Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Say Cheese

Americans are often amazed that Europeans don’t smile.

“Tell me again, really? They don’t ever smile?”

“Not at you,” I reply.

They don’t smile at you because you are a foreigner and you scare them. Because if they give you one little smile, you might give them your entire life story. Come on, you know you would. In English. Without bothering to ask if they understood the language first.

And if Europeans don’t smile on the street, it might also be because it is August, 52 degrees, and raining. They aren’t smiling because they are worried that they might not see the sun again until May. I’ve been there. I live here.

But inside their homes, where they have families and sun lamps, Europeans smile.

Now I’m not saying any of this makes sense, I’m just saying that’s how it is. There are plenty of contradictions in American life too. An American isn’t afraid to reveal their entire life story to a stranger, but they would never bathe topless. Does this make sense either? I don't know. But it makes me smile.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The decision to move abroad

Resigning from a job, selling a house and/or car, and leaving family and friends to move abroad can be scary. But I did it in 2006. And now I’m sharing the steps (in the order that they appeared) that led me to work up the nerve to move abroad:

  1. Get fateful email from husband: “I got the offer.”
  2. Google, “Should I move abroad?”
  3. Eat lots of high fructose corn syrup.
  4. Google, “Living abroad.”
  5. Toss. Turn. Repeat.
  6. Wear sunglasses to cover up bags under eyes.
  7. Remember who is president (2006).
  8. Repeat #7. A lot.
  9. Go to work. Stare at vacation balance. Shake head.
  10. Realize looking back and thinking, “what if?” would suck.

If you’re living abroad, what made you decide to go? If you’re not, what’s holding you back?

This post first appeared on my blog about the international writing life, Writer Abroad.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Swiss Version of NASCAR

Yesterday I attended the Aelplerfest in Frauenfeld, a three-day event featuring a Schwingen (Swiss wrestling) tournament, a Hornussen (a strange cross between golf and baseball) competition, and a Steinstossen (rock throwing) contest.

Besides these ah, let's call them "unique" events, the one thing that struck me was that this festival was the Swiss equivalent of NASCAR (Granted, I have not yet attended the International Trucker and Country Festival in Interlaken).

Obviously there was no race track here, but there were huge parking lots filled with a combination of tents, campers, and cars, half-naked men sleeping beside them, and guys drinking beer in the river. People wore their tickets NASCAR style-- as badges of pride--around their necks on lanyards, and they somehow found sitting in the 93-degree sun to watch a bunch of Swiss guys roll around in the sawdust worthwhile. And while I did not find any corn dogs or turkey legs, there was a nice offering of American food, including DoNuts.

I always love a good DoNut.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Register for the Zurich Writers Workshop

Hello Yodelers,

It's about time that Zurich celebrated something other than banking, oder?

Well, that's where I come in. I'm co-founding the Zurich Writers Workshop, which will take place October 1-3, 2010. If you're interested in writing fiction or memoir, this weekend might be for you. You'll learn from instructors like New York Times Bestselling Author Susan Jane Gilman and University of Oxford Fiction Tutor Amal Chatterjee. You'll also get a literary tour of Zurich and you'll eat (what else?--) a lot of cheese. Sound good?

Registration is limited to about 24 participants and will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis.

For more information, click here. To register, click here. And please spread the word by sharing this post (see buttons below for your preferred choice of social networking options). Danke to all!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Business Class Upgrade on Swiss

I was not looking forward to my 10-hour flight.

"There are no good seat on an airplane," I told my husband.

I was wrong.

There are seats on an airplane that don't involve bruised knees and armrest wars. They are called business class seats on long-haul Swiss flights. These seats allow you to recline all the way, read a newspaper without being handicapped by a mere page turn, and reap the rewards that only a 12 to 1 flight attendant ratio can bring.
I didn't want the flight to end.

I had a four-course lunch, which I could order from a menu, complete with a white tablecloth and food prepared by Hiltl, hand-scooped Moevenpick ice cream in a waffle cone, and non-stop beverage service. I can safely say, that in the 25 years since I started flying, this was the first flight I wasn't dehydrated, squirmy, or impatient.

I don't know how I'm going to return to my regularly scheduled squished state on my next flight, but sadly, I am not a business class regular. I wish I could tell you the secrets of being upgraded, but I have no idea why it happened. I didn't ask. I didn't complain. I didn't do anything. I just boarded the plane with 23B and got handed a receipt that said "seat upgrade to 10B."

And then, with my newfound fortune, I couldn't help but take photos, which, despite my first-class feeling, gave away my true status as an "economist."

Have you ever been upgraded? If so, what are your secrets?

Monday, August 02, 2010

3 Ways to Survive the Next Family Visit

It’s that time of year again, when friends and family can’t wait to descend on their little expat. The problem is, the further you move from home, the longer your visitors come to stay. 

It’s all great and fun for the first few days, until suddenly, you really have to pee and your father-in-law is on the toilet. Again. 

It happens to the best of us. The big blowout where at about day five of their visit, you just can’t quite stand to have these people you (used to) love in your little European apartment anymore. 

I know because I’ve been there. For almost four years, visitors have come and gone while I’ve laughed, cried, and sometimes even screamed. 

Solution? Go on a trip together where you can have separate bedrooms and bathrooms. Below are a few ideas that will fit with various travel styles but still ensure that everyone can enjoy the time without driving each other crazy.

One: Rent an apartment or chalet in the Swiss Alps.

Renting an apartment costs about 1/3 of the price of a Swiss hotel room (average studio apartment cost is about CHF 60/night). The catch? You have to stay a week. Pas de probleme. Your guests are coming for at least that long, right? Yes. It’s time to get them out of your apartment and into someone elses’. Most tourist offices in Swiss resort towns can help you find an apartment that will meet your needs (i.e. two full bathrooms, etc). Or you can visit myswitzerland.com where there are apartment listings. I just spent a week in an apartment in Bettmeralp, near the Aletsch glacier, and it was wonderful. The apartment was clean and had everything we needed—including a fondue pot.

Two: Go on a Europe Cruise.

Say your family is like mine: a bunch of Americans that have big vacation ideas and even bigger checklists. A Europe Cruise is a great way for them to run around (I mean, see the top sites) while you sit back on board, European-style, with a coffee or glass of wine. Whether you cruise the Danube or the Rhine, go for 15 days or 8, river cruises through Europe can be a relaxing way to spend time with your family. And since you already live in the heart of Europe, they’re easy to get to. One company that offers a good variety of Europe cruises is Viking River Cruises.

Three: Discover your roots.

Many American families have roots in Europe. Heck, they may even call themselves Italians or Swedes even though they are through and through Americans and don’t speak a word of Italian or Swedish. One summer, my family discovered its Italian roots in northern Italy. We found a cemetery, furniture store, and monuments—all filled with our last name. We stayed in a little pension where the owner shared the same last name as one of my father’s cousins. We thought we’d fit right in. But we couldn’t talk to anyone. It was weird. And interesting. And worth it to find out we weren’t exactly as Italian as we thought.

Have you done any of these kinds of trips with your families? Or what do you recommend?


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