fact that people are more formal with their emails here. They always write “Dear so and so” and close with “lovely greetings” etc. I guess this reflects the fact that people are more formal in everyday life as well. I mean, it did take me an entire year before my neighbor told me that big secret thing otherwise known as her first name.

Anyhow, I’d be interested in your thoughts and send you lovely greetings in the process.

One Big Yodel

Monday, November 17, 2008

Me write witty one day

Ok, so that's a bad play off of one of my favorite books by David Sedaris, "Me talk pretty one day" (which, by the way, I recommend especially for expats because there are some great stories about David trying to learn French in Paris in that book).

David Sedaris specializes in one of my favorite kinds of writing- personal essays. His work has been heard on NPR's This American Life and also runs in the New Yorker. As a writer, I am inspired by his knack for taking small things in life, like say who he sits by on a plane, and turning them into hilarious essays we can all appreciate.

Anyhow, David Sedaris will be giving a book reading in Zurich tonight and I'm very excited as I have never seen him perform in person. Luckily I bought his most recent book, "When you are engulfed in flames," in July when I was in the U.S., so I won't have to shell out crazy Francs to buy it here.

Just about any English event in this little country is something exciting to behold, but to have one of my favorite authors is about as amazing as it gets in these parts. Here's to writers abroad!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Where can I buy ... in Switzerland

After living in Switzerland for 2.5 years, I have acquired some useful knowledge-like where to buy certain things many expats crave. Here is an incomplete list. If you have other info to add or are wondering about something else, please leave a comment. Please note that I have included stores in Waldshut, Germany here since it's part of the Swiss train system--if you have a GA you don't need any extra tickets to go here. There are 3 grocery stores right next to the train station there especially for desperate expats and cheap Swiss people (yes, they actually exist).

Cheddar Cheese: Migros pre-packaged cheese section--bonus--no trying to order at a cheese counter! (It's called Cathedral Cheddar. It's white.). (For the brave, you can also order cheddar from the cheese counter at Coop, Jemoli, and Globus. In German, it's just called "Cheddar" and you order by the grams. About 300 grams is a decent amount).

Bagels: Coop (sometimes these are considered seasonal products...don't ask why. But the Coop in Baden has had them for the last month. If you're nuts like me you can stock up and buy a dozen at a time.)

English Muffins: None that I've found in Switzerland yet. Golden Toast makes a brand they sell in Germany. I've found them at Familia in Waldshut.

Oreos: Coop and Manor

Marshmallows: Jemoli, Globus, most German grocery stores

Canned Pumpkin: Jemoli, Globus

Pre-made pie crust: Coop

Normal tortilla chips that come in a decent sized bag and don't suck: Familia in Waldshut, Germany. They are in a large green bag. Brand is Poco Loco. Only 2 Euros!

Please let me know if I forgot something you are craving.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Language Problem

The other day, I ordered an apple juice in German and the waitress answered in English, "small or large?"

Then the German guy I was with said with slight annoyance, "That doesn't happen to me in America. I don't say something in English and they answer me back in German."

True. But this is part of the problem for English speakers living abroad. No one gives us a chance. Upon hearing an accent or a mistake, or just because others want to practice their English, people speak English back to us even though we're trying to speak something else. Despite this phenomenon, I'll usually try to continue in German. But they'll just continue in English. Until it just gets weird and eventually I give up and switch back.

Yesterday I went out to lunch with a bunch of co-workers. On the one hand, it was great because they all spoke in Swiss German the entire time. On the other hand it was terrible. Because they all spoke Swiss German entire time. And I understood about 15% so I had to either resort to looking at my cell phone or smiling and nodding.

While smiling and nodding is useful, it is one of the most tiring things one can do for an hour. Biking up a Swiss hill is less exhausting than smiling and nodding. Try it sometime and compare. You won't be let down. On the way home after that lunch, I literally felt like going to sleep even though it was 2 pm.

Yes, sometimes two years of German language class do me absolutely no good. Despite being a country of linguists, Switzerland is not a great place for an English speaker to start learning a language themselves. I'm really reached a new frustration after two and a half years. I could be wrong, but I feel like if I had been living in Germany I would be much better at German than I am now. C'est la vie.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Vollenweider and Tibits

I discovered two more Swiss treasures yesterday. Naturally, the first had to do with chocolate since that’s what the Swiss are best at. It’s called Vollenweider and it’s a chocolatier that just opened in October near the Zurich Opera House. Apparently it’s a Winterthur tradition that began in 1943 and this is the truffle specialist’s first venture into Zurich. It’s crazy expensive like everything else in Zurich (about CHF 1,50 for one tiny piece of chocolate) but it’s worth it. I recommend the chocolate mousse, the caramel, and the champagne balls. Yum.

After you eat dessert first, you can have a proper meal nearby, at Tibits. Located at Seefeldstrasse 7, Tibits is a vegetarian buffet-only restaurant run by the famous Hiltl. It’s a bit of a traffic jam at the buffet as everyone seems to make up their own way around it, but never-the-less, the food is terrific although you’ll spend at least CHF 20 to fill a plate and if you go all-out, probably CHF 30. You can also take the food with you if you’re in a rush. Everything I had, from the tabouleh to the tomato and mozzarella salad was terrific, even mixed together with my raspberry tiramisu. It’s probably the most colourful plate of food I’ve ever eaten.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Swiss Spa Survey

Ok. Forgive me, but I keep wanting to call the Schinznach Spa the Schnitzel Spa. Anyhow, I had the pleasure of checking it out on a Monday night a few weeks back and comparing it to my other Swiss spa adventures which include the Baden Thermalbad, The spa in Bad Ragaz, and Peter Zumthor’s spa in Vals.

