Thursday, January 28, 2010

A DINK Abroad

A lot of us yodeler expats (especially us former DINKs: Double-Income-No-Kids) know the frustrations with not being allowed to work in Switzerland. Whether you have an L-permit, a B-permit, or the lucky C-permit, it's still a challenge for the trailing spouse (especially for us non-EU nationals) to be allowed to work in Switzerland.

I was one of the lucky ones. With a B-permit, I was allowed to work if an employer would sponsor me. I just had to find that employer. It actually turned out not to be so hard, although the wait to hear if the government would approve my work contract was excruciating. Anyway, they did. Merci, Switzerland.

But still, I wish Switzerland would join the international trend of loosening some of the legal barriers concerning work permits for accompanying spouses. Because according to trailing spouse researcher Yvonne McNulty, 84% of accompanying spouses have a bachelor's degree or higher and 64% of us left careers behind to come abroad. We were not brought up to be Hausfraus or Hausmanns, oder? And come on, Switzerland, you know you want the tax money. Why let France have all the fun?

In 2007, France became one of the latest countries to allow family members of multinational employees to take jobs without obtaining a separate permit (see, they know the tax money's good). And according to the International Herald Tribune, The Netherlands, Hong Kong, Argentina, Singapore and the United States have also loosened restrictions. Why not you, Switzerland? I know you don't love foreigners. But you do love our money. So let us make more and we'll both be happy.

Are you a trailing spouse in Switzerland? Were you allowed to work?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Win a Watch!

Hello fellow yodelers,

I know a few of you read Switzerland's National English Journal, Swiss News, so you're in luck. By taking their online survey by the end of this month, you could win one of three Swiss watches or one of two great weekend getaways. And fine, I'll be shameless, if you mention you like my Expat Adventure column, all the better!

If you haven't checked out the magazine lately, you'll be in for a surprise, it's been completely redesigned. This month's issue includes yours truly, girl from the Illinois cornfields, pondering how she'll never ski like a Swiss--even cross-country style. Just another reason why, no matter how long I live here, I'll always be The Foreigner. Oh well.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

American Work Ethic: Will There Be a Backlash?

After living in Switzerland for almost four years, sometimes Americans ask me if the Swiss work hard. And all I can say is, "not as hard as you."

Maybe this is a good thing. Most Swiss people seem to work around 41 hours a week. Of course, they work harder than the French (this isn't saying much) and have less vacation than the French (doesn't everyone?). But still. I'd say on average the Swiss have a good work/life balance. Workers are guaranteed four weeks of vacation a year. And often, companies shut down completely for a week over Christmas. And the Swiss are paid much better than Americans too, on average.

Last week, I spoke with a Swiss woman who has a Swiss friend working in Miami. This friend is about to move back to Switzerland because her work load is unhealthy. "My friend even works on Saturdays," this woman told me, clearly shocked.

As I mentioned over on my blog about writing, I'm currently reading Should I Stay or Should I Go, by Paul Allen. I think nothing says more than this quote from his book, made by a software executive working in the U.S.:

"You have to work to make money to stay alive. It's a bit of a rat race. There are a lot of ambitious people. I see it with Americans--they go straight from college into a job, they work very hard, maybe 15 hours a day--and you wonder, 'is this your life?' But I don't see a lot of Americans asking that question."

Hey, Americans, are we asking this question? Do we not see that there is life outside of work? Or are we too scared of losing our jobs to revolt against 15 hour days, unpaid overtime, and weekend and holiday work? (Walmart open on Thanksgiving? Come on!) Are we Americans just wired to work, work, work, without thinking there could be a life beyond it? Please tell me there is hope. Is there?

Friday, January 22, 2010

Live Longer: Be More Swiss This Year

Hello fellow yodelers,

I finally made my 2010 Swiss resolutions. Better late than never, right? Well, maybe not, considering this is Switzerland. Anyhow, from eating more cheese to talking more auf deutsch, I share my resolutions on a guest post over at one of my favorite Swiss blogs, Queso Suizo. Check it out here.

And today, over on Expatica, I give tips on how to increase your life expectancy, Swiss style. Yes, it's deceiving. Because while the Swiss seem to smoke and eat cheese and chocolate like there's no tomorrow, they still have the fourth highest life expectancy in the world. Yes, life is unfair. How do they do it? Find out here. And long live the Swiss.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Sorry, You Can't Shop Here

Maybe you've seen them. Around 3.30 p.m. they storm the local grocery store, Denner, buying Cokes, candy, and cigarettes. They are the school kids. But they will shop there no more.

Yes, in towns across Switzerland, namely Lucerne and Buttikon (my personal favorite), school kids are being banned from the grocery store. Ouch.

Apparently, there has been a lot of shoplifting at Denner and so, because of a few bad seeds, all kids are banned and will now have to explore more expensive places to buy their Cokes.

All I can say is, wow. Can Swiss stores legally ban certain people from shopping? Isn't freedom of shopping protected under civil rights? I just can't see a store in the U.S. being allowed to ban certain customers post 1960s, but maybe I'm wrong.

