Monday, June 30, 2008

Feet up, economy-style

I have to say on Friday I experienced a first. Having an exit row seat on an international flight. It was great. It was not really a window seat, because there was just the wall and a big slide cover in the way of my space, but the great part was, I could put my feet up on it. And I could get up to use the bathroom without disturbing the two women next to me. What an experience.

Flying KLM is nice because when you check in online, you can acutally choose an exit row seat right there and then. Every flight I've flown with them and checked in online I have gotten an exit row seat. That's three exit row flights! I wanted to get out my camera to take a photo of my feet up in economy class but I was just too tired to do so. So you'll just have to imagine.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

American Clothes

The only time I really get use out of my American clothes is when I go on vacation. Don’t ask me why, but somehow when I’m a plane ride away from Switzerland, I feel like I can suddenly break out the Americana. The running shoes, the sweatshirts, the shorts. They all get celebrated with equal pleasure and vicariousness. (I held back on going all out and bringing the sweatpants to Norway, but that was a mistake as Norwegians actually wear these.)

Now that I'm heading to Chicago tomorrow, I will revel in everything comfortable for 10 days straight. And it will all come out of my closet at home or from shopping as I plan to bring pretty empty suitcases.

But this time, I won't be going into "I'm a tourist and I don't care" attitude about my clothing. Because no one will notice anything strange if I prance around in flannel (except of course that it's out of season). After all, what is sold as pajamas in Switzerland are sold as street clothes in the US. And the fun part will be seeing what I bring back with me and making that same realization all over again.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Most American Pizza in Europe

This pizza pleased me in two ways: it was huge and it tasted like America. You can find this amazing piece of Gourmet cooking at a hole in the wall called Aladdin in Alesund, Norway for about 40 USD. It was so good and cheap (for Norway) that we went there two nights in a row. Mmmm.

The other bonus? You get ice in a glass along with your chilled bottle of soda. What more could an American expat want?

Monday, June 23, 2008

Duty Free Rush in Oslo

The first thing I noticed upon landing in Oslo was the entire interior of the airport was made of wood. The second thing I noticed was that the duty free store was next to the baggage claim. And I, my husband, and a crazy French woman were the only ones next to the luggage belt.

"I go to Trondheim," said the French woman to us, like we should care. She showed us her ticket.

"That's nice," we said politely.

"But do I get my bag here? Why is no one here?"

We stared back at the duty free store that the passengers on our plane were now raiding like teenagers that had just turned 21.

"They're all at duty free," I pointed out to the woman.

I turned to my husband, wondering if we too were missing something by not rushing into the duty free store. I had never seen a duty free store location near a baggage claim, so it was a bizarre sight to see Norwegian citizens grabbing wines and beers like there was no tomorrow in Oslo. But I didn't have any Norwegian currency yet and I didn't see an ATM in the entire space. So the duty free was obviously only for the Norwegians. And no one else. It was very bizarre.

When departing Norway from Bergen 10 days later, my husband examined the duty free store now that we knew a bit more about Norway. Basically, the reason is this. In a grocery store, a six pack of beer costs 160 Kroner (over 30 USD). In the duty free store, the same six pack costs 40 Kroner (8 USD). That is how much tax is on alcohol in Norway. Now all the mad rush and location of the duty free store in Oslo (as well as the high consumption of free wine on our flight) made complete sense. Cheers to that.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


Greetings from Norway! Just a short post. Today we took the ferry through the fjords. It was beautiful but cold! In Norway "hey" means "hello". It really threw me off the first couple of times. I just thought, what a casual, friendly place!

Anyhow, my husband did his 21k, 1500m bike race up a fjord on Saturday while I did the 16k, 1000m hike. They were both a challenge, but the weather was just gorgeous and I should get the prize for the most photos taken while hiking!

Everything here is very expensive. Tonight we are staying in a hostel which has the equivalent price of a night at the Westin in the US. Crazy. A six pack of beer from the grocery store costs 30 USD. Etc.

Anyhow, just a quick link to my article in the Monitor in case you are interested and didn't find it before.

