Friday, December 25, 2009

Spreading Swiss Cheer


We had our 75-year-old Swiss neighbor over for fondue last week and before she left she said, "I really hope you stay in Switzerland." 

I practically melted when she said this. As any foreigner knows, most Swiss can't wait to ask you when you're moving back. To have a Swiss person tell me that they hope I stay was the ultimate compliment. I'll never forget it. 

And with that, I'll say Frohe Weihnachten und ein gutes neues Jahr. Thanks for being a member of the One Big Yodel community. I love your comments and hope we can continue our discussion of all things Swiss and expat in the New Year. 

To honor the holidays European style, One Big Yodel will be taking a kleine Pause next week and will resume in the New Year. I hope you can do the same. Enjoy the season.



Monday, December 21, 2009

Subway in Baden


I was really excited when I heard Subway was coming to Baden. Finally, a place to go in Switzerland where a sandwich includes more than just bread and one ingredient. 

But then I found out the prices. CHF 18 ($18) for a "Foot-long" value meal? Maybe I'm not so excited about Subway after all. I could have a "Sub Platter" for that price in the U.S.

Alas, the prices aren't stopping the Swiss (they never have). Whenever I walk by, the Subway in Baden is always packed with people. Elementary school kids, teenagers, adults. Apparently, the Swiss are warming to the idea of eating chips with their sandwiches. And shelling out the big Francs to do it.

In other American fast food news, apparently they are going to renovate the Baden train station (the oldest train station in Switzerland) and install a Starbucks next year. What's next? My little medieval Swiss village is slowly selling out. McDonalds. Burger King. Subway. Next thing you know, we'll be celebrating the Fourth of July too. 

What do you think of all this Americana taking over Switzerland?

Friday, December 18, 2009

Last Minute Gift Ideas from Switzerland


Cheese. Chocolate. Fondue Pot. This being my fourth Christmas in Switzerland, it has been even harder to get creative with what to give friends and family back home. Sure I've talked about the ultimate Swiss souvenir before, but I needed something different this time, as some family members already have that particular bathroom accessory. Anyhow, you can read what I've come up with over on Expatica.com today (except for you, mom, no peaking!)

If you'll be giving gifts from Switzerland, what are you gifting? Or if you've received a unique gift from Switzerland, what was it? Inquiring shoppers want to know.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

An Expat in Switzerland's Favorite Christmas Markets

Last year, there was a big argument at my office in Zurich when my German boss claimed that German Christmas markets were far superior to Swiss Christmas markets in front of a group of Swiss colleagues. I tried not to take sides, but after four years of European Christmas Marketing, I too have found that German Christmas markets are more to my liking than Swiss ones. 

The main reason I prefer German markets is that they're usually larger and I'm an American so I like large things. Of course, there's something to be said for small markets, and I always enjoy Baden's little market because I can walk out my door and be there in five minutes. With a commute that small, I don't mind that the market will only occupy me for less than a half hour. But I felt much differently when I went to Bern's market, which took up two hours of total transport time, but only offered about an hour's worth of entertainment. 

In any case, after awhile, all of these Christmas markets start to feel the same. They all have glüwein. They all have mandeln. They all sell millions of trinkets I don't need but buy anyway. But still. There's something festive about all of them. Especially ones that offer 1/2 Meter Bratwursts.

So for what it’s worth, here are some markets in Europe I especially enjoyed:

Switzerland:

Basel (if you like big markets, this is arguably Switzerland’s largest)

Germany:

Stuttgart (great weekend destination from Switzerland, good deals on the train from CH)

Esslingen (adorable town near Stuttgart with a fantastic market, including a medieval one)

Düsseldorf (free ice skating and ½ Meter Bratwursts)

Schloss Dyck (they sold golden gnomes here, something I couldn’t pass by)

But enough about what I think. What are your favorite Christmas Markets in Europe?

This post was written on behalf of AffordableCallingCards.net, a new expat community blog. This blog offers affordable calling cards in Switzerland as well as information about living abroad in Switzerland and in many other countries.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Why Celebrities Love being Expats in Switzerland


Celebrities like Tina Turner love living in Zurich for the same reason some of us normal people find it hard: No one bothers her.

She doesn’t need bodyguards. She doesn’t need disguises. She just goes out. And people leave her alone. They’re not crazed and camera ready. They’re not asking for autographs. They’re probably not even smiling at her.

The Swiss are a discreet bunch and celebrities love them for it. The rest of us though, can find that this discreetness makes it hard to make friends. In fact, as you can read about over on Wide Eyed Gypsy, Switzerland recently ranked third from the bottom of the 26 expat locations surveyed by HSBC for their friendliness. Am I surprised? No. Do I think this is going to change? No. In fact, with the new minaret ban, Switzerland’s reputation for friendliness towards expats just might have gotten even worse.

But just because it’s hard to make friends doesn’t mean Switzerland is a bad place to live—just that it takes that much more effort to meet people (and more effort to train yourself not to smile at everyone). And because I think it’s important to meet people outside of expat groups, I’ve written a lot about how to make friends in Switzerland. Here are some links to the posts:

How to Make Friends in Switzerland, Part One

How to Make Friends in Switzerland, Part Two

Anyhow, despite the “unfriendliness” it’s also important to try to become a part of the culture in order to reap the creative benefits that a recent study by INSEAD demonstrates: if you live abroad, you become more creative. But only, of course, if you invest time getting into the culture and meeting people outside of expat groups.

In other news, read my guest post about why blogging can be great as an expat in Switzerland over on Swisstory Blog.

This post was written on behalf of AffordableCallingCards.net, a new expat community blog. This blog offers affordable calling cards in Switzerland as well as information about living abroad in Switzerland and in many other countries.

Monday, December 07, 2009

How to Buy (and get rid of) your Swiss Christmas Tree

If you're like me, you go to Jumbo, pick out a Christmas tree, strap it to an IKEA cart, bring it home on a bus, drag it up the steps to your apartment building, endure stares, endure bruises, and think nothing could be harder. But after you decorate it and enjoy the sparkly 100 Franc lights (what is with the prices of Christmas lights?), it's all worth it.