Tis a terrible thing to get used to too many spas because you start comparing them and sounding like a terrible thing I never imagined myself becoming—a spa snob.

Anyhow, here’s how the spas rate:

Warmest water: Baden

Best jets: Baden

Best design: Vals

Most modern: Vals

Least modern: Baden

Most expensive: Vals (CHF 30)

Least expensive: Baden (CHF 16)

Best views from bath: Vals

Swim with the rose petals: Only Vals!

Ice Bath option: Only Vals

BYOT: (Bring your own towel) Bad Schinznach

Lazy River included: Schinznach and Bad Ragaz

Best spa for kids: Schinznach and Bad Ragaz

Warm towels: Only Baden!

Least crowded: Baden

Place where your spa experience is timed to the second: Schinznach

My Overall Spa of Choice: Baden. It’s the least modern, but has the most mineral-rich and warmest waters and the best jets for an overall body massage. Not to mention it’s less crowded and the cheapest of the bunch and is the only one to wrap you in a warm towel after you get out. (And I admit, it doesn’t hurt that it’s only a 10-minute walk away from my apartment).

But enough about my opinions. What is your favorite spa in Switzerland?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Swiss TV Dinner

When most Americans think TV dinner, they think some $5 microwavable meal full of salt and preservatives from the frozen food section.

Apparently when the Swiss think TV dinner, they think fresh CHF 20 salad. Here's an image from Blick Am Abend of a recommended TV dinner. All I can say is, I'm amazed not only at the price, but also at the nutritional quality.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Obamania in Switzerland

Wanted to share a bit of Swiss Obamania. Here were some of the headlines:

"The world's most powerful couple-Mr. and Mrs. President" (Nov 6, 20 Minuten)

"Barack Obama--The American President 2009-2013" (This newspaper cover was made into a poster that many Swiss said they would hang up) (Nov 5, Blick am Abend).

"Vote Obama"--this was printed on the day of the election. There was also a "Vote McCain" on the opposite side. (Nov 4, Blick am Abend)

"American Dream--Barack Obama managed to go from being a nobody to the 44th American President" (Nov 5, Blick am Abend)

Sunday, November 09, 2008

UnvermeidBar in Baden

Think red velvet chairs, wine and chandeliers. Throw in a grand piano, candles, beer, and a random actor from Berlin (that strangely resembles Yanni) going off about a man's testosterone and then singing a song about it too. And then you have Baden's UnvermeidBar, located on Rathausgasse 22.

Vermeiden means "to avoid" in German. So I'm guessing the name "UnvermeidBar" is a play on the fact that you can't avoid some kind of random show by visiting this bar. During our 3-hour visit, we were treated to a 10-minute performance by Yanni, who I mentioned above. And then right after Yanni, a woman dressed in a very short flowered dress did a dramatic riff on men and pink purses, which then ended when she literally ran out the door and hugged some poor, unprepared guy on the street.

Anyhow, I guess the strange theatrics make sense as the bar is a part of Palino, a theater company in Baden. The website says that during all opening hours of the bar, one can expect readings, live music, or quick scenes. (Actually, I just made up the quick scenes, since I can't seem to figure out the word "Blitzszenen." Anyone have a clue?) Ah, well, it just adds to the mystery of the place, so never mind.

Did I mention there's no smoking allowed? Wow. I mean, I'll take the strange theatrical German outbursts if I don't have to go home and take a shower after going out for a few hours. It's a fun atmosphere too, as the place is actually two stages--there is one in the basement as well. When we first arrived, there was a play going on in the basement, so we were told to whisper as we enjoyed our drinks on the main floor.

Yep, it seems you never know what to expect at the UnvermeidBar. Except of course, the unexpected.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Wagamama in Zurich!

For those of you that like Asian food, the Wagamama Noodle Bar is now in Zurich. I went there today and had a big bowl of chicken ramen soup! Perfect for the wintertime. The service was very friendly and English-speaking and the menu (also available in English) is reasonably priced (for Zurich), which means entrees are about CHF 19-25. Even better, there was no smoking! I think this place is my new favorite for Asian food in Zurich.

Wagamama is a chain--I ate at one earlier this year in London and lamented the whole time about why they don't have places like this in Zurich. Well now they do! Yipee.

Here's the address:
Wagamama Zürich
Talstrasse 83
8001 Zurich

There's also one in Winterthur:
Marktgasse 7
CH 8400 Winterthur

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

International Reaction

I had a friend from Colorado e-mail me wanting to know about the international reaction of the election outcome. Well, I can’t speak for all countries, but here’s a story for you about a Swiss man in his 50s.

He told me a few months ago that he made a bet with some people that McCain would win because he didn’t think Americans could ever bring themselves to vote for an African-American. I think he represents a big majority of thinking in Europe, that America as a country still wasn’t ready for such “radical” thinking.

With Obama winning, we have proved to the world that we have moved beyond petty classifications of people. America has finally grown up. Europeans seem to be relived. And so am I.

Proud to be an American

Yesterday, I wish I could have been in my hometown of Chicago to celebrate the most historic event in American history. Instead, I went to bed at 11pm Central European Time (5pm EST) and got up at 4am (10pm EST) with still no concrete election results, but with Obama winning by about 100 to 60.

About 7.15am my husband woke me up with the good news. Really, I almost felt like crying. To see that my fellow citizens had broken racial divides and picked someone that is a new face for America when we need it most is democracy at its shining best.

Even Virginia went blue, the state where my vote was counted this year.

