Thursday, July 30, 2009

Blogging For Business (and Pleasure)

Many expats I know have blogs. Most start out as journals to connect with people back home. But some, like Toma Haines' blog, The Antiques Diva, inspire full-blown businesses. (Haines' tour business, inspired from her blog, now gives up to 48 antique shopping tours a year in various locals like Paris, Amsterdam, and Berlin.)

Then there are expat blogs like Swisstory that make money through different kinds of advertising like the Amazon affiliate program.

As one gets established in the blogging world, working as a professional blogger is also a possibility. For example, Jul of This Non-American Life, has blogged for several b5media sites and yours truly has blogged for,, and

To find out more about how some expats are turning their joy of blogging into a (small) business, read my article, Blogging for Business (and Pleasure), in this month's Swiss News.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

What the Swiss Laugh At

Is it me, or does it sometimes seem like the Swiss have no sense of humor? I've had a number of experiences that have just left me confused:

1. Once, when ordering tickets at the SBB ticket window, the agent asked me if I had a student ID card so I could get the student discount. I laughed, thanking him for the compliment, but telling him I wasn't a student. Instead of joking back, he got all serious on me, "Oh I'm sorry, ma'am," he said without a smile.

2. Sarcasm. The Swiss just don't get it. Unfortunately, as a copywriter, my preferred headlines were always sarcastic, but my Swiss boss would just stare at them and scratch his head while a South African guy I worked with would laugh and laugh.

There are many other experiences, but the point is, the Swiss do have a sense of humor, and we foreigners just don't see it. Because what do the Swiss laugh at? Us.

According to the Witzerland exhibit at the Landesmuseum, the Swiss laugh mainly at foreigners.

If you don't believe me, here are some examples:

Making Fun of the Russians:

Making Fun of the Polish:

Making fun of dark-skinned foreigners:

To see these "jokes" and more, the Witzerland exhibit at the Landesmuseum in Zurich goes until September 13th. But it's probably only worth spending the CHF 10 if you can read a bit of German. The exhibits aren't translated so you can either read them or you can't. But either way, you might end up confused anyway, like I was by this:

This one, however, made perfect sense, especially if you consider how fast change comes to Switzerland:

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Bürgenstock Felsenweg Hike. So easy, you could do it in flip flops!

To justify buying expensive Salomon hiking boots this weekend, I had to go on a hike. So I read Lonely Planet's Walking in Switzerland book in order to find a hike rated "easy".

No, I'm not a wimp. Only an experienced judge of my ability as it relates to the author's. Based on my last experience with this book, I wasn't going to choose anything rated even "easy-medium". Because the 5 Lakes Hike, rated "easy-medium" by the book, turned out to be so challenging, that I almost didn't make it back to the cable car before it closed at 5.30 p.m.

Now I consider myself in good shape. I jog. I bike. I hike. I climb 500 stairs just to get to the path of one of my favorite jogging paths above Wettington. But all of this doesn't matter; every time I go to the Alps, they kick my butt.

This time was no exception. I chose the Bürgenstock Felsenweg hike, which is an "easy" and scenic hike along the side of a ridge overlooking Lake Lucerne. The first 30 minutes of the hike was easy and flat. But then my husband and I of course had to take a detour to ride the overpriced but facinating Hammetschwand-Lift (a crazy elevator that literally takes you 160 m further up the side of the mountain).
This lift cost 500 million Francs to build in 1905 and only the Swiss would spend that much for the novelty of proving they could do it.

But I digress. Since my husband and I paid a grand total of CHF 18 to ride for two minutes in this Swiss mountain elevator, we decided to hike down to Ennetbürgen from there instead of riding the elevator back down again. Either way, we'd end up in the same place--the Ennetbürgen Post bus stop.

This part of the hike was not easy. The terrain was steep. We walked through mud, wooded paths with lots of rocks and roots, and through steep grassy mountain fields that only resembled a path because of the red and white painted hiking sign and the narrow line of trampled grass. But once again, I was shown up by the Swiss, who found the hike so "easy" that they were doing it wearing flip flops, leather dress shoes, and ballet flats.

