Thursday, June 28, 2012

Six Years in Switzerland, Part II

In honor of the Frau’s six-year Swiss anniversary last week, she discussed three reasons that living in Switzerland can be as sweet as the chocolate. But like everything—even chocolate—there’s a darker version. 

This week, it’s all about things in Switzerland that can make you as crazy as a clock tower that dings every 15 minutes 24/7. Oh wait, the Frau’s been living right across the street from that very clock tower for six years. That’s 96 dings a day, 35,040 dings a year, and 210,240 dongs in the Frau's short Swiss life, people. Enough to drive the Frau to sometimes say, there’s no place like the good old USA. 

Three Things That Make the Frau Never Want to See a Cervelat Again

Swiss German

German lesson
Don't come to Switzerland to learn German
If the Frau could do it over again and actually have a choice in the matter, she would live in French-speaking Switzerland. By now, she’d most likely be totally comfortable and fluent in French. 

Living in the German-speaking section is much more complicated. You must learn two languages if you really want to fit in. High German for reading and writing and Swiss German for speaking and listening. The Swiss talk about how they want foreigners to integrate, but let the Frau tell you, it’s not easy. She was fooled into thinking if she learned High German she’d be fine and Swiss German would be its natural conclusion. But instead of understanding Swiss German after six years of High German, all the Frau has perfected is a good smile and nod. 

Luckily, the Frau is not alone. Swiss German appears to frustrate practically all foreigners who try to integrate as well as most of the 36% of the Swiss who speak other languages. The Frau herself is having another wave of disillusionment after working so hard for the last six years to understand High German. Sure, she can read Blick Am Abend and understand cashiers in Germany, but for general everyday life in German-speaking Switzerland, the Frau still feels like an outsider. 

Window Games

The Frau has never seen a group of people more concerned about drafts. And it’s that time of year again. Time for the Frau to sweat the moment she walks in the office, open her window by her desk, and find it closed by someone the minute she gets up for a coffee. 
A Swiss colleague once tried to convince her (when she was pregnant, no less!) that it would stay cooler if she wouldn’t keep opening the window. She doesn’t see the logic of this at all. It’s the same on trains and buses. People here would rather sit in an oven than in a convertible. A breeze doesn’t make you sick, people. It’s all that coughing without covering your mouth…but that’s another story.

Lack of Lines

Nothing like moving to the world's most organized country to have you pining for a good old-fashioned line. Here's a secret for the uninitiated: the only people who stand in line in Switzerland are expats. The Frau has lost count of how many people have just barged in front of her at cheese counters, when getting on trains, and even when she was waiting in “line” at McDonald’s when she was 8 months pregnant. The Frau asks you, Swiss people, how you can have a bus that connects you to the train that connects you to the cable car that connects you to the mountain restaurant in the middle of nowhere exactly at noon for lunch but not be able to form an orderly line at the department store when buying your socks?

What keeps you in Switzerland? Or what makes you never want to hear an alphorn being played in a Tunnelfest again?

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Six years in Switzerland, Part I

swiss clock
Time flies when you move to Switzerland
Six years ago this week, the Frau descended on Zurich. At first, the Frau felt like she was on vacation. But then, her husband went to work and this career woman was faced with making him lunch in a country where she didn’t even know the word for milk (or why the grocery carts were attached with chains in a place where people didn’t even lock their bikes). Ms. 4.0-Perfectionist-who-was-once-going-to-conquer-the-world-with-her-brilliance couldn’t even grocery shop. Poor Frau. But also, poor Switzerland.

The Frau wasn’t very nice to Switzerland at first. She couldn’t understand why it wasn’t more like home. The fact that it was a different country didn’t seem like a good enough reason. Little did she know she would go through the whole expat cycle thing like everyone else until she came full circle and started blaming the United States for not being more like Switzerland.

Anyhow, in honor of the Frau’s Swiss six year anniversary, she’d like to talk about the three things that keep her living in Switzerland. Then, in Part II next week, she'll discuss three things that sometimes make her want to stuff a cervelat in it all.

Three Things That Make Her Happy To Finally Have a C-Permit

The Great Outdoors

Switzerland put the "great" in the great outdoors. You can live in the center of a town, like the Frau does, and be in the woods in a matter of minutes. As someone who grew up in Chicago, the Frau never knew it was possible not to have to get in a car to go to the woods. But in Switzerland, you can jump in the lakes and rivers, you can hike in the mountains–even in the winter on beautifully groomed paths, and you can bike in bike lanes almost everywhere in the country—or enjoy summer Sundays when 30 kilometers of road in various parts of the country are shut off to traffic and opened to bikers and rollerbladers.

Things Just Work

Once you come to Switzerland, it’s hard to go anywhere else. Even home. One look at the disaster that is O’Hare Airport, wait 1.5 hours for your luggage, and visit a bathroom that looks like it hasn’t seen a cleaning rag since 1999 and you can’t wait to get back to Zurich where a digital board will tell you that your luggage will be out in 6 minutes and 53 seconds while you admire a toilet so shiny it would give even Mr. Clean a headache.

All of this makes you start to take things for granted. Trains that are scheduled to leave at 8:38 leave at 8:38. People go to lunch exactly at noon and are back at their desks exactly at one (although this still kind of freaks the Frau out). And paper is recycled in such an orderly fashion that the Frau has developed an inferiority complex when it comes to putting her paper out on the curb because her pile, well, it looks just like her: foreign.

People Are Protected

This is a country where everyone has health insurance. This is a country where unemployment protects you for at least a year and a half by paying you 70% of your salary. This is a country where people carry cash instead of credit cards because they actually have money. This is a country where women must be paid at least 80% of their salary during maternity leave for 14 weeks. This is a country where it’s normal to work part-time—even in highly educated, professional positions. If fact, a lot of new parents decide to both work 80%. They are engineers, lawyers, writers. It’s no big deal. And that’s a big deal when it comes to work/life balance.

Stay tuned for "Six years in Switzerland, Part II," where the Frau discusses three things about Switzerland that make her never want to hear an alphorn at a Tunnelfest again.

What keeps you living in Switzerland?

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Frau's New Fashion Find

It can be challenging to live in the world’s most expensive city when you are used to shopping at the biggest sale ever at Kohl’s 365 days a year. Not only are things in Zurich triple the price, but there just aren’t that many choices.

Coupons and discounts are few and far between in Switzerland, so the Frau grabs what she can. For instance, last week, she clipped out a coupon from Blick am Abend for 5X the Cumulus points at Migros. So needless to say when she was offered a voucher for Zalando, a virtual mall that delivers anything fashion-related right to your door for free, she couldn’t pass that by.

Over 23,000 shoes. The Frau isn't used to such choices!
First of all, fellow yodelers, there are over 23,000 pairs of shoes to choose from on the website. Imagine the Frau’s dilemma. She hadn’t seen this much selection in Switzerland ever. It was almost like shopping at Target. She could search by size, color, heel size, type of shoe, and more. The only catch was, she had to do this in German or French as the site delivers practically everything except the English language.

Kein Problem. If she ever needed an excuse to improve her French or German, being able to shop on a site that offers no worries of customs tax is it.  And also no worries if the shoes or the almost 32,000 clothing items you can choose from don’t end up fitting. Because you can return them within 30 days for free. Free. The Frau likes free.

Speaking of free, Zalando even offers a toll-free customer service number. The Frau asks you: what other Swiss entity offers this? Call the SBB and you'll get charged CHF 1.19 a minute. You know the drill. In Switzerland, if you’re a customer and want help, it’s usually 1-800-PAY-US-MORE.

The Frau also likes sales. But why wait until July or January? If you’re an American cheapskate like her, you can go to Zalando just to search for sale items exclusively. Or for sale items and your favorite brand. 

Hint for all other shopaholics: if you sign up for the Zalando newsletter, you can get CHF 10 off your next purchase. The Frau already did, of course. Clip, clip. This coupon queen is in her glory.

Do you shop online in Switzerland? Any sites you like? Or other good deals to be had?

Friday, June 08, 2012

Swimming in Switzerland: 5 Fun Places

In hopes to encourage summer to make its appearance again, the Frau has decided to write about swimming in Switzerland. Yes, Switzerland is landlocked. But despite having no oceanfront, Switzerland still offers many wonderful places to swim in the summer. Below are five great options.

Lake Cauma Switzerland

Dive into this sparkling turquoise jewel near Flims in Graubünden or just flirt with a few local men. (Graubünden, according to a Swiss friend, is the canton where Swiss German speakers have the sexiest accent.) Other options? Rent a paddleboat and enjoy the water ohne goosebumps.

Drink the water? Swim in the water? At Lake Lungern, you could do either. The water is drinking-quality pure and one part of the lake has a swimming area complete with a sandy beach and water slide. You can also hike or bike around the entire lake, as the Frau has done.

Swim with the swans or tan on the deck—in any weather. Unlike some lidos along Lake Zurich, this historic one is open May 12-September 23 from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m. in all weather conditions. 

How many capital cities in the world have a river? And how many of these rivers can you swim in without a major health risk? The Frau doesn't know of many unpolluted rivers in world capitals, but she does know that you can swim in Bern's river. Here, every summer, hundreds of people take to the Aare, the longest river in Switzerland.

C'est beau to live in Lausanne. Naturally, this Olympic city is home to a wonderful summer swimming facility that includes–what else?–an Olympic-sized pool. Celebrating its 75th anniversary, Bellerive also includes a family pool, an aquatic park, 20 ping pong tables, and a lovely location by the lake.

Where do you like to swim in Switzerland?


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