Congrats, America. I feel we have made the right first step. And little by little, I now think it is possible to gain back some respect from the world.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Expat Adventure Column in Swiss News

So, the headlines are all over the Swiss paper, 20 Minuten, about America's Day of Decision. It will be quite the day for breaking news.

Speaking of headlines, I wanted to share one of my own as my new column, called "Expat Adventure," begins this month in Swiss News, the National English Journal of Switzerland.

If you don't have a subscription you can get one by visiting the website. The magazine is also available at any Kiosk in Switzerland.

The first piece is called "My Very Own Critic." Click to read! And please let me know your feedback or other topics you would like to hear about in the future.

Monday, November 03, 2008

UBS. More Questionable Ethics.

UBS. Switzerland's largest bank hasn't looked very appealing in the news lately. Greed. Corruption. Questionable ethics. Not to mention, they recommend personal bankers based on their looks instead of their skills. And I don't know about you, but in this economy, I want the Joe Biden. Not the Sarah Palin.

My husband went to the UBS last week and an older women helping him wanted to assign him a personal banker, for all his banking needs. At first, she handed him the business card of Herr Banker.

But then she changed her mind.

"Oh no," she said. I will give you Frau Bankerin. She is young and beautiful."

As she handed over the business card, she noticed my husband's ring.

"Oh, I see you are married," she said sheepishly. But then still mentioned, "but you should really meet Frau Bankerin. You'll really like her."

Wow. I mean I don't know what to say. Except that it's time to get a new bank.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Laundry in Switzerland

My neighbor announced a few days ago that she would be in the Italian part of Switzerland for the weekend. Imagine my excitement. Since we are the only two who share our laundry room, I couldn't wait to have two whole days of my very own laundry room.

It may not seem like a big deal to some, especially those who are spoiled with their own washing machine, but when you've got a neighbor that observes and criticizes each and every laundry session, it's reason enough to spend a Saturday evening reveling in a judgement-free laundry free-for-all .

I couldn't wait to retreat back to my old pre-Switzerland reckless laundry ways and actually forgo using the little brush my neighbor keeps on top of the dryer in order to pick every single little lint misfit out of the machine. I didn't have to leave the dryer door open at a 45 degree angle. Or turn off the electricity. Yipee.

But the thing is, I've been so trained in her ways, that I realized I started doing these things automatically. And that's when you know you've been in Switzerland too long.

Alas, my only real excitement was leaving stuff in the dryer overnight. But hey, I'll take what I can get when it comes to doing laundry in Switzerland.

Friday, October 31, 2008

No tricks, plenty of treats

Can you imagine how great trick of treating would be if was done in Switzerland? All those great chocolate samples filling your pumpkin. Yum. But since there's no tradition of that here, unfortunately we will have to purchase our own treats. So in honor of Halloween, I'm recommending the following two Swiss treats:

1. Lindt Gebrannte Mandeln Amandes Grillees (Toasted, sugary almonds mixed with milk chocolate and made into this heavenly piece of treatery). At Manor for CHF 2,40.

2. Lindt Chocoletti-Walnuss (In other words, tasty dark chocolate chocolate cubes filled with walnut pieces) Mmm. Found at Manor for CHF 2,40.

But hurry and get them today! They are both special autumn chocolates and are going fast!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Switzerland's Haunted House

On the train from Dietikon to Bremgarten there are rolling hills. There are spotless streets. And then there is this, the closest thing Switzerland has to a haunted house. I mean look at this place. Rusting fence, peeling paint, and general grime, oh my! This place hasn’t seen a high pressure cleaner in at least a year. This is schlecht. Really, for Switzerland, this place is scary.

I mean, I would think that if I am expected, by my Swiss neighbor, to have a gutter so clean I can drink out of it, then this house’s appearance is reason enough for its owner’s deportation.

But then again, maybe that’s what happened. After all, no reputable Swiss citizen could possibly be seen here. So if there is a resident, it most likely is a foreigner. And hey, for the Swiss, there’s nothing scarier than that.

Happy Halloween.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

To the dentist in Switzerland? No way.

The average Swiss citizen ate 12.3 kg (27 pounds) of chocolate in 2007. And with new and exciting choices like toasted almond and chocolate mousse chocolate bars who can blame them? But the crazy part is:
1. The Swiss are still as skinny as rails.
2. Despite this known gluttony, the Swiss do not typically have dental insurance.

Not surprisingly, dentists in Germany can’t wait to capitalize on such a sugar-hungry population—especially one that comes complete with exorbitant dental fees and no insurance to cover them. The solution?

Zum Zahnarzt nach Deutschland. (To the dentist in Germany).

This ad, hanging in the S12 train in Zurich, even advertises a free consultation when you come to this friendly German dentist. And since most Swiss people are not used to free things, this novelty alone will probably be enough for many to take the 45-minute trip abroad.

Other people, like myself, practice the “Zum Zahnarzt nach den USA” strategy. And then there are those like my husband, who choose the extremely budget-friendly method of foregoing any dental visit at all.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Made in Switzerland

Swiss Qualität. It’s a phenomenon (otherwise known as marketing success) in Switzerland as prevalent as cheese and chocolate which allows the Swiss to charge three times the price of say, a pen, simply because it was made in Switzerland.

Being “Swiss Made” or “Made in Switzerland” is so well branded, that the phase is universally understood and printed in English on packages otherwise written in a different language entirely.

Now I don’t know about you, but I find most Swiss-made products to be no better made than other products and in some cases worse. But you have to give the Swiss credit for supporting their country. Those apples from New Zealand don’t stand a chance next to their higher-priced Swiss cousins. I mean, the poor New Zealand apples just scream “Ausländer” along with all the Spanish clementines in the otherwise locally produced fruit section. It’s amazing these outsiders are even available at all, as we all know how much Ausländers are welcomed in Switzerland.