Until you realize that the tree is only festive for so long.

Yes. You've seen them. Those sad, balding pines sagging against metal railings on various Swiss balconies across the country. It's practically March, but yet it appears that some people are still celebrating Christmas. I am one of those people.

Usually, I end up celebrating at least six months of Christmas as my husband and I debate how to get rid of our Swiss Christmas tree upon missing the one tree pick-up delivery day. Here's a hint to our strategy: a Swiss army knife and a garbage bag. (Just don't tell the Swiss police, I have a feeling this is sehr illegal).

To read more about how I celebrate the six months of Christmas, click here to read my expat adventure column in Swiss News this month.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Switzerland: Wealth, Democracy, and a whole ton of Chocolate


I was in the Chicago airport a few weeks back and was a bit disappointed by the food offerings in the international terminal. There were basically three things to choose from: candy, alcohol, or chips. Now I'm no expert on nutrition, but I try to be one on Switzerland and guess what. In the pathetically slim food offerings in all of the international terminal at Chicago O'Hare, the Swiss dominated. Their chocolate was on the shelf. And not much else was.

You have to hand it to this country. They're smaller in population than the entire city of Chicago, and yet their products are on shelves in Chicago and around the world.

Yes. This country is facinating. Maybe you can tell I think so by the number of years I've been writing this blog now.

Anyhow, if you're new to Switzerland, considering moving to Switzerland, live in Switzerland, or just want to know more about the kind of people who eat (and probably sell) more chocolate than anyone else on earth, Expatica.com, a website for expats in Europe, is in the process of publishing a Swiss Survival Guide. Parts of the guide are already available online, including the introduction, which is written by yours truly. Read more about these rich, democratic, and traditional people here, in Welcome to Switzerland.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Minaret Ban: Fear or Discrimination?


I have to say, I was shocked that the Swiss passed the minaret ban on Sunday. I've read reports that say the ban resulted from fear and not from discrimination. But my question is, isn't that the same thing?

Not to mention, I just don't get the fear thing. What do the Swiss have to fear? No one has terrorized them. And I don't see what banning minarets accomplishes. Except to ask for trouble.

I also don't get this: religious freedom is part of the Swiss constitution. But the Swiss are so democratic, they've somehow been able to vote against their constitution. You have to give them credit. Democracy doesn't get any better than this.

There are four minarets in Switzerland. Four. None of them are used out of respect for the Swiss concern of "disruption." And please. If you want to talk disruption, I've got a clock tower across the street that tells me the time every fifteen minutes, 24/7. Never mind the Catholic church bells. Or celebrations called Badenfahrt.

What do you think? Is the minaret ban a step back for Switzerland? Can the Swiss ever claim they are neutral again? Is fear and discrimination the same thing?

Monday, November 30, 2009

Common “mistakes” made by expats in Switzerland


Every country has its culture and its quirks and when you start living in a new one, you realize just how different things are. Below are some “mistakes” I’ve made as an American living in Switzerland. Maybe you can relate.

Smiling. The Swiss will think you’re retarded. I have now trained myself not to smile in order to look somewhat normal. But sometimes I still can’t help it.

Showing enthusiasm when your boss says, “We’ve got a new project and we might need you to work overtime.” Don’t smile and say “great.” He will think you’re crazy. (And let’s be honest, no sane person would want to work overtime except an American.)

Not knowing that without your permit, you can do nothing. You can’t get a phone (except for a pre-pay cell), you can’t travel outside the country, and you can’t do much of anything else. Except wait.

Decorating your office space with photos and personal items. The Swiss prefer white walls in the office and keep their personal lives separate from work.

Not realizing that when a Swiss criticizes the way you do laundry or gardening, that this is just their way of being friendly and saying hello.

Standing in line. There is no such concept, despite misconceptions that everything in this country is organized to the 10th of a second. The only people who stand in line are expats.

Not getting that sandwich right at noon. There might not be any left at 12.30 p.m. And all a Swiss colleague will say to you is, “you should have been more on time.”

Opening the window on a Swiss train. It doesn’t matter how hot it is. Most Swiss hate drafts and will prefer to sweat.

Not introducing yourself to a Swiss first. Most Swiss people generally will not come to you.

Not being patient. Everything in Switzerland takes forever. Getting paid by the unemployment people. Making friends. Getting your permit.

Asking for butter. They just don’t use that stuff on bread here. And if you do manage to ask for some, you’ll be charged for it.

Ok, I’ve embarrassed myself enough. What “mistakes” have you made as an expat in Switzerland?

This post was written on behalf of AffordableCallingCards.net, a new expat community blog. This blog offers affordable calling cards in Switzerland as well as information about living in abroad in Switzerland and many other countries.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

5 Great Reasons to be an Expat in Switzerland


In honor of the Thanksgiving holiday, head over to Peterthals in Zurich to read my guest post on 5 Great Reasons to be an Expat in Switzerland. From great hiking to great pay, there are lots of reasons to love Switzerland. So forget about those Migros Moments for a minute. What do you love about being an expat in Switzerland?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Celebrating Thanksgiving from Abroad


This being my fourth Thanksgiving abroad (wow, time flies), I've got to say that each year I've celebrated a bit differently. One of the worst parts about being an expat are holidays like these being well, just not like real holidays when you have to go to work. The first year I had friends visiting from the States and the turkey thing was too overwhelming (not to mention too pricey) so we had raclette for Thanksgiving. (You can read about it in my column in this month's Swiss News).

Last year we had our Swiss neighbor over for a more proper American-style Thanksgiving. We cooked turkey breasts, cranberries, cornbread, stuffing, sweet potato casserole, pumpkin pie and more. All our neighbor could say in between admiring all of this foreign food, was "it's just like in the movies."

This year, I'm celebrating with some American expats in Zurich. We're having a potluck Thanksgiving tonight after everyone gets out of work. How about you? Will you be celebrating? Or just working? Or both?

