Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Long Wait. Or Permit Renewal in Switzerland.

Well, I won’t hold my breath until I actually have it in my hand, but my renewed residence permit is ready for pick-up, for a mere 199 CHF, as I was informed from a letter from our Canton yesterday. Renewing this residence permit is a yearly process for those of us from non-EU countries.

The process begins with a letter telling you to show up to your Canton’s office with a form filled out (in German) and to bring your permit and passport. This letter arrived in March (the expiration date on our permit is early May).

So in April we showed up at the office with our forms and passports and turned in our expiring permits (thank God they don’t take your passport too…) expecting our new permits to arrive in a few weeks.

Make that more like a few months. Really. Four months to be exact. (Not to mention, they had the audacity to pay for second rate postage on the letter informing us they are ready—a mere .15 cents less than first class—to extend this laborious process by another five days.) But heck, what’s the difference at this point?

Now if they would date the renewed permit August 27, 2009, that would be one thing. But no. It will be dated May 7, 2009, which gives us a mere six months until we will have to start the process all over again if we intend on staying. Talk about inefficiency. I’ve never seen a country with such efficient and reliable public transportation with such poor public paper processing. It’s really quite amazing.

So now, after months of delay, I can finally fill out some more paperwork I was given in June to be sent, along with my shiny new permit, to the Canton of Zurich to approve me to write a column for a magazine that’s been waiting on me since early June. I’m bracing myself for another long few months. But in the meantime, I'll have plenty of time to write.

The fun times of Swiss living to be continued…

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Blast from the Past (Otherwise known as the Swiss Present)

The other day, my husband was investigating the latest technology in the local Swiss stores when he saw a display of Discmans.

“Can you believe they still sell those?” he said, “They use so many batteries not to mention they’re totally and completely outdated.”

“Well, what do you expect from a country that didn’t let women vote until 1971?” I said, always looking for a way to throw in this amazing fact. But then I reconsidered. “Well, maybe it’s just for the old people that they still sell those.”

But today on the tram, I look over and see a man in his 30s listening to music on nothing other than a Discman. I almost laughed as I put away my iPod Shuffle and got off the tram, shaking my head the entire way to the office.

Monday, August 25, 2008

I'm Picking in the Rain

On Saturday we went flower picking in the rain with our Swiss neighbor. We went to two different fields—one in Freienwil and one near Kirchdorf. For some reason, I love picking flowers from a field myself but then I get home and find I can’t arrange them at all.

Anyhow, it was fun to bond with our neighbor and discuss our favorite colors. She’s a deep pink kind of person while I’m an orange one. (Well, my favorite color is blue, but flowers don’t usually come in that color).

Anyhow, I cut five gladiolas and 10 dahlias. Now cutting flowers in Switzerland isn’t cheap, (because what is?) but it’s the experience you pay for as much as the flowers. Nothing like cutting a yellow gladiola in a downpour to the tune of cow bells and the feeling of muddy Birkenstocks.

When I was in Chicago in July, I remember seeing big bouquets of 10 gladiolas on sale for $3 at the farmer’s market. But in Switzerland, they cost the equivalent of $1.10 a flower—and that’s if you cut them yourself. But then again, they’re Swiss Qualität—which means they are guaranteed to do one thing—last about one day before wilting or molding—both hallmarks of Swiss products.

Friday, August 22, 2008

My New German Lessons

After taking German classes for two years straight, I decided I really needed a break from the academic part and am trying a new approach to learning. I’ve got most of the basics down, and at this point I really just need to get braver and talk more. This is hard for a perfectionist like myself, but I am trying to get over it. My goals are to be able to do basic things at work in German. So for example, to be able to say amazingly intelligent things like, “we can delete that,” (Man kann das löschen) or “Monica is looking for you” (Monica sucht dich) or “how was the presentation?” (Wie war die Präsentation?). Anyhow, I try to learn one little phrase every day (Ich lerne jeden Tag ein bisschen). Since my colleague is going on vacation in the USA for three weeks after today, my phrase for today is “Ich beneide dich” (I envy you.)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Hangin' with the Frau

After two years, we are really getting to be good friends with our Swiss neighbor, who we like to call "The Frau". And it is a lot of fun. She’s 43 years older than us, but we have a great time together. First off, she’s one of the only people in Switzerland that doesn’t try to speak to us in English (because she really can’t) and doesn’t make us feel dumb while we try to speak German. Because of this, and the fact that she speaks high German slowly because it’s not her native language either (Swiss German is), she is one of my favorite people to practice German with. Granted, she doesn’t really correct us when we talk, which is helpful for learning, but sometimes in the end, it’s just nice to have the confidence that although all of your grammar is far from perfect, you still can carry on a conversation for a few hours.