Anyhow, I bring all this up because of a shop window in Bremgarten, Switzerland. I’m just really curious to know just what exactly makes up a Swiss Qualität tattoo. It can’t last longer than other tattoos, can it? Or perhaps it’s just the designs that are superior—say one can get a white sheep kicking a black sheep permanently engraved on their body—in case the idea isn’t planted firmly enough in their minds. If anyone has any additional insight on or experience with Swiss Qualität tattoos, please make yourself heard as the mystery of it all is a little overwhelming. Thanks.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Get 'em while they're cheap!

10% off. It's a sight to behold--and also a reason for celebration in Switzerland. Companies spend lots of money advertising such great deals. Stores eagerly place signs up in the windows. And customers rush in, excited to be a part of something so rare as a Swiss sale.

As the cheapskate American, used to the "biggest sale ever" being held every day of my life, I have to say, I find these rare 10% off sales in Switzerland rather amusing--and rather pointless. Yes, that SFr 179 Adidas running shoe will now be ONLY 161.10, but really, it's hard to be enticed when I'm used to getting the same thing at the every day greatest sale price of $39.99.

Instead, I wait until July and January, the two months of government approved sales and do all my Swiss shopping then. But for those of you looking for a little excitement for your dreary foggy Monday, make sure you pick up a free Blick am Abend, where a 10% coupon is sure to be waiting for you on the back page.

Yep. It's time to start not only hunting for those great Swiss deals. But gathering.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

A Taste of Americana, Part I

Last week at Coop I discovered the Noodle Bowl. I don't know if this is a new product or not, but it caught my eye since it was one of the few items in the meat section that was actually under SFr 5 thanks to the 50% discount. Since the Noodle Bowl could be cooked in under 5 minutes and required only dumping the ingredients in a pan, it fit my old American cooking requirements and I was excited to revel in such fine dining possibility once again.

So I made it. It was quick. It was easy. And...and then I just couldn't eat it. While I would have enjoyed this chicken satay meal three years ago, I couldn't eat it last week. And Switzerland is to blame. For over two years now, the country has forced me to buy fresh food almost every single day and cook from scratch. And now I've arrived at the point of no return.

Last night, my mother-in-law called just as I was in the middle of making risotto with fresh vegetables and cheese. When I told her what I was cooking, she sounded kind of revolted as only an American could. "Well, I'm having KFC for lunch right now," she said, clearly much happier with her eating option. And the thing is, I wasn't even jealous.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Gayle Tufts--The Best of Two Language Worlds

If you live in Switzerland, one thing that begins to become almost normal is hearing at least two languages used together in one conversation. In my office for example, one person will speak high German while the other answers in Swiss German, or I’ll talk English while my boss talks high German while another colleague’s on his landline talking French (only to put the person on hold to start talking to another caller in Italian.)

When you think about it, it’s an interesting way to go through life, throwing around languages like hot potatoes. But for the linguistically challenged American, it also makes for a very difficult learning environment.

My boss introduced me to Gayle Tufts, an American performer and comedian living in Germany who sings and talks in English and German, using them interchangeably. When you think about it, it makes for that many more great rhyming opportunities…start the phrase in English, but finish it in German or vice versa.

The other advantage is that it lets you use the best of both languages. So you can completely avoid having to stress out about whether a word is Der, Die, or Das by always using “the” instead. And when a German word is clearly more interesting than an English one, like “Handschuhe” rather than "glove", you can use it without offending anyone by using the wrong gender.

Here is a link to a Gayle Tufts performance. Enjoy. And long live the duetsche Sprache.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Travel Inspired Dinner

Whew. One does not know tired until they have spent the entire day trying to brainstorm ideas in another language--even with a bit of English thrown in here and there for much needed clarification.

Anyhow, on my way home via a 7-minute late train (the horror), I got inspired by several travel essays. One talked about chocolate in Venezuela and the other about wine and ham in Spain.

So needless to say, I headed straight to the grocery store after getting off the train (yes, it was my lucky night since the stores aren't usually open at 7.30pm) and bought what else--ham and chocolate. (Nothing like a good travel essay to inspire me to buy three tiny pieces of ham for 6,50 CHF.)

Anyhow, I poured myself some apple wine and enjoyed a tapas-style plate of ham, bread, Asiago cheese and some genuine Spanish clementines. Yum. To finish off my dinner masterpiece I tried some Lindt chocolate filled with toasted almonds (sadly, only available in the fall, so hurry!)

I highly recommend this meal to end any stressful day.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Am I Missing Something?

So. According to 20 Minuten, Lonely Planet named Zurich one of its top cities to visit in 2009, calling it a fairy-tale for clubbers on the same scale of London and Berlin. Now granted, I’m not exactly a clubber, but I’ve been to both Berlin and London this year. To be sure, Zurich beats them both when it comes to exploring the great outdoors, but indoors I’m not so sure. I guess if you’re a smoker, you’re definitely happier in Zurich’s bars than in London’s right now. But me, well, I was much happier hanging out in London’s Salisbury pub drinking a cider in the smoke-free air not to mention drinking a Berliner Weisse in a Berlin beer garden than I ever am drinking a Stange in Zurich’s tiny, smoky bars.

But forget about me, what do you think?

Monday, October 20, 2008

A "GA" Day

The weather has been so amazing this month with today being no exception, that I decided to make use of my GA train pass and head to a town on the Walensee. I've always wanted to hike along this lake, where steep mountains plunge right into the turquoise water, reminding me a bit of a Norwegian fjord.

