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.


M'dame Jo said...

I've read your small talk article. Interesting. I'm going to throw a couple of thoughts - from a Romandie point of you:

- I think hair salons (nail salons, restaurants bathrooms, etc. essentially any place filled with females) are places where small talk is "normal" in Switzerland. Women tend to share easily when in such environment. Which is actually perceived as negative by some of my friends who go to the hair dresser to get a haircut, not the latest gossips. Anyways, it's something I like, restrooms talks.

- During my two stays in California (about six months total) I have really enjoyed the small talk in shops, restaurants, etc. And I've missed it coming back here, where no one smiles. The good thing about small talk is that it gave me the impression (illusion?) to be part of the world in the sense that even though I hadn't done anything "social" that particular day, I would still have human interactions. It's a nice feeling.

- That said, I have been annoyed by small talk in the workplace in California. It's a work meeting, let's skip the donuts and all your weekend stories, please. Every time, meeting would last twice as much as it would here, because of the non-work related talk. And people dropping by my cubicle to chit-chat for 15 minutes? Come on, I got work to do, you're making me late, I want to get this and that done today and I don't want to miss the Express Train. Alemanics are even more so. Work is work, let's do our job and get out of here at 17.00 and then let's go out for a beer. It is perceived as being cold and distant, and I get that, but Swiss people in general, Alemanics in particular, are like that. If you can cross that bridge and end up knowing them outside of work, you'll see that they "let loose" as much as anyone else in the world.

That said, I completely understand your feeling and Baden isn't probably the easiest place to make contact, so good luck.

Chantal said...

Hi M'dame Jo

Yes, that's a great point that small talk and smiling just makes one feel more human.

I get what you are saying about small talk in American offices. It can be a little over the top, depending on the situation. But I still like starting out with a little something, before plunging into work.

Kathy said...

I agree with M'dame Jo. I always had to make an effort not to be annoyed with chat breaks at work. (I'm an odd American.)

At the same time small talk at work is really meaningful in the US, because people extend their ability to relate to you (or you to them) to work assignments. Maybe they feel they can count on you more or that they like you and feel good about working with you. It's not conscious or rational. The work product still matters too; it's just not enough by itself.

Unless you're a coder, and then no one expects you to have social skills anyway :) (Just kidding.)

Also people chat up a storm at my salon in Züri, and I always feel so lame because my German conversation pretty much stops at the weather.

As far a small talk in the US in shops and such: a little goes a long way. I definitely do not want to know that my waitress is going to visit her brother in prison this weekend or how much she drank last night, but I have heard some alarmingly personal stories. "How 'bout them Bears" or "Some weather we're having" is plenty of small talk for me.

Chantal said...


I used to hate going into an American store and having people talk to me. But now I love things like being asked if I want to apply for a store credit card. I guess I've just been away for too long. Once I move back, I'll probably get annoyed again.

I guess it's just nice when it seems like people, even store clerks, enjoy what they do. Even if they're just pretending.

Unknown said...

Hi! I will be in Switzerland in twenty days! I can't wait :)!

Chantal said...

Hi Sana,

Wilkommen in der Schweiz!

Hattie said...

Wow. Times have certainly changed in Switzerland. What's changed is the willingness of foreigners to speak up about the oddities of Switzerland. And the more they try to keep it the way it's always been, the odder it gets!
Of course Baden is the limit. It's such a burg. We lived in Wettingen, which is even more of a backwater. I couldn't stand it, so we moved to Zurich (Forch, actually) and liked it much better.
I live in Hawaii now, where "talking story" is the norm. Much more suited to my temperament!

Chantal said...

I think I would have had a much different Swiss experience living in Zurich or Geneva. But I am in the typical little Swiss village. Yes.

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