And be sure to check out my guest post today over on Swisstory Blog about what the Swiss think of expats in Switzerland.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Should I Stay or Should I Go?


When my husband was first given an offer to work in Switzerland, the first thing I did was ask the question, "should I move abroad?" Unfortunately, I asked Google, and Google didn't really have an answer for that. But British writer and journalist Paul Allen does. He's written an ebook called, Should I Stay Or Should I Go? The Truth about Moving Abroad and Whether it's Right for You, and I can't help but wish something like this would have been available four years ago, when I was first deciding whether or not to move to Switzerland. Paul Allen now lives in northern Spain and joins me over at Writer Abroad to talk about his book and about being a writer in Spain.

What about you? Did you frantically search the Internet to like me looking for advice about moving abroad? Or how did you make your decision to stay or go?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Why are the Swiss so pushy?

Since most of you could relate to the Migros Moments post (thank God, it's not just me going crazy), I wanted to share an excerpt from the book, When in Germany, Do as the Germans Do, by Hyde Flippo. While I know we're talking Switzerland here, as I read this book last night, I realized a lot of the things in this book are useful for describing the way people in Switzerland act and may help explain the unexplainable.

There is a set of questions in this book and one of them is:

Why are Germans so pushy? They don't seem to know what a line/queue is.

Ah, welcome to Switzerland too. But the book tells us that "pushy" behavior is a European thing. It means that the meek (in other words, us Anglo-Saxons) will wait forever in doing things like getting off a bus, getting waited on at a store, etc. The books says that we need to adjust to a mentality that regards politeness as a sign of weakness, and smiling for no reason as a sign of a weak mind.

Dang.

What do you think? Is politeness a sign of weakness? Have you trained yourself not to smile while living here? I have, and it makes me feel depressed. How about you?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Another Migros Moment


To celebrate my 400th post on One Big Yodel, I thought I'd discuss one of my favorite topics, shopping at Migros.

I've had so many run-ins (literal run-ins, with people plowing into me) at various Migroi that I have a name for them: "Migros Moments."

"What's wrong?" my husband asked me last week when he saw I was steaming as I unloaded the groceries.

"I had another Migros moment," I said.

"Oh no," he said. He knows these are bad because he's been involved in his own.

Anyhow, I’m innocently getting an onion when the Mad Cart Man of Baden goes by me at about 75 miles-an-hour with his shopping cart. He doesn’t actually hit me, but he hits another lady’s cart, as well as my shoulder bag, which goes flying off my shoulder. Thank God there were no children in his path because they'd be dead right now.

I try not to feel all American and offended by his invasion of my personal space, but he doesn’t even apologize. He screeches to a halt in front of the potatoes, (naturally, because it’s where I’m headed next), so I grab a plastic bag in frustration, letting it rip loudly as it tears.

Then, the Mad Cart Man of Baden starts lecturing me on my plastic bag ripping technique. I couldn't believe it. No one has ever lectured me about something as anal as this. Especially someone who could use a speedometer on his shopping cart.

“It’s better if you pull off the bag this way,” he says, gripping the next plastic bag on the roll, “then you don’t make it hard for me to grab the next one.”

It’s better if you don’t pretend you’re driving a shopping cart in a Formula One race,” I want to tell him, but my German is frozen so I just say as sarcastic as possible,

“Es tut mir leid.” And then I'm so anxious to get the heck out of that store that I start shopping as fast as possible. But at least I'm using a basket.

Have you had a Migros Moment? If so, please tell. I'll love you for it.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

WRS | Exploring the 'expat experience'


Hi Yodelers,

If any of you are interested in listening to a discussion about expat life in Switzerland, but weren't able to make it to the live broadcast from Zurich on Tuesday night, check out WRS | Exploring the 'expat experience'.

Some of the topics discussed included being laid off Swiss style, dating Swiss men, and how the heck to get your head around the German/Swiss German language thing.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Dryer Sheet Envy


Over the weekend, I was in the laundry room with my 75-year-old Swiss neighbor, when she eyed my big, imported box of dryer sheets.

“Where did you buy those?” she asked.

“In the U.S.,” I told her.

“Oh, I thought so,” she said. Then she got out her box of Swiss dryer sheets to show me that there were only 12 in the box.

“And this cost 8 Francs,” she said, shaking her head.

We inspected my huge box. “160 sheets,” I said. “And also costs about 8 Francs.”

My neighbor sighed, looking at her box of dryer sheets like it was more an envelope than a box. And who could blame her, it really was a pathetic sight next to my big box of Bounce.

“I can bring you back a box of these dryer sheets on my next trip home,” I offered.

She smiled big and nodded excitedly at the thought of getting more than 13 times the number of dryer sheets she was used to in one box.

“Yes!” she said. “Oh, thank you!”

And there, in a nutshell, is Switzerland versus the United States.

In other news beyond the laundry room (why do all things worth mentioning in Switzerland seem to happen in laundry rooms?), I've written a post for Kristi's wonderful blog, From A to Z, on the difference between foreigners and expats. Join the discussion here.

And thanks to all who have already checked out my new blog, Writer Abroad. So happy to see you over there. Thanks.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

New Blog: Writer Abroad

My new blog, Writer Abroad, is launching today and even if you're not a writer, I hope you'll check it out anyway for the awesome illustration header that was created by a former colleague of mine, Swiss art director, Tom Kees. He doesn't want me to give him credit, but too bad. And on second thought, I can't wait, so what the heck, here's the illustration:



If you're a writer living abroad or just dreaming of becoming one, I hope you'll join me over at Writer Abroad. I'm currently looking to interview writers living abroad and if you've got a blog about writing or are a writer abroad with a blog, please let me know so I can add it to the links section of Writer Abroad.

And if you're not into the writer thing don't worry, One Big Yodel isn't going anywhere. Tomorrow, we're back to our regularly scheduled program of strange things that happen in Switzerland. Tomorrow's topic? How to sum up the differences between Switzerland and the United States with a box of dryer sheets.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

How to Make Friends in Switzerland


Today, over on Swisstory Blog, I'm a guest blogger talking about the popular topic, "How to Make Friends in Switzerland." (Thanks to Kathy who suggested this topic for the radio discussion tonight. But I wanted to cover this topic in writing just in case it doesn't pan out for the discussion about expat life on the radio.)