Oh, Switzerland. I guess if you can ban the building of minarets, it's not a big deal to ban a few school kids from shopping. Is it?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Vacation Time Concepts

Recently, I asked a Chicago-based friend who went to Iceland on her honeymoon, how long they were there.

"10 days," said my friend. "It was amazing to have such a long vacation. We toured the whole country."

Compare this to last year, when a German colleague asked about my upcoming vacation:

"I see you're away next week. Where are you going?"

"Spain," I answered. "Madrid, Granada, and Seville."

She looked at me in horror. "Three cities? In only ten days?" She scratched her head. "Why would you do that? Why do you not take three weeks?"

"Because I'm an American," I replied.

She didn't get it.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Clock Tower: A Love Story

Is it possible to miss a clock tower? In other words, is it possible to miss a dinging, every fifteen-minute, 24/7 reminder of just exactly how much time I've just wasted on Facebook? A couple years ago, I would have said, no. No way. It is not possible to miss something like that.

But the last time I was in the Chicago suburbs, I was lying in bed listening to silence, wishing I could hear what time it was. It was then that I discovered something: I have grown accustomed to my Swiss clock tower. In fact, I may have grown to love it.

My relationship with the clock tower wasn't always so happy. When I first moved in, I loved the Disney World looks of it from my apartment. But then I ended up cursing it, because surely, I thought, it would shut off at night, right after 10 dings, along with the rest of the city lights.

Then I started to get used to it. I never missed the train to work (2 dings). I never rang my neighbor's bell a second too early or a second too late (4 dings, then 7, for a 7 p.m. dinner). And for the most part, I stopped hearing it (no dings!).

But then hatred started up once again when the clock tower went under scaffolding for almost two years. It was ugly. It was noisy. And then, instead of a clock face, I was looking right in the eyes of Swiss construction workers, who were staring at me in my Strawberry Shortcake pajamas. Yikes.

Now, though, the scaffolding is gone, the construction workers have moved to the building next door, and it's just me and the clock, once again. And while its new white paint and blue facelift make it look even more Disney than before, that's ok. Because I'm starting to believe that despite all odds (I mean, all dings) we may actually live happily ever after. Or something like that.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Is Switzerland home?

Sometimes I feel like I don't know where home is. When I head back to Chicago, I've noticed that I always write "going home" in my Facebook status. But then when I get back to Switzerland, I've also been known to write, "home again". Can home really be both places?

Over Christmas, I watched Julie & Julia. It was such a great movie on so many levels (expat life, Paris, cooking, writing, blogging). In the movie, Julia's husband tells her that home will be wherever both of them are. I think this is a nice approach to answering the question of where home is. 

But still. Even if you believe this, a foreign country can still be hard to feel at home in sometimes. Today over on ACC, I've written a few tips on how to make Switzerland feel more like home. Like getting to know your neighbors and learning the language. I'd love to know what you do to make Switzerland feel more like home.

How do you approach the question, "where is home?" Are we lucky if we feel like we have more than one home? Or is it a curse to love more than one country? 

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Horrible American Fashions

“Americans are a disgusting people,” said my American husband the other day.

The sad thing is, I had to agree. If you go to the U.S. after living in Europe, you can’t help but cringe. People are fat. People are sloppy. People wear their pajama bottoms in public. (If you don’t believe me, see the above photo, taken in Naperville, IL).

Now I’m all for casual. I like baseball hats. I like sweatpants. And I don’t like the stress of worrying about what I’m going to wear to go to the supermarket. But still. There are limits, both in what should be casual and the amount of food that should be consumed.

To consider the level of casual, take an advertising agency creative director for an example. These people are notorious for taking casual to the limit.

In the U.S., a typical creative director dresses like he’s about 18 even though he’s 45. Baseball hat, untucked T-shirt, shorts, and flip flops or running shoes.

In Switzerland, a typical creative director wears a button down (tucked in), jeans, belt, and leather shoes.

Now be honest. What do you think is more appropriate? Has the American definition of casual been taken too far?

Monday, January 04, 2010

Saying those Good-byes

One of the hardest parts of being an expat is saying good-bye to family each time you visit them or they visit you. No matter how long you've lived abroad, or how many times you've said "goodbye," doing it is something that never gets easier with practice (because if it did, I'd be a professional by now).

Sometimes I don't know how much longer I can live with being 5,000 miles away from friends and family. But at the same time, I love the adventure of living abroad. I love that I can be shopping in another country in 25 minutes. I love the stories that come from being a "foreigner". And I even love the challenge of learning another language (on most days).

It's a hard balance. On one hand, some of my friends have 2.5 kids and minivans while I have a laptop and a Swiss train pass. I still feel like a kid sometimes, traveling the globe without putting down roots that so many of my peers have at this point in their 30s. But at the same time, I wouldn't trade my experience living abroad for anything. I just wish I didn't always have to deal with those good-byes.

What about you? How do you balance being far away from friends and family? How do you deal with those good-byes?


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