Sunday, December 28, 2008

Duty Free Jewelry

I admit it. I am not really a shopper at 35,000 feet. But thankfully, many others are. On our 10-hour flight from Zurich to Chicago, we witnessed a woman debate and try on one Swiss watch after the next while the flight attendant made recommendations like, "well, this one is the best for the value," and "sorry, we don't have that one on this cart, as someone already bought that model today." etc.

I also experienced a watch purchaser on a Swiss flight from Zurich to Athens. This shopper debated between two watches so long that other passengers were chiming in to help give him advice like, "well, that one's really a classic, but if you're a more trendy type, get the other". Or maybe they were just speeding him along to get the cart out of their way so they could pee. I don't know.

Actually, I have always been grateful for the in flight shoppers surrounding me--especially on long flights as they really fill the time between crappy sandwiches and landing time. If you think watching someone try on watches or purchase cartons of cigarettes is boring, try doing it at 35,000 feet and it suddenly becomes as entertaining Jon Stewart.

But I have to give the Swiss airline credit. They forgo the typical gadget-heavy Sky Mall catalog for something much more sophisticated. It's a magazine of tastefully photographed watches, jewelry, and cigarette cartons. From the first time I flew Swiss, I fell in love with a Swarovski Crystal necklace in the duty free airline magazine. "What's happening to me?" I thought, "I'm now falling for something I never thought possible--airport jewelry."

The thing is, besides my wedding rings, I don't even wear jewelry. But something about the thin air above planet earth makes anything possible. So whoever said, "Let's sell to these suckers" was the smartest marketing person since Bill Bernbach. At least I haven't decided to turn into a smoker yet, as the prices for the cartons of cigarettes sure make it tempting.

Anyhow, since then, every flight I've taken with Swiss I've reminded my husband of how nice this necklace is. So finally, the persistence paid off. I received this very necklace for Christmas. Apparently my husband finally bought it on a flight from Warsaw to Zurich because he got upgraded to business class and was in the front aisle seat and therefore wasn't embarrassed to be buying jewelry from a cart because up there, none of the masses in economy could see him.

I wear my duty free necklace proudly and look forward to my flight back to Zurich, where I will most likely fall prey to the next installment of the latest and greatest that any airline duty free magazine could ever offer.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas in Four Languages

In honor of the holidays, I've written how to say "Merry Christmas" in the 4 official languages of Switzerland.

German: Frohe Weihnachten

French: Joyeux Noel

Italian: Buon Natale

Romansch: Bellas Festas

It comes as no surprise to me that naturally, the German greeting is the longest at 16 letters. If you ever read a magazine like the inflight magazine from Swiss where they have various languages like German and English side by side, you'll notice just how inefficient German really is,as the text tends to be at least 1/3 longer to say the exact same thing. Oh well. Enjoy the season and Merry Christmas from One Big Yodel.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Big Sales in the U.S.

Wow. Things in the U.S. are even cheaper than I remember. Even stores at the Chicago Outlet Mall, where I spent at least 5 hours shopping today, are cutting prices big time--and not just on some items--but literally everything in entire stores is on sale. I have never seen anything like it--especially the week before Christmas.

Today for example:
Everything in Benetton was 50% off the lowest prices.
Everything in Tommy Hilfiger was 40% off the lowest prices.
Everything in Kenneth Cole was 36% off the lowest prices.
Everything in Spyder was 30% off the lowest prices. (Yeah, new ski jacket! I'm ready for those Swiss Alps)

I wish I would have had my camera to document all the discounts. And these are reductions off already reduced outlet prices. Still, the stores weren't that crowded. The only one that had crowds was Coach. I never had to wait for a dressing room. Or hardly at all at the cash registers. Honestly, it's a little scary for the economy. Not to mention for my limited luggage space.

I also discovered Half Price Books, a great chain store that sells and buys books, magazines, DVDs and more. Thank goodness for the M Bag from the US Post Office. The M Bag allows you to ship any printed material for $3 a pound from the U.S. to Switzerland. You can bet I'll be sending one of those before I return.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Can't Afford that Shirt? Layaway!

There is something going on here in America. People have no money. In fact, they have negative money. But in America, this does not seem to stop anyone from buying. See, in America, there's always another way. After all, this is the country that invented debt. If debt isn't working, try something else.

So layaway is back. Layaway is a method of paying for something without having to pay for it all at once. But instead of getting the item and paying for it later, like with a credit card, with layaway, you pay a small amount first plus a small fee for the privelage fo doing so, and then the store puts away your items in some kind of dark, back room until you have paid the entire amount. And then you get your stuff.

On the show Nightline last night, an entire section was devoted to Americans buying clothes from Burlington Coat Factory on layaway. Now I don't know about you, but if I had no money, I would not buy an entire cart full of shirts on layaway. Not only is this irresponsible, but by the time the stuff is paid off and finally able to be worn, it will be completely last season.