Hope you'll stop by Swisstory Blog today as the post includes additional links to articles on the same topic as well.

World Radio Switzerland, Live in Zurich Update


Hi Yodelers,

I've gotten some additional information about the World Radio Switzerland event in Zurich and wanted to share in case anyone was interested in attending (or listening online) today.

The entire event goes from 16.30 until 19.00, and you're welcome to come to any part of it. From 17.00-18.00, I'll be part of a panel that's discussing:

What is the expat experience in Zurich?
And what do the Swiss think of expats?

The other members of the panel are:
•Tom Armitage, Journalist and communications consultant from Britain
•Cécile Bastien-Remy, Project manager and co-founder of Grüezi Newcomer! Insider’s guide around Lake Zürich, from France
•Tanja Alvesalo, Project manager and co-founder of Grüezi Newcomer! Insider’s guide around Lake Zürich, from Fribourg (CH)
•Laura Gardiner, Senior Account Manager in a marketing agency from the US
•Coulton Berkinshaw, Voice-over and commercial recordings artist, from UK/Canada
•Nir Ofek, cofounder of Glocals, from Israel (duplex from Geneva)

It should be an interesting time. Hope to see you there. Or you can always listen online.

Tuesday, November 10th
16.30-19.00
Movie Bar and Restaurant
Beatenplatz 4
8001 Zürich
044 211 66 77
www.dinner.ch
Map

Monday, November 09, 2009

We Have a Winner

Congrats to Amanda, over at the blog Queso Suizo, for winning a copy of Chicken Soup for the Soul: All in the Family: 101 Incredible Stories about our Funny, Quirky, Lovable & "Dysfunctional" Families. The book will be mailed to her this week.

In order to win a copy of this book that features two essays by yours truly, Amanda wrote this short story about her crazy family and posted it in the comments section of the post from Shameless Self-Promotion Day:

For the last several years, the oldies in our family have requested that my cousins and I begin to add babies to the clan to make Thanksgiving more entertaining. To buy some time, we have had to come up with alternative forms of entertainment. First, we asked our then-preteen cousin to serenade us with Gwen Stefani singles. Once we realized she would never be an American Idol finalist, it occurred to my sister and me that we should take it upon ourselves to entertain the family at holiday gatherings. We now tell "arm stories" in which one sister sits in a chair and tells an embarrassing story about another family member (in the first person) while the other sister "does the arms.” Hair twirling and other gestures I shan't mention are often involved, revealing the truth to surprised parents for five years and counting!

Congrats to Amanda and be sure to check out her blog, Queso Suizo.

And if you haven't done so already, pick up a copy of Chicken Soup for the Soul: All in the Family: 101 Incredible Stories about our Funny, Quirky, Lovable & "Dysfunctional" Families,which is already in its second printing.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

World Radio Switzerland Live in Zurich


To celebrate their two-year anniversary, World Radio Switzerland (WRS) is hosting live broadcasts of their drive-time show, The Wrap, all next week at the Movie Bar in Zurich from 4:30 p.m.- 7 p.m. I'll be discussing expat life on Tuesday's broadcast, and I'd love to see you there. It's my Swiss radio debut as myself (whew, do I know who that is?), as I've previously written and recorded stories for WRS under the illustrious persona of Laid-off Liz.

I'm trying not to make a fool of myself, so I'm looking for suggestions for the expat discussion. If anyone has a topic about expat life they'd like to hear about, please leave a comment here and I'll do my best to present it if the opportunity arises. Otherwise, I'll just have to rely on everything crazy that has happened to me in this wonderful country we all call home.

Hope to see you there!

WRS Live Broadcast
Tuesday, November 10
4.30 p.m.-7 p.m.
Movie Restaurant & Bar
Beatenplatz 4
8001 Zurich

And if you can't make it, be sure to tune in from home on Tuesday from 5 p.m. - 5.30 p.m. to hear me pretending to actually know stuff when in fact I usually walk around Switzerland clueless. You can listen live online.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Help. In the U.S., I Can't Walk Anywhere


The United States. So big. So sprawling. So much personal space. And yet. I felt closed in.

I was just in the U.S. for a week and I couldn't help but feel a little stifled by the lack of fresh air. Yes, the rainy weather didn't help, but neither did the fact that although the hotel I was staying at in Indiana was about 500 meters from a Wendy's (and I was really craving a frosty), there was absolutely no way to just walk there.

So I didn't go. Call me European, but I was pissed that I couldn't just walk the 500 meters to fulfill my junk food craving.

Maybe Switzerland has spoiled me. I live within 10 minutes walking distance of grocery stores, the post office, the library, the pool, the spa, the H&M, the McDonald's, and more. Having to drive in Switzerland is like having to take Amtrak in the U.S. You just don't want to do it.

And while I enjoyed stuffing my face at Lone Star Steakhouse, Subway, Dunkin Donuts and more, I didn't like the feeling of not being able to walk all that off. I want to consume like any American citizen, but then I want to be able to walk it all off Swiss-style. I guess I can't have the best of both worlds. And that's disappointing.

The closest I came to being European on my U.S. visit was walking a mile (excuse me, 1.6 kilometers) into town to get my hair cut. My mother was at work so there was no other car for me to drive (or public transportation for me to take), but I was happy to walk. But my mother-in-law was concerned. "Are you sure you don't want me to pick you up so you don't have to walk home?" she asked me at least three times.

"No," I told her, at least three times.

She thought I was just being nice. I wasn't. But see, as an American, it's hard to believe, but some of us (at least those of us spoiled by a European lifestyle) just want to be able to walk places. Is that too much to ask?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Scary Halloween Costume Idea: Migros Uniform


Ok, no offense to the good people who were probably forced to have their photo taken in kindergarten class style for this grocery store advertorial. But shame on the person that designed the uniforms.