Last night she had us over for raclette (and prosecco and wine). Boy can she eat cheese! (and drink alcohol!) She told us she usually eats two pieces of cheese at a time so eats at least eight in one sitting. Wow, I felt stuffed after four, but then again I’m a wimpy American who is not used to processing that much cheese—except maybe on deep dish pizza!

We had so much fun that we are going to go flower picking with her on Saturday. I’ll keep you posted on that adventure.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Human Factor

I used to complain about yearly state inspections when I lived in Virginia because they always seemed to benefit the garage that was doing them. After all, what garage wouldn’t try to get some extra money out of people every year by not passing them unless they fixed this and that—and at the garage’s profit, no less. In Switzerland, I do not have a car, and thank God for that as I have heard the craziest stories from fellow expats about their car inspections:

-One guy was failed because his engine was dirty.

-Another was failed because the underside of his 10-year old car was dirty.

-And a third guy failed his motorcycle inspection because he did not have a piece of paper stating how fast the motorcycle could go. (He’s from Spain and I doubt they even give those out in Spain).

Maybe it’s just me and my American upbringing, but sometimes the Swiss policies seem so anal and inhuman. An American would accept that a 10-year old car might be a little dirty. That’s just a fact of life. But the Swiss see it as a character flaw of the owner. And that is something I will never understand.

In the same way that the Swiss expect, after living in an apartment for years, that it be exactly the way it was left years earlier—without a scratch, without sympathy for the very human error of losing a key. There’s no allowance for “wear and tear” here. I just don’t know how the Swiss live. A French expat I know is already worried that after living in his Swiss flat for 5 years with 3 kids, that he will be responsible for every little scratch on the cheap parquet flooring. And I’m sorry, but this is no way to live life—nickeled and dimed for being nothing else but, well, human.

Monday, August 18, 2008

How to Find a Job in Switzerland: Advice from a Trailing Spouse

Sometimes people ask me, as a “trailing spouse”, how I managed to find a job so quickly upon arriving in Switzerland from the United States. The real reason is that I started my search before I left home. Upon giving my notice to my former employee I asked if they could help me find a job overseas. They agreed to send my resume to the New York office in their network, who then forwarded it to the Zurich office.

I was lucky. The Zurich office needed an English speaking writer at the time and I had an interview set-up before I even left U.S. soil.

With that said, here are some job hunting tips and tools:

1. Use the networks you already have. You may not know anyone where you are moving to, but chances are, you know someone that knows someone. Get the word out that you are looking for a job in Switzerland. Before you even leave home. Use your former office for help and contacts.

2. Use networking websites like LinkedIn or even Facebook, depending on your industry. For example, advertising professionals love Facebook.

3. Check for jobs or post a note about what you’re looking for. People on this forum are very helpful with information and you’ll most likely get some sort of response.

4. Look up international companies based in Switzerland. They will be the most likely to have jobs for English speakers. Check their websites. Some examples are UBS, Zurich, Siemens, Credit Suisse, Alstom, IBM, DOW, Google, and ABB.

5. For media, journalism, PR, and advertising jobs, check It’s in German, but ads for English positions are usually in English.

6. If you are a teacher, try Zurich International School or any other international school in Switzerland.

7. Other good job searching sites are, or

8. Upon arrival, join clubs with fellow English speakers. Meeting people and making contacts will give you even more ideas and options.

If you have any other ideas or websites, please feel free to leave a comment.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Biking for Bio

Yesterday, after doing my traditional Saturday 3-grocery-store rush, my husband and I decided to go to two more little stores--up at the top of Baldegg, a small mountain which the Swiss probably classify as a tiny hill.

Whatever the case, I decided to brave the climb by foregoing the bus and doing it on my bike. And I actually surprised myself by making it--easily. I guess that's what a 5-Seen-Wanderung (see previous post) will do for you.

