Thursday, February 25, 2010

Dear Frau: Where are the Expat Families?

Welcome to the second edition of Dear Frau. It's kind of like Dear Abby, except with an international twist. If you have a question, be sure to contact the Frau and maybe it will be featured on next week's Dear Frau.

Dear Frau,

We’re moving from the U.S. to Baden, Switzerland. I am a stay-at-home mom and have two kids (ages 1 and 3). I am worried because it seems like most people that move to Switzerland are married with no kids. Do you see a lot of families in that area?



The Frau knows it's hard to believe, but The Internet lies sometimes. It may seem as if most expats in Switzerland don't have kids, but that is because most Swiss expat bloggers are married with no kids. Most parents don't have time to keep up a frivolous thing like a blog. They're too busy trying to determine what the heck their child, who now speaks Swiss German, was saying.

But the Frau digresses. There are hundreds of Americans with children in Switzerland. Many of them never leave. If you don't believe her, check out The American Women’s Club of Zurich. This organization especially caters to American women and their children. The Frau found out the hard way by joining and then feeling left out because she was ohne Kinder.

Anyhow, Switzerland loves families and will probably grant you those coveted B-permits right away because you are a stay-at-home mom and that’s what this country desires all women to be. That first morning the Frau went out in Baden, she saw hundreds of women pushing baby carriages, sitting at cafes smoking, and buying groceries. Don’t people work here? She thought.

The answer is no. Many married women do not work in Switzerland, and this includes the foreigners. The thing is, Swiss society does all it can to keep it this way. They keep stores open only until 6 p.m. They send children home from school at lunchtime. And childcare isn’t readily available (or affordable) unless there are grandparents nearby.

That said, the Frau thinks Switzerland is a wonderful place to raise children if one of the parents is committed to staying at home. And your kids will love Switzerland because the big slide parks haven’t been taken down and replaced with boring plastic tubes in order to avoid lawsuits and therefore avoid fun.

But the Frau is no expert on kids so here are a few other websites to check out:

Mami Zeit is a website for international moms.

Swiss Family Mac is a great blog written by an American mother of two. You don't have to be a mom to love Mrs. Mac's sense of humor.

Now, the Frau has run out of ideas. Anyone else have some advice? What’s living in Switzerland like with kids (or family members that act like kids)? Any other resources or blogs to know about for our newcomer? If you've got a blog about being a mother abroad, please leave a link!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Don't Get Burned! Rules for a Swiss Parade

To attend the Chienbäse parade in Liestal, there are a few rules (we are in Switzerland after all) that you must abide by. These rules have been translated courtesy of Google Translate and commented upon courtesy of yours truly:

-Come early! (Especially if you don't want front row seats!)

-Oops, sparks! Wear a hat and appropriate old clothes made of natural materials. (Thanks, Switzerland. I wore my Land's End bright blue coat from 1988 and it got holes burned through it. This is sort of sad because neon blue was just coming back in style. But no matter, the coat was an XXL anyhow. Next time I'll wear a metal colander on my head. I noticed those are all the rage at this event).

-No children under 6 years of age and animals in the vicinity of the parade. (But children are allowed to participate in the parade by carrying flaming broomsticks on their shoulders).

-People with health complaints, and slaw-walkers will be discouraged from attending and we recommend the direct transmission of Tele Basel. (I don't know what a slaw-walker is, but I do know that this parade will leave you blowing ash out your nose for at least, let's see 15 hours after the fact. If you don't want dirty Kleenex, watch it on TV).

-Make enough distance to the fire wagon and Chienbäseträgern. (This will happen naturally as you avoid getting burned. Unless you're trying to grill a sausage. Then you don't care.)

-There is no road crossing during the procession. (The road is covered in confetti, flaming logs, and ash. Covering a flaming parade route with paper confetti is not discussed as a fire hazard because the whole point of the event is to have a fire.)

-Keep an escape route free. (But keep in mind the beer tent is already full).

-The burning of fireworks is prohibited. (But cigarettes and cigars are encouraged).

-People with claustrophobia should not watch! (Those who do not want a face full of ash are also encouraged to stay home.)

-And remember: You live with the move on their own responsibility in the minds of all the dangers that may arise from the fire. The organizer disclaims all liability for damages due to careless behavior, and by flying sparks! (Sorry, Americans, no lawsuits will be honored. Now go home to your "this item may be hot" coffee-cup country.)

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Dear Frau: My German Class Sucks!

Welcome to the first edition of Dear Frau. It's kind of like Dear Abby, except with an international twist.

This column will run every Thursday on One Big Yodel because I get a lot of good questions from readers via email and it's a shame not to share them so everyone can benefit. Anyhow, from now on, if you have a question, feel free to email me and maybe it will be featured in next week's Dear Frau.

Dear Frau,

My German class sucks. The students are unmotivated. The students are drunk. The students fall asleep during the lessons. What should I do?

Motivated Student

Wow. First off, to make myself feel better, I would read Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris. He takes French lessons in this book and his class sucks too. Bonus: The book is in English and costs less than a German class.

Secondly, I wouldn't underestimate the power of being drunk. Personally, I find the more I drink, the better my German gets.

Thirdly (and most seriously), I would get a good luck charm. Because here's the thing: good language classes all come down to luck. You either get a good teacher and a good group of students or you get a bunch of people who like to pay to speak English.

That said, if you can afford private lessons, I have two good teachers I can recommend in the Zurich area and I'm happy to give out their contact info. One of these teachers smiles a lot (Italian heritage) and that's worth paying for in itself.

Also, Kathy, of Two Fools in Zurich, did a guest post on German learning a few months back. It might inspire.