Maybe this is unfair. For one reason or the other, grocery store uniforms seem to be created to be ugly on purpose. I can see no other reason to combine polyester, the color orange, and the purposeless, confusingly angled arm stripes. But why are ugly grocery store uniforms such a universal, worldwide phenomenon? Shouldn't the uniforms reflect the brand image? Do all supermarkets see themselves as lame? If I had to describe Migros on basis on uniform alone, I think I'd say, Happy Halloween (which at least, is appropriate for me to say today. But do you want to be saying that on say, Christmas?).

Yep, there's no doubt about it in my mind, Migros uniforms take the prize for being Switzerland's scariest grocery store outfits.

But I'm willing to discuss otherwise. Anyone got a good reason why the Coop uniforms are the worst? What do you think of the grocery store fashions in Switzerland? Or in whatever country you happen to be in? But more importantly, would you dress up as a Migros cashier for Halloween?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Entertainment in Switzerland: Housing Ads

I like reading the housing ads in Switzerland for three reasons:

1. The prices are so outrageous it's kind of entertaining. (4.5 room apartment in the middle of nowhere Aargau for SFr 844,000? Oh and that doesn't include a garage...that's an extra SFr 25,000).

2. I can understand most of the text.

3. You come across gems like this:


Come on, really. Who can resist a Geak Apero...Not to mention the art direction on this ad really matches my English translation of such a thing.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Life of an Expat, Part 2

Last week (thanks everyone!) we had a great discussion about the expatriate phenomenon of the whole "life on hold" concept.

This week, over on ACC, I discuss The Life of an Expat, Part 2: The curse of loving two countries. The question of where home is. And how instead of feeling more international and educated from living abroad, most of the time, I just feel more confused. Do you? Join the discussion here.

And don't forget your chance to win a copy of Chicken Soup for the Soul: All in the Family: 101 Incredible Stories about our Funny, Quirky, Lovable & "Dysfunctional" Families complete with essays by yours truly. Click here to enter your crazy family story in the comments for a chance to win.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Trailing Spouse, Moi?


Yesterday I was interviewed over at Beyond the Gray, which is a fabulous blog about living your most inspired life. I highly recommend checking it out if at some point in your life (at home or abroad) you found yourself struggling to achieve or to redefine your dreams. Maybe you'll relate to my story.

As a trailing spouse, identity can be a tough thing (because if you're like me, that last thing you want to be called is a "trailing spouse"). But if the career you had before isn't going to work out abroad (or you lose yours via a layoff like me), maybe there's something else you'd love to do and try. Maybe, in fact, this is your big opportunity for that something you used to put on hold.

A good example of someone who reinvented herself abroad is Toma Haines, who used to work in marketing in the U.S., but has since lived in three European countries and created a business that fits her lifestyle and her love--antique shopping. This month, her business, The Antiques Diva, was featured in Travel & Leisure. Talk about a success story.

So. It can be done. Just takes some dreaming. (And possibly some insert country here bureaucracy). So check out Beyond the Gray. And don't forget to take a moment to win a book complete with a few essays by yours truly.

And in the meantime, did you feel like you lost your identity by moving abroad or losing a job?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Shameless Self Promotion Day

Hello and welcome to Shameless Self Promotion Day. It's just a brief departure from our discussion of Switzerland to let you know that I'm excited (well who am I kidding, I'm practically peeing my pants) that not just one, but two of my essays are out in bookstores across the United States today in one of the best-selling Chicken Soup anthologies, Chicken Soup for the Soul: All in the Family: 101 Incredible Stories about our Funny, Quirky, Lovable & "Dysfunctional" Families.

I don't know what having multiple essays in a book about dysfunctional families says about my family, but I want to take a moment to thank them for providing endless inspiration.

The first story (which is actually the first one in the book--you can read it by clicking on the "see inside this book" button) is about how my father wraps everything (including plastic lawn chairs) in plastic (oh, and happy birthday today, dad...you know what you're getting for the big day).

The second essay is about the DNA I've inherited from multiple family members that just makes me want to steal those butter packets from the table at Denny's (and also the DNA that makes living in Switzerland so difficult because of the lack of these kind of things to take.)

To make Shameless Self-Promotion Day slightly less shameful, I'm giving away a copy of Chicken Soup for the Soul: All in the Family: 101 Incredible Stories about our Funny, Quirky, Lovable & "Dysfunctional" Families. All you have to do to win is leave a comment on this post about something crazy your family does from now until November 3. Craziest family story (in my opinion, of course) wins. You'll get the book and your story will be posted on my blog in a future post along with a link to your blog or website. Please keep stories to 150 words or less.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Swiss Skimpiness and Skinniness

"You must have lived in Switzerland for awhile now," said a Swiss colleague to me over lunch one day.
"Why?" I asked.
"Because you're not fat anymore," he said.
Clearly, as an American, I must have been fat in a former life.

Which brings me to point #2. Breakfast at Manor.


When it comes right down to it, maybe the Swiss aren't fat because they can't afford to be. After all, that extra butter packet doesn't come free. And neither does that extra pad of jam. 

This ad, for breakfast at Manor (which is actually a great deal at CHF 6 when you consider one sip of orange juice can cost that alone) is telling of Swiss culture by the description of what's included in this deal:

1 cup of coffee or espresso
1 dl orange juice 
1 croissant
1 slice of bread
1 small roll
1 butter packet
1 jelly packet

I can just hear my Swiss neighbor,

"We have to go to Manor, because one pad of butter is free there!" 

Earth shattering for the typical Swiss.

Anyhow, besides the fact that your one dl of orange juice will be strictly observed with a line on the glass (not to mention this amount is equivalent to one American sip), I find the whole one butter packet and one jelly packet reflective of the whole culture of Swiss stinginess and restraint. But maybe if American restaurants charged their customers for things like butter, we'd have less waste and smaller waistlines? (Or maybe just smaller purses, if you're the type that pockets these things from American diners like my grandmother did).

