Wednesday, April 30, 2008

One Year Away

In one year this Switzerland thing could be all over. My husband’s contract officially ends May 1, 2009. The first two years went really fast. When we originally came, I only wanted to come for two years because I thought three years would be too much, especially if I didn’t find a job of my own. But I did. And it took over a year to really get comfortable living here, so three years seems ideal. Except now with the thought of leaving it seems like it would be better even longer. I don’t know. It depends what day you ask me and if it’s foggy or not in Zurich. But I really will miss the travel.

The people in my office thought I was leaving sooner than I am with all the travel I’ve been doing lately. But no, that’s just become the new normal for me—a trip to another country every other week. I feel like I’ve done pretty well seeing a lot of Europe so far. But there’s so many other places in the world still waiting. Sigh.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

London's Culinary Scene

According to the guidebooks, the culinary scene in London has vastly improved over the last few years and fish and chips are no longer the mainstay of a Londoner's diet. The question is, ok, then what is? I guess with this photo we have our answer.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Excuse me, do you speak English?

I am visiting London for the weekend and leaving tonight.

I can already tell my impression of London will be different this time (I've been twice before) for the very reason that I am coming from Switzerland and not from the USA. I can tell by my strange excitement in reading all about what there is to do on the London tourist website. The website is much like other European city’s tourism websites with one big difference—every play, opera, lecture and movie that’s listed I can guarantee to not have a problem understanding. Unlike in Prague, if I attend an opera sung in French, I’ll have English subtitles, not ones in Czeck. And unlike in Switzerland, where I tend to ignore all listings of plays and things having to do with spoken language, seeing them again on the London website revived something in me that I didn’t realize how much I have missed the last two years.

The last play I saw was Don Juan in German. Since it was part of the company Christmas party, and I didn’t have to pay for the pleasure of misunderstanding half the plot, I went, but the play went something like this:

Don Juan: I want your wife.

Other guy: No. I last night you chicken ate.

Don Juan: You are a because I last night was.

Other guy: I wife want.

While the audience would laugh at jokes, I would smile when I actually comprehended more than one sentence in a row. So I should be all smiles in London. And that will be a nice change of pace.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Black Spring

The Swiss German language, with its plethora of “schoggis” “sammes” and “ess gut sees” isn’t the only thing that spits—the sky does too. The sky over Zurich started spitting 48 hours ago, turned to drizzle, and is now back to spit. It hasn’t let up. Today I decided to coordinate my outfit to fit in with the gloominess of it all by wearing black. Black jeans. Black boots. Black shirt. Black coat. Black purse. Black umbrella. I couldn’t have looked more Swiss if I tried. Well, my hair would need some spikes or mullet styling, but besides that I was really with it.

It’s almost the end of April. You wouldn’t know it from the expressions on the faces or the clothing of the people. If I had to guess the month based on the sour faces, black coats, and throaty coughs, I’d have to say it was November. Whatever happened to white spring coats and pastel skirts? Spring in my mind is a 1988 JC Penny ad of happy people in brightly colored Bermuda shorts. But I forgot, the Swiss don’t wear shorts. Birkenstocks maybe, but shorts—never.

Another reason for the gloom is the Böögg. The Böögg is a snowman filled with explosives that the Swiss light on fire while the rich of the rich parade around it on horses. The event takes place every second Monday in April. It is a very Swiss holiday in that fact that it is all based around one of their favorite things—time. The moment the Böögg is set ablaze, the ticking starts. The longer it takes for his head to blow up, the longer it will take for summer to appear. It’s sort of like a twisted version of Groundhog’s day.

This year, since I was in Amsterdam the day of the Böögg burning, one of my work colleagues reported to me yesterday that the Böögg’s head took 20 minutes to melt and another six minutes and one second for his neck to burst, a terrible showing as the average decapitation time is usually only about 10 minutes and is a quick and painless explosion of the entire head and neck, not a slow meltdown. Alas, any hopes of a JC Penny spring and summer are also melting away with this news.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Spit and Drizzle

Zurich gets more rain than London. I read this in a guide book a couple months back. Reality does not dare to disappoint the facts. It has been spitting since 8am yesterday and raining non-stop since yesterday afternoon. And I mean non-stop. And it is now 3.15pm. To add to the gloominess, everyone walks the streets clad in black carrying black umbrellas. Sometimes Switzerland resembles a non-stop funeral procession.

