Thursday, November 27, 2008

German vs. Swiss Christmas Markets

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Pumpkin Raisin Walnut Bread

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

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

Pumpkin Raisin Walnut Bread

Makes: 2 loaves (32 slices)


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

Shortened version of the diretions:

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

Monday, November 24, 2008

It was worth it

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

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Christmas Tree Transport Success

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 22, 2008

I miss junk

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

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

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

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

There's no history without junk. Love that.

Also like this one.

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

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

Friday, November 21, 2008

Interview on Freelancedom

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

Thursday, November 20, 2008

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The English Argument

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Hello Together

Hello together,

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

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

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

One Big Yodel

Monday, November 17, 2008

Me write witty one day

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Where can I buy ... in Switzerland

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

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

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

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

Oreos: Coop and Manor

Marshmallows: Jemoli, Globus, most German grocery stores

Canned Pumpkin: Jemoli, Globus

Pre-made pie crust: Coop

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

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

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Language Problem

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Vollenweider and Tibits

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

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

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Swiss Spa Survey

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

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

Anyhow, here’s how the spas rate:

Warmest water: Baden

Best jets: Baden

Best design: Vals

Most modern: Vals

Least modern: Baden

Most expensive: Vals (CHF 30)

Least expensive: Baden (CHF 16)

Best views from bath: Vals

Swim with the rose petals: Only Vals!

Ice Bath option: Only Vals

BYOT: (Bring your own towel) Bad Schinznach

Lazy River included: Schinznach and Bad Ragaz

Best spa for kids: Schinznach and Bad Ragaz

Warm towels: Only Baden!

Least crowded: Baden

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Swiss TV Dinner

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

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

Monday, November 10, 2008

Obamania in Switzerland

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 09, 2008

UnvermeidBar in Baden

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Wagamama in Zurich!

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

International Reaction

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

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

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

Proud to be an American

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Expat Adventure Column in Swiss News

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 03, 2008

UBS. More Questionable Ethics.

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

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

But then she changed her mind.

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Laundry in Switzerland

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

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

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

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

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


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