Wednesday, December 31, 2014

5 Things The Frau Misses About Switzerland

Happy Old Year, mitenand. As The Frau looks back over 2014, she can’t help but miss Switzerland, where she spent nine of the last 12 months (not to mention her last 8.5 years). Here are some of the things she misses most now that she’s back in the US.

The great outdoors. No one does the outdoors like Switzerland. With over 60,000 km of hiking trails, it’s about 59,900 km more than The Frau has access to from Chicago.

Disentis, Switzerland
The weather. Ok. The Frau never thought she would miss the grey Swiss winter. But she does. Because she forgot how cold it is in Chicago. She hasn’t been this cold since, oh, she lived in Chicago over 14 years ago.

The transportation. The Frau hates driving. So much so that she has refused to get a car thus far and has been riding her bike when it’s -8 c outside. Yes. She is crazy. And Swiss. She still can’t comprehend that she can’t walk or take a bus, train, tram, boat, or cable car everywhere.

The beauty. Switzerland is gorgeous. No matter how much she wants it to, the flat American Midwest just can’t compete with Switzerland’s rolling hills, sparkling lakes, and the Alps.

The adventures. There’s something about living in another country, especially when it borders five others, that’s exciting. Living in the center of the US, where Gary, Indiana is further than Germany used to be, is hard to accept after having easy access to the entire European continent for almost a decade.

What do you love (or miss) about Switzerland?

In other small print, The Frau would like to say merci vielmal to all of her readers in Switzerland and around the world. Thanks to you, her first book, Swiss Life: 30 Things I Wish I'd Known, has sold almost 1200 copies since May.

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Wear Your Pajamas to Work (and Preschool) Week

Pajamas are everywhere in America. In fact, it’s quite acceptable to wear them in public. After years of feeling like she had to put on a skirt just to take the elevator down to the laundry room in her Swiss apartment/office building, The Frau is trying to accept this American sleepwear-in-public trend, but to be honest, her family is having a hard time with it.

Wear Your Pajamas in Public Day is Every Day in America
Take yesterday. At Mr. Frau’s company, it was “Wear Your Pajamas to Work Day.” The Frau is not sure what wearing pajamas to an office is supposed to achieve, but in any case, Mr. Frau was told it was all about “having fun.” Well, in true Swiss fashion, Mr. Frau decided to have no fun at all and went to work in his usual button down and jeans (wearing dress pants usually takes office fashion too far in America).  Mr. Frau had to lead a workshop teaching people how to be managers and he just couldn’t imagine doing it in his PJs. The Frau can’t say she blames him. 

As it turns out, American offices have a lot in common with American preschools. The day after Mr. Frau’s “Wear Your Pajamas to Work Day,” it was Toddler M’s “Wear Your Pajamas to Preschool Day.” This event was so important it was printed on a flyer, which told us not to forget, because the day would be “all about having fun.”

Now The Frau didn’t mind encouraging Toddler M to wear pajamas, since it meant less work for her in prepping Toddler M for school, but strangely enough, Toddler M wanted nothing to do with pajama day and everything to do with wearing normal street clothes. Even upon arrival, where every child in her class was clearly wearing pajamas—and Christmas pajamas at that—Toddler M refused to put on her snowman feet pajamas, which The Frau had packed in her bag just in case. So there was little Swiss Toddler M, wearing street clothes in an American preschool filled with children in pajamas.

As The Frau said in her last post, assimilation hasn’t been easy.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Repatriation–even harder after Switzerland

Dear Yodelers,

Excuse the French, but since it's an official Swiss language The Frau won't hold back: Repatriation is a bitch.

Research says it is harder to go home than abroad. But research didn’t consider the Switzerland factor. And Switzerland makes it worse. Let The Frau explain.

Perhaps some of you know—Switzerland was recently rated the best place in the world to be an expat. It has one of the highest qualities of life in the world. Be born in Switzerland, and you’ve won the lottery of life, at least according to organizations that like to create surveys.

These facts do not make leaving Switzerland easy. In fact, they only set you up for disappointment. How can any other country compete?

Here’s the reality. It can’t. The Frau must accept that while there are some wonderful things about America—lots of personal space, spontaneous conversations with Target shoppers, being close to family—it is not Switzerland.

