Thursday, April 29, 2010

Dear Frau: Swiss Recycling is Confusing!

Welcome to the latest Dear Frau column. It's kind of like Dear Abby, except with an international twist. Don't forget, if you have a question, be sure to contact The Frau. And maybe your little Frage will be in the next Dear Frau.

Dear Frau,

I just stumbled across your blog today. I'm new to Switzerland and I need Dear Frau's help. Can you please explain the recycling situation to me? After some trial and error I have finally figured out my regular rubbish, but recycling remains a mystery. Please help!


New and Confused

Dear New and Confused

Welcome to the club. The Frau also spent many months being perplexed by the Swiss recycling system. After confusion, comes clarity: in order to recycle properly in Switzerland, you must become a Bag Lady.

The Frau is also known as The Bag Lady of Baden, as on any weekday (not before 8am, between 12-2pm, or after 8pm) you can find her dragging everything from empty glass bottles to aluminum cans to PET plastic around town in her little orange IKEA cart.

Instead of feeling like a Save-The-Planet Winner, The Frau often feels like a Homeless Loser.

But she digresses.

Here’s why Swiss recycling is confusing: every little thing has its own place and none of them are in the same place. The glass goes to the glass bin nearest to you, the paper gets tied with string and put on your front-step every six weeks, and the apple core goes in the green bio bucket that you must purchase a sticker for at the local grocery store. It’s enough to confuse anyone.

That’s why last year, The Frau wrote, “Tips from a Bag Lady,” for Swiss News. You can read the article here. Be enlightened, dear friends. And hopefully be entertained as the article also includes a sidebar of trash horror stories from expats like you (police going through their trash, people yelling at them for recycling glass during the lunch hour, etc).

The recycling stuff is so confusing that it's too much to handle for little little post. So The Frau is going to list the best resources where you can find help:

Tips from a Bag Lady (by The Frau for Swiss News.)

Living in Zurich (by The American Women’s Club) (This sells for the very Swiss price of CHF 65(!) but might be worth it for all the recycling info--they include a nice chart of every recyclable thing you can imagine and describe where to dispose of it).

Swiss Favorite Pastime: Recycling (by Jessica at Swisstory Blog) (This post even includes a recycling map on Google maps! It’s one of the best blog posts The Frau has seen on Swiss recycling. So she’s not going to compete, just share the wealth and lament the fact that Jessica is now blogging about Australia instead of Switzerland).

Ok, readers, The Frau's collection of PET bottles is about to suffocate her and she really must get to the store to put them in their rightful place. Do you have any trash tips or resources for New and Confused? Or would you like to share any interesting run-ins with Swiss trash/recycling police?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

More Americans give up citizenship

This weekend, the New York Times had an interesting article, "More American Expatriates Give Up Citizenship." It discussed banking issues as well as double taxation as the main reasons for American expatriates to give up their citizenship.

Financially, at least, giving up American citizenship can make sense. First of all, as American expatriates, we are treated as suspect criminals by our own government. Every year, Americans abroad must fill out a form stating their foreign bank accounts. Failure to do this can be costly: jail time and $500,000 fines. What? For having a bank account in a country that I live in? Excuse me for living, but every time I fill out this form, I somehow feel violated.

Look, I'm not about to give up my U.S. citizenship because then I would be homeless. But the U.S. government needs to stop treating those of us supporting their country without even living in it a break.

Americans are the only citizens in the industrialized world that are double-taxed. It's taxation without representation and our former tea party throwers would be disappointed in us. No other industrialized nation taxes citizens not living in the country. Yes, the U.S. government allows the first $91,400 of a salary to be double-tax free and this may be well and fine if you live in Mexico or a country with a low standard of living. But as most expats in Switzerland know, a 90k salary doesn't get you a heck of a lot here. Throw in taxes times two, and Americans are at a competitive disadvantage in most of Europe, particularly in expensive countries with coordinating high salaries like Switzerland and Norway.

Here's the thing as well: say an American has a child abroad. Born in Switzerland to American parents, the child would not be Swiss, they would be American. They may never live in the United States in their life. But they would pay American taxes. Please tell me how this makes sense.

In my view, the more Americans abroad, the better for America. Our country badly needs citizens that understand their place in the world, that understand other cultures, that speak other languages, and that can see beyond their 3-car garage. We need people that are open-minded and based on the expatriates I know, this describes many of the 5.2 million Americans abroad. But our government's policies don't make being an American abroad very appealing at a time when it has never been more critical for other nations to see us in a different light.