Today I ran for an hour without barely breaking a sweat. Wow. One hike in the Alps and I'm suddenly Olympic quality.

Anyhow, the two stores at the top of Baldegg are organic farm stores, or what the Swiss call "bio" (BEE-oh). They are tiny, one room places that don't even have a person working in them, just a box for your money. The one store even leaves out lots of change and a calculator for you to add up your purchases and take correct change. (They obviously are unaware of the crime level in this area--see previous posts).

Anyhow, we bought some Swiss plums, apples, and yogurt, strapped them onto our bikes and rode down the mountain. It was a pleasant and very Swiss way to finish off the afternoon.

Friday, August 15, 2008

What is wrong with the restaurants in Switzerland?

It seems every time I visit a Swiss restaurant or take-away establishment I leave unsatisfied. I don’t know what is wrong with the food in this country, but the only amazing thing about it is the price. It doesn’t matter if you spend 30 CHF on an entrée or 7 CHF for a take-away piece of pizza, it’s guaranteed to be average or below.

For this reason, my husband and I do not eat out very often, as there is no place that I ever really crave. I find this very strange after living various places in the U.S., where I always had places “I really felt like” and was excited about going to eat.

Yesterday, for example, a friend introduced me to a place called Basilikum in Zurich. It was very crowded and obviously popular. I ordered the menu and then waited about 10 minutes by the cash register for what turned out to be very average or less than average sweet and sour stir fry. Now since it was a bargain at 10 CHF, I got a free glass of warm tap water, and didn’t have to endure smoke where we sat, I was more satisfied than usual. But still. I miss great food. And I miss people that know what that is.

Sometimes I think well, it’s just that my American taste buds are biased. But I’ve eaten great food in other countries in Europe, most in notably Greece, Spain, and Norway. So I don’t know if all Swiss people are born with Country Buffet, 80-year old taste buds or what, but they really just don’t get great food.

After all, melted cheese on a plate with potatoes only gets you so far in the food chain. And drinks made from whey, well, when you get right down to it, whey is something even cheese didn’t want. So why would I? But the Swiss, with their ever tolerant taste buds, mix whey in with some gassy water and call it a national beverage. You’ve got to give them credit for their, uh, creativity.

Maybe it’s unfair, but the language also gets in the way of the food. It’s hard to get your mouth watering when you see a menu filled with words like Hühnerbruststreifen and Schweinshaxe. Because before you even start eating you've had a mouthfull.

With that said, I’m off to lunch today with a friend. It was a big debate of where to go, since like usual, nothing Swiss ever gives me cravings, but we are headed to Beyond, the best Asian restaurant I have found so far. Wish me luck. And please, if you know of a great place to eat in this country, leave a comment.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Cost of Living in Switzerland

For anyone considering moving to Switzerland (or just visiting for awhile), here is a general run-down of the cost of living:

Rent, average 2-bedroom apartment, 1500 CHF-month

Rent, large penthouse 2-bedroom apartment, 2500 CHF-month

High-Speed Internet, 45 CHF-month

Heat, Electricity and Water (2-bedroom apt), 60 CHF-month

1,5 Liter Bottle of Coke from Grocery Store 2.30 CHF

2 Liters of Milk 3 CHF

Loaf of Bread 3 CHF

10 Eggs 3 CHF

Gas 1.85 CHF per liter ($7.00 a gallon)

Yearly Transport Pass in Switzerland 2,900 CHF

Average Price for a 15-minute train ride 20 CHF

Cost of a first-class stamp for a letter within Switzerland 1 CHF

Cost of a first-class stamp for a letter to the USA 1.80 CHF

Cost to mail a small package to USA first class 35 CHF

Average Lunch Entrée 20 CHF

Average Dinner Entrée 30 CHF

Average Price for glass of water in restaurant 5 CHF

Average Hotel Room 190 CHF

Average Monthly Salary (for a Swiss Man) 6,650 CHF

Box of Laundry Detergent 12 CHF

Large Package of Toilet Paper 11 CHF

Chocolate Bar 1.50 CHF

Housecleaner 20 CHF/hour

Pair of Nike Running Shoes 180 CHF

Tuition at International High School (per year) 30,000 CHF

Am I missing anything important you need to know about? Leave a comment.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Watching the Olympics auf Deutsch