Something to think about as I ponder my former fat self.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Life of an Expat, Part 1



Being an expat is wonderful sometimes. You can pick up and head off to Paris for the weekend. You can take advantage of benefits like housing allowances and expensed train tickets. And you can experience a part of the world most people never will.

But then there's the life on hold concept.

“Hey honey, can we get a dog?” I’ve asked many times upon seeing some adorable Bernese mountain dog sitting next to my table at a Swiss restaurant.

“Sure, when we move back,” my husband will answer.

When we move back. This was supposed to be last May, as my husband was on a three-year contract, but as you can see, we are still here. I know expats that have come to Switzerland for one year and stayed for forty. It’s a strange life to live, when you don’t know where in the world you’ll be living the following year. But it’s starting to get old.

Because I want a dog. I want a piano. I’m an American and I have a lot of wants that don’t quite fit with the Swiss apartment lifestyle.

So the next time we had the “I want a dog,” conversation, I told my husband, no fair about the “move back” statement. I want a date. A thing where time matters, but not place.

Shaking his head, he finally said, “Ok, you can get a dog next summer.”

And I’m going to hold him to that. Wherever in the world we might be.

This series, The Life of an Expat, was written on behalf of affordablecallingcards.net . But don’t worry, it’s 100% my opinion. Stay tuned next week for The Life of an Expat, Part 2, over on ACC.

But in the meantime, what do you think? If you’re an expat, does your life feel like it’s on hold sometimes? What do you love and what do you dislike about expat life?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

How I Learned to Love a Swiss Sausage

When I first moved to Switzerland, I was not a sausage eater. I didn't eat hot dogs, I didn't eat corn dogs. I didn't need to be a consumer of all things pig. In America, there was something called variety. So I could survive on things like hamburgers at picnics or popcorn at the ballpark.

But in Switzerland, it's sausage or starvation. There's no hamburger option. There's cervelat or wurst.

To avoid starvation, I started slow. I'd take one bite of my husband's cervelat at a festival and ponder if I could really learn to eat more than that. Eventually I'd take two bites, then three, and then one day last year at Christmas time, I actually took part in the community sausage roast...by grilling a marshmallow.

While little Swiss children pointed and stared, I proudly grilled my marshmallow, but it looked weak and sad among the meaty sausage sticks surrounding it. So I stuffed my American Jet-Puffed marshmallows into my backpack after roasting just one and stared at all the little kids holding three-foot long burning sausage skewers, thinking, if this was America, this little Christmas sausage gathering would turn into a lawsuit.



So imagine my own surprise, when I suggested to my husband that we go have a Broetla (Swiss German for sausage roast) on a hilltop on Sunday. (Swiss German readers, please correct my spelling). We cooked our cervelat over a fire and even ate them Swiss style, holding the sausages like a banana, and dipping them in mustard. The only unSwiss thing about our little Sunday picnic were the paper plates we ate them off of. We just couldn't get motivated to drag our china up the mountain.

But I figure that doesn't matter. Because I ate the whole thing.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Why the Swiss Care About Scottie Pippin



I was reading Blick am Abend the other day, when I saw the celebrity pages. And it got me thinking. Why do the Swiss care about the birthdays of Catherine Zeta-Jones, Will Smith, and Scottie Pippin? Could it be because they don't have any celebrities of their own? Read more about this phenomenon here.

As an American, I'm not even sure if I care about these people. Do you?

Friday, October 09, 2009

Swiss Political Advertising Part 2


Ok, I was going to post about something else today, but then I saw this. Anyone else see a problem with this ad? These posters, a campaign to prevent the construction of minarets in Switzerland, can be found around the country. In a breath of fresh air, both the cities of Basel and Lausanne are actually trying to stop them from running. Personally, I still can't believe how outwardly racist some Swiss organizations can be.

If you're interested in reading more, there's an article on CNN (thanks Mrs Mac).

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Monday, October 05, 2009

What the French do during lunch

On a typical workday, while Americans are eating a Subway sandwich at their desk, the French are doing this:


They are learning to cook a gourmet meal and then eating their creations (complete with wine and espresso) at different cooking classes across Paris. And then, two hours later, they just head back to the office. C'est normal, n'est-ce pas?

I've come to the conclusion that we as Americans are doing something wrong. You?

Thursday, October 01, 2009

The New Swiss Beauty Queen in Crowned


Maybe it was just me and my bad Swiss German comprehension. But I could have sworn that Linda Faeh, who was crowned Miss Switzerland on Saturday night, didn't answer her final question correctly.

But who cares. She has blond hair and a nice smile. And apparently that's all that counts in these things.

Now perhaps this is unfair. The new Miss Switzerland is beautiful and could also be highly intelligent and who am I, a crappy German speaker, interpreting her Swiss German, to say she didn't quite get the question. Maybe she was just nervous and didn't realize that the final question was "A woman has fallen asleep for 20 years and now wakes up, what would she say about what has changed?" Instead she answered it like "A woman has fallen asleep for 20 years. What did she dream?"

To be fair to my German, the final two contestants answered this question like I thought it should be, proving that maybe I have half a German brain. They talked about the shock of seeing new technologies, etc, etc. But they lost. This brings me to point #2. Democracy.

Yes, you're probably wondering what the heck democracy has to do with Swiss Beauty Pageants, but like the rest of the overly-democratic country, it has a lot to do with it. The judging panel's vote only counted for 50%. The viewer's vote counted for the other 50%. (Although like everything else in Switzerland, democracy came at a price. 80 Rappen per vote via SMS, to be exact.)

So really, it was all a popularity contest, not a beauty contest. But I have to hand it to the Swiss. They know how to turn anything, event a beauty pageant on TV, into a money maker. So whoever has the richest and the most friends wins. It has nothing to do with intelligence or talent (there’s no talent show in case you’re wondering). But in this sense, it's not unlike most other things in life, really. This post was written on behalf of AffordableCallingCards.net. But as you can probably tell, it’s entirely my opinion.