I almost felt foolish for wearing my new fancy hiking boots until I finally saw someone else wearing a similar pair. About to point her out to my husband, I looked up and realized this women must have been at least 80 years old. But still. It felt good to see I wasn't the only one who felt the trail warranted something other than what I would wear to the office.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Top 8 Undiscovered Swiss Towns

To help you avoid the getting caught on hundreds of other vacationers’ souvenir snapshots this summer, here are eight undiscovered Swiss towns (brought to you in a two-part series, click here for Part 2), that all offer something unique—from a spa with the most mineral-rich water in Switzerland to three grand Roman castles you can call your own.


Baden means, “to bathe”, and this medieval spa town boasts the most mineral-rich water in Switzerland. Complete with bubbling lounge chairs and rows of jets carefully measured for a complete massage, the Baden spa is also lit by candlelight on weekend nights in the winters. So let the rest of the tourists flock to Vals for their wellness escapes. Baden, (the choice of Goethe and Nietzsche) is where exapts (and travelers) looking to avoid the crowds relax today.

Gandria (pictured above)

Palm and olive trees frame this colorful cliff-clinging town on Lake Lugano. Narrow lanes, locals that greet you with “Buon giorno,” and restaurants that cook with the locally produced olive oil, make Gandria an atmospheric boat trip from Lugano —especially if you plan on stocking up on handmade ceramics. But for those that depart without heavy bags, a well marked, (but not too well-traveled) olive tree trail winds back along the lake.


Mix fine wines, watches, and yellow limestone buildings, and you’ve got the recipe for a town Dumas described as being carved out of butter. Only 12 miles from France, Switzerland’s French-speaking university town comes complete with a Gothic cathedral and a 15th century castle. Walk along the lake, admire the fountains in the old town, or take a hike through the vineyards—anything to work up an excuse to eat at a brasserie.


Find the middle of nowhere and make it the center of the universe. That’s pretty much how it feels standing in front of the Hallwyl Castle in Seengen. Complete with a moat and a grassy courtyard, the castle also holds performances of operas and plays. From the castle, it’s only a 15-minute walk to Lake Hallwil, where the day can be completed via a boat ride, a swim, or a stroll past the many vineyards.

Stay tuned next week for Part 2. But in the meantime, what do you think? What are the best undiscovered Swiss spots you’ve found?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Won't You Be My Neighbor (And Tell Me Your First Name?!)

Even though we share a wall, it took me over a year to learn my Swiss neighbor's first name, not to mention get to know her. But the struggle was worth it. Three years later, we're great friends. We go flower picking together. We complain about noise together. We even drink together (like we're going to do tonight). But in Switzerland, making friends is a long process. Maybe some of you have stories about making Swiss friends. If so, I'd love to hear them.

Anyhow, I wanted to share my story about making friends in Switzerland, "A Raging Party Turned by 73-year-old Neighbor Into My Friend" . It's up on and is the featured story.

(photo above by Brian Opyd)

Monday, July 20, 2009

When and Where to see the Lavender in Provence

The lavender in Provence is something that you shouldn't miss if you're living in Europe.

It's not just the sight of endless waves of purple, but also the sound of thousands of bees. And the smell of the perfume that only thousands of lavender plants can fill the air with.

I've gotten a lot of questions recently on when and where to see the lavender in Provence.

Here's a short run down:

When: The lavender blooms in Provence from the end of June until about mid-August when they celebrate with harvest festivals.

Where: The two main lavender areas I recommend are around Sault and the plain of Valensole. I highly recommend staying in a Gite (a family-owned, restored country manor house) to round out your French experience. The owners may not speak English, but all of the ones I have met are still able to communicate with you.

If you're looking for a place to stay right in the middle of the lavender, I highly recommend La Bastide des Bourguets (The photo above was taken from their property). It's a beautifully restored country manor house. It has spotless huge rooms and bathrooms and a fantastic owner who doesn't speak English, but will make sure you understand her anyway. Open your window from one of her rooms, and you'll see and smell the lavender since it's right outside your door. She also rents out little free-standing houses by the week.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Russians are Coming!

The other night, my doorbell rang.

This kind of event used to freak me out because I figured it was either my neighbor complaining about the way I was doing my laundry or an unknown person that I definitely wouldn't understand.

It took three years, but now I'm to the point where I don't mind opening my door and seeing who's there because I can finally talk and understand German. Over the last few weeks, I've had some interesting people knocking:

-Two women from Jehovah's Witness that wanted to give me a German Bible
-A guy from the local TV station that wanted to film an event in Baden from my balcony (but offered no money)

But perhaps this week's topped them all:

-A guy from Russia wearing a gigantic fanny pack that was filled with wooden Russian nesting dolls that he wanted to sell me.

