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, 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.


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
Movie Bar and Restaurant
Beatenplatz 4
8001 Zürich
044 211 66 77

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?


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