For the past few days we have watched a few hours of the Olympics. At first, I was really excited about watching the Games, but my enthusiasm is dwindling due to having to watch it in German and not being able to follow the US teams. The opening ceremonies were great, the best I have ever seen. After about a half hour, I tuned out all the German and just enjoyed the spectacle. But what really has been driving me crazy are the interviews with athletes. The athletes are usually speaking in English, and for about 10 seconds it’s wonderful. Then the German translator overpowers them and I find myself not trying to understand the German, but straining to hear the English they’ve covered up instead. The German translator is the same voice and it prattles on and on no matter who is speaking, man or woman. It gets a bit monotonous after awhile.

Also, it’s a bit strange the way they title all the programming, like “Mission to Beijing.” They are all titled in English, but said with a German accent so by the time I’m through watching the Games, I fear that any English I do have left will be seriously compromised. What do you mean Beijing? The Olympics were in Peking. (This is what it’s called in German).

It’s too bad the programming can’t be interactive somehow, where you get to choose what teams to follow. I try, but I just don’t really care if the German team wins a medal or not. And so far in my watching, I’ve gotten to see about one American compete. Watching the Olympics without being able to cheer for your country kind of defeats the point. Oh well.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Die 5-Seen Wanderung

I chose to take the five-lake hike on Pizol because my hiking book said it was an easy-moderate hike with one of the most varying and beautiful changing panoramas in all of Switzerland. On the second point, it was very true, but the “easy-moderate” part is debatable. Maybe for the Swiss, this hike is easy. It’s obviously a very popular hike in Switzerland based on the fact that the entire five hours we hiked it was pretty much wall to wall people on the trail. Some were 75 years old. Some were 4. Some were dogs. And all were passing me up.

Now I consider myself to be in shape by American standards. I jog. I bike. I walk a lot. But this does not mean anything when it comes to ascending and descending mountain after mountain. While I was expecting a nice fairly flat walk along five lakes, what I got was a hike that included a steep and rocky trail that made you ascend and descend for every lake. It was one of the toughest hikes I’ve ever done. Today I am sore all over and have blisters on my feet.

Now I don’t mind being a slow hiker. I like to admire the views and take photos and I hike to relax. But this hike didn’t allow for much relaxing as I was competing against a Swiss clock.

Because the chair lift closed at 5pm and we were in Switzerland we knew there would be no sympathy for showing up after closing time. After we’d been hiking for about 2 hours we came upon a hiking sign that informed us we still had 3 hours of hiking to go before reaching the chair lift. And it was 2pm.

So we raced up the next ascent, panting and dizzy by the top. And we made it in the exact allotted time that the sign said for that section. Great. We continued at a rather crazy (but normal Swiss) pace for the entire remaining 2 hours and am proud to say we made it to the chair lift before 4.30pm so we did not end up sleeping on a mountain top that still had snow in August. But I won’t say it wasn’t without pain.

We were so exhausted that we treated ourselves to a beer in the restaurant car on the train ride home. I've never tasted anything so good.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

My Newly Discovered, Former Fat Self

A few weeks back, I was out having lunch with some German and Swiss colleagues when one of them asked me,

“So in America, it’s impossible to not get fat, right?”

Before I could answer, another Swiss colleague chimed in,

“What do you mean? She’s not fat.”

To which he answered,

“Yes, but she’s been in Switzerland for two years.”

So basically, in their minds I was a blimp in my pre-expat life. Great.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Tips for recovering lost or stolen items in Switzerland

Obviously I am not an authority, since our stolen items have still not been recovered, but since all I’ve been doing this week is trying to get our stuff back and collecting the best ways to do that from various sources, I thought I’d share the information for anyone else that finds themselves in a similar situation.

1. Fill out the claim form from your Kanton police’s website (unfortunately it will only be in the language of the Kanton that you live in.) Here, for example is the link to the form in the Kanton of Aargau:

Aargau Police Theft Report Form

2.Register your loss with the following places (depending on your situation):

The Switzerland Lost and Found: (in German)
The Switzerland Lost and Found

Register your keys or look at images of lost keys at: (in German)
Key Finder

Report your lost items with the Swiss Train System (SBB):
SBB Lost and Found(in English!)