The Frau met with a fellow Swiss re-pat in Chicago recently and this woman still doesn’t have a car and she’s been back for two years. She takes a mini-bus whenever she needs to go far-flung places like Madison or Iowa City. She said it took her an entire year to adjust back to the US after being in Switzerland for three years.

Ok. Do the math. The Frau was in Switzerland for over eight years. Does this mean it will take her almost three years to adjust to the US, all other things being equal? What does that mean if her on-hold Swiss residence permit expires in two years?

In any case, you’ll be glad to know that The Frau has adjusted somewhat. She’s already forgiven the neighbors for not dusting their flowerpots. And she's driven the family car a few times although can’t bring herself to buy a second one yet. Also, Toddler M doesn’t yell “nein” at the American kids like she used to, although after enjoying a sleepover with one of her Swiss-American friends last week, she did resort to saying “ich auch” all the time for the following two days.

In other good news, The Frau tasted the best Magenbrot she’s ever had—and it was from Chicago’s German Christmas market. The Frau must say, American food does not disappoint–except when it comes to cheese. Oh well. Frohe Weihnachten, mitenand.

Friday, December 05, 2014

The Ultimate Swiss Christmas Gift Guide

Frohe Weihnachten, yodelers. In honor of Sunday Shopping Time, The Frau would like to make some Christmas gift suggestions. All items here have either been gifted to or given by The Frau and therefore they are 100% Swiss quality guaranteed—at least by her American standards.

The Frau wears her Edelweiss
with pride.
Edelweiss Shirt

This shirt is semi-required for anyone living in Switzerland so if you have a friend or family member that has yet to wear one, it’s time to give the gift of assimilation. With an Edelweiss Hemd, never again will your friend or family member show up incorrectly dressed for an August 1 Farm Breakfast. Whew.

Swarovski Snowflake Ornament
Swarovski ornaments don't
lose their value.

Ok, ok, so Swarovski is an Austrian company, but in honor of the Christmas tree in Zurich’s main train station, which is covered in Swarovski crystal ornaments, The Frau has been a collector of the annual crystal snowflake ornament since 2008.

SBB Mondaine Clock

Give the gift of time—it’s very Swiss. The Frau loves the SBB Mondaine Clock. Her husband does too, which is fortunate since she gave him this clock as a gift a few years ago. It’s now out of the moving box after its trip across the Atlantic and it’s still ticking away in Central European Time.

Hiltl Cookbook

The Frau enjoys her Hiltl cookbooks even more so on this side of the Atlantic. Because now she can have a taste of Europe’s oldest vegetarian restaurant without leaving the comfort of her new American house. 

Swiss Toilet Paper Holder

Let your friend or family member be reminded of Switzerland up to five times daily when you give the gift of a shiny new chrome Swiss toilet paper holderClearly, there are great benefits to this gift, including the fact that no one else will give it. Not to mention, it makes ripping your desired amount of toilet paper easy and prevents the embarrassment of unrolling an entire roll of TP without meaning to.

Radius Design City Lights

Ja, ja, The Frau has the Baden version.
Entschuldigung, yodelers. Radius Design is a German company. However, we can like it because it creates with Switzerland in mind. Specifically for those of us lucky to love Baden (yes, Baden!) and Zurich. Choose your city (London and Paris are options too) and then choose between a coat hanger or a candleholder and enjoy your city’s landmarks in a whole new way. 

Book about Switzerland
Swiss Life Book

The Frau is biased since she's the author of Swiss Life: 30 Things I Wish I’d Known, but hey, she realized she needed a Swiss gift that was priced under $20 for this list and guess what? Only an American product could be priced so advantageously. Available at Orell Füssli or online.

Anyone else have Swiss-inspired gift suggestions?

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Sehnsucht for Thanksgiving

A strange thing happened this year.

The Frau spent Thanksgiving with her family. Granted, she still had an expat Thanksgiving in the sense that she celebrated it the Saturday before the actual holiday. But it was the first time in 14 years or so that she celebrated Thanksgiving with family.

It was wonderful.

But it also made The Frau realize something: Namely, that she had acquired another family while in Switzerland and she missed them.

The Frau missed her expat family. For the last five or six years, she’s spent Thanksgiving with the same group of friends. And it was as strange not to be with them as it was to be with family.

