Thursday, January 29, 2009

The World’s Most Expensive Club Sandwich

Possibly the world’s most expensive club sandwich can be found at the Dolder Grand Hotel in Zurich, Switzerland. Here, a club sandwich at the bar will set you back a nice SFr 35 (Now there’s a sandwich that you almost feel compelled to eat with a knife and fork, place a cloth napkin in your lap, and toast with a glass of wine for.)

Anyhow, this SFr 35 club sandwich was filled with more than one ingredient, which is more than I can say for most sandwiches to be had in Zurich (see previous post about sandwich suffering). It also came with about 15 French fries, rather generous when you consider portion sizes in these parts. (I apologize for not having a photo).

On a Wednesday night, you can have the bar at the Dolder to yourself and Kevin, a Canadian musician who lives in Austria, will serenade you with everything from “In My Life” to “Everything I do, I do it for you” all sung with an authentic English accent. (Actually, he’s one of the more talented musicians I’ve heard in Switzerland.)

So if you’re craving some live music, an upscale atmosphere so perfect that when you visit the bathroom you feel bad about leaving your fingerprint on the faucet, not to mention a real sandwich, you can get it. Never mind the unreal price.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Tales of a Sandwich Sufferer

Boy do I miss sub sandwiches. Piled high with anything and everything you could possibly want, they would tower over the typical Swiss sandwich, making the poor little thing cower in its shadow.

I don’t mean to be a sandwich snob, but every time I order a sandwich at a bakery in Switzerland, I always walk away disappointed.

For instance, today I was starving. But it was after 1 p.m., so the choices of sandwiches were limited to ham, ham or ham. So I ordered ham. And that’s what I got. No tomatoes. No cheese. Not even a sliver of lettuce. What I got for SFr 7.20 was two slices of bread. With a piece of ham.

I guess I should have been rejoicing in the fact that I could even purchase a sandwich at such an hour (not to mention get exactly what I ordered despite my crappy German), but the meager ham sandwich was still quite the letdown, even after almost three years of Swiss sandwich suffering.

Usually I am happy for the small, reasonable Swiss portions in comparison to fat American food. But when it comes to the sandwich, well, I just can’t help but miss the days at my old office in Richmond, VA, where I could be at a Subway in 2 minutes, piling my sandwich as high as my dreams allowed.

Monday, January 26, 2009

English Speaking Doctors in Switzerland

One of the most stressful things about living in another country is trying to find a doctor you can communicate with. That's the topic of my column in Swiss News this month. You can read it on the Swiss News website

Speaking of doctors you can talk to, if anyone is looking for an American dentist in the Zurich/Baden area, I can recommend Dr. Dehn. He grew up in Chicago, and has a degree from the University of Illinois. (A very fine school, although maybe I'm a bit biased.) His assistants and secretaries don't speak English, but based on my experience, he'll call you personally to follow-up after your appointment to make sure things are fine. And while you're there, he might even ask you if you'd like a cup of tea.

If any of you have a great English speaking doctor in Switzerland, please leave a comment.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Sun Day

Seeing the sun may seem like a crazy thing to write about, but if you live in Switzerland below the fog line, you know days of sun are few and far between from about October until April. Since last week's sunlight amounted to about three hours total, I was very excited to wake up this morning and actually not feel like I was in the Twilight Zone for once.

To celebrate the sun, my husband and I ate breakfast fast (in case the sun was its usual fickle self) and ran outside to hike along the vineyards above Wettington. As we hiked up to where the vineyard trail begins, you could see the layer of fog melting above Baden. (See pic above).

In the middle of our hike, we sat on a bench for awhile and just enjoyed a sun bath in our ski jackets. People were in such a good mood due to the sun, they actually said "hello" to us and we said "hello" (or the appropriate "hello together") to them. It was a relaxing way to spend a Sunday--or should I say, a sun day.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Relativity of Fame

Yesterday I looked at a photo of a “famous” guy that was being recommended to be a spokesperson for a new Swiss product.

“Who is that?” I wanted to know.

“Oh, he is very famous in Switzerland,” replied my colleague. Apparently this guy had a line in a James Bond movie once and has been a star in Switzerland ever since.

Wow. One line in an American movie. If only that’s what it took to be considered a success in the United States.

All of this reminds me of a conversation I had with a Swiss doctor awhile back, where he confessed that it wasn’t hard to be considered “great” in Switzerland. In the middle of his career, this doctor went to Harvard Medical School for a year, where, astounded by the amount of talent surrounding him, he realized just how hard he’d have to work to even have a chance at success in the American system.