Despite all the rain, since moving to Zurich over two years ago, I have only witnessed one or two actual thunderstorms. I have to say I miss the drama of a thunderstorm as well as its peaceful passing. Here, it just rains and rains and rains. No excitement. No reason for a dog or child to be scared. And no happy relief when it’s all over.

Nope. In Switzerland everything is neutral. Even the rain. Personally, I like a little action now and then. But the only action you get in Switzerland are swinging cranes and streets being dug up even though they were perfectly fine. But tonight I’ll try to be my most Swiss and really stare for a few minutes in admiration at that newly torn up street in front of my apartment as though it were the Taj Mahal. Hey, I’ve got to get my kicks somehow.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Did you get your receipt?

I am now a proud owner of a receipt for using the bathroom. After taking a 20-minute train ride from Amsterdam to Haarlem and then riding bikes to the North Sea, I really needed to use the facilities. Inside a seaside restaurant, there were bathrooms but there was also an automated machine blocking access to them. After trying to figure out how to use it for a few minutes, I concluded that the machine was the most amazing I had ever seen when it comes to bathroom payment in Europe. Because it was much more advanced than the “give the woman behind the mop 50 cents and you can pass” strategy. No. I put my money in this crazy machine and not only did it spit out the correct change, it even gave me a receipt for my payment. My very first, “I used the bathroom” receipt. Too bad it was in Dutch.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Inside Out

In Amsterdam, you can see it all.

A guy running sheepishly out of a prostitute’s room (I guess the exit strategy is never very suave).

A guy stumbling out of a coffeehouse from smoking too much weed.

A guy transporting a half-smoked joint from one prostitute’s window to another’s.

A Brit on a cell phone telling his “mate” that he’s just doing a little “window shopping”.

A bike parking garage that you could get lost in.

A store selling cannabis right next to their tulips.

A man putting 1 Euro into a vending machine to get a hot cooked hamburger.

Another man putting 1 Euro into another vending machine to get some French fries.

A guy pissing in an open street urinal.

A group of Japanese senior citizens following a tour guide with an oversized umbrella walking past it all.

Needless to say, Amsterdam is like no other place.

But then again, maybe it is.

Because really, it’s just any other city. Except it's turned inside out.

And instead of being disgusted or annoyed or amazed, all I felt was admiration.

For the most honest and tolerant city I’ve ever seen in the world.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Amsterdam: The Anne Frank House

I have wanted to visit the place Anne went into hiding since reading her diary in grade school. They actually went into hiding in the annex of her father's office building, a beautiful house on a canal side street in the most beautiful part of Amsterdam. At night, the only time they had a chance to breathe fresh air, they could look out the attic window and see the church tower in this picture.

Anne's room was so small and dark. It depressed me to think of her never seeing the sunlight for over two years. The wallpaper was ugly but she hung newspaper clippings and photos up on it to brighten things up, just like any teenager would. But the darkness (because the windows were still darkened like they had them 60 years ago) and creakiness of the floors weren't the thing that hit me most. What affected me most was the fact that it was a beautiful house in a gorgeous area. You don't really get that from the book, even though you know her father was a successful businessman. But it didn't matter that they were rich and educated people. Discrimination doesn't care.

The other main thing that hit me was reading the Nazi's list of people that they took away with the Franks. In a column next to everyone's names, it listed their profession. Anne's father was listed as a "Kaufmann", a salesman. So somehow, the Nazis did keep track of who could do what, but in the end it didn't really matter I guess. But what scared me was that now knowing German, I just read through it, almost forgetting it was a foreign language. And that freaked me out too. I can now understand the language of the Nazis. Not a pleasant thought.

But then I realized that I must separate the language from the Nazis themselves, as it is always only a few people that are truly evil that make everyone else look bad. Just like I don't want people to think that because I'm American I support George W. Bush. I am grateful that others separate a country from their government. So like Anne, I too must come to the conclusion that in general, most people are good.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Not in the Netherlands, You Don't

While waiting in a long line to board a Connexxion bus to get back to Amsterdam from the Keukenhof Gardens (the buses they provide are insufficient for the number of people, making you wait anywhere from 30-60 minutes to board a bus), two ladies came and sat on a bench near me without bothering to get in the back of the line around the corner. Then, when the bus pulled up, they proceeded to try to cut in front of my husband and me. I said, “Not in front of me you’re not,” and then they sheepishly got behind us as some other, nicer, more tolerant people let them in. But I was not about to. Because I heard what language they were speaking—Swiss German.