No matter how The Frau does things these days, she finds herself longing for something else. Maybe that’s only a normal part of life as an expat or ex-expat. When you learn you can live life many wonderful ways, you wish all of them could somehow be combined. But they can’t. So if you’re like The Frau, you find yourself digesting a good portion of Sehnsucht for Thanksgiving.

Sehnsucht. A German word. How appropriate. Hard to translate, it involves a deep emotional state of longing.

Will you, like The Frau, be passing around the Sehnsucht this Thanksgiving? Longing for real family? Longing for your expat family? Either way, The Frau will say this: she understands. En Guete, mitenand.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Lanternenfest in America

The Frau joined a German Spielgruppe in Chicago. Ja, ja. She did it so Toddler M could continue her German, but instead The Frau continues her German while all the Kinder run around speaking English.

C’est la vie, yodelers. However, you’ll be pleased to know that Toddler M still yells “nein” at a good portion of kids in the US, although she saves her “neins” for the American children at the local library instead of the ones at the Spielgruppe. Kids these days.

Anyway, The Frau digresses. One of the benefits of being in the Chicago Spielgruppe is that they organize events around holidays The Frau is familiar with.

Like Lanternenfest.

Unlike Halloween, which ended up feeling almost as foreign as Sechselaueten used to, The Frau knew Lanternenfest. She celebrated it last year with Toddler M’s Kinderkrippe.

Toddler M's lantern
was naturally
Swiss inspired.
But of course, The Frau was new to the German-American version of Lanternenfest.

This version included:

-Battery-lit candles. (What? A lack of open flames around toddlers? The Frau tried to gracefully adjust to the safety standards of her own country, but it wasn’t without a feeling of loss for the excitement the open flames used to add to the event.)

-Kids spoke English while parents spoke back to them in German.

-The parade route was a pathed walking trail that went over an American highway. (The Frau tried to imagine there were some cobblestones, but that was difficult with the sound of traffic, yodelers.)

-A potluck buffet filled with hot dogs and hot chocolate. The Frau thought she’d fit in by bringing Birchermüsli, but barely anyone ate that. They all wanted hot dogs and tortilla chips. Live and learn, yodelers. Next time The Frau will make sloppy joes.

Anyway, it’s almost time for Thanksgiving and only time will tell whether it will feel as foreign to The Frau as Halloween did. In the meantime, if you’re looking for a x-mas present about fitting in and not fitting in, check out  The Frau’s book, Swiss Life: 30 Things I Wish I’d Known. It would make a great gift. Even if The Frau is a little biased.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Moving Day. The Swiss Version.

The Swiss have a special culture. And sometimes The Frau needs to be reminded just how special it is. By Mexicans.

In particular, the wonderful Mexican movers that unpacked The Frau’s container yesterday.

Her Mexican movers were careful, gracious, and did a great job. But they couldn’t help but comment on the packing job that the Swiss had done, since they had the unfortunate task of well, un-doing it.

If you can't imagine the extremes the Swiss go to with packing, it's your lucky day because The Frau is going to show you just all that this wonderful culture is capable of.

Package number 40 of 342 upon arrival.

Package 40 being unwrapped.

Oh, a collection of shopping bags. Thank goodness it was bubble wrapped for extra protection. Now, if the shopping bags got this much wrapping care, imagine a bike. Or better yet, don't imagine it. Just enjoy it.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Why the Swiss don't smile and the Americans do

The Frau’s American experiment is teaching her a lot about the Swiss.

Namely, why the Swiss are like they are.

To understand this, she has been studying Americans for the last three weeks.

Americans are very effervescent in public. Perfect strangers bubble over with smiles and life stories. And then they disappear into their big cars and their big houses, lost forever to the person they just met. They don’t walk anywhere. Two steps into the car. Two steps into the grocery store and two steps back into the car to go through…the Starbucks drive-through. Or the ATM drive-through. Or the library book drop off drive-through. Therefore, Americans dress as if they aren’t going to see anyone for more than a few seconds and they are generally pleased to talk to anyone they see.