My advice? If you're that hard up for clothing, visit a second hand store. That $5 layaway fee at Burlington Coat Factory could probably get you 1 or 2 shirts right off the bat at Goodwill. And yes, the stuff may be last season. But then again, by the time you pay for your layaway items, so will they.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Culture Shock

The longer I live away from my own country, the more interesting it gets to come back. After 2.5 years abroad, I find myself with these European habits that I no longer think twice about. So even though I know how things are in the U.S., I am still surprised to rediscover so many things I'd forgotten about. So much so, that after visiting the grocery store, Dominicks, in La Grange, IL, for example, I was disappointed, in true tourist fashion, not to have taken my camera. Now it's in my purse, ready to capture the strange but formerly normal.

So far, the following things have struck me:

1. When grabbing a U.S. citizens form at the Zurich Airport, I said, "Entschuldigung" to the people surrounding the stand who were filling out the form. Then two minutes later, I realized how dumb it had been to speak German to these people, who were obviously all U.S. citizens. Duh.

2. Towards the end of the 10-hour flight from Zurich to Chicago, the Swiss flight attendant asked me if I wanted anything else. I said, "Just some more water, please." She answered, "Still?" And I took it as, "You still want more water, you little greedy indulger, haven't you had enough?" But all she meant was "not sparkling?" But the thing is, we English speakers just don't talk about water that way. If she had said, "mit oder ohne" it would have been perfectly normal. Oh well.

3. The sizes of drinks, food, carts and people. All basically huge.

4. While shopping my first full day in Chicago, I was looking at clothes and very surprised when other shoppers were waiting for me to finish looking before they would start looking at the same rack of stuff. Personal space is like everything else here. Huge.

5. There are cup holders in the grocery store shopping carts. Wow. Wouldn't want to get thirsty while shopping in the 10-acre store.

6. I could have eaten my dinner while shopping for groceries. While shopping, I was handed a free sample Starbucks mocha (thank God for that cup holder), cheese and crackers, a granola bar, and cookies. All 4 American food groups. 1 shopping excursion. I haven't gotten that much free stuff in 2.5 years in Switzerland.

7. What I thought was the chip aisle was not the real chip aisle. 5 kinds of chips is not enough to warrant a chip aisle, but my European brain just figured it was. My mother-in-law corrected me and directed me to an aisle with at least 250 kinds of chips. Whew. I could have really missed out on that American-sized decision making.

8. When checking out at the grocery store, I got ahead of the cart so I could start packing the groceries, but then realized that wouldn't be necessary. Yes, it's official. My has my brain switched to a new normal.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Six Reasons to Work as a Writer Abroad

Six Reasons to Work as a Writer From Abroad

1. You differentiate yourself. There are thousands of writers in New York City. But most editors want fresh perspectives on things. It's easier to be memorable when you can write about things no one else could. Not to mention, an international perspective is highly regarded by many publications.

2. Stories. You barely have to try to come up with ideas when crazy things happen to you every day. When you have to bring your xmas tree home on a bus, for instance, stories just come naturally.

3. Characters. If you're into writing fiction, there's no better place to live than abroad, where people have habits and styles of communicating that challenge what you're used to and create possibilities for characters you never would have thought of before.

4. You'll want to write all the time. Especially if you live in a country where English isn't spoken, writing becomes an escape and a daily drug that keeps you sane.

5. Travel Writing. It's easier to carve a nitch out for yourself if you live in an exotic land. With slashed budgets, publications are more and more likely to hire someone that's already living in the local they want to cover so they can avoid paying travel expenses.

6. Less Competition. Chances are, wherever you decide to live abroad, there will be English publications. And if you're in a non-English speaking country, you will have less competition for those jobs. So if you're good, your ideas are more easily accepted and you'll most likely be able to find some steady work while you keep reaching for those dream publications.

Anyone else have any points to add? Of course, being a writer abroad isn't all fun and games--permits to work can be an issue, cashing checks for pubs back home can be challenging, and many of your favorite publications won't be readily available at a reasonable price. Still, in my opinion, the pluses outweigh the negatives. But then again, there are days I'd give anything just for a big English bookstore.

Working as a Writer Abroad

For any of you interested in a day in the life of a writer living abroad, I was interviewed by Kristine, a writer and creator of the blog, TeleTwenties, which is a great source of information about being a telecommuter. Check out her blog where other recent posts include "Are Home Offices Lonely?" and "Working from Home in a Tough Economy."

Friday, December 12, 2008

Snow in Switzerland

Since it's been snowing all week, I just wanted to share a few photos as it's very beautiful. The snow isn't really sticking on the ground, but it's beautiful on all the trees. Here's a few pics. Enjoy.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Christmas in Switzerland

It's been snowing non-stop for about 32 hours now, so it feels very Christmasy around Baden. The town looks very festive with all its colorful lights (shown above, taken before the snow). On Sunday I even roasted a marshmallow after my husband was done roasting the traditional Swiss sausage in the Baden Christmas fire pit. I got a few looks from the twenty sausage roasters, like, oh my God, she's breaking the rules and bringing her own bag of marshmallows, but I didn't care. One boy stared and asked his mom what I had before finally realizing, "oh those are marshmallows". Someone needs to show these people there's more in life than sausages. Why not me? I'm not ashamed to be a lone marshmallow in a world of sausages. This picture proves it.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

5 Reasons to Become an Expat Now

Should you move abroad? Here are 5 reasons to pick up and go live the life many dream of but are too afraid to do.