But at this point, the Frau has run out of ideas. Anyone else have some advice? What should our motivated student do?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

How to use REKA checks

For the last four years, my husband has been getting pay slips to order REKA checks from his company at a discount of 20%. REKA checks can be used to pay for holidays in Switzerland and have been around for decades.

But like most things during our first few years here, my expat brain could handle only so much stimulation, and so the REKA check stuff would get recycled with all of the other mail that wasn't absolutely necessary to figure out.

But now, after being here for almost four years, I have energy to figure out some new stuff. So when the REKA info arrived a couple of weeks ago, I actually ordered CHF 500 worth of REKA checks, which meant I got them for CHF 400 with the 20% discount. After receiving the checks in the mail, I went directly to the train station to buy overnight train tickets to Lake Bled and used them all up in one big payment. And they worked so great, the very next day, I ordered another CHF 400 worth.

So here's what you do if you get REKA stuff from your company: take the pay slip to the bank and pay it. About a week later, the mailman will ring your bell and you'll sign to receive your checks. If you order CHF 500 worth, you'll get one envelope with CHF 300 (all in CHF 10 denominations) and two envelopes, each with two CHF 50 denominations.

REKA has a website that shows all the places you can use REKA checks, but this website, like many Swiss websites, has much to be desired and almost never functions properly. So here's all you need to know:

You can use REKA checks for anything SBB/CFF/FFS. And that should be all you need to make them worth it. You can use the checks for buying local train tickets in the automated machines. You can use to checks to buy a ticket to Paris. You can use the checks to pay for an entire SBB vacation. And you can use them to buy your GA or half-price card.

If your company doesn't give you REKA checks at a discount, you can also buy them at COOP, but this is not such a great deal as you will only get a benefit of 3% (what a typical Swiss discount!). But still, if you're buying a GA or something pricey, it's an option if you want to save a bit of money.

If anyone has experience with REKA checks or just wants to comment on how to save money in Switzerland, please leave a comment.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The End of Switzerland?

So is the "End of Switzerland" upon us, as a Labour M.P. and former U.K. minister for Europe claims in this recent Newsweek article?

Or is it really the end of the United States, as proven by this and this?

You tell me.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Amount of B-Permits Cut in Half

Yesterday I was upset to hear that the Swiss government has cut the number of B-permits it issues each year to non-EU residents from 5,000 to 2,500. That's a cut of 50% this year (50%!). The country is so paranoid about its 4% unemployment rate (4%!) that as usual, the foreigners are becoming its scapegoats.

But as an unemployed foreigner, I speak from experience that about half the people in my local unemployment office appear to also be foreigners. So let's see. We're not taking Swiss people's jobs, we're losing our own. We get laid off first. And now, to add insult to injury, we also get kicked out first.

The head of the HR department at my husband's international company told him she is frustrated with this as well because it makes hiring personnel all the more difficult. She can't find enough Swiss engineers to fill the positions at her company to save her life, but now the government won't let her hire those she can find because heaven forbid, they're the Non-EU version of the F-word.

According to her (and she's Swiss), Non-EU B-permit holders are not typically taking jobs away from the Swiss. If you want to see who is, head over to your local Aldi and listen to the cashiers speaking high German there. Most Non-EU B-permit holders are working in highly specialized jobs that could not be filled by a Swiss and is the reason they were allowed into Switzerland in the first place.

And in my opinion (I'm not biased of course!), losing half of a highly-qualified workforce will only hurt Switzerland's economy in the long run, not help it. But who needs engineers anyway?

Anyhow, that's my little "raclette rant" of the day. Anyone else have an opinion on this?

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Join the Ban Party!

In honor of all things banned in Switzerland, from the construction of Minarets to kids shopping at Denner, One Big Yodel is sponsoring a ban party right here on this blog where nothing is too un-PC to mention. After all, we aren't in Kansas (or America) anymore, people.

To get you started, the Swiss newspaper, Blick am Abend, had their own "ban party" a couple of weeks ago and this is what some Swiss people they interviewed want to see banned:

*Religious pamphlets handed out on the streets (what a pain to have to tie these up with string in addition to everything else!)

*Over-crowded trains (made ever-more unfair by those stretching out their legs in 1st class)

*The Civil Engineering Department of Zurich (enough with the construction noise!)

So tell us, what would you ban in Switzerland? That pesky clock tower that goes off every fifteen minutes 24/7? People that cut in line? A skyline filled with cranes?

This is an über-democracy, so leave a comment below.

Monday, February 01, 2010

My Application for a C Permit

Dear Switzerland,

I would like to apply for my C Permit a year ahead of time because in four short years, I have become more Swiss than some Swiss. I realize this is not “the rule” and may involve special votes and über-democratic procedures, so here is my reasoning for your fellow citizens to consider:

-If a tram is one-minute late, I feel like I’m going to have a heart attack.

-I have personally dug out a Schweizer Familie Feuerstelle, buried under five-feet of snow, and proceeded to cook fondue over a wood fire to the amazement of passing Swiss snowshoers (see photo).

-I can now eat an entire cervelet in one sitting.

-When I’m invited somewhere, I now wait outside said person’s door until the nearest clock tower dings our agreed meeting time. And then I ring the bell one second later.

-Last year my gutters were so clean I could drink from them but I still went out and bought a SFr 6 bottle of water anyway.

-I often start capitalizing all English Nouns.

-I consider paying SFr 60 ($60) for dinner a “good deal.”

-I also consider a savings of 10% reason enough to run an advertisement in a newspaper.

-I have gone to two Tunnelfests.

-Finally, I make sure to crowd the door when a train arrives so that the people trying to get off the train can’t.

Anyhow, thanks for your consideration and I look forward to being one step closer to citizenship.

Herzliche Grüsse,

The Hausfrau

Now it’s your turn. Are you worthy of a C Permit? Prove it by leaving a comment below.


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