Report your loss to your local city: (example here is for Baden)
Baden Lost and Found

Check lost and founds of Bus networks:
Address for RVBW (Baden area): Bahnhofplatz 1, Baden, Tel. 056 222 19 19

3. When all else fails, feel free to cry.

And if anyone else reading this has other tips, please add your comments.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Sorry, the Police are Closed

I wonder a lot of things about Switzerland. But the most perplexing thing that’s come up recently is that the police can actually be closed. We found this out because of a situation we found ourselves in over the weekend where we needed to report something stolen. Well forget it, if crime happens after 5pm, the Swiss police are not on duty. So we were out of luck. The only number that someone actually answered was the emergency number—and they just told us to go to their website and fill out a form. After about an hour trying to wade through all the German on the website we found the form and worked on that. We went back on Sunday during the posted hours 1:30-5pm. Still not open. Amazing lack of service when it comes to reporting a crime.

On the other hand, when it comes to petty rules and regulations, the Swiss police couldn’t be more motivated. A friend of ours was actually called by the police one day while she was at work. They made her come to the station to identify something. So of course she’s nervous as she heads for the police station as she hasn’t a clue what it could be about.

She shows up and they take her into another room.

“Is this your trash?” they inquired.

Sure enough, all her trash was laid out on a table. Since there had been an envelope with her name on it, she of course had to say yes.

They then went on to fine her 200 CHF (191 USD) and tell her that she should never again put her trash out the night before pick-up day as that is a crime in Switzerland. One must put it out only at 7am the day of.

Alas. A report of robbery? They don’t have time for that. They’re too busy prowling the streets for more important things. Like trash.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

International Party

Yesterday we had our annual August 1st party to celebrate Swiss Independence Day. It is always interesting to see the diverse mix of people interact during these events.

Our Swiss neighbor, (the only Swiss at the party), came over, as usual, right when the clock dinged 7.30pm. She is never late.

Our next guests arrived before 8pm, a French couple with 4-year-old twin boys. Since this couple speaks French and English, and our neighbor speaks German and French, a lot of the conversation went on in French, with me understanding most of it, and then speaking back in English or German. Then if the conversation turned to English, the French woman would translate it into French for our neighbor. Somehow, we all had a good time. The best moment was when the French woman, who just moved to Switzerland a month ago, praised Switzerland for being so clean. Our Swiss neighbor really disagreed.

"No," she said, "it used to be clean a long time ago. Now it is very trashy,"

"Compared to France, it is very clean," said the French woman. And then she started talking about how nice it was not to have to tiptoe around dog poop.

Fashionably late, the Americans, Swedes, and Polish guests began to arrive after 8.30pm, so English began to dominate the conversation, with a bit of French and German thrown in for good measure. Although most people understood some German, even if they couldn't really speak it.

And in Swiss style, the fireworks started exactly at 10pm and lasted exactly 15 minutes, with the clock dinging once right when the fireworks ended. It was really kind of amazing. Anyhow, it was another great party. And the tortilla chips from Germany went over really well with the Jello jigglers in a close second--as most people had never seen such a thing before.

Friday, August 01, 2008

How Swiss are You?

In honor of Swiss Independence Day today, I have included some information I read about in "Blick am Abend" about the average Swiss citizen. I found it all very interesting.

The average Swiss citizen has been married for eight years, lives in a 4-room apartment, and owns a blue sofa.

The average Swiss wife gives up her career chances due to a lack of child day care and day-long school days. She is not happy about this.

The average wife cleans, cooks, and does laundry totaling an average of 53 hours a week (wow, this puts me to shame...) while the average man does housework for 26 hours a week. (And now we know why Swiss apartments are spotless and why our neighbor can't believe our mess).

The average man ears 6650 Francs a month (6353 USD). The wife contributes 2200 Francs (2102 USD) per month. For an average household income of 8850 Francs (8455 USD) a month.

Due to Swiss budgets, most entertainment consists of hiking in the mountains since that is free.

The Swiss spend a lot of money on food as they are "quality conscious".

90% shop at Migros or Coop (well, there really are no other stores...) and spend 5895 Francs on groceries a year.

99% of Swiss wash their hands after going to the bathroom. What more could you want to know?

Happy Swiss Independence Day!


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