By contrast, most Swiss live in small apartments in buildings with many other people. They walk down pedestrian streets. They ride public transport. They go into coffee shops and stay two hours. They go into banks. They live a public life. So they dress like they’re going to be in public for a while. In other words, compared to Americans, they look really nice because they are on public display. But with all of this public life in Switzerland, The Frau is really beginning to understand why the Swiss keep to themselves. If they smiled at everyone they saw in a day, their faces would hurt. If they bubbled over with enthusiasm every time they saw a neighbor, it would be over the top.

All of this also explains why people in New York City might not be as friendly as people in a small US town. They can’t be. They would go crazy because there are too many people around to be nice too.

The Frau’s conclusion? The more life one leads in public, the less friendly one will act towards the public. Any yodelers agree or care to disagree?

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Swiss customer service nostalgia

The Frau never thought she would miss Swiss customer service, but it has come to this, yodelers. 

Now. As some of you may know, The Frau used to complain about Swiss customer service. In particular, she complained about those charge-you-by-the-minute-for-the-pleasure-of resolving-the-issue-we-probably-caused customer service calls in Switzerland. And after being in the US for approximately 16 days, she wants –at least the toll phone portion– of Swiss customer service back.

She would pay any amount of franc-per-minute to have it. Because, interestingly enough, a Swiss toll call ends up being cheaper than an American toll-free call. Here is proof.

Swiss customer service toll call

The Frau calls SBB to resolve a train ticket issue. She must pay CHF .50 per minute between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. to call the number. When she calls during those hours, someone answers right away. This is a real live person and they are located somewhere across the canton rather than across the world. For simplicity, The Frau imagines that they are in Canton Aargau. This person in Canton Aargau speaks five languages, including English. He may not sound thrilled to talk to The Frau, but the call takes five minutes and the issue is resolved.

Total time: 5 minutes
Total cost: CHF 2.50

American customer service toll-free call(s)

The Frau calls Comcast because her Internet service is not activating automatically. Thanks to Comcast’s 24/7 service line, she can call at night. She can call during the day. And she can call during lunch. But no matter what time she calls, a technical reason shuts down her call. Soon, she learns the truth about 24/7, toll-free calling. It means that no matter what time she calls, an automated voice answers. It means that it’s her lucky hour when someone on the other side of the world who speaks something kind of representing English finally talks to her. But this chance, as The Frau is calculating based on experience, is only 1 out of 5 calls. And then the chance that she will understand their English is only 1 out of 5 of those really lucky calls. And this is even with 8+ years of training in understanding strange English accents, yodelers. Imagine normal Americans who have never left America trying to translate such so-called English. This is why, twenty-four hours after trying to activate her Comcast Internet service, The Frau is still trying to activate her Comcast Internet service.

Total time: 41 minutes and counting
Total cost: $4.10 in prepay minutes and counting

Which service would you rather have, yodelers? The Frau knows her answer.

Oh, and by the way, The Frau’s book, Swiss Life: 30 Things I Wish I’d Known was published in May. If you still haven’t read it but are enjoying this blog, you really have no excuse–unless of course you are living in the US and are still on hold with Comcast. In that case, veil Glück.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Thanks for spending 250,000 francs with us. Now about that scratch…

The Frau has one word for her apartment handover meeting. Amazement.

She was prepared for the best that Swissness could offer. And still. She was…here is a nice way of saying it…dumbfounded.

It’s more the concept of the thing than the thing itself. It's the fact that you could spend over CHF 250,000 on rent while living 8+ years in a place and still be subjected to scrutiny over a small crack on a light switch plate (not her fault! already noted on the move-in protocol, yippee!) or be shown that a piece of 40-year-old plastic is broken with a sad shake of a head and point of a finger. It’s almost unbelievable except it’s Switzerland, so it’s believable.

Here are a few highlights from the handover:

One of the apartment managers actually ran her finger over the top of one of the doorknobs and proclaimed it not clean enough. This same woman proceeded to pull the lining out of the fridge to check the cleanliness of that. Thanks to the fact that The Frau spent CHF 2,000 getting the place cleaned, the cleaners kept working as the woman kept criticizing so The Frau got her money's worth.

Two 40+ year-old pieces of plastic that held the window shade cranks were documented as broken. Yes…they were 40 + years old. Should this be surprising or The Frau’s fault?