I can't wait to see who next week will bring...

And how about you? What surprise visitors have you had at your door lately?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Cost of Driving in France

Anyone doing a road trip in Europe knows that gas prices are sky-high. For the equivalent of a gallon of gas, one will pay between $6.40 and $7.92 this summer in France. To fill up our little Ford Focus cost an average of 80 EUR ($115) for an entire tank of gas. Can you imagine the outrage if Americans had to pay this much to drive in the U.S.? (And as a side note, this is the one area where Switzerland actually looks cheap. Gas in Switzerland is about $5.88 a gallon. What a deal!)

The other thing the French get you on are the toll roads. To drive from Geneva, Switzerland to Marseille, France on the highway for example, will cost you about 50 EUR ($70) in tolls. I have to hand it to the French though. They're really putting your toll money to work. The one accident we saw only cost us two minutes of time and the French had vans complete with flashing accident signs and also an official "accident woman" waving a red flag in front of the flashing vans in case all of those florescent lights weren't enough.

So you won't waste time due to accidents on French toll roads, but you will waste time at toll booths, spending 20 minutes in line for the honor of paying your 20 Euros for an hour of driving time. These booths are terribly slow, like most things French, and don't always function correctly. One booth we sat in line for rejected all coins put in it, and this caused much strife among the French, some of who were driving horizontally across the highway "parking lot" to find a better functioning booth. It was a mess.

The third way driving is costly in France is because of crazy ratings that make certain little cities (Gordes, Fontaine-de-Vaucluse, Roussillon) believe they are worthy of a big parking charge. The French like to rate their cities with nicknames like "One of the most beautiful" or with flowers instead of stars. A French city with a 4-flower rating will definitely charge you at least 4 EUR for the pleasure of parking on the far end of it.

A French man we met at a B&B in Sault was really upset about all of these parking charges and they are kind of ridiculous. It's this crazy French attitude that "We're beautiful and you will pay." So after paying parking fee after parking fee, my husband and I decided to visit the cities NOT rated as the most beautiful and we were rewarded for our efforts with free parking and fewer tourists. I highly recommend places like Sault, Simiane la Rotonde, and Aurel where beauty and FREE parking abound. That, in my book, is a five-star place to explore.

(It must not be "one of the most beautiful cities" because it has free parking...this is pretty Simiane la Rotonde, a bit off the tourist route and thank goodness.)

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Germany: Easy to Love

A friend of mine recently had his first experience driving on Germany's Autobahn. He loved making his American-made rental car race the BMWs but it just made me wonder, why do people in Germany drive so fast?

Then I went to a Galeria Kaufhof and it all became clear. The Germans can't help it--not only do they have no speed limits but they're also high on sugar.

Between the availability of Cherry Coke and the Jelly Belly bars at the Galeria Kaufhof in Munich, where I can pick out all the cotton candy, popcorn, and coconut flavored jelly beans without having to deal with mint, I have to say, the availability of products at the top of the food pyramid in Germany is quite astounding. As an American who used to survive on junk food before she moved to Switzerland and was forced to buy fresh, I can't help but thank Germany for encouraging me to enjoy a sugar high on every visit over the border.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Driving in Colmar

When driving near Colmar, France, you'll come across many interesting things:

-A roadside Buffalo Grill complete with a Native American as a mascot.

-Endless "toutes directions" signs, encouraging you that no matter what, you can't be going the wrong way.

-Lady Liberty*, greeting you in the middle of a roundabout. If you can't get enough of the novelty, no problem, just keep circling.

*The Lady Liberty creator, Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, was born in Colmar, thus the reason for the hulking highway statue.

Friday, July 03, 2009

All The Pretty Little Swiss Boys

I don't know about you, but I find Swiss pageants some of the most entertaining things on Swiss TV (Swiss dating shows are right up there too). Because of my strange infatuation with the Mister Switzerland pageant, I couldn't help but write a whole essay about it (let's be honest, any show where the audience brings genuine cowbells to cheer on their male beauty king of choice has to be good). Anyhow, I'm sorry to report that my favored candidate, the lad from Aargau, didn't even make the top 8. But despite it all, I was still inspired to write the essay, "Showtime in Switzerland", which you can read online or in July's issue of Swiss News.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Another Reason I Love France

For any of you that grew up with a name that was a little less than popular in your home country, maybe you'll understand another reason why I love France:


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