After seeing an inviting trail from the train window, I got off in a tiny town called Murg. It's still rather amazing to me that one can get off at any railway station in Switzerland and be greeted by several happy yellow signs pointing to the tens (or hundreds) of well marked trails that fan out right in front of you for various forms of exercise pleasure.

Murg was no exception and I had the choice of many trails. I chose the flat one and ended up walking to the next train stop on the line, which took about an hour with many photo stops. Then I headed, in true GA style, to the next town that caught my fancy--Wadenswil. I sat by the lake and read a book and watched various bird species fighting over a small child's bread.

Then a boat pulled up and I thought, what the heck. I boarded without caring where it was headed next.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Swipe and Wipe

Yesterday at the Migros supermarket, my husband and I bought three packages of tulip bulbs. Each package was wrapped in a netting material and therefore the bulbs shed a bit from their respective nets, which wouldn't be a big deal anywhere else, but since this is Switzerland, it created quite the havoc at the register.

After the cashier scanned each bag, it never failed that a couple little bits of bulb shed onto the belt and apparently this was really unacceptable. So terrible in fact, that it drove the cashier to wipe down the belt after each and every swipe. So three bags of bulbs, three wipes. It was really quite amazing to watch. Can you imagine the exercise she would have gotten if we owned a flower farm and had purchased 50 packages of these rebel bulbs? Or if we had additionally purchased a package of sweating ice cream?

I shudder to think. But it just goes to prove just why so many products in Switzerland come unrefrigerated--otherwise, they'd create too much of a mess sweating and wetting at the register. So milk comes in warm boxes. The orange juice follows suit. And even the eggs aren't refrigerated.

Wow, it just goes to prove there's an explanation for everything--even warm milk. Although I admit, at this very moment I'm having American visions of a grand ole gallon of chilled 1% milk wetting down the register with no one even blinking an eye. Except maybe, that random Swiss tourist.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Butter and Other Swiss Advertising

Yesterday, one of my favorite blogs, Swiss Story, posted one of the butter billboards that have gone up around Switzerland. I too, had taken a photo of one of these, as upon seeing it on Sunday, I couldn't help but stop and stare. My butter ad, posted below, has, as you can see, already been slightly defaced by another person that also found it inspiring.

Anyhow, for those that haven't read about it on Swiss Story, the translation for the butter ad is: "I eat butter. I don't."

In the image, the preppy guy says he eats butter and the bodybuilder guy says he eats something other than butter (hmm...steroids?). Anyhow, the point of the advertising is that butter is natural and everything else is not.

I'd like to take a moment here to ponder the Swiss obsession with butter. Not just because of these ads, but also, for instance when I asked a Swiss friend who had lived in New York what he thought of the United States, his only comment was, "I couldn't believe the butter."

I thought he meant the prices, since butter here is amazingly expensive (but now we know why--they have to pay for all this amazing advertising). But in fact, my friend was overwhelmed by the amount of butter choices available in U.S. grocery stores. So utterly confused in fact, that he shopped at CVS (a drug store that also has an aisle or two of groceries) during his years in the U.S. so he wouldn't have to face such an overwhelming aisle of fattening goodness.

Anyhow, yesterday at the train station, they were handing out free handy wipes--to advertise a new brand called Desinfect. Of course, I took one since I couldn't pass up one of those rare moments to something free in Switzerland. Everything on the package they handed out was in German except the tagline which read, "When there is no water to hand."

Hmm. Out of the sheer badness of this phrase, I went to the website, and sure enough, this tagline is proudly printed everywhere. Wow. Good for them. I mean, it's not every day you can write something that makes absolutely no sense and get away with printing it on millions of products. I mean, it's so bad, I went that extra step to do that additional research.

Just goes to prove, bad advertising does work. Look at me, I've just wasted a half hour writing about two examples not to mention given them free PR. Ah well, I don't work as the lone English copywriter in Zurich for nothing. Although it looks like I've found at least one more company could use a little of my expertise.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Do Banks Deserve to be Rescued?

The Swiss government just announced this morning that it will put CHF 6 billion into the largest Swiss bank, UBS. Now on one hand, I’m relieved because I’m glad the Swiss are no longer in denial about the financial crisis, not to mention UBS is my bank and so I want my money to be safe. But at the same time, UBS has made bad decisions. Greedy decisions. And what did I get out of their years of crazy profits? Basically zero interest on my savings account. So I think now that their bad decisions have caught up with them and they’re getting helped with my tax money, then I should get to see some benefit—i.e. an interest rate greater than .5%. (Yes, there is a point in front of that 5.) Sound fair?

Another option for governments around the world would be to stop taxing the tiny amount of interest people get on their savings accounts. Especially in the United States, where people have a real problem saving money, this could be an incentive to start getting out of the red.

The Swiss government is also proposing to raise the protection of bank accounts to a number (not yet disclosed) over the current CHF 30,000 even though last week they said they wouldn't consider that. Wow. Perhaps they are finally worried that in this financial mess everyone with money will take it out of Swiss banks and put it somewhere more protected. And without banking, then what will Switzerland be worth?

Nothing but a few thousand pounds of cheese.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Supermodel (The Swiss Version of Top Model)

I’m not really a big TV watcher, but since moving here from the states over two years ago, I admit that I have missed watching a mindless reality show here and there. Luckily, Switzerland is no stranger to reality shows—especially knock-offs of U.S. ones. Unfortunately, watching a mindless show in another language is anything but, however, I took the plunge and decided to tune into Supermodel last night after reading about it in the local paper.