And if anyone wants to argue with me on the final question from Saturday night, please do. Swiss German interpreters over French announcers (the event was held in Geneva this year) can make things even more difficult to comprehend for us non-native Swiss speakers.

Tune in next week on the ACC site for more of my thoughts on Swiss beauty pageants. And if you can’t wait (and who can blame you) click here to read my take on the Mister Switzerland pageant, held earlier this year. What do you think of Swiss Beauty Pageants? Or beauty pageants in general?

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Balloon Festival in Toggenburg


I will never be as cool as my younger sister. Because I do things like get up at 6.30 am on a Saturday to go see cows. But give me a break. I’m in Switzerland. That’s what people do here.

Despite the whole sister stigma, I actually enjoyed the Alpabzug in Urnaesch two weekends ago. And I’d get up at 6.30 am for a bunch of dressed-up cows again. I think a few Swiss bloggers that I saw there would agree with me, right?

Anyhow, as we talk once a week, my sister couldn’t wait to hear what stupid thing I did in Switzerland this last weekend. So I told her it was the Balloon Festival in Toggenburg. The highlight of this balloon festival is the Night Glow where the hot air balloons sit along a lake in the middle of the Alps and light up to music. This was a bit cooler in her opinion. So maybe I’m not a total loser. Yet.

A lot of other people thought a balloon fest in the middle of nowhere was cool too, as evidenced by the hundreds of people I had to fight, up to an hour and a half ahead of time, to get a prime spot along the lake for photo taking.

Twelve balloons “danced” to everything from the theme to the Lion King to live yodeling to Johann Strauss. That combination alone in one 45-minute interval was something to experience. Personally, I found that the Strauss worked the best because of the upbeat rhythm, but the live yodeling was definitely more unique. Problem is, yodeling doesn’t have such a defined beat, and a rhythm sort of helps when you’re trying to light up balloons to music. But decide for yourself. Because what do I know? I'm the kind of person that gets up way too early to see cows.

video

Monday, September 28, 2009

Phone Phobia


I admit it. When my phone rings in Switzerland, I get scared. Do I say a friendly English "hello?" Do I bark my last name into the phone like I'm pissed? Do I brace for Swiss German and prepare to ask if the caller speaks High German? Will all this worry be pointless because the caller is actually my mom?

If you have ever lived in a country where phone etiquette--not to mention the local language--is just a little bit different, read on. Maybe, just maybe, you'll be able to relate to my column in October's Swiss News .

And if you have a humiliating phone story, please leave a comment. It just might make me feel better.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Death and Taxes

Guest Post by Kristi from the blog A to Z.

Someone once said death and taxes were the only two things one could be certain of. This person obviously didn't visit Switzerland.

You can also be certain that Switzerland is frackin expensive. I am not going to bore you with how expensive, it is a popular topic that you can simply read up on by googling "Switzerland" or "Swiss" or "most expensive but beautiful place in the world". No higher pay, lower tax economics lesson will save you from the sticker shock (which will result in you curling up in a corner while violently shaking. You revert to an old thumb sucking habit you kicked at age eight and ironically, shock treatment is what it takes to snap out of it). You can arm yourself though with knowledge, and everyone knows knowledge is power.

So let's talk food shopping. Yes, I was all dramatic so we could talk about how to save time and money while food shopping. You are either intrigued or let down, but either way you want to read what is next as a result, don't you?

Tips for Saving Time:


1. Get to know your food store or stores: Become familiar with the aisles, the product placement, opening/closing hours, and general feel. I would do this before you plan to shop - just walk in and check things out. I went to a different store last Sunday and it easily doubled my shopping time because I couldn't find the canned beans.

2. Check out your staples and take notes: On the same mapping expedition, take notes with particular focus on your staples. What is the German word for milk, where are the eggs located (if you are American, this may shock you), how are things packaged (cute pics of animals on packaging identifies your meat), you learn that you are responsible for labeling and barcoding produce, etc. You will find yourself gawking at all the yogurt options and marvel at how few options you have for chips (paprika anyone?). If you are lucky, someone may mistake you for taking inventory and ask you where the cheddar cheese is. You can just point "thatta way" then shamelessly giggle when they still can't find it, trust me...it's fun.

3. Plan your attack: I make menu plans once a week and stick to them. This may or may not keep you out of the store multiple times per week, but I am convinced it is why I can shop once or twice a week, never needing to go that third time. My menu plans consist of one pot meals that last two days or the recycling of ingredients into different dishes.

4. Learn how to convert to grams: You stare at the package of chicken, you wonder if 12 chf is reasonable for .206 kg of meat...you go home and Google it and you find out you have been had. The sooner you figure out how to convert to kg or g, the less time you will spend looking at a package of meat while scratching your head. Rule of thumb, one kg = 2ish lbs.

Tips for Saving Money:


1. Shop an hour before closing time: You will find many items drastically discounted at closing time. This is great if you are a meat eater - as many times you can find certain proteins discounted up to 50%. Be sure to either freeze or use this deeply discounted meat immediately as it is likely discounted for a reason, like death if you consume it tomorrow.

2. Check out the items sold in bulk: There is nothing better than discovering the 500g produce deals, 1.20 chf for 10 cloves of garlic...hell yeah! 12 chf for .890kg of chicken breast, pinch me...I must be dreaming. Buying in bulk can definitely bring about a good deal, you just have to look for it.

3. Produce is good AND cheap: The produce is so amazing compared to what I had back home and I can't believe I am about to say this, cheap! I want to pet it sometimes because it is so pretty and colorful and cheap. I try to make produce heavy dinners at least twice a week. I have also learned what turns quickly so I can make sure I use that particular item in the beginning of the week, saving the produce that doesn't turn immediately for the end of the week.

4. Store brands are your friend: The food stores here carry a discount store brand for many items and I have found most to be of high quality. While I can't say they are "cheap", they are less expensive than your branded items.

5. Use re-useable bags: Unlike in the States where bags are free at check out, they charge you 30 rappen (30 cents) per grocery bag. They are actually quite lovely bags, but you are still wasting money and spitting in Mother Earth's face. I brought three over from the States and am quite happy I did so, they have served me well.