Anyhow, enough with this little raclette rant. What do you think? Do you think Americans abroad have taxation without representation? Have you had trouble getting a bank account in Switzerland because you're an American?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Travel as a Political Act

I'm just finishing reading Rick Steves' Travel as a Political Act. He makes a lot of good points about Europeans, Americans, and travel. I particularly love the quote Steves gives from Muhammad: "Don't tell me how educated you are; tell me how much you've traveled."

So true.

While repatriation will be tough for many expats, I think it gives us an opportunity to impact our home countries from our learnings abroad in a positive way. And from that standpoint, when my time comes, I'll be looking forward to going home.

For instance: Steves discusses the European joy for life. I see this too. Most Europeans are happy to make do with less. They live in apartments. Many don't own cars. But they do have time off–and many aren't willing to part with that for more money and more stuff.

I've written about American work ethic before, and I don't think we will ever see protests in the street like you would in France if someone tries to take away your vacation time. But after living in Europe (and also working my butt off American style), I feel strongly that Americans have an opportunity to become less materialistic in exchange for a better work/life balance. I know Americans that work two jobs just so they can buy that fancy house with the three-car garage even though there are only two family members old enough to drive.

I didn't think I could go from living in an American three-bedroom house to living in a Swiss two-bedroom apartment, but guess what. It's great. There's less to clean, no grass to cut, and I have time to do other things instead: like travel and get educated.

Anyhow, for those interested in how travel (and living abroad) can help you improve your own country, I highly recommend Travel as a Political Act.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Sechselaeuten: A Men's Holiday

Today is Zurich's spring festival, Sechselaeuten. Trust me, you want to see this. A snowman is going to be burned to oblivion and then how quickly his head blows up will forecast our summer weather. It's a twisted version of Groundhog's Day, but it becomes even more twisted when you consider the women involved. Yes.

Because the women aren't allowed to be involved.

I wrote a feature this month for Swiss News on women's rights concerning the Sechselaeuten festival. For over 21 years now, a group of women have been asking for equal rights to participate in the Sechselaeuten Parade and have not been able to obtain it. 21 years. That's how slow things are to change in Switzerland. To read more about the battle between tradition and modernity in both public and private Swiss life, click here to read, Sechs-ism, Beyond the Böögg.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Vote for One Big Yodel on

Hi Yodelers,

If you read this blog regularly and sometimes enjoy what you read, then please hop over to today and vote for your favorite Switzerland blog post. My post, "Four Ways to Save Money in Switzerland," has been nominated and naturally I'm competitive and would like to win as well as save you money in a land where a plate of Chinese food is $25 (come on, Chinese food?).

Thanks for your support in making One Big Yodel the one of the loudest yodeling blogs out there.

Click here to vote.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Night Train

It took me almost four years to finally take a night train in Europe but I decided I couldn’t properly call myself European without at least doing one overnight train trip.

Anyhow, the problem with trains in Europe is that depending on where you are going, they can cost as much or more than a flight. Our round-trip from Zurich to Bled on the night train, "The Balkan Express", cost CHF 728 total for 2 people. In second class. With GAs. Yeah. Not so cheap. Even when paying with REKA checks. I might not have bought the tickets at all, except that I had gone through the whole transaction while speaking German and was not about to have done it for nothing. Even when told the price.

The advantage of the night train is that you potentially “save” money on a hotel night and have more time at your destination.

So what’s the verdict?

The time part was good. We could leave late on Thursday night from Zurich and arrive Friday morning at 7.30am in Bled, Slovenia, only a 10 minute bus ride from our actual destination. Only problem? We arrived jet lagged and wasted our extra “saved” time by taking a nap.

Then we could leave Monday night and still get back to Zurich by Tuesday morning in time for work.


Sleeping on a night train is kind of hard. Even if you have a private room with beds and a sink like we did. The train stops and starts constantly all night. It squeaks. It squawks. And people are boarding and blabbing pretty much all night long.

My advice? Nyquil. Benadryl. Or a big bottle of wine (yes, Americans, you can).

Or just take a flight.

How about you? What do you think about night trains in Europe?

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Dear Frau: Why are the Swiss so rich?

Welcome to the seventh 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 your little Frage will be in next week’s Dear Frau Column.

Dear Frau,

Why are the Swiss so rich?


Dear Curious

Let me count the ways.

First of all, the smallest Swiss bank note is a 10. The next smallest denomination, the SFr 5 coin, is so heavy you can’t wait to get rid of it. The Swiss planned this and price their bottled water accordingly.

Then there’s the 50-cent piece. These things are so small they tend to get lost and can’t be bothered with. Score another one for Switzerland.

And did I mention the smallest coin is 5-cents? This is a country where pennies are not worthy. Round-up, say the Swiss, round-up!

