Thursday, April 30, 2009

Spat and Spew the Swine Flu

Swine flu is confirmed in Switzerland now--in my little town, no less. But this isn't stopping anyone from going about their usual germ spewing habits on public here to read my rant about the Swiss germ spewers on the National Geographic Glimpse website.

And for anyone interested in writing or doing photography for National Geographic Glimpse, they are accepting applications for their Correspondents Program now for the fall. You must be a U.S. citizen, between 18-30 (at time of application), and living abroad for at least 10 weeks in the same location. Give me a shout if you'd like more info, or visit here to find out how to apply.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A little hot (or cold) air

Has anyone else noticed the strange Swiss obsession with drafts? After three years in Switzerland, I am still trying to comprehend it all.

It starts in the morning. Should a window be open on a train, bus, tram or any other form of transport (no matter how hot it is), there will no doubt be a Swiss person visibly upset and searching high and low for the culprit window, which they will then slam shut.

But fifteen minutes later, this same Swiss person will walk into their office (no matter how cold it is) and proceed to open the window to “air out the room”, never mind if their American co-worker puts her winter coat back on.

During lunch or after a meeting, the office windows will again be flung wide open to “air things out.”

But don’t even think about a little breeze on the train ride home. Unless of course, you want this same Swiss person to come search you out, make some unidentifiable comment in Swiss German, and slam your window shut while ten minutes later, they’ll proceed to make their way home and open their window as wide as can be.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Grandhotel Giessbach

One of my friends from the United States is planning a trip to Switzerland this summer and she emails me all the time not quite prepared for Swiss hotel prices. And who can blame her. I'm still in shock most of the time and I've lived here almost three years.

"Everything's expensive in Switzerland, darling," said my Swiss friend, Tom, like he couldn't have been prouder to have such a money-making machine for a country.

But still. SFr 280 for a hotel room in Bellinzona? Surely there must be something else. But there isn't. And sometimes for this price, you don't even get a bar of soap.

Needless to say, I don't take a lack of bathroom minis personally anymore and instead travel accordingly, my bathroom bag stuffed with shampoos, soaps and kleenex--things I used to take for granted at hotels in the United States.

But there is one place in Switzerland that is actually worth the price (and bonus! You do get one tiny bar of soap for it). It's called the Grandhotel Giessbach and it is located alone on a cliff above Lake Brienz. Not only does the hotel overlook a turquoise lake, the Alps, and the oldest funicular in Europe that will take you to it, but it is also next to an equally grand waterfall.

It's a great place to stay. And I have my Swiss friends to thank for the discovery. But learn from our mistake and drink your champagne after you hike up to the top of the waterfall and not before. Here is a view of the hotel from the waterfall hike.

And here's what view your money will get you from your hotel room:

240 CHF-Forest (American's cheapskate room)

420 CHF-lake, waterfall, and mountains (Swiss friend's spendthrift room)

Is the extra CHF 180 worth it for the view? You decide. Or travel with some Swiss friends who will let you enjoy theirs. But keep in mind that a dinner for two will probably cost the same price as your room. But take it from one of the world's most accomplished tight wads: Unlike a lot of food and hotel experiences in Switzerland, this one is worth every penny. Excuse me, every 5 Rappen piece.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Confederate Gear in Your Swiss Easter Basket

I'm a little behind, but I still wanted to share my experience at the Easter Market in Bremgarten. Bremgarten is an adorable town in the heart of Northern Switzerland and I was expecting equally cute things to buy at the yearly Easter Market held on Easter Monday.

Instead, I saw booths like this:

Needless to say I was pretty disappointed. Was I wrong to expect Easter items at an Easter market? I mean, I didn’t come to a tiny Swiss town in the middle of nowhere on Easter Monday to buy things like Confederate belt buckles. If I wanted those, I would have stayed in my previous hometown of Richmond, VA.

At the Bremgarten Easter Market, there were maybe five stands that had anything to do with Easter—you know, the traditional decorative bunny and chick stuff. Even some plastic Jesus lawn art would have been something. Instead, most sellers were hawking items like license plates from all the U.S. 50 states, Mexican food, or various cleaning supplies (it is time for spring cleaning, after all).

And then there was Anis im Wunderland. (website:

But. Needless to say, it was all wonderfully strange.