The glasses in the bathroom that the movers packed by mistake were pointed out as missing and it was recommended that they be shipped back to the rental agency from the USA, once they arrived. This seemed stupid and costly to The Frau. The issue was resolved after a quick run to Migros when The Frau proved to the rental agency people that yes, the glasses could be replaced for a mere 5 SF and a little last-minute moving stress.

How much will all of this “wear and tear” cost The Frau beyond the 250k she already spent in rent? She’ll let you know in two months. Apparently that’s how long it takes to get any of your deposit back. Perfect timing, since by then her Swiss bank account will be closed and she will get to pay bank transfer fees on top of any small remaining pocket change. Yippee.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Frau's American Experiment

The Frau doesn’t want to write about it because if she writes about it it will become real, but there it is: The Frau is leaving Switzerland.

Sort of.

Let her explain.
Good-bye, Switzerland. Hello, American experiment.

A lot of things have happened this year. Great things, like her first book being published, interesting travel writing and copywriting projects, and fun days at cow parades and so on. But some pretty terrible things have happened too. A very close family member passed away. Another one got diagnosed with cancer two months after that and is currently going through some really rough treatment. Alone.

Things like these make you think about being 5,000 miles away for almost a decade sometimes. So do things like Toddler M getting bigger and turning into Little Girl M. And sometimes our 80-year-old neighbor feels more like Toddler M’s grandmother than her grandmother.

But then again, The Frau loves Switzerland. She feels Swiss. She loves the lifestyle here. She doesn’t want to go “home” because she’s not even sure it’s “home” anymore. Also, she’s not sure she remembers how to drive a car or deal with tardy trains.

Enter Swiss bureaucracy.

Thanks to the wonder of a VeryLongGermanWord The Frau still can’t pronounce without stumbling, The Frau is being allowed to conduct an up to two-year American experiment without giving up all of her ties to Switzerland. Swiss bureaucracy has agreed to put her residence permit on hold for up to two years.

This means The Frau is moving to America, but can come back to Switzerland within the next two years and be given back her residence permit like she never left. She’ll even continue to work on Swiss-related books and projects for Swiss companies so will surely be back for a few weeks here and there in the meantime. It’s the best of both worlds…so which world will she choose?

Will spontaneous conversations with Target shoppers make her swoon? Will she dance like Maria in The Sound of Music over her newfound personal space? Or will she realize a little country in the heart of Europe has stolen her heart?

Only time and this blog will tell.

If you enjoy reading this blog then you might also enjoy (insert shameless self-promotion pitch here) The Frau’s first book: Swiss Life: 30 Things I Wish I’d Known. Sure to see her country like she never has before, she will be writing the sequel, American Life: 30 Things I Wish I’d Known, during her two-year American experiment.

More details on how to put a residence permit on hold will also be a topic on this blog in the coming weeks. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Swiss hospitality at its finest

One of the views from the Torre Bar in Baden
The Frau writes a lot about the wonders of Swiss hospitality in her day job. But sometimes she questions it. I mean, least night she went to the Torre Bar with two friends. The bar has beautiful views over Baden and they sat right below the castle ruin and drank glass after glass of the Spanish version of Prosecco. It was very pleasant.


Doesn’t good hospitality also include a few peanuts or olives if you are spending the equivalent of $150 on drinks? Not according to the Torre Bar. Instead, For SF 7, we received exactly one shot glass full of olives. That was it. It was astounding in its scarcity. We each had two toothpicks worth of olives and looked at each other in disbelief.

Except that it really wasn't disbelief. Because unfortunately, this isn’t the first time something like this has happened and situations like these are starting to define Swiss hospitality for The Frau. Take the Mövenpick Wine Bar in Zurich. Granted, they have a great deal on Tuesday nights with all you can drink Champagne for SF 35 and it is again, very pleasant.


Go there with your same group of three and the wine bar will serve you the million franc appetizer plate with only two breadsticks. Even though there are three of you. Again, wouldn’t a little Swiss hospitality just add an extra breadstick for goodwill?

And that’s the thing about Switzerland that confounds the Frau to this day. As so-called leaders in the hospitality industry, you think they could throw you a small bone in the shape of a few peanuts for your business. But time and time again, this seems to be asking too much. But then again, the Swiss are rich. Coincidence?

Anyone else have the answers?


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