Saturday, December 31, 2011

Just say cheese

In the German-speaking part of Switzerland, it is traditional to watch "Dinner for One" on TV on New Year's Eve. Our Swiss neighbor does it every year. Don't ask me why a film in English is a German tradition, but it is. She even watches it in the original English.

Speaking of dinner, I've had cheese for dinner for the last two nights. Thursday night, we had fondue at our neighbor's and there was so much cheese in the pot that it broke. Then, last night, we had raclette. Six people ate 28 pieces of the stuff. The result? According to Mr. One Big Yodel, "I have such a big ball of cheese in my stomach that it is radiating heat like the sun."

What a way to celebrate the season in Switzerland.

Alles Gute zum neuen Jahr from One Big Yodel. Prost.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Five cheap things to do in Switzerland this season

This is Ms. One Big Yodel's first Christmas in Switzerland. Instead of going home to visit family, her family is coming to her. Unfortunately for many visitors to Switzerland these days, it has become even more expensive than it was in the past. But here are a few things you can enjoy in Switzerland for (gasp!) cheap.

1. Eat marroni. Nothing says Christmas in Switzerland quite like a hot nut, or more specifically, a roasted chestnut. They are typically sold by street vendors in most Swiss villages.

2. Walk in the winter wonderland. Almost everywhere in the country, it's a great time of year to enjoy the weather, nordic walking style. In Baden, for example, there is a candle-lit evening hike up at Baldegg on December 27 that includes a plate of pasta after the 5k hike.

3. Ice skate. Many Swiss villages have an ice skating rink. For as little as CHF 5, you can have an afternoon of entertainment.

4. Make your own glass ornament. At Hergiswil Glassworks near Lucerne, visitors can make their own glass ornament after their CHF 5 tour of the factory (but be sure to check dates, it is closed part of the month). Or if glassmaking's not your thing, has put together a list of places, including various cheese dairies, which offer free admission.

5. Do nothing. Enjoy the holiday in traditional European fashion by doing nothing but relaxing. Most offices are businesses are closed the week after Christmas, a tradition worth starting in the rest of the world too.

What do you like to do to celebrate the season?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

10 Things Expats Love to do on Facebook

Ok, expats. It's time to sum up our online habits. Below are 10 things expats love to do on Facebook:

1. Brag about the trip they’ve just gone on.

2. Brag about the trip they are going on tomorrow.

3. Write their status in another language.

4. Make fun of bad English.

5. Insert foreign words into English sentences.

6. Post travel list challenges.

7. Exclaim how jet lagged they are.

8. Exclaim about how cheap everything is in the U.S.

9. Post photos of exotic locations, view from office or apartment included.

10. Use airport abbreviations in their status updates, the more obscure the better.

Are you guilty of any of these? And is there anything I've forgotten?

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Shop online like it's 1989!

A few weeks ago, I wrote about five Swiss websites that could use a makeover. But this Swiss online experience perhaps tops it all:

My husband went to a photo workshop in Baden over the weekend and received a coupon for 15% off his online order at ProFot.

So naturally he wanted to shop since he needs very little incentive to buy photo gear.

He filled his virtual shopping cart and went to check out and realized something strange: there was no redemption code on the coupon.

Upon further investigation (i.e. contacting the company), he learned that to redeem the coupon, he had to either scan it and email it to them or get this...snail mail it to the headquarters in Baar.

Yes. Thanks to you, ProFot, people in Switzerland really can shop online like it's 1989.

Have you had any strange shopping experiences in Switzerland?

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Five Great Books About Life Abroad

There are a lot of books about life abroad out there.

But many of them romanticize the experience rather than tell the real truth: life abroad is hard. Contrary to popular belief, the world is not just a place for Westerners to eat, pray, or fix up a holiday home. It can also be a place where a person with a Master’s degree doesn’t even know the word for beef.

Below are five books that paint a more accurate portrait of life abroad when you’re really, really living it for the long haul. If you're looking for a Christmas gift, I recommend any of these. And if you order them by clicking on the links included in this blog, you’ll help support One Big Yodel as well.

Me Talk Pretty One Day

By David Sedaris

Ruthless French teachers. Fears of speaking a new language so strong you wish meat were sold in vending machines. Trying to explain a holiday such as Easter in another language (Jesus shaves, anyone?). In these stories and more, Sedaris pretty much sums up the difficulties (and surprising rewards) that come from trying to make a life in another country. C'est bon.

Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven

By Susan Jane Gilman

A recent college graduate, Susan Jane Gilman was ready to conquer the world. She had romantic visions of backpacking abroad. But then she went to China, which in the 80s, had been open to tourists for about ten minutes. Between ant infested hotel rooms, broken down vehicles, and Chinese men that don’t know a word of English but can recite John Denver songs by heart, Gilman proves that “real travel” doesn’t get much more real than this.

Tales from the Expat Harem

Edited by Anastasia M. Ashman and Jennifer Eaton Goekmen

Before I traveled to Turkey last year, I read this collection of 32 essays about women who live there. One of my favorite essays was about a Christian evangelist from Iowa who was rescued by the very Turkish souls she hoped to save. Gotta love the theme: An American goes out to save the world and the world saves her instead.

Moonlight in Odessa

By Janet Skeslien Charles

What happens when a woman from the Ukraine becomes so tempted by the American dream that she becomes a mail order bride in order to attain it? This novel, written by an American expat living in Paris, has the answers. See the United States through the eyes of a Ukrainian as the main character, Daria, goes from being wide-eyed over things like garage door openers to finally becoming skeptical of the very materialism she dreamed of obtaining.

Kabul Beauty School

By Deborah Rodriguez

This is the true story of an American woman who goes to Afghanistan to teach women how to open their own beauty parlors. But teaching becomes interwoven with living as her students share their stories with her. From the woman who faked her virginity on her wedding night to the 12-year-old bride who was sold to repay family debts, this is an interesting look into the lives of Afghan women and also the affect they have on the American woman who came to empower them.

What are your favorite books about life or travel abroad?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Geneva Ranks Last in European Shopping Survey

Manor, a large Swiss department store, is advertising their new “late night” shopping hours on a gigantic poster: the store is now open until 8 p.m. on weeknights. While this is a big deal for Switzerland, it’s still not enough to put a Swiss city on anyone’s list for a shopping tour. Especially considering the prices. (Yesterday my husband paid $10 for a bottle of barbecue sauce. Sigh.)

In a recent survey, “Globe Shopper City Index” by the Economist Intelligence Unit, of the 33 European cities studied for shopping, the one Swiss city in the survey—Geneva—came in last. I can’t say I’m surprised. Geneva is a city where you can’t even find a restaurant that’s open on a Saturday night, let alone a store.

Anyhow, top cities for shopping in this survey were: London, Barcelona, Madrid, and Paris. Some of the things considered in the survey were number of shops, opening hours, and affordability.

What are your favorite European cities for shopping?

Friday, November 11, 2011

10 things you notice about Switzerland when you have a baby

One: Most building entrances have stairs and no ramps

Two: It is possible for the concept of shared laundry in the basement to get even worse

Three: It’s really uncool to take a stroller accessible spot on a bus when you don’t have a stroller

Four: There are a lot more hills in your town than you thought and somehow they got steeper

Five: Even when they are 35% off at Migros, it’s still cheaper to buy your Pampers in Germany

Six: The Swiss authorities are more concerned with that misspelling on your birth certificate 30+ years later than the City of Chicago ever was

Seven: Quiet hours need not apply

Eight: Even when the grocery store is across the street, online grocery shopping takes on a whole new appeal

Nine: You neighbor no longer lectures you about how you do laundry; instead she brings it up to your door when you forget to take it out of the dryer

Ten: When the maintenance guy wants to come at 7 am, you no longer think that is too early

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Grocery Shopping Online with

Now that I'm a mother abroad, I do things I never did before: like order groceries online even though I live right across the street from a grocery store.

Not only is it a little harder to get out these days, but I also had a coupon for a CHF 30 discount if I ordered at least CHF 100 worth of stuff from To me, this coupon, along with Baby M, justified what could otherwise be viewed as complete and utter laziness. Also, as anyone that lives in Switzerland knows, it's not too hard to spend CHF 100 on groceries when maple syrup alone is CHF 7 and a six pack of Dr. Pepper is CHF 8.

Wait...Dr. Pepper?!!

Yes., which is Migros' online supermarket, has more selection than the actual store. For instance, you can buy wine, beer, and British food like American Doritos. Yes. I will forgive for categorizing Cool American Doritos, Cheerios, and Oreos as British food for the mere reason that they HAVE THESE PRODUCTS and I can order them. This is a major breakthrough for Switzerland and worth the CHF 15,90 delivery charge alone.

Also, they delivered the very next day, exactly when they said they would, between 5-8 pm, which was plenty of time for me to actually get dressed and look somewhat presentable, unlike the man from Die Post, who had the nerve to ring the bell at noon today when I was still in my circa 2001 plaid green pajama bottoms and bright blue and yellow Tweety slipper socks.

Anyway. Baby or not, I highly recommend shopping at Not only will you avoid having any Migros moments, but the website is even in English.

Anyone else have experience grocery shopping online in Switzerland?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Dear Frau: Do you miss the U.S. and your family?

Welcome to another edition of Dear Frau. It's kind of like Dear Abby, except with an international twist. If you have a question about moving to Switzerland or life abroad, don't hesitate to contact The Frau. For previous Dear Frau posts, click here.

Dear Frau,

I came upon your blog as I was researching life in Switzerland. I wanted to know if you miss living in the U.S. and if you have intentions of moving back? Selfishly, as a mother with an only child who might end up living in Europe, do you miss your mom and family? I hope my child does not decide to stay over in Europe. I did travel there for work but would not want to live there as I have a large family here.

Thanks for your answer.


American Mom

Dear American Mom,

Originally the Frau came to Switzerland for three years with the full intention of moving back to the U.S. in 2009. It’s now 2011 and she’s still in Switzerland. There are many reasons for this, including that she and her husband have good jobs here, they enjoy the outdoorsy lifestyle, and until the baby came along, the travel opportunities.

Does she miss the U.S.? Well, she misses her family, the friendly people, the affordable food, and owning a house. But she doesn't miss her car, the crazy work hours, or the endless strip malls.

Are her parents disappointed she’s still here? Yes, of course. Especially considering there’s a grandchild in the mix now too. Does the grandchild change things? Perhaps. Time will tell. After all, Skype video calls only bridge the distance so much. And of course she misses her family. That’s hands-down the hardest part about living abroad. But consider this:

The Frau sees her family more now than she ever did when she was living in Virginia and they were in Illinois. When she was in Virginia, she had two weeks of vacation time a year. Her parents would come visit for a four-day weekend and she would come home for Christmas for a few days, but that was about it. She often worked weekends and basically had no life except for her job. Now she has five weeks of vacation and is living in a culture that accepts that a new mother might want to take six months of maternity leave instead of the standard three. In addition to her husband's six weeks of vacation time, her husband’s boss didn’t blink twice when he asked for an additional three weeks of unpaid paternity leave so he could be there for his new daughter and also have a week off when his mother visits.

In the last year, The Frau has seen her family more than ever. She was home at Christmas for two weeks. Her family was here in June for two weeks. Her father was here in September for a week, and her parents are coming back in December for two and a half weeks.

This is not to say that getting together does not require time, effort, and money for expensive long-haul flight tickets. And of course it’s not ideal to spend so much time together in big blocks with so much space in between visits. But unless the Frau and her parents lived in the same town in the U.S., she doesn’t know how the situation would be much different, except perhaps mentally knowing they were all living in the same country.

The Frau hopes this helps. Anyone else want to chime in on the topic of being far from family and how they cope?

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Ultimate Hausfrau

I never planned to have a baby abroad, but then again I never planned to live abroad longer than three years. And life does go on—even when you feel more like you’re living in limbo than anywhere else.

One week ago, I had a baby. A beautiful little girl that I’ll call M for this blog’s purposes, for Maedchen, the German word for girl. The birth of M officially marks me as both a mother, and now, as I stay home for the next six months on maternity leave, I will become someone else: a true Swiss Hausfrau. I’ll try to document the ups and downs on this blog without turning it into a baby-centric Internet address that scares off non-mothers and men.

So far, I feel more like a walking zombie than a Swiss Hausfrau but maybe they are one in the same. I spent five days in the hospital and now I am lucky to have found an English-speaking German midwife who visits me once a day for about an hour to check how things are going—or to make sure I’m still sane, I’m not sure which. Swiss insurance pays for a midwife to visit you at home for up to 10 days after the birth of your baby.

The midwife and I discuss enlightening topics like swollen feet, breast pumps, and strange Swiss homeopathic treatments, which I’ll go into more detail in another post.

My husband has taken two weeks of unpaid leave (fathers in Switzerland are typically given only one paid day of paternity leave—mothers get 90 days) to help out and bond with his daughter. My neighbor joked that he is now a Hausmann, but then said he had always kind of been one anyway (she was always amazed that he ironed his own shirts, cooked, and did laundry). So this Hausfrau has a lot of help for now. And she is sehr Dankbar for that.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Five Swiss Websites That Could Use a Makeover

There is something that even after living in Switzerland for five years I cannot understand: Why Swiss companies can't design a decent website. I realize that like most things in Switzerland, 20 years behind the times is about standard. And nothing proves this point more than these websites. Yes. Instead of designing for the Internet, these companies seem to think it works to design for direct mail and use the direct mail ad as the website.

There are two things wrong with this approach:

1. Direct mail is bad enough in paper format.
2. Direct mail on the web is even worse.

Most of these websites also seem to forget that online commerce is something that is possible in the 21st century. Heaven forbid I would want to see an overview of what a store sells and actually order something with my credit card.

Anyhow, here is a good representation of the quality of a .ch. Have fun.

Are you often frustrated by Swiss websites? Know of any other bad ones I'd enjoy?

Monday, September 26, 2011

Dear Frau: Explain these strange Swiss laws!

Welcome to another 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 or moving to Switzerland, don't hesitate to contact The Frau.

Dear Frau,

I hear there are quite a few quirky laws in Switzerland. For fear of being arrested, can you please let this soon-to-be American expat in on some of these strange laws? Is it true you can't flush the toilet after 10pm? And why?


Confused in Connecticut

Dear Confused in Connecticut,

There are a lot of things that are a bit strange about living in Switzerland. The Frau does not pretend to know all of them, but here are three strange Swissisms she either has some personal experience with or knows someone who did:

Quiet Time

Flushing the toilet after 10 p.m. Forget Heidi, this is the real Swiss classic. The Frau does not believe this is an official Swiss law, but rather a clause that may be in your apartment rental contract. Many apartment buildings have strict quiet hours and these may include specific things a non-Swiss person may not typically associate with loud noise. Such as: not being allowed to flush a toilet after 10pm, not being allowed to do laundry on Sunday (or during the lunch hour—some buildings actually shut off electricity to the machines at this time...), or not being allowed to do gardening on Sunday.

Also on the quiet hour front: you can’t typically recycle glass bottles on weeknights or on Sundays without being yelled at for disturbing the peace. Never mind that yelling also disturbs the peace or the all night parties that go on right outside your window during Carnival or Badenfahrt

Trash Talk

Make sure you get a copy of your city’s garbage calendar and try to understand it (for help, read this). If you put your garbage out too early (or in the wrong bag, oh my!) you may be subject to a fine. A friend of the Frau was once called to the police station where she actually had to identify her trash. She was then charged CHF 250 because she had set it out too early the night before.

Recycling paper (see photo) is another strange Swiss ritual. You let the paper pile up for at least six weeks at your apartment and then ceremoniously tie it up with strings in neat packages no higher than about six inches before putting it outside. Don’t slack and just think it would be easier to stick all that paper in a paper box or bag and put outside. It would be easier, but this does not matter. If you don’t do it correctly, your paper will not be picked up and it will be plastered with a sticker stating your error. If you’re like The Frau, you’ll then be tempted to just throw it in your regular trash rather than wait another six weeks to redeem yourself.

Transport Pitfalls


Driving a car is expensive in Switzerland. If you go more than 5 kilometers over a speed limit, you’ll receive a CHF 40 fine in the mail for each offence. If you travel way, way over the speed limit, you will be charged a fine that’s a percentage of your salary.

Not paying the night ticket supplement

Typically beginning at 1 am, depending on the public transport network, you must buy a CHF 5 nighttime supplement in addition to your regular train ticket. If you don’t buy this and they check tickets, you will be fined as if you didn’t have a ticket at all.

Ok, the Frau has run out of energy. Anyone else have experience with some of these things or want to let Confused in Connecticut in on some additional Swiss laws or customs that are not fun to discover after the fact?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Women's Rights in Switzerland Challenged Once Again

In the spring of 2010, I wrote an article for Swiss News about the Zurich Women’s Guild and how they’ve been fighting for over 20 years for the right to march alongside the men’s guilds in the Sechseläuten parade, which is held every April. Sechseläuten is a public holiday in Zurich, and the parade is partly supported by public funds.

This spring, for the first time ever, the men’s guilds allowed the women to march in the parade, but it was a one-time invitation and it was not guaranteed that it would be an ongoing trend.

Earlier this week, I read that the men’s guilds have decided the women will no longer be welcome in the parade.

Why? Sometimes I don’t understand Switzerland at all…even when I try to by going in-depth and interviewing the people behind these stories.

I respect traditions—even 1000-year old ones—but like everything else, I feel they should evolve with the times. The other Zurich tradition, Knabenschiessen, has allowed girls to participate for over 20 years now.

And to be fair, girls are also allowed to march in the Sechseläuten parade with their fathers. But then, once they get older, they are no longer welcome.

What does this say about Swiss society?

Girls have more rights than women?

I guess the real message is this: if you’re a girl in Switzerland, try not to grow up. There’s a reason Heidi is a Swiss icon and not a grown woman. Because clearly, there are still some areas where equality for women is lacking in Switzerland.

What do you think about the men's decision to exclude the women from the parade?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Only in Switzerland, Part III

I was in the grocery store this week. The woman in front of me bought a bottle of grape juice. She paid for it with a CHF 1,000 bill ($1,136).

Sunday, September 04, 2011

The high quality of life in Zurich

You hear all the time that Zurich has one of the highest quality of life ratings in the world.

But what does this mean?

I figured this out a couple weeks ago.

It was one of those boiling hot days when sitting in the office was almost unbearable. So about 11:45, I went to Seebad Utoquai and spent an entire hour swimming in Lake Zurich. While there, I ran into five other work colleagues.

"Do you come here often?" I asked, as I joined them on the deck for a few minutes after my swim.

"Every day," they replied.

Now that's what I call a great quality of life.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Big sale in Switzerland!

Hurry, yodelers. You don't get blockbuster deals like this very often in Switzerland: a savings of 11%? Now that warrants a huge ad.

And try not to faint, but there's a double bonus here, although they've hidden it by using white font on a yellow background. So I'll just tell you so you don't have to squint: The furniture store will even be open on SUNDAY.

Wow. A sale and a Sunday. I hardly know what to do with myself. Besides go shopping, that is.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Dear Frau: How does Swiss Health Insurance Work?

Welcome to another edition of Dear Frau. It's kind of like Dear Abby, except with an international twist. If you've got a question about expat life in Switzerland or moving to Switzerland, don't hesitate to contact the Frau and maybe your little Frage will be in the next edition of Dear Frau.

Dear Frau,

I am relocating to Fribourg with my husband from September through July, 2012. He received a Fulbright grant to study at the University of Fribourg, and I get to tag along. We're currently trying to navigate the private insurance world; he'll be covered by the university but I have to buy my insurance. Do you have any pointers on how Swiss health insurance works for expats and what companies to contact?


Yet to be insured expat in Switzerland

Dear yet to be insured expat in Switzerland,

Swiss health insurance works no differently for expats than it does for Swiss people. Everyone in Switzerland is required to have health insurance—if you can’t prove to your city hall that you have it, they will personally sign you up. Health insurance is not paid for by employers, like it is in the United States. This is both good and bad. Good because no matter your employment status, you have insurance. Bad because it can be expensive. But the best part about Swiss insurance is that you CANNOT be denied basic health insurance for any reason.

The Frau is of the opinion that the basic, compulsory Swiss health insurance is satisfactory for most people and that there is no point to pay more than necessary to have benefits like private rooms at a hospital, since opportunities to upgrade can be paid for separately if desired.

All Swiss health insurers offer basic insurance. All you need to do is compare the price, because as far as the Frau knows, the benefits will be basically the same. (Basic insurance does not include dental or eye care).

Before the Frau signed up for insurance, she got quotes from a couple insurers and compared insurance rates on

Basically, she ended up choosing Helsana, because their website was in English and they had one of the lower prices, but then Helsana somehow signed her up with SanSan, a division of Helsana that does not have a website in English. The Frau is not sure how this happened but then again she’s not sure how a lot of things happen in the country, and she’s been here over five years.

Nevertheless, despite missing her fantastic international insurance through CIGNA, which also covered dental and eye care with no deductibles, so far the Swiss insurance through SanSan has been satisfactory and for medications/vitamins not covered by it, the Frau hops over the border and buys in Germany where they are 75% less expensive. (Before you move, buy basic medicines, for example, Centrum Vitamins in the US are about $6.95 but in Switzerland the same bottle is $50).

With the basic insurance you have several options; the Frau chose the option that allowed her to go to any doctor, since even though she lives in Canton Aargau she already had several doctors she went to in Zurich at the time she had to switch from international to Swiss insurance. This option for free choice of doctors costs about CHF 20 more a month on her plan. The Frau pays about CHF 162 ($222) a month for basic Swiss insurance with this option with a CHF 2500 ($3440) deductible, which is the highest deductible. With lower deductibles, the monthly fees are higher.

As far as the Frau can tell, someone on basic Swiss insurance will end up spending about CHF 5000 ($6881) a year to be insured before the insurance company starts paying your medical bills. (This CHF 5000 includes the monthly fees, the deductible, and the extra CHF 700 they don’t tell you about that you must also pay before the insurance pays additional costs). There are some exceptions, i.e. pregnant women are exempt from paying deductible costs for most doctor visits and normal procedures related to pregnancy.

For more information, the Frau recommends reading the following:

Health insurance for people new to Switzerland

Benefits and FAQ about Swiss health insurance (download the PDFs, they are very helpful).

Anyone else want to chime in about their experience with Swiss insurance or what insurers they’ve liked/hated?

Monday, August 08, 2011

The Swiss Second-hand Scene

As you know based on my last post, I tend to frequent Swiss second-hand markets. I’m a regular at the Baden flea market, which is the last Saturday of every month, and I never pass by an opportunity to step into a Brockenhaus, or a second-hand store. I also occasionally visit Switzerland’s online second-hand store, in other words, the Ebay of Switzerland, which is, in the Swiss style of being very independent, not, but

All of these second-hand Swiss entities have a few things in common: the prices of things are high and most sellers don’t want to bargain.

Both of these traits run counter to the idea of selling second-hand stuff, but then again this is Switzerland, and that fact alone somehow exempts the country the rest of the world’s way of thinking (not that this is always a bad thing, especially in these crazy economic times).

For example, my husband and I are in the market for a baby stroller. Most used strollers in Switzerland seem to be priced around CHF 350-500 ($464-$664) for something three years old. Alas, we watched one particular seller try to sell their stroller for three weeks straight for CHF 350. Each week, when it didn’t sell, they just relisted it AT THE SAME PRICE. Like I said, rules of economics need not apply to Switzerland.

We finally emailed them after it didn’t sell for a fourth week and asked if we could come by over the weekend, have a look at the stroller, and then possibly buy it if we liked it. We were prepared to offer CHF 300 if we liked it, which seemed fair, considering they weren’t selling it at CHF 350.

The response: yes, you can come by and see it, but we’re not taking it off My response? Forget it. I’m not going to spend half a day renting a car to come see your stroller if I can’t buy it and take it home with me right then and there.

Anyhow, further research reveals that thanks to exchange rates and normal prices that do exist outside of this little exception of a country, we can buy the same stroller, new, from Germany for only CHF 100 more than the used, three-year-old Swiss ones are going for.

So goodbye, Swiss second-hand market. Hallo, Deutschland.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Swiss flea market bargains

In honor of the upcoming August 1st Swiss Independence Day holiday, I found the perfect thing at the Baden flea market: a chair made especially to commemorate the 700th anniversary of Switzerland back in 1991.

Of course, I knew none of this chair history when I bought it, I just liked the chair, knew it would match the colors in our front entranceway, and, most importantly, it was being sold close enough to carry home.

That night, I googled the chair, and the impossible happened: I found out I actually got a good deal in Switzerland. I paid CHF 50 for the chair (the owner wouldn’t bargain, typical of people at Swiss flea markets—another subject all together…), but I found it being sold online for over CHF 250.

Now that’s what I call a Preishit.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Why the Swiss love the USA

In honor of 4th of July last week, the Swiss newspaper Blick am Abend featured six reasons why they love the U.S.:

1. Free thinking. Do whatever you want. There's more room for creativity in the U.S.

I agree that the U.S. feels much more open creatively than Switzerland. It's been said that the Swiss are both prisoners and their guards. There is some truth to this.

2. American hot dog.

Can't say I'm very excited about the American hot dog. Give me a slice of deep dish pizza instead.

3. Doggy Bag.

Yes, love the doggy bag concept, although in Switzerland I don't usually have any food on my plate to take home since the portions are much more reasonable (in size, not price). But when I do have leftovers, I would appreciate a doggy bag, especially considering that next plate of Chinese food will set me back at least CHF 25.

4. Dream factory. Home of the stars and anyone who wants to be one.

I think what the Swiss are forgetting here is the concept of competition. It's easy to stand out in Switzerland without being that talented because there aren't that many people to compete against. The U.S. population is 311 million people versus 7 million in Switzerland. So yes, if you make it big in the U.S., you probably make it big worldwide. But the chances of that are like playing the lotto.

5. Music business. The music divas of the U.S. are found on Swiss TV and radio stations like none other in the world.

This actually disappoints me. I wish other countries would play their own music.

6. Smile please. We wish our service was as friendly and happy.

Amen. Would someone in this country please smile and learn that customer service does not involve toll numbers?

What do you think? Do you agree these are reasons to love America?

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Swiss C Permit Reject

My husband just returned from Alphorn School. We just had a three hour dinner and German conversation with my Swiss neighbor. And we submitted everything ((including salary statements for three years and forms that stated we did not owe anyone any money (that ironically we had to pay for to receive) the Swiss government requested.))

None of this matters. I’m still a B.

After waiting five years to apply for the C permit, my husband and I were rejected because we went on vacation and therefore missed the short deadline they gave us to complete the paperwork.

Yep. Wait five years and they give you seven days. Nice.

The annoying thing is, the Swiss government knew were gone. Because we had to run around to Aarau at wee hours of the morning and pay CHF 180 for the Visa for the honor of leaving the country at that lovely time when your permit expires but they can’t seem to process another one fast enough in order to avoid you paying them more money for their tardiness.

We came back from our vacation only to collect our mail and realize they had given us only seven days to complete the paperwork—even though they knew we were gone.

The reject letter that came a week later basically said, “better luck next year. You can pick up your B-permits for CHF 220 and you have only 10 days to do so.”

Thanks, Switzerland. We love you too.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Stereotypes in the mainstream press

Hello yodelers

A Swiss blogger living in Texas, author of True America(n), recently wrote me an email suggesting that perhaps there is even more going on in some of these so-called news pieces I’ve posted than what I’ve previously mentioned.

He is right. So I would like to open up this discussion and see what you think as well.

The media can be dangerous, particularly magazines, newspapers, and TV news that we read or watch casually, like
Blick am Abend.

While I find it endlessly interesting to understand the European view of the U.S. by reading publications here, it can also be somewhat disturbing if you look deeper.

Here’s the Swiss blogger’s view of the article here. He is also responding to my recent posting of it:

I admire your viewing this as just a cultural difference and understand why others in the comments don't get it. What we’ve really got here is the stereotype and subtle propaganda you can find in every newspaper in Europe. It is the daily dose of Anti-Americanism in Europe since 1776. That's how the European press fosters a special image about the United States and Americans, for centuries and for various reasons.

So, what about this little innocent article? There is no real information, nothing newsworthy about it. There is only one reason for it: Keep a certain image alive about the U.S. and Americans. Let’s take a closer look at the caption and this first sentence. Europeans see Las Vegas as something "childish, silly, ridiculous" and also "fake, not genuine" or like many things in Vegas as a "copy" of something original in the old world. Las Vegas serves as a moniker in this text for those adjectives. In your translation, you also missed the German "immer", or „always.“ Its position in the sentence also puts stress on it. This little word actually pulls the whole sentence out of the context and becomes a general statement. Here's what people understand when they read this first sentence: "Americans are always childish and everything is fake."

As an American, I do find that this stereotype exists a lot in the press here. And I think it is dangerous to people who don’t understand both sides. American and Swiss cultures are very different—friendly and exuberant versus private and discreet. Nothing is wrong with either, except when we fail to try to understand the differences. It is unfortunate that a lot of mainstream media prefers stereotyping to in-depth stories that help us better understand the world. The American press is guilty of this as well. In fact, I think a lazy press is to blame for a lot of the issues in the world today.

What do you think?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

What do you see?

When I saw this picture in the local Blick am Abend newspaper I thought, "Oh, a graduation ceremony."

But then I read the caption and realized the Swiss saw something else: a little Las Vegas.

The beginning of this caption reads: Air Force Academy, CO--For the Americans, everything is a little Las Vegas.

I think this caption versus my original impression of the photo says a lot about the difference between Swiss and American culture.

What do you think?

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

What do the Swiss think of Americans?

Bell, a meat brand in Switzerland, has a new ad campaign advertising American style BBQ. Based on my last post, I thought their headline was actually quite appropriate: Think Big. Grill Big.

I don't think I could sum up American life much better. Could you?

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The French Are Right (sometimes)

Over the weekend I had the opportunity to attend a wedding celebration in Zurich. My favorite part (besides seeing friends) was the dessert buffet. There was chocolate mousse. There was vanilla mousse. There was strawberry shortcake. There was apple strudel. And there were cream puffs. So of course I took some of everything.

While we Americans piled our plates high with sweets the French guy sitting next to me had taken just one chocolate mousse and put it in the center of his plate. He shook his head at our indulgence and told us that it was better to enjoy just one small thing than stuff yourself silly. In other words, he was very French and we were very American.

It was only the next day that I realized sometimes the French are right.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The search for the long lost cup holder

If you're an American and you rent cars in places other than North America, chances are you'll have this experience:

You buy a soda at a grocery store or gas station. You get in the car, open it, start to drink it, and then look for where to set it down so you can get on your way. You try setting it in this place and that and finally come to the conclusion that the car is missing one important thing: a cup holder.

It's taken me five years of living in Europe but I now know to not expect a cup holder in my car. A cup holder is an American thing.

I had never considered this before. But when you think about it, what self-respecting European drinks on the run? No, better to spend 5 Euros on one soda or coffee and enjoy it for a few hours at a cafe.

But the cup holder phenomenon goes beyond cars. Take baby strollers. In the U.S., you can get a baby stroller complete with, you guessed it, a cup holder. European strollers, on the other hand, have places for shopping bags instead.

Have you ever searched for a cup holder and come up empty?

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Not a time to celebrate

I heard the news from Swiss radio first: "Osama bin Laden ist tot."

"Really? They finally got him?" These were my thoughts as I lay in bed. Surprise. Disbelief. And finally, hope that the world will be a safer place.

And then I went to the and and saw photos of Americans around the U.S. celebrating Osama's death with flags, fireworks, and cheers.

And then my hope was gone.

Have we learned nothing over the last ten years? Shame on people for celebrating death so outwardly. And double shame on the media for posting these photos on the Internet for the world to see.

Of course, following this story was another piece about how the terror level is even higher.

Yep. Instead of reacting in a way that would not feed a terrorist's motives any more than necessary, we celebrated in a way that would make them hate us even more.

Perhaps Americans abroad have a different view of these kind of events than those back home. If I had billions to donate to a cause, I would make sure all Americans could experience a world outside of their borders.

Until then, I guess the celebrations will continue.

What do you think?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

America is on sale!

For awhile, I didn't know what could help the United States recover from its economic demise, but now I do: the Swiss tourists.

There's a lot of excitement among Swiss and expats in Switzerland. They can't wait to go on a shopping vacation–to the USA. Among Europeans, the U.S. is now considered a budget destination. See above, this was the leading topic in today's newspaper, "20 Minuten."

To further the incentive, the dollar fell yesterday to a new record low against the franc: $1 is now only worth .87 francs.

In just six months, the dollar has fallen 10%; 17% for the year against the franc. Since I moved to Switzerland five years ago, the dollar has fallen a total of 30% in value. Now that's a reason to get home and get shopping.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

You Know it's Easter When...

It's been a tradition for the last five years. It never fails, every Easter, my grandpa sends me a package of marshmallow Easter eggs. He doesn't put them in a box or anything, he just wraps them in a brown paper bag. So they always arrive partly smashed and stale, but I love them all the same.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Where are the April showers?

I can't believe I would ever say this in Switzerland, but here it is: I am wishing for rain. Just for a day. Please?

In my highly scientific opinion (sneeze), the pollen this year in Switzerland is probably the worst it has ever been due to the extremely warm weather and lack of rain. Since spring decided to begin in February this year, I've been sick since oh, about then. And since we haven't had any rain for at least a month, the pollen is sticking to everything and blowing everywhere.

(Sneeze.) It would just be so great if I could breathe through my nose. Unfortunately, I have forgotten what that's like. I had to go back to the pharmacy today for yet another refill on my barely functioning allergy medicine.

But despite my allergies, I couldn't help but bike through these rape fields near Wettingen yesterday (see photo above). They're out a whole month earlier than usual.

And while I'm loving the warm, sunny weather, please, Zurich, rain. I know you can do it.

Anyone else having allergy issues this spring?

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Healthcare in Switzerland vs. the United States

In the past few years, the U.S. has been in the news for its so-called health care reform. But what has been accomplished?

Like most things, as you learn more about another country’s way of doing things, you’re educated about your own country at the same time. Unfortunately, what I am learning is not flattering to the healthcare situation in the United States.

Basic Swiss health insurance covers you for emergencies that take place outside of Switzerland for up to twice the cost of what this emergency would cost inside the country. And yet Switzerland, known for being one of the most expensive places in the world, recommends that for travel to the United States, one take additional travel insurance since medical costs there will likely exceed twice the cost of the same procedure in Switzerland.

Yes. Medical care in the United States will generally exceed twice the cost of medical care in Switzerland. Why? Too many lawyers? Too many greedy people? Too many fat people? To me this is absolute insanity and shows just how out of control medical costs in the United States have gotten and how much reform really needs to take place there.

What do you think?

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Lunch al fresco (if you can)

According to a study commissioned by the Federal Health Office and reported by, 27% of the Swiss population aged 14-65 were smokers in 2009. But among 20 to 24-year-olds, 39% percent smoke. Cough.

Despite these numbers, take a walk along Lake Zurich, and it can feel like everyone smokes. I can hardly walk two steps without choking. It’s really too bad, since Switzerland is so clean otherwise. But it’s hard to enjoy the fresh air and nice weather when it’s clouded by cigarette smoke.

Lately, like half the residents of Zurich, I’ve taken to eating my lunch by the lake. This is quite challenging for a non-smoker, but last Friday, I managed a milestone: I sat on a bench by the lake along with three other Swiss-German speakers, and no one lit up for the entire 45 minutes. I could hardly believe my luck.

But normally, I sit down, take two bites of my food, and someone starts smoking. So I play a strange game of musical benches, which never really ends well. However, I have done some completely unscientific research that I would like to share to help you choose your next outdoor dining bench:

  1. Sit next to people who are eating. Most people here won’t light up in the middle of their lunch, only yours. So choose people who are just sitting down to eat, not those who are finishing.
  2. Don’t sit by people who look like they are 20-24. Your odds of breathing smoke will be almost 40% instead of 30%.
  3. Do not sit by people eating McDonalds. Not only does their lunch stink, their cigarettes will too. These people seem almost 100% more likely to smoke than those eating something from Tibits.
  4. Analyze the wind (if there is any) and plan your bench strategy accordingly. If possible, sit on the edge of the bench closest to the direction the wind is coming from.
  5. Find a secluded rock by the lake.

Anyone else have issues with smoke or strategies for avoiding it and still being able to enjoy lunch al fresco?

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Great Ethnic Food in Zurich

After years of complaining about the lack of good ethnic food in Zurich, things are looking up for The Frau.

She’s discovered hands-down the best Indian restaurant in Zurich. She’s discovered a Thai place she likes. Not to mention a couple of her old standards, which she’ll also regurgitate here.

Cheti’s Curry Seefeldstrasse 7 8008 Zürich

Now this is good Indian food. And also not a bad price. For lunch, The Frau paid CHF 25 for a plate of chicken tikka masala complete with rice, side dishes, and a beverage. Wow. The Frau is getting to used to Swiss prices. Still. What a deal for Zurich. Service is friendly and fast. English is spoken too.

Tiffins Seefeldstrasse 61 8008 Zürich

The line out the door says it all. Besides daily specials like Singapore Noodles, this fantastic little Asian restaurant has standards like Sweet and Sour Chicken. And their mango/ginger beverage is well worth the CHF 6. Best of all, the dishes are reasonably priced, a small take-out portion can be as little as CHF 10. To snag a table at lunch, arrive before 12 or make reservations.

Restaurant Stadion Skarabaeus Seminarstrasse 71 5430 Wettingen

The Frau will forgive them for serving Schnitzel at lunch. Unfortunately, until more Swiss learn to appreciate fantastic Lebanese food, you can only order Lebanese food at dinnertime here--lunch is traditional Swiss. But the dinner is worth the wait. Two people can get 6 Mezzeh, or 6 small Lebanese dishes to share. And if you come with a party of 4, you can choose 12 dishes. Taboule. Hummus. Lebanese meatballs. It's all fantastic. Not a bad deal either: Mezzeh for two is CHF 45 and Mezzeh for four is CHF 95.

Wagamama Talstrasse 83 8001 Zurich

The Frau first discovered this Asian food chain in London and was thrilled when they came to Zurich. While their service may sometimes be strange—they will bring a main course and appetizer at the same time—the food is good and the green tea is free. Yes, free. Become a member of their club and you get great offers—free appetizers, free drinks, sometimes even buy one main dish, get one free. Their restaurant is always rather warm, so wear a t-shirt!

Hiltl Sihlstrasse 28 8001 Zurich

The best place for vegetarian food in Zurich. The Frau has been going there almost since she moved here and is never disappointed—except when it’s hard to find a table! But there’s a reason for that—the food is that good. And don’t forget to have the brownie with ice cream sometime. Hiltl also offers cooking classes in English.

Tibits Seefeldstrasse 2 8008 Zürich

If you’re looking for the ultimate salad bar, Tibits is the place to go. Some people have yet to realize that in a spirit perhaps only Starbucks has also mastered, there’s a Tibits right next to the Tibits. The newer Tibits is in the old NZZ cafeteria and is a much more spacious inside.

Restaurant Lemon Haselstrasse 17 5400 Baden

Forget Stars & Stripes, this is the place to go for a proper hamburger. Or barbecue ribs. Or nachos. In other words, American food. Is that considered ethic? Sure. We’re far enough from home. Another thing the Frau liked about this restaurant was their bread bar. You just help yourself to any breads you want along with dipping oils. For free.

Da Pippo Giuseppe Salvatore Untere Halde 11 5400 Baden

A pizza for CHF 13? A soft drink for CHF 3,50? A cute restaurant in Baden’s old town with friendly service included? What can The Frau say, this place had tasty pizza and they asked her if she wanted to take what she couldn’t eat home. She did. It made the deal even sweeter to get two meals for that price.

What restaurants do you like in Switzerland?

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

The Party Pooper

I tried. For five years. But I just can’t like Fasnacht (the Swiss version of carnival).

There are things about it that I love. I love seeing Swiss people smiling in the streets. I love the costumes. And I love watching everyone let down their guard and throw confetti with abandon. But I do not love that the very people that criticize me for recycling a glass bottle on a Sunday or eating popcorn during a movie think it’s just fine to beat drums and blast horns until 6 a.m. for three consecutive nights outside my apartment.

Every country has hypocrisy. Fasnacht is Switzerland’s.

I would probably love Fasnacht if it were more Swiss. Like if they stopped banging the drums at 10 p.m. on a weeknight. (I’d even put up with midnight.) That seems reasonable, doesn’t it? Especially since I’m not supposed to flush my toilet after that.

But when it’s 10 p.m. and you’re tired, and you know that despite the blasting fan, the earplugs, and the pillow over your head, that you’ll still be hearing the banging until 6 a.m., it doesn’t exactly make you love the holiday. Parties are fun. Except for the ones you can't leave.

Not to mention, the moment I emerge from my apartment, bleary eyed and exhausted, some Fasnacht clown will want me to pay for the privilege of listening to their music by buying a placket. Sorry. The thing I will pay for? A ticket out of town.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Going to the Movies in Switzerland

I went to the movies. Big deal. Well, it was. I hadn’t been to a Swiss movie theater for a few years, mainly because it’s such a pain to buy a ticket. Most Swiss plan to attend movies at least a week in advance and buy their tickets accordingly. So if you’re a lazy American and just want to show up before the show, good luck getting a ticket. Anyhow, going to the movies again reminded me just how different the experience is in Switzerland.

I went to see The King’s Speech on Saturday, which was luckily in E/d/f. The key letter being “E”, which meant the film was in English with German and French subtitles. Most movies in Switzerland are shown in their original language since most Swiss people are very particular (i.e. snobby) about seeing a movie in its original format. The sentiment in multi-lingual Switzerland is that people who watch dubbed movies are not sophisticated.

Swiss movie theaters have assigned seats. Your ticket has a seat number and you better sit in it, or you’ll disturb the order. Enter a Swiss movie theater that is only half-full, and you’ll find its entire audience clumped together in the back half of the theater, since it would be wrong to sit in an empty seat that you weren’t assigned to.

Then there are the snacks. My husband and I went to see the 5:30 p.m. show, so popcorn was our dinner. I snacked hungrily during the beginning of the movie, the popcorn tasted great, but each bag crinkle and chew made me feel self-conscious; no one else was making a sound; they had all put their treats away for the intermission, when the movie suddenly stops mid-sentence, and when it is finally socially acceptable to eat popcorn or an ice cream bar.

Today at the office, my Swiss friend was telling me how his partner went to a movie last week and he was glad he didn’t go with because the people sitting behind his partner were chomping on candy throughout the whole movie. Really? I said,…that’s…uh, terrible.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Dear Frau: Yodeling lessons in Switzerland?

Welcome to another 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, don't hesitate to contact the Frau.

Dear Frau,

I am on a yearlong vacation here in Switzerland. Fabulous! (Well, my husband has to work, but it's a vacation for me.) Anyway, we'll be going back already in June and I have not yet learned to yodel! I cannot possibly face my friends in Colorado without a few good notes after having been here for a whole year. Seriously, I love to sing and have not been able to find any classes in Zurich. And I'm betting they'd be much more effective than my German classes! Do you know of any classes; have any contacts in this area; directions to point me, etc.?

Hoping for my own big yodel,


Dear Yodeloo

The Frau has not yodeled in Switzerland, although her living room does have an alphorn in it. One step at a time, she thinks, lest she become too Swiss too fast.

In Zurich, the Frau has only run into two yodelers—and they were from Appenzell. Most Zurichers wear suits and a sour expression and don’t quite seem like the yodeling type.

So the Frau would probably go to Appenzell if she were really serious about yodeling. It appears to be possible to book a yodeling lesson through the Appenzell Tourism Office.

Another way to learn to yodel would be to join the Swiss Yodeling Association, which just celebrated its 100th anniversary on May 8. Its membership also includes flag tossers and alphorn players. Their next big festival is in Interlaken.

Or if you want to settle for alphorn lessons instead, the Swiss Alphorn School in Gstaad offers an intensive weekend course in June and welcomes beginners.

Has anyone else out there yodeled in Switzerland? Or know about the Swiss folk scene? If so, please help Yodeloo learn to yodelee by leaving a comment. Merci.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Writing Workshops in Zurich this Spring

Hello Yodelers,

If you’re interested in writing, this post is for you.

There are several writing workshops taking place in Switzerland this spring that may give you the inspiration you need to either get started as a writer or take your writing to another level.

First off, yours truly will be teaching a two-hour workshop at the American Women’s Club of Zurich on Saturday, March 26, on how to make a living as a writer abroad. The course costs CHF 30 and you must register by March 15.

Secondly, The Zurich Writers Workshop has announced its spring workshop and registration opened today. The workshop will take place May 6-8, 2011 and is divided into two sections, memoir/creative non-fiction and fiction. Guest instructors include New York Times Bestselling Author Susan Jane Gilman and award-winning Novelist Janet Skeslien Charles. The workshop costs CHF 250 and includes 9 hours of instruction, a literary tour of Zurich, instructor readings, coffee/snacks, and more. Registration is limited to 15 writers per section and is filling fast so it is advised to register as soon as possible if you would like to participate.

If you have any questions about either workshop, leave a comment. And if you know of any other writing events going on, please let me know.


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