Thursday, June 24, 2010

American Spirit in Switzerland

The American team won a game. Not lost. Not tied. Won. Yes. So to honor this great accomplishment, my husband and I set up our American flag on a tripod to give Switzerland a little Yankee spirit.

The whole world feels like it's on some strange vacation. Business people fill the streets (and bars) by 16.00. There's a strange phenomenon going around known as World Cup voice (i.e. it means you have no voice). And you can tell who is winning by not even watching the games due to the screams in the streets.

Have you been playing hooky from work? I mean, have you been watching the World Cup?

Monday, June 21, 2010

Anything for Sun (and Sales)

When you live under a gigantic cloud (uh, I mean, in Switzerland), the summer can be stressful. Last week, the sun came out for maybe three hours. And when it did, I was desperate.

“Let’s go for a bike ride,” I told my husband on Friday night, when the sun decided to come out at 7 p.m. after an entire week of rain.

“Now?” he asked. We had just eaten dinner.

“Now,” I said, pointing at the blue sky, “Hurry.”

When you only see a few hours of sunshine a week, you have to get outside when it shines. Fast.

It’s kind of a stressful way to live, never knowing when your next bit of sun will shine.

The Swiss sun makes me drop everything I’m doing when it comes out. Speaking of dropping everything, Migros announced a 10% off sale last Thursday to celebrate the Swiss win. I hurried there. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think I was about to save hundreds rather than CHF 10.

Yep. That’s when you know you’re becoming Swiss: you’ll drop everything for a little sun. Or a 10% off sale.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Dear Frau: Save me from the smoke!

Welcome to the latest edition of Dear Frau. It's kind of like Dear Abby, except with an international twist. If you have a question about life in Switzerland, be sure to contact the Frau and maybe your little Frage will be in the next Dear Frau column. And as always, the Frau does not have all the answers and welcomes your solutions to these questions in the comments section.

Dear Frau,

I lovvvvvvvvvvvvve Switzerland. It's beautiful, safe, and clean. But why is it that a person cannot walk down the streets of Bern or Zurich without having cigarette smoke sprayed in their face. I am constantly bombarded by the vile smoke while eating at outdoor cafes, walking down the street, and waiting for a train. What do you suggest I do or say the next time this occurs?


An American Who Lives in and Loves Switzerland

Dear An American Who Lives in and Loves Switzerland,

The Frau is also fed up with living in a cloud of smoke. Or is that fog?

Sometimes it’s hard to tell in Switzerland. The sky is always gray no matter what.


That’s how you tell.

Anyway, the Frau has had clothes ruined, had to change offices, and endured red eyes all so a bunch of Swiss people could voluntarily give themselves cancer.

Even though we Americans learned at a young age that the mere sight of a cigarette might kills us, the Swiss don’t care because despite their habits, they have the fourth longest life expectancy in the world.

Maybe you’ve seen some of them hiking the Alps in that not-so-fresh-anymore mountain air. One of them was once my father-in-law. Sorry. He wanted to be more Swiss.

Anyhow, let’s get to the point. Your question was what to do or say. The Frau doesn’t really know what to tell you because anyone that buys something that clearly says “it kills” on the package is probably beyond help. But here are some things the Frau and her friends have done for the cause, including the various Swiss responses:

Test One: Put up an ad campaign in her Zurich office showing images of non-smokers’ lungs vs. smokers’ lungs with labels matching appropriate employee names with the images.

Response from chain-smoking boss: Laugh. Cough. Laugh. Nice try, but that crap doesn’t work with me. Puff.

The Frau’s response: Fine, she wants a new office.

Test Two: A Swiss friend asked a man smoking a cigar at a soccer game in Basel to please put it out so the Frau could sing the American national anthem without choking.

Response from cigar smoker: Ok. Puff. Put out cigar under seat.

The Frau’s response: The most she’s ever cheered at a soccer game.

Test Three: Gave dirty look to man smoking in train car.

Response: He went out into the hallway and continued smoking there.