Another reason the Swiss are rich has to do with loyalty. The Swiss support themselves by being willing to pay more for Swiss Made. They even get weird about stuff like strawberries. One of my Swiss friends once wrinkled his nose at the poor little berries from Spain saying he would wait to buy strawberries until the Swiss ones arrived. Imports are shunned here. See photo above--even tattoos are better Swiss Made.

The Swiss are a cash society. People pay with actual money. Not the illusion of it. So use a 1,000 SFr bill to buy a Coke and you’re fine. Try to pay for the same Coke with a credit card? Forget it.

They charge a lot for water. They charge a lot for Chinese food. They charge a lot to throw out trash.

When your wallet gets stolen (yes, there is crime in Switzerland and it’s big business because you have a pay a lot to get your Swiss cards replaced (SFr 30-40 a card)). But American companies replace stolen cards for free. Suckers.

Customer service phone numbers aren’t free to call because the customer is never right in Switzerland.

It costs three times the price to call Switzerland from Switzerland as it costs to call America from Switzerland.

The Swiss make a lot of money on foreigners by making them renew their permit every year and then they purposely take as long as possible to renew it so they can charge SFr 20 for a piece of paper that states the permit is in the process of being renewed.

Whew. There are many more reasons the Swiss are rich, but the Frau is feeling a bit stingy with her time today. Anyone else have a good reason why the Swiss are rich?

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Hello, Wife

Guten Tag, yodelers (oops, how High German of me),

Hope everyone had a great holiday. While I recover from my first Nachtzug experience (more on that later), I wanted to share an essay that some of you might be able to relate to--especially if you are a trailing spouse.

I think most of us Fraus and Hausmanns know that in the end, it's worth a little identity confusion for the opportunity to live and travel abroad. But that doesn't mean it is always easy.

After all, the first time I translated what was on my Swiss permit, I practically had a heart attack. It was something like: "Only allowed in country because of Husband. Not worthy otherwise."

Thanks, Switzerland.

Read my essay, Expat, in Skirt! Magazine this month for more on identity at a (European) crossroads.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Dear Frau: What to do in Zurich?

Welcome to the sixth 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 your little Frage will be in next week’s Dear Frau Column.

Dear Frau,

I'm gonna be in Zurich on the 18th, en route to Amsterdam. I managed to get a 12-hour layover. Since you're practically a local, what would you recommend? I'd love to get some tips. I want to make the best of my 12 hours in der Schweiz.

Pimp My Layover

Dear Pimp My Layover,

Good for you. If you’re going to do the layover thing you might as well go all out and get as jetlagged as possible. Twelve hours is plenty of time to see most of the highlights in Zurich—even in your delirious state.

Number one: put your stuff in a locker. There are lockers right above the train station at the airport.

Number two: buy a Zurich Card (see below) and take the train to Zurich HB. The HB means “main train station”. It should only take 10 minutes from the airport. Don’t get off in Oerlikon unless you want to go bowling.

Number three to infinity: Walk down the main shopping street, the Bahnhofstrasse. Smile at some Swiss people and see what happens (not for the faint at heart).

Eat at Hiltl, Europe's best and first vegetarian restaurant. While you’re eating you can grab some food for thought in the form of a Hiltl cookbook, or Swiss News, a magazine The Frau writes for.

Stop in Sprüngli, a chocolate store and café, for dessert or an edible souvenir. The Swiss eat 12 kilos of chocolate a year without getting fat. Now’s your chance to try it and see what happens.

Look at the Marc Chagall windows in the Fraumünster church. Just don’t ask The Frau to come with you. She's seen these windows about fifty times now and is going through withdrawal.

Walk to the lake and enjoy the views. Take a boat ride if the season allows.

Explore Niederdorf, a section of Zurich’s old town. It’s less stuffy than the Bahnhofstrasse and has lots of cool shops and bars.

If you're interested in museums or the weather sucks, you could check out Zurich's Kunsthaus, its art museum, or the Landesmuseum, a history museum.

Another alternative if the weather is nice is to go up to Uetliberg, nicknamed "the top of Zurich". It's the highest point in Zurich and you can get there in about 20 minutes from Zurich's main train station. There are lots of good hiking trails up there as well. If it’s foggy or raining though, you won’t see much.

Tip: If you plan to take public transport and visit a museum or two (or go up to Uetliberg), buy a Zurich Card for CHF 19. It’s valid for 24 hours and includes free entrance to most museums and free public transport within Zurich, including to and from the airport, and including a boat ride on the lake. Buy it at the airport and that’s all you’ll need all day. It’s one of the best deals in Zurich. Trust The Frau, after you see the prices here, you’ll know what she means.

Ok, the Frau has run out of ideas. Come on, all of you Zurich locals out there, what’s great to do in this city? The Frau wants to know what she forgot. Let’s help Pimp A Layover. And Happy Easter to all.


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