Monday, July 26, 2010

Uh + Oh

A lot of expat life is about making educated guesses. For example, when presented with an oven that has the following three options:



Or Uh-Oh.

I chose Uh-Oh.

The lasagna turned out ok.

You never know.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Take off your Top: Zurich Swim Culture

I didn’t know that the real definition of Frauenbad was topless sunbathing area, but I now am more educated.

Actually, at the Zürich Frauenbad, you get both extremes: from women fully covered in burkinis to women wearing nothing but their g-strings. Personally, I preferred the burkinis. But the men lingering on their little boats (and out on the balcony of the office building overlooking the Frauenbad) were definitely there for the latter.

I guess nothing says you’re in Europe like women sunbathing topless on a river deck and men on little boats in even smaller red speedos staring at these women through matching red sunglasses.

Previously, I had only been to the Frauenbad at night, when it is converted into a barefoot bar open to both sexes.

It’s much more interesting during the day.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

How to play the alphorn

I recently had the honor to write a story on the Swiss Alphorn School. I watched as beginners learned to blow their first note, advanced students played in harmony, and cows listened intently to it all.

The alphorn is difficult to play. I tried and failed. All notes are breath controlled. The instrument is 3 meters long. And if you haven’t previously played a horn instrument, it can be tough to make a sound. But when your practice room is a mountaintop and your audience is a cow, it’s definitely worth the effort to learn to play.

Read more about how to learn to play this unique Swiss instrument by reading my feature article, Alphorn school blows students away on

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Pool Party

You can tell a lot about another country by going to the pool.

In the United States, just mention the word “lightning” and every local pool will be evacuated by the lifeguards.

In Switzerland, hear thunder, see lightning, and people keep swimming. Like they did yesterday evening during the big storm.

This sums up the difference between the United States and Switzerland in a nutshell: One country is run by the lawyers. And one country is run by the people.

Which kind of government do you prefer?

Monday, July 12, 2010

Paddle Boat on Lake Zurich

On Saturday, I finally did something I've always wanted to do: rent a paddle boat on Lake Zurich.

Somehow, I was able to snag a boat without waiting despite the hot weather. They are not cheap, at CHF 26/hour, but if you think about it, that's really just the price of a Swiss hamburger, so take your pick.

Benefits to renting a paddle boat in Switzerland over the U.S.: (1) you don't have to sign your life away on an insurance form (in fact, you don't need to sign a form at all!), (2) you are not required to wear a life jacket, (3) no one will stop you from paddling to wherever the heck you please, and (4) you can bring beer.

As an American, I really felt free.

Anyhow, as I was paddling (and diving off the boat sans life jacket), I noticed that my paddle boat was inferior to some other paddle boats on Lake Zurich. My paddle boat was not a Mercedes.

Oh Switzerland, you constantly one-up me.

No wonder there wasn't a line for my kind of boat. No one in Zurich would want to be seen paddling so generically.

But I would do it again.

Admit it. Have you had the nerve to go generic in Zurich?

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Dear Frau: Should I Move to Zurich?

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,

My company would like me to relocate to Zurich. Whilst I am experiencing ‘London Fatigue’ my vision certainly did not include this city. Not even in my periphery.

I speak no German but some French if this might help? Whilst many seem concerned with moving with spouses, family housing and children’s schools my concern is me, myself and I. (Not that I am altogether selfish, truly!) So what it’s like as a single woman living in Zurich? Any recommendations for best areas to live? (Near or in the city, a fruit/veggie market & coffee shop if possible, a gym and green space to go for a run.) And I will miss my gaggle of girlfriends and would be great to meet some friends in Zurich, suggestions for groups to join? I daren’t ask about dating.

Lastly, I have lived abroad before and travel fairly often so know it’s important to be open – but have heard more negatives than positive about Zurich. Cold people, weather, rigid, unwelcoming, etc. that I am needless a touch wary. Would really appreciate a response.


Single in the City

Dear Single in the City,

You’ve got a lot of questions here, so let’s address one at a time.