It’s no secret than Americans work harder than almost anyone else on earth. The statistics prove it. But I don’t think Americans want to be workaholics. I just think they don’t have any other choice in such a competitive, cut-throat environment.

Sometimes I think how much easier publication might be if I were a Swiss writer instead of an American one. Switzerland has so many more publications relative to the population (which is smaller than the Chicago metropolitan area), that getting published in the country’s top publications would have to be easier than it is in my situation, where my odds of landing an essay in The New York Times “Lives” column, for example, is something like .07%, as it is printed only 52 times a year and gets over 8,000 yearly submissions.

At my husband’s company in Switzerland, 65% of new hires are foreigners because there aren’t any qualified Swiss citizens to do the jobs. But of course, if you are Swiss and are qualified, you automatically get first dibs, since companies have to prove to the Swiss government there was no Swiss that could do the job before they hire these foreigners. If only it were so easy to compete for a job as an educated American in the United States.

The only bright side to all of this as an American, is that at least when you accomplish something, you know you must have been great. Because to beat the odds for most things in the United States means you really had to fight for it and be at the top of your game. Cause let’s face it, for us Americans, one line in a movie does not a star make—in fact, with a one-liner, we wouldn’t be considered much of anything—except perhaps, still a nobody.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Farewell "W"

In honor of Inauguration Day tomorrow, I thought I'd say a good riddance to "W". Not only did he raise expat taxes for Americans, who are already the only world citizens that are double taxed, but he gave those of us living overseas a bad reputation that resulted in us whispering to hide our language and telling people when traveling that we were from Switzerland.

I am hopeful that the next four years will bring pride and honor back to America. I am interested to see how the papers report the event here. People definitely perk up when they hear I am from Chicago, the Obama town, so that is a step in the right direction. 

Friday, January 16, 2009

Stars and Stripes: An "American" Restaurant in Switzerland

Stars and Stripes. Deemed an "American bar and restaurant", it's located in the middle of nowhere on a hill between Zurich and Baden in a town called Mutschellen. Mutschellen? It's a little off the beaten track but nevertheless, I have to recommend it. After all, on the menu, the football player is wearing an ILLINOIS helmet! What are the chances that an obscure restaurant in Switzerland would feature my very own alma mater's team as part of its carefully crafted menu montage?

Anyhow, I digress. It's just hard to get over the graphics on the menu. While I love to analyze Swiss people and how they do things, I am also interested to their perceptions of America. This menu is one of the best representations that I have ever seen of that. The interior of the restaurant also sums up the Swiss perception that we Americans are still a bunch of carefree cowboys roaming the wild west.

So how American was the food? I have to give them credit. My spare ribs (SFr 29.50) were really good. They came with French Fries that also tasted American. The only things un-American about it were the sides of salsa, sour cream, and pickles. Wasn't really sure what I was supposed to do with them. 

But if you live in Switzerland, you know the Swiss don't eat anything without pickles. Even the nachos (SFr 10.50) come with pickles. But I have to say that I like Swiss nachos much better than American ones. Mainly because the Swiss have never known a processed cheese.

I loved the drink menu too, with its title, "Juice, Booze & Pops." But the drinks are far from American priced. And if they really wanted to be authentic, there'd be free refills and much more ice. Especially when you have to pay SFr 4.80 for a Coke Light (another un-American drink) and heaven help us, a Rivella, which is also on under "Juice and Pop". I hate to break it to them, but Americans don't drink any pops with whey in them.

But who was drinking pop anyway? Since we went to this establishment to celebrate my birthday I went all out and ordered the 1 liter pitcher of margarita (SFr 49). It was a little confusing trying to order the flavor, because I never considered a regular margarita to be labeled "nature," but after an intense discussion with our waitress in German, we determined that just meant the lime flavor.

When the margaritas arrived, I was a little disappointed by the price/liquid ratio, which basically meant 4 small glasses of the stuff and a bit left over as you can see in the picture.
And there was no free water. But for SFr 7.80 you could have a bottle of mineral water or for SFr 9.50, a liter of water with gas. Water with gas. Surely every American's dream.

The desserts were pretty good. Choices included cheesecake (SFr 8.50), sundaes (SFr 8.50-13.50), shakes (SFr 8), or a brownie (SFr 7.50). There was also some kind of strange waffle with toppings on the dessert menu that none of the other American expats I was with could figure out. 