1. Career. Studies show that those who work abroad fast-track their careers, broaden their professional capabilities, and increase their pay. “But wait, I’m the trailing partner,” you think. “How can this be a good thing for me?” Even if you don’t end up finding the perfect job in your new country, chances are you will reinvent yourself and discover a new talent or finally have time to explore other interests. For inspiration, check out the story of The Antiques Diva, who turned her love of antiques into a European tour company. Or Petite Anglaise, who just published her first novel based on her experiences in Paris.

2. Travel. There is no easier way to see a new part of the world than to live in it. Think of all the places you can go from the new location within a 2-hour flight. As an expat, you’ll probably travel more in your few years abroad than most people do in a lifetime. Check out where I’ve been the last couple years on the sidebar of this blog if you need proof or inspiration.

3. People. Some expats like to hang out with the locals, some stick mainly to expat groups. Either way, the people you meet abroad will be colorful. Whether I’m hanging out with my non-English speaking neighbor with a dictionary on the table between us or at a party with people from 14 countries, the characters I meet are like those from novels. Plus, things are never boring when you’ve got a Swiss and a Spaniard discussing the merits of punctuality.

4. Stories. Things will happen to you that you just can’t believe or even imagine right now. Complain, be shocked, whatever, but embrace them when they happen. Friends and family, possibly even the entire world will love them. They are things you will never forget. For example, I wrote about one of my crazy experiences in Switzerland and it was published in the Christian Science Monitor.

5. You. You will never be the same again. You will question things you didn’t before. You will notice things about your homeland that those that have never left it can’t. If there’s any reason to become an expat, it’s to do it for yourself.

If you are living abroad now, why did you move abroad? Was it the right decision for you?

Monday, December 08, 2008

A Country of Teachers and Policemen

I have never heard of a better summary of Switzerland than the one I heard at a party on Saturday night:

"Switzerland is a country of nothing but teachers and policemen."

The best part? It was said by a Swiss person, who admitted to this reality, when a party-goer from Sweden complained that he now knows his building's trash bin is under video surveillance after being called to the police station, showed a video of himself throwing out trash in the unproper bag, and fined 250 Swiss Francs for the "crime".

If the police have nothing better to do, then I want to know why they still have not recovered the stuff that was stolen from us in August. That kind of thing, however, they could care less about. For some reason it just doesn't have the appeal of solving The Case of the Mystery Trash Bag.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

More on German vs. Swiss Christmas Markets

One thing that was much more enjoyable about the German Christmas markets versus the Swiss ones I've been to, is that the music that was played at the German markets was actually, imagine that, Christmas music. The photo above is of the castle courtyard in Stuttgart where we watched a brass band play everything from Jingle Bells to Hark the Herald. It was fun to sing along while sipping Glüwein.

The other night I walked by the Baden Christmas festivities which included one small ice rink and not much else and they were playing some rock song I had never heard of that had nothing to do with Christmas. And last year in Zurich, my husband and I went to see the Singing Christmas Tree, which consisted of a choir standing in the formation of a Christmas tree wearing Christmas outfits. Needless to say we were very disappointed when the Singing Christmas Tree began singing "Age of Aquarius" in accented English. It just seemed kind of crazy to go to all the trouble to dress like a Christmas Tree and then sing American rock and Broadway music. But maybe it's just me.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Looking to Interview a Full-Time Blogger

As some of you know, I work as a freelance writer. Currently I have an assignment with Swiss News (The National English Journal of Switzerland) that includes profiling a blogger that makes a living by blogging. To qualify you must:

-Blog as your full-time job (have a strong financial return from activities related to blogging--can include book deals that arose from your blog, working as a blogging consultant, writing for several blogs, etc.)

-Blog in English

-Preferably be an Expat (Extra bonus if you have a tie to Switzerland)

If you fit this profile (or know someone that does) and would like some publicity for your blog, please leave a comment with some way for me to contact you.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Stuttgart Christmas Market

So. The verdict is that the Germans aren't bragging. Their Christmas markets are much superior to their Swiss cousins. Here are a few photos from the Stuttgart market for proof. More to come soon.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Swiss Gardening Essay in The Christian Science Monitor

My essay, "An American at Swiss Gardening Boot Camp," that ran in the November 20th print edition is now online. You can read it on The Christian Science Monitor website.

Monday, December 01, 2008

December Expat Adventure Column in Swiss News

In honor of yet another holiday shopping season without a car, my latest Expat Adventure column, published today in Swiss News, is called, "Costco Girl in a Car-Free World." You can read it on the Swiss News website. Enjoy.


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