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.


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