The sizes of the desserts were pretty American-sized if you ordered the large--for example, take a look here at this large strawberry sundae. All yours for SFr 13.50.
All in all, Stars and Stripes is a great place to visit, birthday or not. But as a bonus, if you do have a birthday (or just want to fake it for the attention), all of the lights in the restaurant will be turned off while they bring you your dessert of choice topped with a burning sparkler. As it burns below you, they'll turn on a soundtrack to a cowboy birthday song you've never heard before, but you can't argue that it's not in true Americana style. At least from a Swiss point of view. And that just makes it all the more memorable.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The German Headache

If you have ever tried to work in a foreign language for any extended period of time, then you'll know all about what I experienced today--a phenomenon I've deemed "the German headache". When you've got it bad, it basically feels like your head is going to explode.

It's one thing to listen to or read another language for pleasure or in a class. But when you are surrounded by locals in an office and are expected to be contributing on the same working level that they are, but without the fluent language skills they have, the headache no doubt comes on because this task is almost impossible--especially when the conversation often changes between the high German I've been learning and the Swiss German I still can't for the life of me comprehend.

To be fair to myself, I have noticed that my German headaches take longer to come on at work than they used to. I can go for over an hour of concentrated German discussions at work before the headache sets in. My listening comprehension has skyrocketed in the last few months, but unfortunately, my speaking has dug itself a very deep hole and does not want to come out, except of course, in English.

Today I did really well and the headache didn't really set in bad until about 7 pm. But unfortunately, around that time, we began an intense almost 2 hour discussion of marketing ideas. Needless to say, by the end, I was as burnt out as I've ever been. I don't think tired can even describe it. It's part of an "expat tired" that can only be experienced by living overseas.

So on that note, it's time for bed.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Monastery at Einsiedeln

Even if you're not planning on doing any cross-country skiing, the Benedictine Monastery is worth a trip to Einsiedeln (1 hour outside of Zurich). The inside of the Monastery looks like a pink and green wedding cake, it is really a masterpiece of Baroque architecture and has been recently restored. Photos inside are banned, but you can get an idea of the grandeur of the place from the outside.

Einsiedeln means "hermitage" in German. The town was named after a monk that went there in the 800s. Today it is the most important place of pilgrimage dedicated to the Virgin Mary in Switzerland. So of course, placed accordingly along side the grand place of worship are many tacky tourist shops. After all, what would a famous place of worship be without a little commercialism?

Monday, January 12, 2009

Cross Country Skiing in Switzerland

My new strategy to look good while skiing this winter (besides my new Spyder ski suit) was to do it the real Illinois way--cross-country style. After all, I grew up cross country skiing on an Illinois country club golf course. If anyone should be the master of the flat lands, it should be me.

But yesterday, as a retiree passed me for the third time on a 10k loop while cross-country skiing in Einsiedeln, l realized I was doomed to ever pass anything Swiss on skis. Even the woman at the ski shop called me a "beginner"--before she even had seen me in action.

So I comforted myself by taking picture breaks and enjoying the views.

Besides, there's more to do in Einsiedeln besides ski. There's a huge monastery located there and by huge I mean by European standards, not Swiss ones. More on that tomorrow.

Friday, January 09, 2009

5 ways the USA and Switzerland are Different, Part II

Here is a continuation of yesterday’s post about the differences between the USA and Switzerland.

6. Prices. I bought a pair of Nike running shoes for $32 at the Chicago Outlet Mall. Later I realized I had bought the wrong size so I returned them for a full refund AND then was also offered a 20% off coupon if I shopped again in the store in the next 2 hours. So I got the right size of the shoes for even cheaper—this time they were $25 with my coupon. In Switzerland, not only would I have not been allowed to return anything, they also would have cost $150 for the same thing.

7. The food. Most Americans eat terribly. The number of processed foods and fruits and vegetables made to last weeks is a little disconcerting after learning to buy things the same day I’m going to eat them lest they go moldy in Switzerland. In America, a loaf of bread can last two weeks. Very different from my Swiss bread I have to eat the same day or feed to the birds. The American food sure is convenient. But my stomach paid the price.

8. Personal space. Yesterday on the tram in Zurich, a guy was literally standing right over me and coughing and hitting me with his bag every time the tram turned. In Swiss stores, people push you to grab what they want. But in America, people give you your space. They wait for you to stop looking at something in a store before they barge in. They would never stand so close to you that you were touching if there was an alternative. It’s really great to feel not so closed in all the time. I definitely prefer American-sized space!

9. Dress. Americans are slobs. They parade around in sweats, running shoes, velour outfits, and huge sweatshirts. I loved it and took advantage of wearing what is considered pajamas in Switzerland to parties in the U.S. It was really great to be a slob for a few weeks. The Swiss dress much nicer, wear fitted clothes, and leather shoes.