Will catch up with more stories from Norway and Europe in a few days.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Bigger than my Blog

For many years, my mother has been my most devoted reader of my writing. While working as a copywriter, I also started writing for a local paper in Richmond. That was four years ago. In between I picked up a few publications: a small, national singing magazine. A publication in Zurich. And a few others along the way. But my big debut will be tomorrow, Friday the 13th. My lucky day.

I will have an essay about my crazy father published by the Christian Science Monitor. It's about how my childhood was filled with intellectual activities thanks to my "devoted to learning" father. You will be able to read it on Friday the 13th and over the weekend at

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Real Standard of Living in Zurich

You can tell a lot about a country by riding public transportation. The other day, I was sitting on a very crowded tram, boxed in by people sitting on one side of me and standing on another. Then a very old woman gets on. She must have been in her 80s. I waited for someone near her to give up their seat but no one did. Unfortunately, she wouldn’t have been able to get back to where I was sitting with all the people blocking the way, but I just thought, man, what a country. Yes, it’s clean and safe—an old woman will never have her purse snatched. But she will have her seat taken. Sometimes I wonder, what’s worse?

I was out with some expats last night and a friend that had a baby four months ago was telling me similar stories. She’ll be struggling to exit a store a Zurich, juggling bags and a stroller, and the shopkeepers will just chat with each other and watch. Last week, she waited over ten minutes until someone was nice enough to hold the door so she could get into Starbucks. I mean please, how can a place like Zurich be rated consistently as one of the best places in the world to live, yet treat people in such a fashion?

The worst part is that I have had to train myself to deal with the rudeness just to survive. So I'll push at people to get on trains. I'll dress is black. I'll not smile (very hard for an American).

When I visit other countries I will still be in my Swiss manners mode until I realize I am being a jerk because no one else is acting like that.

In London, I pushed into people with my luggage so I would be able to get off the underground before people rushed on and didn't let me out. But the English gave me dirty looks as I crawled across them before the tube stopped. Then, I was surprised to discover that people waiting to get on stood out of the way, letting others off and it was no big deal for me to rush and act like a lunatic. I was embarrassed. I never would have done this two years ago. But this is what happens after living in a highly rated city for two years. And as I rode the escalator and emerged into the London streets, I just thought, give me a dirty sidewalk any day. As long as it comes with a smile and some old fashioned manners.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Something to see in France

It's been a month since I went to Provence, but I forgot to write about something amazing that I saw.

While I've been to France four times in the last seven years, I had yet to witness a French person being remotely grateful (or even pleasant) to an American, even though without our grandfathers, they'd be speaking German.

So imagine my surprise, to be wandering Arles, only to run into a gigantic rock with 2 American soldiers' pictures on them. Yes. There is an actual monument to honor two Americans. You are not mistaken in what you have just read. The monument honors two Lieutenents who crashed in Arles in 1944 while defending France during WWII. "City of Arles Grateful Recognition, For our liberty," read the stone.

I almost did a double take. But it was real. Of course, it took the city 58 years to bring themselves to admit such a thing (the rock was dedicated in 2002). But even so, that's a big step for the French and I appreciate their efforts.

Never mind being Van Gogh's town, it's the whole rock thing that definitely makes Arles the best city in France, at least for an American looking to soothe their soul a bit after being treated like Merde by the French. I highy recommend it.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Total Chaos

Before I moved to Switzerland I thought, "what a nice quiet place to live."

I was wrong. Living in Switzerland is more like living in the center of the track at a non-stop NASCAR race.

Right now, there is a progression of non-stop honking and screaming due to a few EURO matches (that will go on until June 29) that is louder than anything I have ever experienced in New York City. And I'm not even living in Zurich. I'm living in a little spa town of 16,000 called Baden.

"Well, what do you expect, we do live in the center of town," my husband says.

And he's right. But give me a break. I lived in the center of Richmond, VA for 3 years before. And it was never this loud. The occasional gun shots, sure. The sirens of police cars and firetrucks every couple of hours. A few drunks on the weekends. But never have I experienced such a never-ending series of parties, loud music, never-ending construction projects, and crazy teenagers.