Supermodel is a low-budget version of Top Model with women from various locations in Switzerland like Appenzell and Frauenfeld fighting for the title of, well, Supermodel. Unlike the English show, this version throws around two main languages—German and Swiss German—with a little English here and there for good measure. The poor women from the Italian-speaking section are forced to speak German (but I could understand them best since they spoke high-German) and during intense cat fights I could not understand a word with all the Chuchichäschtli‘s being thrown around. But my comprehension rose to almost 100% when an American cat-walk trainer appeared and spoke German with his American accent. English phrases were also tossed around every couple minutes or so, making the entire show an interesting patchwork of language.

My favorite phrase was “Kick-off”, which was what they called the elimination round. For those that are interested in German study, the word “Kick-off” is apparently masculine as it was referred to as “Der Kick-Off”. Who knew? But if I had to guess a sexuality for “Kick-off” I’d pick masculine since it sounds like a sports term.

Anyhow, it was a very enlightening Tuesday evening and for those of you in Switzerland, just think of the hours of crappy shows you can watch without guilt because they are “language lessons”.

For those that are interested in working on at least three languages at once, Supermodel is on Tuesday nights at 20.15 on the appropriately titled, channel 3+. And next week should be extra enlightening, as in addition to the German, Swiss German, and English and the models will be going Paris, and were handed French dictionaries at the end of this week’s show and told to learn French, so we should hear yet another language tossed around during the show.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Spa by Candlelight

I was happy to find out last night that Spa by Candlelight is back from October through April at the Baden Thermalbad (on Friday and Saturday nights). It’s really quite the experience, sitting outside on a cool autumn night in a hot pool of mineral water watching the rising steam frame the moon while jets massage your every muscle. Adding candlelight just makes it well, all the more orgasmic.

Unfortunately since I was there on a Monday night, I had to make due with just various versions of bubbling mineral water, but still it was wonderful. I almost felt like I was on vacation, slipping into the old days when I was still in the honeymoon phase of the expat experience.

Of course, in Switzerland, even relaxing is done on a timetable. Every two minutes a light and bell go off, and you must move to the next jet or receive a disapproving look from the person behind you. But last night the bell was broken and the people behind me were speaking Spanish, so the atmosphere was a little more casual.

After I got out of the pool and the towel guy wrapped a hot towel around me, I couldn’t help but think, even after two years living in Switzerland, I am still amazed that this spa experience can be had a mere ten minutes from my apartment.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Apple Cider Days in Seengen

For those of you who aren't familiar, the magazine Swiss News has a useful calendar of events section each month. It lists fairs and festivals, traditions and markets, concerts, and more. So on Sunday, we picked a festival that was less than an hour away by train from Baden and off we went to the Apple Cider Days and Autumn Market in Seengen.

The location of the fest was the courtyard of Schloss Hallwyl, a well-preserved 12th century castle surrounded by a moat. The trip would be well worth it just for the castle itself, but there are also beautiful trails surrounding it including one that leads to a lake where one can take a boat ride or walk along the vineyards.

Anyhow, the fest itself was typical Swiss. Fairly small, fairly expensive, but nice all the same. You could taste lots of different kinds of apples, see cider being made, watch kids parade around with dolls made out of various vegetables, buy various products and farmer specialities like apple wine. We ended getting plates of Alpiner Macaroni, a typical Alpine dish that includes pasta in a cream sauce with potatoes and onions and served with a side of apple sauce. It was so filling, that we didn't have room for any of the apple tarts, but it was just as well since two plates of the pasta cost CHF 30.

Some of the various apples for sale.

Schloss Hallwyl in Seengen

Saturday, October 11, 2008

You're Fired!

Donald Trump would never have as much fun in Switzerland. Sure, he could still fire people. But he wouldn't have the satisfaction of sending them away that very minute, because legally, they'd still be around, working for him another three to six months.

When I told one of my Swiss colleagues how, if you're fired in America, you are sent packing that very minute, he looked at me wide eyed and in disbelief. Here, the laws protect workers much better than in the United States. If you're fired, you still keep working and collecting a paycheck for an additional three to six months (sometimes up to a year), depending on your contract.

As an employee, this is great, I guess, to know I have this protection. But most people that are fired or quit (which also requires you to stick around three months after you officially say, "I quit") tend, not surprisingly, not to be so motivated after that. They call in sick, they get mysterious back pain, they get "krank geschrieben" (or doctor's notes that say they don't have to work for weeks at a time). Or they just don't show up. And really, who can blame them.

Still, it creates havoc on the workers that haven't quit or haven't been fired, because they have to do all the work of the others (ah hem, sometimes work that isn't in their language). And that is one thing that is very wrong with the system, not to mention someone that's fired with full access to company info could really do something bad (but obviously they aren't so paranoid about things like that on this side on the pond).

Anyhow, it all combines to make a very interesting work environment. That's why, when I had lunch this week with a woman from my agency's Detroit office, and she wanted to know if it was much different working here, I couldn't say anything but "You have no idea."

Friday, October 10, 2008

Freaking Out

Despite my lack of formal German class right now, my German vocabulary seems to improve by the day, especially since I now have a German boss at work and am forced to speak it more than ever before.

Still, more words than not go completely over my head, but then there are those that just stick right away. Unfortunately, (or fortunately, depending on how you look at things) the more negative the word, the more chances there are that it's memorable.

My favorite of the week is the verb "ausflippen". It means "to freak out."

It was an especially appropriate theme for the week, not just because of crashing markets and bankrupt countries, but for my neighbor's critique of my garden. Yesterday, she went so far as to bring over rubber shoes, throw her hose over the divider, and personally "spülen" my gutter herself.