According to Swiss Tourism, the Bremgarten Easter market receives 50,000 visitors every year. Well, after my experience, unless I hear that they’re upping the ante on the traditional Easter wares, I can tell you that next year there will only be 49,999.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Office Space (the Swiss version)

The Swiss work a 42-hour work week instead of the typical American 40-hour one (or the 35-hour one like the French). There’s a reason for this. It’s called thoroughness to the point of pointlessness. For example, requiring an entire office to attend a 3-hour printer training session that includes everything from learning where toner waste ends up to how a printer converts RGB color to CMYK.

Despite this in-depth training, the following day, I needed to print something and couldn’t figure out how to turn the printer on because that wasn’t covered in the 3-hour session. I mean who wants to do something as simple as press an “on” button when you can analyze percentage of black toner use versus cyan?

For more on the wonderful world of Swiss office life, visit this week’s Write On post, “The Perfect Print,” on

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Burn Böögg, Burn

I’ve got to say, when it comes to summer weather prediction, the Swiss have got it right. I mean, who wants to rely on a wimpy Groundhog seeing its shadow (like they do in the U.S.) when you can name a snowman the “Böögg”, burn him at the stake while prancing around him on horseback, and use this as a reason to take the afternoon off from work?

Forget sweet little Heidi. The Böögg is the bomb in Switzerland.

And he really does explode. He’s made of straw and cotton and filled with firecrackers. The longer it takes for his head to blow up, the longer it will take for summer to appear. The festival is called Sechseläuten and will be held this year on April 20th in Zurich.

Despite the Böögg’s fate, I don’t feel sorry for him at all. Even though he’s going to end up in a pile of ashes no matter what, it sort of serves him right. I mean last year, his firework-packed head took over 26 minutes to blow up. The nerve. Because as most Swiss people know, any Böögg explosion time lasting over about 10 minutes predicts a cold, hard summer for Switzerland.

I don’t know if I can even call what we had last year a summer. So I’m ready to see this Böögg guy burn. Especially since this year, thanks to a Swiss friend with access to a balcony above it all, I might actually see more than the back of people’s heads and the rising smoke.

But no matter where I end up for the festivities, let’s just hope last year’s outcome doesn’t repeat itself. Because by last July, it was sweater time. As I put on my black coat to mourn the weather, there was only one guy I could blame. And his name was Böögg.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Welcome to

In honor of spring, One Big Yodel is moving to a new address:

I have to admit, moving is always a little scary, but changing domains is a whole lot easier than moving across the ocean, but slightly emotional all the same.

So yeah. Its own domain. If this doesn't make me the next big thing in blogging, I don't know what will.

No worries though. The old blogspot address will still take you here. And don't mind the mess as the design of the page may be getting a little updating along the way.

The first update is the header. Michael Wright, Creative Director at Modernista! in Boston, USA, illustrated it (yes, that is supposed to be the new European me).

Michael is an award-winning art director and designer that I had the pleasure of working with before I moved to Switzerland. He calls the One Big Yodel design an homage to Maria Kalman. Check out her blog and I think you'll see why.

And while you're at it, check out Michael's website. You might even see a few TV commercials we did together for NASCAR way back in my pre-European days when I was working with him at The Martin Agency.

In any case, be on the lookout for much more to come. Including perhaps, a bit of yodeling. After all, who says a blog can't sing too?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Swiss Food. A Mystery.

Have you ever taken a big swig of soda only to be disappointed by how warm it is? Or been confused to learn there’s more than one kind of water in the world? Or bought steak only to find out it’s really pork? Welcome to Swiss Food, A Mystery, where you can read about my run-ins with Rivella, Quark, and more. It’s this week’s post on

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy Easter!

In honor of actually spending an Easter at home in Switzerland this year, I wanted to post a few pictures:

View of our tulips and daffodils from our kitchen. Finally in bloom!

A number of Swiss seem to decorate their outdoor trees and bushes for Easter. Here's an example:

On Good Friday all the stores were closed, but you wouldn't know it based on the way many places just leave their stuff out, like this garden store:

And it wouldn't be Easter in Switzerland without a good chocolate bunny, like this one on display at Migros:

Frohe Ostern. Thanks for reading.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Win a Vacuum!

Has anyone else noticed the plethora of vacuum cleaner prizes offered by various Swiss contests? It's like every Swiss person's dream is to own the newest technology in dirt sucking. France could use a few of these people.