Now I am not surprised that while everyone else—Americans, Brits, Germans, and French waited politely in a line for the next bus—the only people trying to disobey the rules were the Swiss. The Swiss have no concept of line (they normally stand in confusing patterns I call a “bunch”). And when a form of transportation shows up in Switzerland, they push and shove to get on first, never mind how long anyone else has been waiting (and never mind the concept of letting people off it first).

But we were not in Switzerland. And I was not going to put up with it here. In their country, I will play by their pushing and shoving rules. But this was not their country. And clearly, there was a line here. Some people had been waiting an hour. And not only was it not fair to us to let them cut in line, it wasn’t fair to the people behind us. As it turned out, the two Swiss women were the last two let on that particular bus, making the people behind them wait another 30 minutes in that line for the next bus to come. I guess maybe next time those people will learn their lesson.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

I know something someone else doesn't

I know something someone else doesn't. This statement may seem lame, but some days I go through life here feeling like I know nothing. Can't understand a word, can't read my permit renewal instructions, etc. But today. Today, I finally felt good about myself for once.

Of course, it was due to someone else's sheer bewilderment. But still.

I ran in the Migros (one of the grocery store chains in Switzerland) after I got off the train from work to grab some cheddar cheese for dinner. (I really have a taste for grilled cheese!) As I went to put my stuff on the belt there was a guy standing in front of me with nothing. But I thought he was with the woman in front of me, so I just set my stuff down, being my new pushy Swiss self.

But then the guy turns to me, with fear in his eyes, and says in perfect English, "Uh, do you know where the hardware stuff is? Someone said something about over there..." As I answered back, you could see the relief in his eyes that someone spoke English and could make clear that yes, he was supposed to go down a crazy looking moving ramp into the basement of the grocery store. (I too, had my month here before I realized there was another world of cereal, pasta, hardware stuff and cleaning supplies in this very store).

As he walked away, he glanced back at me as he neared the ramp, a silent thank you and a quiet something that we just shared that no one but another expat could understand.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Play Money

When we first got to Switzerland, the money all looked like play money. Yellow tens, pink twenties, green fifties, blue hundreds,etc. But now I am so used to it, that American money is starting to look strange. And not only that, even "real" Monopoly money is throwing me off.

We just finished a game of Monopoly tonight with a friend that is visiting. During the game, I thought I had been paid the wrong amount for one of my properties. I know I am truly Swissified because of this. The person had given me a blue bill, which in Monopoly, is the ten dollar bill. But my mind was expecting a yellow bill (the 10 Swiss Franc bill is yellow) and so I did a double take, thinking I had just been handed a 100 dollar bill (since the Swiss franc 100 is blue). It's crazy how quickly your brain just reprograms to things as small as the color of currency.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

English Copywriters Needed in Zurich

Some think, why hire an English speaking copywriter in Switzerland? Here is why.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The Concrete Craneland

Switzerland’s skyline is formed by two major landmarks: mountains and cranes. From our window in our little town in Baden, the Alps come and go but the crane is always there. And this year is extra special as we can see not just one, but five cranes from the same viewpoint. They even light them up at night. And at Christmas they decorate them with lighted stars. It doesn’t get much more festive than that.

And there’s only one thing the Swiss love better than cranes. Concrete. The Swiss love sturdy, long lasting things. This is why I cannot use a hammer to put a nail in my wall and hang a photo like a normal person. I must buy special heavy duty nails beg my husband to do some drilling that may or may not work. The wall is, you guessed it, made of concrete.

When I moved to Switzerland, I couldn’t wait to find a cute chalet to live in. I was very surprised to visit faceless, characterless apartment building after apartment building. All made with concrete.

While the tourist’s view of Switzerland is cute wooden chalet with flowers, the actual Switzerland is built with concrete.

And speaking of flowers, our rental agency wants to take ours away. If this seems unSwiss, you don’t know the Swiss. Because their replacement offering for all our beautiful 30-year old plants on our balcony is…drum roll…concrete. Luckily our neighbor is not in favor of this and hopefully her protests will be enough to stop them. But who knows in this strange country. Last year they built a new park in our town. I was excited about having green space near my apartment, but it turned out to be a concrete park—all gravel and no grass. This is great for bocce ball but not much else.

This year they are pulling up all the concrete on my street (and thus the 5 cranes) and replacing it with a traffic free park with a fountain. But I know better this time. The gravel is coming. And the fountain will be made with concrete. But if you leave those details out, it sounds nice. At least it will coordinate with my concrete balcony.


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