6. Choose your organics wisely: I find the regular items to be of such high standard that I buy very little organic (labeled Bio or Biological here). This is a very personal decision though so I won't tell you what to do. The more organic you buy, the more you spend so choose wisely. I am comforted by the fact that the Swiss are known to treat their animals well and the cow I just ate probably had a Swiss massage before it kicked it (no Swedish massage here, they like to protect Swiss jobs...I Kid!)

I want to leave you with this one last tip, SURRENDER. Surrender to the fact that food shopping here is different. Different is why you came here though so the earlier you let go of that 50-foot chip aisle, the quicker you will adjust and maybe even enjoy the experience. The Swiss do enjoy some Pringles so while they do not carry 12 varieties of Doritos, you can crack open a can of freeze dried potato snacks. A little familiarity never hurt an expat...

So do you have a food shopping tip or an embarrassing story? Can anyone spot the Pringles can?

For more by Kristi, visit her blog, From A to Z

Thursday, September 24, 2009

12 Great Resources for Expats in CH, Part Two


Part Two of this series, 12 Great Resources for Expats in CH, you can find over at ACC by clicking here. For Part One, click here.

Have any other tips for expats that I forgot? Leave a comment.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Yellow Knickers, Live On!


On Saturday, I was transported to another world. A world where guys wear yellow knickers and don't rush home to take them off. A world where cows have the right away on roads. And a world where men young and old yodel with themselves--even when no one else is around. On Saturday, I went to the Alpabzug in Urnaesch.

Yes, it was exciting seeing the procession of cows and people come down from the mountains and yodel through town while all the tourists took photos of them like they were some kind of show. But the impressive thing is, it wasn't a show. It was just what these guys do.

My husband and I ended up following a group of them all the way back to their farm. We were the only foreigners for miles by this point (because no one else would be brave enough to endure so much cow poop), but the men continued on their way yodeling and and marching like they were doing it for a crowd. When they got home, they stood in the driveway of their farm in a circle and yodeled amongst themselves. They didn't rush inside to put on something more comfortable. They didn't change demenour when away from the tourists. They were just themselves. What the tourists saw in Urnaesch was really who these guys are.


I don't know about you, but I find this refreshing and somewhat amazing. It seems like so many things listed on tourist calendars these days are shows put on especially for tourists without having any real meaning behind them anymore. But the Appenzell area of Switzerland has really retained its authenticity--even if the rest of Switzerland tends to make fun of the traditional farmers from this area. But instead of making fun of them, we should congratulate them for keeping their traditions alive in a world that slowly seems to becoming the same.

Below you'll find a video of these guys at home, yodeling. It was taken from across a field as to not be too intrusive, but you can still hear their yodeling and get a sense that these guys are the real deal.
video

For some other great stories and photos of this event visit:
Twissted Swisster
Swiss Story
Swiss Family Mac
Peterthals in Zurich

Do you have a post on Alpabzug too? Let me know and I'll add you to the list!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Excuse Me, What Country am I in?


I've had some unique experiences while living in Switzerland, but I don't think anything tops yesterday's experience biking in Basel's Slow Up event. Slow Up, as I've talked about before, is a collection of motor-free Sundays in Switzerland. I knew that Basel's Slow Up was 60k and went through three countries, and I was looking forward to snacking in each one, but somehow, I thought the border crossings would be more obvious.

After my husband and I locked our bikes to a tree after biking the first 10k or so, we headed to a food tent in the middle of a field, set up just for Slow Up participants.

"Wow, the prices are so cheap!" I exclaimed to my husband, pointing to a sign that said a half-chicken was only 4.50.

"Yeah, that's a great deal!" he said.

"And look, the sandwiches are only 2.50!"

We got to the cashier at the back of the food tent with our half-chickens and I got out my 10 Franc bill.

"Nine Euros, please," she said.

"Euros? Where the heck am I?" I thought.

"Uh, do you take Francs?" I asked.

She did. So I pulled out a 50. Whew.

Friday, September 18, 2009

A Day in the Life of an Expat


Expat Mad Lib (remember those?) written by Traveler for Good from The Pursuit.
(Nouns, Verbs, and other word requests provided by me. Here's the result...)

 
Your alarm goes off! You fight and look out the window. Instead of seeing green grass and your neighbor walking his cow, you see raclette. What will the day bring?

You jump in the shower, remembering halfway through your shampoo that the 10C water only lasts for 5 minutes. On to breakfast. Your grab your favorite breakfast cereal of Schlect Wheat, grab an apple and drink some warm boxed espresso.

You leave the house and realize you didn’t get the memo. Everyone is wearing blue lederhosen and you are wearing pink. No time to change, you’ve already been down 13 flights of stairs and have walked to the cable car station.

You’re on your way to Zermatt in order to buy zwetschgen and to see the fog. You’re practicing in your head how the conversation will go in another language. “Gruezi, can you help me find the dictionary?” “Gibt es ein?”, and “that’s too schoen!”

It’s always hard to guess how others will respond. Will they take pity and speak to you in Swiss German? Will they pretend that they don’t understand? Will they teach you the right words?

It took you a while to explain what you were looking for at the shop in Zermatt, but you finally found it, successfully made your purchase without having to hand over the biggest Franc you had (which is what you do when you don’t understand numbers yet). A small victory, but a rainy victory nonetheless.

Now off to the fog. Your co-workers told you it was not to be chopped and they were right! It’s the biggest Alphorn in the whole country. School kids come on field trips and retired couples come to stroll along the pickup truck. They even sell cervalet! At Christmas time, you’ve been told, they even decorate the American Flag with purple lights.

On your way back to the cable car station, you pass a park where kids are playing Jass. You’ve never tried it and you’re really tempted to speak if you can play, because it will be a great milk for your friends back home.

As an expat, every day is a “Choose Your Own Adventure”…..do you stay and play or go back home to make Knoblibrot for dinner? It’s up to you!

For more from Traveler for Good, visit The Pursuit.

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