Yes, she literally was "flippt aus" about my entire balcony. The moss on the concrete planters. The overgrown lavender. The muddied gutter. She really took my lack of gardening personally, and so I tried to make amends by picking up a few stray leaves.

This however, was unsuccessful, and now I am informed that she'll be returning on Saturday to really clean up our "Katastrophe" (another great, well-themed word for the week that I bet you can guess the meaning for.)

Ich flippe über die Katastrophe aus. (German readers, please correct my preposition and cases.) Yes, thanks to neighbors and markets, this week has been perfect for my affinity for negative word learning.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Swiss Miniature

The Swiss Miniature Park in Melide, Switzerland (a 7-minute train ride or a 15-minute boat ride from Lugano) has all the makings of a tourist trap. A mini train you can ride. A bad selection of overpriced food. A gift shop right inside the front door. The whole park's claim to fame is that you can see all of Switzerland in an hour--there are over 121 of models (built on a scale of 1:25) of all of the famous buildings in Switzerland complete with over 3,560 meters of train track that allow model trains to zip through the entire Swiss country side in 5 minutes, not to mention cable cars scaling "mountains" in between the madness. Or should I say, efficiency?

The amazing thing is, it works. It's engaging, cute, and everything I thought it would be, but in a good way. In fact, the Swiss re-creation of their country is so well done, it makes any close-up photo of a Swiss landmark here challenge reality.

Don't you think?

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Swiss Banks--Not so Safe After All

In order to make Americans feel more secure, the FDIC insurance for U.S. bank accounts has been raised from $100,000 to $250,000. I checked this out with my bank back in the states, but they only guarantee this protection through 2009 (I guess after that, there really is no money left).

All of this talk got me wondering about other countries’ banking protection. And what do you know, Blick Am Abend ran an article on that last night, with a front page headline, “Helfen Sie sich selbst!” (You must help yourself).

Swiss bank accounts are only protected up to CHF 30,000 per account and client. In fact, banks in Switzerland have the lowest insurance rate of any European country and the government does not plan on changing that anytime soon. Kind of makes you wonder why rich people find Swiss banks so appealing—especially with secrecy laws coming into question (for example, as of 2007, all U.S. citizens must declare foreign bank accounts with the IRS, or face penalties of $100,000).

Anyhow, here is a rundown of banking protection. Forget Swiss Banks, I think it's time we all moved our money into Denmark, Germany, Greece, Ireland, or Austria!

(all figures are in Swiss Francs)

Denmark, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Austria—all money is protected.
Belgium, Spain, Luxemburg, and Holland—31,200

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Obama Wins Europe

If the U.S. election were today, it seems that no matter what country was voting, that Obama would be the winner.

The most recent poll on CNN shows 53% of Americans for Obama and 45% of Americans for McCain.

In 20 Minuten, Zürich’s free morning paper, the numbers are even higher for Obama:

Netherlands: 95% for Obama

Germany: 85% for Obama

France, Spain, Australia: 75% for Obama

Switzerland: 68% for Obama

This makes me wonder what is holding Americans back in comparison? Racism? Love of mavericks? I’d be interested to hear comments from readers.

Monday, October 06, 2008

International Magazine Subscriptions

We've all seen them. Those seemingly innocent envelopes that come in the mail, begging the poor English language-deprived expat to part with a ridiculous amount of cash just to have their regular old $12 U.S. subscription of Conde Nast Traveler, Smithsonian, or Glamour renewed internationally.

I was a sucker once. I got a few internationally overpriced subscriptions. I just couldn't help myself. After all, I rationalized, everytime I went to the Swiss Kiosk I parted with CHF 13,80 for last month's National Geographic Traveler (yes, $13 for one issue) or CHF 9,80 for The Sunday Times ($9 for a newspaper?!).

But then, last year, when American Airlines was threatening to take away my miles due to not using their airline for a few months (Sorry, American, why don't you try flying around Europe and maybe I'll reconsider), I used up my American miles for magazine subscriptions.

"Why did you have to go and do that?" complained my mother, after I reported that five different magazines would now start appearing at her house in Illinois, as my miles were only good enough for regular U.S. subscriptions.

So my mother endured month after month of magazine madness until my ever-practical husband took pity on her and said to me, "Why don't you just change the address on them?"

Sure enough, a few months later, my precious magazines started appearing at my apartment in Switzerland. My mother and I couldn't have been happier. No extra charges. Nope. I didn't pay a dime and now have magazines delivered regularly in international style. Without the international price.

So I'd like take this time and space to thank American Airlines for the threats. Without you (and my husband's ideas) I never would be able to revel in such stacks of English enjoyment here in Switzerland.

And on that note, I'm going to see if I have any other miles sitting around, as most of my subscriptions are just about up for renewal. I recommend all you expats out there do the same.

Bluefish's Awesome Blogging Award

A big thanks to Swiss Story Blog, who named this blog, One Big Yodel, her number one pick for the Bluefish's Awesome Blogging Award.

On her blog, Swiss Story wrote of One Big Yodel, "I gave her a shout out not too long ago, and she is still one of my favorites at the moment. She talks about her life in Switzerland with such humor and characterizes the Swiss' cultural trites almost too perfectly."

The award originates with Bluefish. Thanks to all my readers for their support and comments. I look forward to taking all of you on my continued adventures in Switzerland and Europe. Cheers.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Cheap Hotel in Paris

My husband likes to make fun of me because I'm a cheap person. But it's actually something I thrive on--and thank goodness because it's inherited so I have no choice. I come from a family of savers. (Imagine that, savers in America.) But it's true. I grew up in a one car family. And if that doesn't tell you how cheap my family is, I don't know what does.

