Friday, February 27, 2009

Barcelona: An easy weekend trip from Switzerland

Living in Switzerland is great from the standpoint that it's truly in the center of Europe. Nothing is further than 2 hours by plane in Europe. One good example is Barcelona. From Basel, it's 1 hour, 20 minutes by plane. And Easy Jet flies there, so it's cheap besides. We bought tickets on a whim last October for last weekend, and the flights were SFr 95 each for a roundtrip.

If that isn't reason to escape Switzerland for awhile, I don't know what is.

It's especially great if you've been craving sunlight during a dreary Swiss winter. And as a bonus, you can enjoy reverse price shock, when you realize it still really is possible to have a dinner for two for 20 Euros in some places in the world.

More on Barcelona soon.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

One in Two Swiss are Afraid of Foreigners

One in two Swiss don't like foreigners. Well. Tell me something I didn't know. But that was the front page story in "20 Minuten" yesterday morning, like it was the biggest news on earth.

At Ieast now I can confirm that I wasn't merely imagining certain people giving me looks of contempt whenever I open my mouth. That thought is somewhat comforting. In an uncomforting kind of way.

When we first arrived in Switzerland, I always spoke to my American husband in a whisper, afraid that if I spoke English loudly I would give myself away as a hated one. I can't even imagine what others go through who don't at least look somewhat European.

I soon learned that two years of high German classes did me no better, as even when speaking German I am branded a foreigner.

Nope. As a foreigner in Switzerland it seems you just can't win no matter how much effort you make to try to fit in.

In case you're wondering any other flattering Swiss statistics, the article also reported the following:

30% of Swiss fear Islam
20% admit Antisemitism
40% are sexist

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Dairy Diaries in Swiss News

Milk. Nice and toasty in a box. I don't know about other expats in Switzerland, but as an American, one of the biggest shocks to my system was getting used to the milk in this country--not to mention the novelty that I could buy it off an unrefrigerated shelf.

During my first few months here, I wandered aimlessly in a dairy daze, unable to fathom finding milk in any container other than plastic. Somehow, "cardboard box" and "milk" didn't ever have a relationship in my experience.

It also took me forever to find anything even close to my preferred American milkfat of 1% (I now have adjusted to the Swiss 1.5%). But it tastes different. After 2.5 years, I still can't drink it from a glass. I know this is pathetic and sad, but I just can't.

Anyhow, March's issue of Swiss News includes an essay by yours truly on this very topic-milk. Funny how even a food item this basic can be so different in a foreign land. I hope some of you out there can relate to this milk madness.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Where are all my Swiss friends?

My mother teaches English as a second language in the United States. A few weeks back, she had a student ask, “Why is it that I’ve lived in the U.S. now for two years but don’t have any American friends?”

Since I’ve lived in Switzerland for over two years, my mother wanted my take on the question. I suppose I am in a similar situation, living abroad, trying to learn German, but not speaking it fluently.

You could analyze the situation all day, but really, in the end, I think it just comes down to one thing—human nature. We like to be with and are most comfortable with people who are similar to us. And since friendship is based on communication that goes further than just, “I ate spaghetti for dinner, what did you eat?” unless you can communicate in another person’s language, or they can in yours, you are pretty much left with being friends with people like yourself.

Of course, there are always exceptions, and my Swiss neighbor and I have a friendship based entirely in High German. High German isn’t really her native tongue either (Swiss German is), but we get along. We’ve had raclette, gone flower picking, watched the Swiss soccer team lose, and had a few too many glasses of her favorite Prosecco together. In the latter case, she began switching into Swiss German without realizing it and my High German almost started sounding fluent. Note to self: I should really drink Prosecco more often when conversing in a foreign language.

With a basic language knowledge (or a few too many drinks), I suppose anything is possible. I've seen entire marriages come from it. But it’s far from ideal. As English speakers, we are fortunate to be able to be friends with people from around the world thanks to the high number of people who learn English. So I’d like to take a moment to thank my friends from Egypt, Jordan, Germany, Switzerland, France, India, and many other countries for learning my language. We most likely wouldn’t be friends otherwise, and I sincerely thank you for your efforts.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Writer Abroad Tips Featured on The Urban Muse

This week I was featured on a blog called The Urban Muse, which is a great blog to read if you are a writer or if you are just interested in ways to improve your blog. It’s filled with tips and personal experiences and is written by successful freelance writer and blogger Susan Johnston, who resides in Boston.