10. Smiles. Americans are very friendly and smile a lot. Usually this is a nice change of pace, but I would get the occasional cashier or stranger that wanted to know my entire life story behind why I didn’t want their store’s credit card. In Switzerland, people don't smile much at strangers. The cashiers don't smile. They say “hello” and “goodbye”. Sometimes they ask you if you have the store's points card. But if you don't, that's the end of that.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

5 ways the USA and Switzerland are Different, Part I

I had lunch with a Swiss colleague yesterday and he wanted to know about some of the things I noticed while I was in the US over the holidays and compare it with Switzerland. Here’s a run down of 10 observations—both countries have good and bad, and if there’s any lesson in this it’s that no place is perfect:

1. Smoke. I think I smelled a total of maybe 3 cigarettes my entire 3 weeks in the US. It was really a pleasant change from smoky Switzerland. All the restaurants and bars in Illinois are smoke free and it was wonderful. After all, there’s really no motivation to start smoking when you can’t even stand outside the doors of buildings to do it, but are made to stand at least 15 feet from the door. Love it.

2. Public Transport. There is a lack of public transport even when there is the infrastructure for it in the US. One day over my vacation, I wanted to meet an old teacher for lunch. I was meeting her about a half hour away, right next to a train station. So I figured I’d just take the train. Ha. Even though the route was available, during the day there were trains only every 2 hours, and they did not arrive even close to the time I needed to meet her. So much for that. Switzerland is much more advanced in this regard.

3. Fat people. I hate to say it, but Americans really are fat in comparison to their European friends.

4. Stuff and the compulsion to acquire it. Americans have stuff galore. For example, my mother stocks at least six weeks worth of cereal in her cabinet. Kids have every toy imaginable. People shop and shop to get more stuff. They can shop on Sundays. They can shop at 3am. It’s a very different lifestyle from the Swiss, who have little space to put things not to mention very restricted store hours. I rarely shop in Switzerland, but somehow the minute I set foot on US soil, I just have to shop.

5. Sales. Everything in the U.S. is on sale. This year, entire stores were 50% off. I couldn’t get enough! In Switzerland sales are the exception. And most of the time if a sale is advertised, the items are 10% off. Wow. What incentive!

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

American Grocery Store, I Will Not Forget Thee

After squeezing through the tiny aisles of the Swiss grocery store, Coop, yesterday and almost being run over by a non-customer friendly shelf stocker, I began pining for the gigantic food store on steroids that is the typical American grocery store, where my personal space can be the size of an entire Swiss canton.
My first visit to the local Chicago area Dominick's after being away never fails to be awe inspiring. I mean look at the sign above. I can't help but exclaim over entire aisles for chips and soads and just the sheer amount of choices available--not to mention helpful aisle signs that tell me whether the items in its particular aisle are suitable for breakfast, lunch or dinner, in case I get overwhelmed. Wow. It's not that I totally forget about all of this. It's just that after shopping in Swiss grocery stores the size of some American closets, it's easy to lose your perspective.
Plus there are always interesting new improvements every year, like cup-holders in shopping carts that could hold a drink larger than one that could fit in my Swiss fridge. Americans have so much. I don't think they always appreciate it all, not to mention the convenience of so many prepared foods.

So I took photos to look back on some day, when I'm a real American resident again, and forget just how amazing for example, this set of ready-made gingerbread men are, where all I have to do is open the box, take out the decorating materials, put a raisin on a cookie, and call that cooking.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Economy Class on Swiss

To travel in style yet still pay economy prices, choose a seat in the exit row. On most long-haul flights on Swiss, the best seats for this purpose are in row 30. For our ten-hour flight to Chicago, we sat in row 30, seats J and K. I highly recommend them. If you don't believe me, have a look at my feet. They are actually stretched out in economy class. This is something really worth a photo, although my husband was too embarrassed to let me ask the flight attendant to take a really proper picture.

As far as seats on Swiss to avoid--definitely avoid 41D and 41G. These are aisle seats on the same Swiss long-haul planes, but are prime places for elbow pain as the seats directly behind this row of 4 are only in a row of 3, and thus beverage carts never fail to slam into the poor arm of the sitter of 41D and 41G. For more info on good seats and bad on Swiss or any other airplane, visit

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Happy New Year!

Well, it's 2009 in Switzerland right now but since I'm still enjoying all that Americana has to offer, I'm 7 hours and a year behind. I'm about to endulge in an American steak dinner in honor of the New Year. I am very excited as when I buy steak in Switzerland and think I've finally gotten a good deal, it usually ends up being pork. Since I'm a cheapskate (not to mention a wimp about ordering at a meat counter) and steaks are about $34 for 2 in Switzerland, I don't eat it very often. So it really is going to be a festive way to ring in the new year.

Anyhow, happy new year to all my readers around the globe and thanks for keeping me inspired.


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