For those of you who are excited about the possibility of a big vacuum win, this week, the Tages Anzeiger is giving away three Siemens vacuums worth 279 Francs each. And all you have to do is correctly fill in a Suduko puzzle.

To read more about winning a vacuum in Switzerland, visit my blog on

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Paris: Fashion, Glamour, and Poop

I love Paris, but Switzerland isn’t helping matters. The longer I live in Switzerland, the harder and harder it is to travel anywhere, particularly a place known for being littered in dog poop.

While Swiss Tourism just ran an ad, jokingly claiming they even clean bird poop from mountains, the French, on the other hand, don’t bother cleaning much of anything—bird, dog, and horse poop included. It’s everywhere. And I find it amazing that a culture so concerned with appearances and filled with manicured people and well-maintained parks can be so passive about poop.

I like to think it’s because the French culture is so creative that their heads are simply in the clouds but really, this kind of attitude doesn’t do much for the glamour on the streets because from my experience, in under two days, any kind of footwear fashion statement will turn a dark shade of gray.

Still, a little (or even a lot) of poop isn’t going to stop me from going to Paris and they know it. Thus, the cliché of April in Paris still charmed me, dirty shoes and all. Because when one is rewarded by flowering trees, grand buildings, and colorful carousels, they have no reason to look down and think that maybe that nice soft ground they’re standing on is anything but a lush patch of grass.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

American Tourists in Paris

Whenever I see American tourists in Europe I am always amazed at how bold they are. Yesterday, while sitting on a bench near the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, I overheard an American mother telling her tween daughters, “Now don’t be shy. French boys love to have their photo taken with American girls.”

I’m thinking: Since when? And how is this woman so confident about that?

Then the mother asks the guy sitting on the bench next to me if he wouldn’t mind having his photo taken with her girls. And of course she asks in English. Assuming the guy even speaks it.

“But I’m not French,” he says, obviously having listened to their earlier conversation like I had.

“Doesn’t matter,” the mother says, pushing her girls to stand next to him.

“I’m from Denmark,” the guy protests in perfect English. Then he stands and smiles with her girls.

The mother takes the photo.

“We’re from California and we’re heading to Euro Disney tomorrow,” she says, like he would care.

“It’s a lot smaller than the one in Florida,” says the Danish guy, “I’ve been to both.”

Danish guys are really nice.

But I still wish these kinds of American tourists would go home and stop assuming the world loves their presence. They are an embarrassment to the rest of us who know better.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Get a Deal on Your Swiss Groceries

I’ve talked about grocery shopping in Germany to save money, but another way to save some cash—even in Switzerland—is to go to the supermarket an hour before closing time.

For instance, on Tuesday evening, I went to the Manor grocery store in Baden and picked up both chicken and hamburger meat at half price.

Many stores like Manor and Coop slash prices towards closing time, especially for meats and other fresh items. So not only do you get great deals on normally expensive items, but the stores are almost empty. Just make sure you eat your purchases soon or have room in your freezer (which is no small feat if yours is the size of a shoebox like mine).

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Switzerland Tourism Fools Me

As I read the Tages Anzeiger this morning, I came upon an article with the headline “Felsenputzer entgernen Vogeldreck.” I wasn’t 100% sure what this meant, and as I read the article, I discovered it was something about the Swiss scrubbing their mountains clean.

This wouldn’t surprise me.

At work, I looked up the words and asked my colleague to confirm what I now found utterly amazing.

“Yes. It says they are cleaning bird shit off the mountains,” he said.

Well. Since the Swiss scrub trash cans at public transport hubs, clean my street every morning, and even have a police force to deal with people disobeying trash laws, the whole bird poop thing didn’t actually seem that strange.

Then my colleague pointed to the date above the article—April 1.

“It must be a joke,” he said.

No! I really wanted it to be true. I looked further for clues.

Further back in the paper was a job advertisement from Swiss Tourism looking for “bird shit cleaners”. This got me to their website where I discovered the most interesting and interactive advertising campaign I have seen in my three years in Switzerland. And it was launched on April Fool’s Day no less. Brilliant. It’s like the Swiss are actually making fun of themselves. Is this possible?

There’s even a YouTube video and contest on the MySwitzerland website of the Swiss crew going out to clean the bird shit off the Alps.

Awesome. I love it. It’s one of those rare moments when I can look at a Swiss ad campaign and say, “I wish I had done that.”


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