It wouldn't be so bad if these things weren't juxtaposed with strict rules of quietness--not flushing the toilet after 10pm. Not doing laundry on a Sunday. Not recycling a bottle after 8 pm. Please. Give me a break. What about the construction workers that start using a jackhammer before 7 am right outside my window? What about the non-stop party last August where I couldn't sleep for 10 nights straight due to obnoxious blasted music and screaming people? What about carnival, where brass bands that only know one song are allowed to play it all night long for a week on the streets?

As I write this, it's after 11.30 pm. And there's no telling when it will be quiet enough to sleep. Why I went to the doctor yesterday to get my ears cleaned out is anyone's guess. Thank God we're headed to Norway in a few days. I've had all the screaming, honking, banging, and jackhammering that my nerves can take.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

You want what with your sandwich?

Every time I purchase chips to go with my lunch, it never fails that either a Swiss or German colleague will question my decision.

"Chips for lunch?" said my Swiss friend, wrinkling his nose as I put some potato chips in my shopping basket along with my fruit.

"Yeah, I'm getting a sandwich from the take-way," I replied. (Even the strange word, "take-away" is starting to become more normal than "carry-out" for me after living here for two years.)

He still had a blank look on his face. There was no connection between chips and a sandwich for him.

And who can blame him. In Europe, chips are never marketed to be eaten with sandwiches and I still have yet to figure out what people eat them with.

Instead, at take-away counters, sandwiches are meant to be eaten either alone or with a small fruit salad. I have to make a special effort to get chips by going inside a grocery store if I want to coordinate my lunch properly.

But all I can say, is, it's worth it--despite the never-ending questioning. Obviously these people have never been to Subway. But soon Subway will make it's way to them. Let's just hope it gets here sooner rather than later. For my sake, anyhow.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008


Burgerbuster. That's me. I admit it. I actually stopped a man from eating a burger in mid-bite. I don't think I've ever done such a thing before, but then again, today was the first time I witnessed someone eating a hamburger (with a bun) like they'd eat any other piece of meat--with a fork and knife.

Ok. It's one thing to cut a burger in half. But to slice the burger bit by bit like it's filet mignon or something is just downright offensive. At least to an American.

"But I'll get my hands messy," was the defensive Swiss reply, as my friend put a delicate slice of hamburger in his mouth and then stabbed a french fry with his fork.

I sighed, unwilling to admit defeat despite being surrounded by six Swiss people. While I'll put up with the whole french fries with the fork thing, I put my foot down with it comes to a eating a burger on a bun with a knife and fork. That's plain sacrilege.

Luckily, my friend is very international in his outlook, and agreed to eat the meal like a true American. And that is one upstanding Swiss citizen. It was really an experience for him, eating this burger without utensils, and I was very proud of his courage.

But my since my Swiss friend really likes being the center of attention, eating a hamburger American style is just another trick to add to his show collection--as the rest of the Swiss people at our table were no doubt entertained to witness such a spectacle.

But after the meal was over, my friend insisted on washing his hands. Yes, it was time to come clean. And no one is better at doing that than the Swiss.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Good Afternoon, It's the Frau (oh wait, that's me)

Today I had to make two appointments. This may not sound like a big deal, but throw in another language and it becomes as major as the Magna Carta. But I was determined to persevere.

To make sure I did the German greeting right, I wrote it down. Because otherwise I would have resorted to a friendly "hello" and the German speaker would have been thrown off by not knowing who was calling.

I did this pretty well, even included a "Frau" with my name and that was a big step because I really hate the word "Frau". It sounds so dowdy and old. Anyone called "Frau" automatically has gray hair and wrinkles in my mind. So I guess at age 30 I finally fit the word.

I also guaranteed myself success by throwing in a "Guten Tag" with my Frau introduction. This way, they know it's a high German speaker right off, as the Swiss don't usually use "Guten Tag".

It worked well. Both receptionists I talked to immediately switched to high German after hearing my "Guten Tag". I even managed a "weil" construction and put the verb in the right place. This is total victory in German. To be able to say, "No that's not good, because I'll be on vacation then" and not screw up the sentence is an amazing achievement. Trust me.

I understood 90% of the calls, enough to answer every question with only a few minor mess-ups. For instance, the first receptionist thinks my first name is spelled Chental. But that's ok. A mistake I can live with.

The real test will be if I got the date and times right. And only time will tell.


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