Will French help? Um, probably as much as English or German will help. The problem with living in Zurich is that Swiss people in Zurich don’t speak French, German, or English. They speak Züri-deutsch, which is really another language entirely. Züri-deutsch is a Swiss German dialect. Swiss German is a secret language, which makes sense for a country with secret bank accounts, but doesn’t make much sense to expats, who try to learn German and then realize they still can’t understand anything without crossing the border.

What’s it like to be a single woman in Zurich? The Frau will just say this: Not only does “Frau” mean “woman” but it also means “wife.” Clearly Fraus are not meant to be single in German-speaking worlds. But look on the bright side—you won’t be taxed extra for being a married woman that works (yes, this is a fact of life in Switzerland. Please tell me why no one is protesting discrimination?).

To be honest, the Frau does not really know what it is like to be a single gal in Zurich, but she has friends that do know and is hoping they will comment here. She does know that one of her single friends dated many Swiss men and found them all boring. I guess these guys didn’t talk much and the Frau’s friend always felt like she had to lead the conversation. But the world has a lot of boring guys. The Frau’s friend may have just been unlucky. The Frau herself has a couple of Swiss guy friends that are so far from boring that they sing Frank Sinatra tunes in strip clubs to earn extra vacation days at their Zurich ad agency. Yes.

Any recommendations on where to live? The short answer: wherever you can find an apartment. Zurich has less than 1% vacancy so it's hard to be picky. The long answer: read Where should I live in Zurich? Be sure to check the comments. And don’t worry about green space and a place to jog. Foot trails in Switzerland are literally outside every doorstep.

Any suggestions for groups to join? I would start a blog and join the Swiss Expat Bloggers. That’s how I’ve met a lot of people. Blog writers tend to be younger and without children for the obvious reason that they have time to blog. There are plenty of other organizations in Zurich for expats, but these tend to be filled with wives of CEOs who have 2.5 kids, eat $50 lunches every day, and spend their time shopping at Prada. There’s nothing wrong with shopping at Prada. If you like purses.

Cold people, weather, rigid, unwelcoming? Cold people: yes, they can seem that way as they don’t usually smile or make small talk with strangers. But if you can get past their hard exterior the Swiss people are generally kind and loyal. Weather: you’ll be fine with it. You come from London. Rigid: yes, do not put your garbage out a minute too early or you will pay the price. Unwelcoming: yes, there is a lot of xenophobia in Switzerland. On one hand, can you blame the Swiss when 20% of their country is foreign? On the other hand, the discrimination against certain kinds of foreigners is outright embarrassing for a country that prides itself on being neutral. The United Nations agrees.

Ok, yodelers, the Frau does not have all the answers. Let’s help Single in the City make a wise decision. Should she move to Zurich? The Frau thinks she should. She thinks there's a reason so many expats come to Switzerland and then never leave. What do you say?

Monday, July 05, 2010

Gardening in High Heels

I am back at Swiss gardening boot camp. Yes. My 75-year-old Swiss neighbor is doing my gardening in her high heels. Again.

Yesterday, she knocked on the door to ask my husband to help her with driving directions but since we all know she has a GPS, this was really just an excuse to get inside our apartment.

Anyhow, after getting the directions, she went onto our balcony and analyzed every bush and plant that needed weeding and every concrete planter that needed shining. Then she started yanking out one of our dead plants by its roots.

“I love doing this,” she said, grabbing at the dead evergreen while never once wobbling on her high heels.

We are now borrowing (not out of choice, mind you) her pressure washer, her hand held weed wacker, and her little garden saw.

Her tools are better than ours, we are told.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Discovering Who I Am

Does living abroad help define you as a person? Before I moved abroad I defined myself like this: one-quarter Italian, one-quarter Polish, one-fifth English, 12.5 percent Danish, 10.5 percent Swedish and seven percent German. That was me. Really.

But while I could easily pass for a European with my name alone, there was, unfortunately, the rest of me. My language options were English or English; I thought all cheese was bright orange; and I wore things like sweatpants – in public.

I had a lot to learn. It wasn't until one day, a few months after moving to Switzerland, that I looked down at my Nikes as I was standing among a sea of stilettos and realized something: I was an American.

Happy 4th of July.

To read more, check out my essay, Hello Heritage, in Swiss News this month.


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