My article, “6 Reasons to be a Writer Abroad,” appeared on her site on Monday and expanded on a topic I covered some time ago on this blog. If you’re interested in more on this topic, please visit her blog and have a look.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Salad Shame

I can’t say that I’ve ever had my lunch analyzed by the amount of trash it produces, but there’s a first time for everything. And if it had to happen, it makes sense that it happened in Switzerland. No matter what I do in this country, trash always seems to get the better of me in a way that I have never experienced in the United States.

People here have a strange relationship with garbage. They tie paper to be recycled in bundles so neat you’d think it was some kind of contest. They carry around things like batteries, bottles, and plastics and dispose of them in all different locations. They even unwrap things they buy at the store so they don’t have to deal with the packaging later. These people spend a lot of time with their trash. But then again, wouldn’t you if your police had nothing better to do than to cruise the streets looking for people who put their garbage out wrong and then fine them SFr 250?

Anyhow, I give Switzerland credit. The country is very clean. But does it really give someone the right, in front of all my colleagues during lunch, to criticize my store-bought salad from Coop because of the amount of trash that will be left over after I eat it? All of a sudden I’m self-conscious and ashamed—by a few pieces of lettuce.

It doesn’t take much in Switzerland.

So tomorrow I think I’ll eat alone at my desk.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Switzerland—a great place to be a writer

Switzerland tends to be a decade or two behind many trends that happen in the United States. And sometimes this is a great thing.

Take rights for writers. Until the mid-80s, most magazine publishers in the U.S. asked for only “first North American serial rights (FNASR)” to a piece they wanted to publish. This meant they had the one-time right to publish the article first in the North American market and the writer retained all other rights.

While writers for Swiss publishers still enjoy this “one-time right to publish” as the norm (not to mention get paid much better despite it), things are terrible for writers in the United States. Even very reputable publications try to grab all or almost all rights from writers through all-rights contracts, work-for-hire contracts, or through the back door via “non-exclusive rights” contracts, which sound much better, but really just mean the publisher can do whatever the heck they want with a writer’s work and never pay the writer another cent even though the writer still retains the copyright. And the worst part is, North American publishers still pay like they were only buying one-time rights.

It’s time to fight, writers. We have to ban together and not accept such terrible terms. If you are offered all-rights, work-for-hire contracts, or non-exclusive contracts, offer FNASR contract terms instead. If they say no, negotiate additional payment for additional uses and put a time limit on rights. Or demand higher payment. I’m doing my best to not be taken advantage of and I ask you to join me. It’s not easy, but every little piece of your rights that you can retain is a victory for all of us.

If you’re a writer and want more information about contracts relevant to publishers in North America, the American Society of Journalists and Authors is a great source. I refer to this page often when I receive a contract.

For writers in Switzerland, you can find information about publishing in Switzerland here (in German). And for any of you in Switzerland tired of writing for U.S. markets and looking for better terms, Swiss News is currently looking for journalists.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

A Country Without Stuff

Today I realized once again how schlecht it is to want to buy anything in Switzerland other than Rivella and a grammar book. This country just does not have stuff.

For instance, today at work, we needed the books, "Bad Hair" and "Big Hair" for an advertising campaign we we were working on. But needless to say, neither book was available anywhere in Switzerland but readily available for $.01 on in the United States.

Later in the day, we tried to get a hold of another item for a project--a DVD about animals--again, not available in Switzerland although available in Germany for 35 EUR on and available for $9.99 on

As my German and Swiss colleagues became more and more agitated over not being able to buy anything to help either of our projects, I just kind of shrugged my shoulders, not surprised in the least. There's a reason I always bring empty suitcases on my trips to the U.S.

It also made me think back to a blog I read, Expat Experience, where the American writer living in Switzerland complained about not being able to buy baby formula for her lactose intolerant baby except in a tiny can for CHF 35 from the Swiss pharmacy. Instead of going broke, she had to resort to bringing it across the border illegally. But why, Switzerland? Why do you make these kinds of things so ridiculous and time consuming?

But I forgot, we're talking about a country where even throwing out trash is a major ordeal that requires a yearly novel to figure out what to do with it all.

Needless to say, this poor new mother on the Expat Experience blog also had major trama getting any kind of baby rocker--something also apparently "rare" and "difficult to acquire" in Switzerland. When she finally did get it, not only did she have to assemble it herself, but they forgot to include the screws, which took another 3 weeks (and no apologies) to arrive.