So naturally I love the rush that comes from getting something great for little. It gives me satisfaction like nothing else. And it's much harder to achieve in Europe. So victory is that much sweeter when it does happen.

Here is one of my most recent victories. The view from my room at the Ibis Paris Montmartre hotel. 85 Euro a night ($118). And what a view. I almost crawled out the 9th floor window in admiration.

Top that, Mr. Spendthrift.

Friday, October 03, 2008

For Sale in Paris

Forget mini Eiffel Towers, this is what's hot in the Paris tourist shops.

Anita Shreve in Zurich

Last night, in the spirit of actually going out to one of those rare English language events in Zurich, I went to see the American author Anita Shreve read from her newest book, Testimony.

The book is about a sexual assualt that gets caught on tape and the consequences to all the lives involved as this gets revealed to the public. She wrote it from various viewpoints--from the young victim to the mother of one of the boys who did the assalting. She read a bit from each voice and it was interesting to watch how her demeanor changed as she switched from the rambling mother to the young girl.

After she read, she answered various questions. As was expected, the most complimentary questions came from the Americans while one Swiss woman told her she didn't like the way she wrote the voice of the girl. Ah, always the good critics, these Swiss.

Most interesting to me were her thoughts about writing. She writes from 7-12 almost every day and is able to write about so many various topics by simply imagining being all of her different characters. When she's not writing, she's reading.

Previous books I've read of hers included The Pilot's Wife and Where or When. I plan to start reading Shreve's A Wedding in December after I finish Liza Monroy's debut novel Mexican High.

For all those in Switzerland, the next English language reading coming up is from David Sedaris, one of my favorite writers. He'll be reading from his newest collection of essays "When You are Engulfed in Flames" on November 17. For tickets, visit the Orell Füssli website.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Paris Prices

Every time I go to Paris, I am reminded how expensive it is. I mean, I came back to Switzerland and was thinking, “$5 for a soda? What a great deal!”

I have written about dehydration in Europe before, as for some reason the cost of beverages is astronomical. I’ve tried to figure out the reason for this since I’ve been here.

My only real philosophy is that some Europeans’ idea of going out is to sit and have little one beverage. And they sit and sit and sit. Sometimes for hours. Sometimes for half a day. No one bothers them about leaving. No one rushes them. But the rest of us are paying the price.

In Paris we went to a tiny Vietnamese restaurant in the middle of nowhere in the 17th district. We just really had a taste for Vietnamese food and it was the closest place to our hotel. When we got there, we saw the prices, but were too tired to try to find anything else.

So we order $23 (17 EUR) plates of spicy ginger chicken, and then get stuck with no choice but to order an additionally overpriced beverage.

So we settled for two glasses of very non-alcoholic orange juice for the very alcoholic price of $8.50 a glass—and wouldn’t you know it, it wasn’t even fresh squeezed.

When the chicken arrived, I almost couldn’t believe it. I had never seen such a small portion of Vietnamese food in my entire life. It didn’t even come with rice. (That, we were informed was 12 EUR, or an extra $16 per person). Now if anything can make you miss the U.S., a meager sized, riceless plate of chicken will.

At that very moment, I longed for my country of excess consumption. For a place where after spending $70 for dinner (if that was even possible) I wouldn’t be going away hungry.

When asked if we wanted dessert, we shook our heads vehemently. It wasn’t that we weren’t sill hungry. It’s just that we were in the mood for something a little more reasonable. Like a 2 Euro street crepe. Sans boisson, of course.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Monet's Garden at Giverny

Here are a few photos from last weekend.

Giverny—the perfect day trip from Paris

After going to Paris for the fourth time, it was time to start exploring a bit outside the city. Since I’ve been wanting to see Monet’s garden and the weather cooperated, my husband and I took the train from Paris St. Lazare to Vernon (about 45 minutes, 25 Euro round-trip) and then rented bikes (12 Euro) from the café across from the train station and rode over the Seine for an easy (read: flat and paved) 3-mile path to Giverny. (There is also a bus that meets the trains, 4 Euro round trip).

Despite the tourists, Monet’s garden (entrance 5,50 Euro, open April-October) was beautiful. There were rows and rows of flowers higher than our heads, even in late September. The sun was so bright that it was hard to take photos, but I will post some soon.

The water lilies weren’t in bloom, but the lake in the Japanese garden, with its famous green bridges, was something to see, even if you had to do it by fighting tourists over a free space on the bridge to have your photo taken.

Monet’s pink, green-shuttered house overlooked it all. Waking up with those views must have been able to convert even someone like me into a morning person. Most of his rooms were painted a bright, turquoise blue, but his dining room was yellow and kitchen had royal blue tiling. He had many Japanese prints; these must have been an inspiration in his work.

But it all made me wonder who kept up the garden and where he got all this money. Apparently by the time he moved to Giverny in 1883, his dealer was able to start selling his paintings and so his fortunes increased around 1890 (at age 50) and he was able to buy the house and gardens that we visited, which opened to the public in 1980.

Other highlights in Giverny include:

The gardens at the American Art Museum. Each one was a different color scheme. My favorite was the yellow garden, followed by the white. They also had the famous haystacks in the grassy backyard.

The Hôtel Baudy is a great spot for a lunch break (About 15 Euro a plate, very fresh food, with entrees like warm goat cheese salad and duck omelets). They have a shady garden with outdoor seating. It used to be a meeting place for artists and there is still an old garden studio in the back.

Monet’s grave. The church in Giverny is currently being restored and is closed.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin