Thursday, November 29, 2012

Why Switzerland can't be number one for moms

It’s official. Baby M has won the lottery of life. At least according to The Economist, which lists Switzerland as the best country in the world to be born in right now. (The U.S. is down at 16). 

But another recent survey, which ranks global motherhood, lists Switzerland as the 18th best country in which to be a mom.

Switzerland: a good place to be a mom?
So The Frau, a.k.a., Die Mom, comes in 18th, while Baby M comes in 1st. What accounts for this discrepancy?

We could blame Switzerland’s short 14-week paid maternity leave (short for Europe, Americans would still weep for anything close to this—thus their rank of 25th in the same survey) or the fact that working women in Switzerland are taxed more if they are married...(please don’t get The Frau started on how this is even constitutional, not to mention why every Swiss woman is not out there collecting signatures RIGHT NOW to change it)…


The Frau has an even better answer to this question that goes back to the day she became a mom in Switzerland.

After laboring at home for about 11 hours or so, it was time to go to the hospital. Really, really time.

Mr. Frau ran to the train station to summon a taxi, while The Frau, 9.5 centimeters dilated but didn’t know it yet, leaned against the wall in the lobby of her apartment building. She could barely stand at this point, let alone walk a foot without stopping to wait for another contraction to pass.

After what felt like several decades, The Frau saw a taxi go past her building...but it didn’t stop. Did Mr. Frau and the driver have a language mix-up? Was the taxi driver sadistic? Or just lost? While The Frau stood there in pain, considering the worst, Mr. Frau finally appeared another few decades later and escorted The Frau to the taxi, which had parked around the corner instead of right in front of her apartment building.

But why, fellow yodelers?
Why would someone park around the corner when it was their job to pick up a woman in heavy labor to take her to the hospital?

Because, fellow yodelers, The Frau lives in a pedestrian zone. You are not supposed to drive in a pedestrian zone.

So as it turns out,
The taxi driver wasn’t confused.
The taxi driver wasn’t sadistic.
The taxi driver wasn’t lost.
The taxi driver was Swiss.

This is why Switzerland will never be the number one place to be a mom. Or at least, become one.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Expats: The Most Confused People on Earth

Expat Thanksgiving is already over. It was last weekend.
The Frau sometimes misses the United States. She misses family. Especially on Thanksgiving Day. And it’s hard to raise a child when you are 5,000 miles from home even when you have friends that masquerade as aunts and uncles, other expats you eat turkey with the weekend before.
And there are other American things the Frau misses, things that are so hard to come by in Switzerland like affordable housing, non-smoking outdoor space, English, and cheap Chinese food.

In these moments, the Frau could move home again. But a moment later, the Frau thinks, wait! If she’s in Chicago, she won’t be able to grocery shop in another country on a whim. Or bike over a border. Or hike in the woods without driving to a forest preserve first.

And then her friends in the U.S. add to her angst, e-mailing her things like, “I have to fly back on Christmas Day because I have to work on the 26th

Work on December 26th? What kind of heartless company makes people work on the 26th? Oh yeah, an American one.

Excuse the Frau, but after being in Europe for six years, where everything shuts down between Christmas and New Years, the thought of being thrown back into the American Rat Race, where stores now open even on Thanksgiving, is one of the biggest reasons to stay in Europe. 

But then again, there's always that pesky long-haul flight just so Baby M can visit grandparents…

Oh help.

The only conclusion the Frau can come to this Thanksgiving is this: The idea of living in the U.S. again scares her. She wants to. She wants to not. She wants to. She wants to not.

But then again, staying in Switzerland scares her too. Does she want her daughter to be Swiss? Does she want her daughter to always be treated as a foreigner even if she grows up here? Does the Frau want to continue live her life as a foreigner? Does the Frau want her daughter to speak a secret language while she continues to feel like a two-year-old when it comes to Swiss German?

The Frau has become like many expats: stuck somewhere between two worlds. And because she knows them both so well now, neither one of them will be ever perfect.

What the heck was she thinking when she moved abroad?

She was thinking of adventure. Not of being ruined for life no matter what country she lives in.

Everyone knows it takes guts to move abroad. But no one talks about the fact that it might end up taking even bigger guts to move home again.

Does anyone else have these issues? What makes you want to move abroad? What makes you want to move home? And what makes you scared of ever doing either?  

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Dear Frau: Compare U.S. and Swiss Health Insurance

Welcome to another edition of Dear Frau. It’s kind of like Dear Abby, except with an international twist. Remember, if you have a question about moving to Switzerland or living in Switzerland, don’t hesitate to contact the Frau.

Dear Frau,

Did you visit Switzerland often before moving there? And how does health insurance in Switzerland compare to the U.S.?

Interested in Switzerland

Dear Interested in Switzerland,

Whew. Short questions. Long answers…

Visiting Switzerland

The Frau had been to Switzerland three times before she moved there. She did the whirlwind, “Everything you need to know about Switzerland is in Lucerne” Globus bus tour of Europe in 2001. She never imagined living in Switzerland at that point. All she did during that trip was swim with the swans in Lake Lucerne and run around the Alpine meadows singing, “The hills are alive…” (Never mind that The Sound of Music takes place in Austria. To the Frau at that point, Switzerland and Austria were one in the same).

The Frau did another tour of Switzerland in 2005 when Mr. Frau came to Switzerland for a business trip. This visit was slightly more serious, since at that point the Frau and Mr. Frau knew a couple that had moved to Switzerland with the company Mr. Frau worked for. Mr. and Mrs. Frau met this couple for dinner. It got them thinking.

Finally, in May 2006, the Frau sealed her Swiss fate with a trip to Switzerland to (gulp) find an apartment. The Frau was really going to move there. And she was really going to become a (gulp, gulp, gulp) trailing spouse for the next three years.

Anyway, let’s fast-forward six + years (yes, the Frau has greatly overstayed her welcome) and answer the next part of the question. The answer, as you can imagine when dealing with health insurance, is somewhat complicated. The Frau is no expert, but she’ll try her best to explain the main differences.

Health Insurance in Switzerland

First of all, healthcare costs in Switzerland are typically less than in the United States. When traveling outside of Switzerland, regular Swiss insurers will pay up to two times the cost that the same procedure would have cost in Switzerland. BUT…and here’s the amazing thing…the United States as seen as so extreme when it comes to healthcare costs, that unbelievably, two times the Swiss cost is not seen as adequate. So the Frau and her family also have “World insurance” in addition to their regular Swiss insurance so they are fully covered in the United States since they do visit home at least once a year.

Here are some basic differences between the two systems:

One: Swiss health insurance is not tied to employment. This means you must take on all costs of health insurance yourself. The employer pays nothing (except usually they pay for accident insurance, which is also a mandatory part of Swiss health insurance). Regular health insurance costs can vary widely depending on your plan. You are free to choose both your insurer and your plan. In general, basic health insurance in Switzerland with a CHF 2,500 deductible will probably cost between CHF 150-225 per adult, per month. Swiss salaries are typically higher than U.S. salaries though, so in this sense, they help you pay for things like health insurance. The good part about having insurance not tied to a job is that when you lose a job or want to work part-time, you always have your health insurance. It allows employees much more freedom and flexibility, even though paying it from your own pocket can feel much more painful.

Two: Swiss health insurance is mandatory. You can’t decide you don’t want it. If you don’t sign yourself up for Swiss insurance within three months of moving here (or prove you have international insurance through an expatriate company program), the Swiss government will sign you up. Now before you scream socialism, think about it: it’s actually a good thing for health insurance to be mandatory. Everyone needs healthcare. And if everyone has it, then the insured won’t also be paying for the uninsured.

Three: Dental and eye insurance is pretty non-existent in Switzerland. You can pay extra to have it, but most plans are really, really bad. This is one area the Frau thinks Switzerland could do better in. Because in the U.S., she always had good dental and eye care which at least covered yearly or bi-yearly check-ups. In Switzerland, these kinds of visits are paid completely out of pocket.

Four: Standards of healthcare are as high or higher than in the United States. Appointments are typically easy to obtain in Switzerland. During visits, patients sit at a desk with their doctors and discuss problems before anyone undresses. It feels like a more human approach to the Frau and she also finds that Swiss doctors listen more than American doctors and order fewer pointless medical tests as a result.

Five: Like in the United States, healthcare costs are rising fast in Switzerland. The Frau’s premiums will go up by about 10% next year…and there’s nothing she can do about it.

How much will you pay for Swiss insurance? In general, you should expect to pay at least CHF 5,000 per person per year on healthcare in Switzerland. (Note that costs for children are much lower).

Anyone else want to chime in on healthcare differences/similarities between the U.S. and Switzerland? 

Readers in Switzerland: Has the Frau given a good estimate of healthcare costs in Switzerland?

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Five Ways Switzerland Prepared The Frau for China

Nǐ haǒ. The Frau has returned from the Far East where she spent two weeks running around the People’s Republic of China. (For those who are wondering, no, Baby M did not add a sixth country to her life list, rather she had her own vacation zu Hause with her American Grandma while American Grandma went through her own version of Swiss culture shock in the process—very nice hiking trails, but too much cigarette smoke and pushy people was Grandma’s final verdict on Switzerland).

In many ways, Beijing is Zurich’s opposite (especially in pedestrian safety, air quality, and the price of public transportation—only 20 cents for a bus ride in Beijing). But in other ways, Switzerland couldn’t have prepared the Frau any better for China. Below are five ways you’ll feel at home in China if you’re living as a foreigner in Switzerland.

One: The language barrier won’t bother you.

What’s a little Mandarin when you’ve been trying to comprehend Swiss German? If you’re used to tuning out foreign languages and already feeling like a fish out of water, not understanding anything in China will be no big deal.

Two: You’ll be used to people having no concept of a line.

The Frau lost track of the number of Chinese people who cut in front of her when buying metro tickets or at security checkpoints. But this was no different than having Swiss people barging in front of her at the cheese counter or at a Swiss McDonald’s—even when she was pregnant, no less. Therefore, when being passed up in China, the Frau just sighed in recognition of something Americans call politeness and the rest of the world calls passiveness.

Three: When people push and shove on public transport, you’ll push right back.

Foreigners are often treated as walking ATMs in China
Beijing may have 20 million people and Zurich 390,000, but you wouldn’t know this based on the almost identical way their commuters both act. Luckily, Switzerland has trained the Frau to elbow and push like the best of the Chinese. But the Frau did notice that the Chinese readily give up their seats for old people and women with children, something she doesn’t witness the Swiss doing very often.

Four: You’ll have your cash ready.

Like in Switzerland, credit cards are not commonly accepted in China, so be prepared to carry cash—lots of it, since you’ll probably end up paying the “foreigner price.”

Five: You’ll be used to being treated as a foreigner.

Unlike in Switzerland, your appearance in China will probably scream foreigner before you even open your mouth. But in some ways this makes it easier because you don’t have to decide whether to give yourself away or not. The Frau proudly wore her camera around her neck since there was no disguising who she was.

How does living abroad affect how you travel to new countries?

Monday, November 05, 2012

The Frau does China

Any normal new parent who is offered a two-week respite from their one-year-old would go to a tropical island and sleep. The Frau went to China. 

It wasn't so different from Switzerland after all:

Swiss fondue restaurant in Beijing


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