Maybe I'm just a spoiled materialist American. But gosh, even if I wanted to go get a magazine to read tonight, never mind if it's actually available. Nope, silly me, it's after 7 p.m. Shopping isn't even an option--the stores are closed. Talk about schlecht. This American is going to have to get her kicks reading one of the 30 pounds of books she brought back with her at Christmas time. Yep. When she arrived back in the country in January, the inventory of books in Switzerland jumped about 200%. But who's keeping track.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

New Blog, The Raclette Rant, on

Don’t worry, One Big Yodel isn’t going anywhere. But for those of you who need more ways to waste time reading my pointless musings about Switzerland, you can check out a new blog of mine, The Raclette Rant over on National Geographic’s

This spring I am serving as one of eight National Geographic Glimpse Correspondents and will be posting to The Raclette Rant regularly as part of this program. For any of you that are U.S. citizens living abroad, between the ages of 18-30, and interested in writing or photography, you can also also apply to be a Correspondent. Applications for Fall 2009 are due June 1.

Being a Correspondent comes with a little pay, a lot of honor, and a great experience reporting on your country of residence--at least I think that's what I got myself into. You can read more about the program by visiting and clicking on the Correspondents Program.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Major Movie Motivation

My husband and I made up our minds to go see a movie on Saturday. This is a major step since we actually were thinking like a true Swiss— in advance. We haven’t seen a movie at a theater in Switzerland since August 2006. It’s just too much trouble.

The problem is, you can’t just decide to go see a movie and go see it. Because it will most likely be sold out, with people having bought their ticket weeks in advance. Since we live near a few movie theaters, we’ve taken our chances a couple of times anyway, not wanting to change our American movie-going habits, and been turned away each time.

So last night, determined to actually get movie tickets, we visited Cineman, picked out our movie, only to find out it won’t be playing any more in our town on Saturday. So then we tried to buy tickets for the same movie at a theater in Zurich, but then the site took us to another site, wanted us to register, and changed languages twice on us in the process.

So needless to say, we still don’t have tickets and will most likely resort to our usual home cinema unless one of us gets crazily ambitious in the next day or so and braves the whole movie-ticket buying process. Again.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Starbucks Coming Soon

This headline, "Starbucks Bald in Baden," really grabbed my attention. Not only does it sound hilarious to an English-speaker, conjuring up images of bad haircuts, but a Starbucks coming to Baden this year will make for the third American food chain in this little town of 16,000.

When I moved to Baden in 2006, the only American fast-food chain here was McDonald's. We celebrated the 4th of July there every year for lack of anywhere more special to go. But last year, Burger King moved in a block away from the McDonald's. If I hadn't have been elsewhere during American Independence Day I wouldn't have known which establishment to visit. And this year, I'll have the option of celebrating at Starbucks too. A cornucopia of Americana. All within a 5-minute walk of my Swiss front door.

According to the above newspaper article, "Baden is booming." It's apparently become such a town of statue that every American chain can't wait to come here. What an accomplishment.

However, my 74-year-old neighbor is not really seeing the Starbucks thing as an accomplishment. And I'm not surprised. Most of the American chain clientele in Switzerland appear to be Swiss teenagers who have not yet become price insensitive and willing to pay five times the price of something for the sole reason that it is Swiss.

It makes me wonder, though, what will become of the Caffe Spettacolo and other coffee shops that line the main street. Will they go out of business or will the Swiss continue their loyalty to Swiss establishments? And does Baden really need ten coffee shops? ( After all, it's got about that many shoe stores.)

The only good thing about Starbucks is that their entire menu is in English. If you even try to Germanize it when you order, you'll get blank stares from the cashiers. But then again, who can translate a Tall Arabian Mocha Soy? That's not English. At least the English I used to know.

Perhaps Starbucks is threatening more than just Baden. It's threatening our entire language as we know it. Just wait until all these Europeans go around the U.S. after hanging out at Starbucks thinking they're ordering in English. "Don't you get it?" they'll say to a waitress at Applebees in L.A., I said I want a "Tall Coke Light."

Friday, February 06, 2009

The Big Desk

I've written about various doctor experiences in Switzerland before, but I realized I've always forgotten to mention one important thing--the big desk. Every doctor in Switzerland has one. Apparently, it's a requirement. When you are first greeted by any doctor in Switzerland, (who usually takes the trouble to come to the waiting room to greet you personally), after shaking hands, you are immediately asked to have a seat opposite them at a big desk in their office.

Never mind if you speak the same language, somehow, with bad English, bad German, and a few token gestures or maybe a random French word, you will discuss your name, occupation, and what brought you in.

Some doctors have special rooms just for this big desk while others combine them with a more typical examination experience. Anyhow, the whole desk phenomenom is just another way to show how much more formal Swiss society is than American society--In Switzerland, the doctor actually sees you fully clothed before they see anything else.

Think about it. How many of you Americans have ever gone to see a doctor in the U.S. and actually seen the doctor before being in some state of undress? Sure, maybe you saw the nurse and receptionist while you still had some pride left, but a U.S. doctor would never take the time to talk things over with you fully clothed. At least this is my experience.

So in some ways, I appreciate the whole Swiss doctor visit. If only the whole language barrier thing was a little easier.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Speechless in Switzerland

Another installment from my Expat Adventure column in Swiss News has made its way into the hands of the public. Maybe some of you can relate to this one. It's called "Speechless in Switzerland," and it's all about my love/hate relationship with language here. After two years of dutiful German language study, suddenly I've become more tongue-tied than ever before. Den, dem, der, are you kidding me? I guess the more German I learned, the more I realized how many mistakes I could make and that really silenced the linguist lurking within me. Maybe someday it will reemerge.

Until then, you can read all about why I'm still limited to my status as a one-language wonder in Swiss News, available at any Kiosk in Switzerland or by clicking here.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

No Ding Dong, the Clock is Dead

As some of you know, I have the pleasure of living about 15 feet from Baden's gigantic clock tower. This clock tower dings 24/7 every 15 minutes. When I first moved in, I thought, surely they turn off the thing at midnight. But that was wishful thinking.

So after about a month of fitful sleep listening to the clock remind me every fifteen minutes that I was still awake, I suddenly stopped hearing it. I don't know if this was out of utter exhaustion or if I just got used to the midnight bangs, but the clock and I learned to be at peace with each other.

Well ok. I still feel like swearing at it sometimes at 3am, but nevertheless I count on it to get me places on time. For example, I always listen for it to ding two times at 8.30 so I don't miss my 8.38 train. It's never let me down. But last week I failed to hear my 8.30 ding and just managed to catch the train by mere seconds. Later I thought, either my hearing's really done in or the clock is broken.

But Swiss clocks don't just break. Do they? Granted this clock tower has been under construction since last February. I haven't been able to see the clock face in a year, but a little scaffolding never stopped a Swiss clock from its ability to ding and dong its way to creating anything less than a punctual population. Even I've adjusted to settling for just hearing the time instead of seeing it.

But now, a week after the near train miss, I realize that the clock really isn't dinging. Now if I had seen my neighbor in the last week or so, I'm sure she would have informed me of the poor clock's fate since she seems to enjoy construction schedules as much as I love chocolate. But I haven't seen her. I wonder how she's surviving without our trusty time machine. Not well, I'd imagine, since she's got 33 years on me living next to it.

But despite my lack of dings and dongs, it's not exactly quiet around here. Constant construction in the main square has been threatening my sanity since last February and another obnoxious Baden Carnival is just around the corner. Still, in this country, I'll take any reduction of noise I can get. Even if that means missing a few Swiss trains.

Monday, February 02, 2009

1 of 1,000 Places to See Before You Die

If any of you have a copy of the book, “1,000 Places to See Before You Die”, the International Balloon Festival in Chateau-d’OEx is listed as one of the must-sees. Being a connoisseur of all things checklist (must be my American-ness) I of course had to attend.

I was not disappointed. Over 100 balloons from many countries were represented in this festival—everything from typical hot air balloons to fancy-shaped ones like chicks popping out of eggs to an oversized bagpipe player.

I really have to thank John Seay of the U.S. for his balloon, “Western Spirit.” Its design was everything cliché that the Swiss think of when they think Americans—the balloon featured cowboys in the Wild West. If things like this continue, we Americans will never be able to escape the Swiss expectation that we are anything but cowboys.

Anyhow, during the two days spent at the festival, I realized that learning German has caused me to forget most of my high school French so I awkwardly spoke to many people in a combination of English and German, with a token French word thrown in here and there for good measure. Not surprisingly, I was completely understood with the exception of a few small Swiss French-speaking children who insisted that I ordered a sausage (that they proceeded to hand me with their bare hands) even though I ordered a sandwich. So I ate a sausage even though I never eat sausage since I couldn’t waste time with arguing, as I had to get back to freezing my hand off taking photos. I’ve posted a couple of them. Enjoy.


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