The Frau’s response: Bathroom break. The air smelled better there.

Other ways to protest when you get smoked on: Fart. Spit. Spray air freshener.

Fight back, non-smokers, fight back.

The good news is that it has now been many decades since science proved that smoking sucks, so now that an extremely long time has passed, some restaurants and bars in Switzerland are finally listening. Change is good, Switzerland. Really.

And look on the bright side. Those cigarette butts give the street sweeper a reason for being. He needs one, poor guy.

How do you respond to all this Swiss smoke?

Monday, June 14, 2010

Want a C Permit? Take that test.

After five years living in Switzerland on a B permit, most Americans and Canadians can apply for a C permit, which has certain benefits like 1) it’s good for an entire five years instead of just one and 2) it makes it easier to get a job and freelance like a normal person.

But here’s the catch: you must prove you have made an effort to integrate in order to receive the C permit. Never mind if you speak fluent Deutsch at the Migration Office, as we learned before, they are not paying attention to your Deutsch. They are looking Yeah.

So it doesn’t matter if you’re fluent, it matters if you have a piece of paper. After all, we are in Switzerland, people. Logic isn’t important. Paper is. The more expensive the paper, the better.

That’s why I’m going to spend over CHF 300 to take the Goethe Zertifikat B2 test. Because one of my German-speaking American friends was just refused a C permit despite logic. A fluent German speaker who had lived here for five years on a B permit, she must now wait another two years to apply for her C permit because she was ohne test certification when she filled out the paperwork.

Moral of the story: If you’ve been taking a German class (or are just naturally good at German) and have reached at least the A2 level, take the appropriate test in case you overstay your expected Swiss residency and want that C permit, after all. The next Geothe tests are in August/September and you must register for them by July 15. At minimum, you must pass the A2 test or higher to prove proficiency as far as the permit is concerned. Real life is another story.

Note: For a C permit, you must prove language proficiency of the language spoken in your canton. If you live in Zurich and have French certification, that’s great, but it doesn’t matter on your permit application. C'est la vie.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

The 10 Steps of Learning German in Switzerland

There is a clear progression of how English-speaking foreigners deal with learning German in Switzerland. It goes kind of like this:

1. Grüezi. Sprechen Sie Englisch?
2. I'm so excited to learn a new language!
3. I'll be fluent in no time!
4. Hallo, Schweiz! Der, Die, Das, ich kenne etwas!
5. Was? There is also a Den, Dem, Denen, and Des? Echt?
6. Now I'm too scared to talk. I'll get it all wrong.
7. Fine I'll talk. I'll just turn every der, die, das, den, dem, denen, and des into a "duh".
8. I can talk now! I'll go to the flea market and show off! Was kostet das? Was? What is this "foyf" you're saying? I know my numbers, dang it!
9. Crap. I took three years of German and still understand nothing on the streets in Switzerland.
10. Grüezi. Sprechen Sie Englisch?

Thursday, June 03, 2010

The Frau is on Vacation

It's a holiday in Baden today (and Baden only!) and The Frau is going to make the most of it. So she will not be answering questions this week, but be sure to contact her if you've got a little Frage that's just begging to be answered. She's back in business next week with her Dear Frau column. Ja.

In the absence of advice, The Frau wanted to update you on a few things she's written in the last month that she thinks you might like (remember she's biased, of course):

Switzerland: A Scary Place to Call Home (Is the Swiss People's Party ruining the country for the very people it's trying to protect?)

Great Mountain Hikes in Switzerland (Looking for a little sun? The Frau is! It's time to go up a few thousand feet.)

The Two Most Popular Expat Locations (Think about it...where do you live most of the time?)

The Search for Small Talk (The Frau wishes she could stuff small talk in her suitcase along with all that Mac & Cheese. But alas.)

A Year in the Merde author Stephen Clarke talks about how to sell your Expat novel as well as the sad state of cheddar sandwiches in the UK.

How about you? Read anything good on expat life or Switzerland lately? Leave a comment and/or a link. As usual, shameless self-promotion is encouraged.


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