Thursday, October 29, 2015

7 Things The Frau Missed About Switzerland

Sometimes you don't know what you missed about a country until you return to find out. Here's what The Frau missed.

1. Bread

The average Swiss eats 108 pounds of bread a year. There is a reason for this. Swiss bread is good, it's cheap (especially compared to the same quality American bread), and there's so much variety you could eat a different kind of bread for three weeks straight and not get bored. Or you could be like The Frau and eat Nutella and Zopf every single morning. Because you can.

2. Cheese

Duh. While in Switzerland, The Frau ate Raclette, fondue, and two entire blocks of Gruyère cheese from the grocery store. Almost every meal was some form of cheese and bread. She ate enough cheese for a year. It should have been illegal. But it wasn't. Because there's something more illegal back home: Calling Velveeta cheese.

3. Efficiency
The Leukerbad Therme

Yeah, yeah, the on-time trains. The fact things run like clockwork, which makes sense for a country known for timekeeping. And because of this, the amazing things The Frau had forgotten you could do. Like stand above Track 32 at Zurich's Main Station at 9 p.m. and realize you need toilet paper. Run into the Coop at 9:01 p.m. that's right across from Track 32. And still make your 9:08 p.m. train. Now THAT is Swiss efficiency.

4. Spas

The Frau misses the Swiss concept of wellness, which basically amounts to sitting in bubbling pools of mineral water. Americans think spas are places for a facial or a massage. It's not the same.

5. Well-traveled Americans

Ok, this is a strange thing to miss about Switzerland. But because most Americans haven't been outside of America, it can be hard to find people to relate to back home. And although it might be hard to find Americans in Switzerland, when you do find them, they are interesting and international and often the kind of people you can have a conversation with all night.

6. The hiking trails 

Almost anywhere you look in Switzerland, there are hiking trails ready to lead you elsewhere. The Frau misses Switzerland's great outdoors. In fact, in Illinois, there's hardly a reason to own a pair of hiking shoes.

7. Seeing kids outside

The Frau went running along Lake Zurich, and you know what? It was cloudy and cold. The ground was wet. But there were kids outside, properly dressed in rain pants and coats, watching the swans. Krippe workers pushed kids through the city and on hiking trails. And this was not a field trip that cost the parents extra money and extra enthusiasm. This was everyday life. The Frau misses this concept. So she brought Toddler M back a pair of Migros rain pants because she had outgrown her old pair. Today they are going to the park on a bike, even though it is cold and dark. 

If you left Switzerland, what would you miss?

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The big visit to Zurich

Grüezi, People.

The Frau is in Zurich. After a year away, The Frau is back for a visit.

And you know what? She thought she might feel like a tourist, but instead Zurich feels like home. It feels like she never left. It feels like Switzerland is embracing The Frau and The Frau is embracing Switzerland.

So far she's given a reading, gone to her first Swiss wedding, hiked the Alps, gone to two spas, done some writing and copywriting, visited old colleagues and friends, and most importantly, discussed construction schedules and tunnel transport with her old Swiss neighbor over 30+ slices of Raclette.

While visiting old friends in Zurich the other night, The Frau tried to explain to other expats how hard it is to make new friends with Americans back home. 

You know, those friendly, ever-smiling Americans. 

The problem is, once you tell your life story to the average American, and your life story comes to the part about living abroad, suddenly, their eyes gloss over. 

They can't relate to you at all. 

"Oh, you lived in Sweden?" they'll say. "That's nice."

End of story. The average American doesn't want to hear any more.

This is hard for the repatriate, who can't wait to share their experiences.

But until it was recently required for Americans to have passports to go to Canada or a Caribbean island, only 10% of Americans had passports (now 20% do). But still. About nine out of ten Americans can't relate to a repatriate at all.

At one point a few months ago in Chicago, The Frau's husband exclaimed over another American's bumper sticker. It said "CH." 

"Wow," said Mr. Frau. "Switzerland! What connection do you have to it?"

The other American looked at him confused. "What? The CH is for Clarendon Hills," he said.

Clarendon Hills is a Chicago suburb.

So there it is. The hardest part about being home. While your world is big, most Americans' worlds aren't. 

Coming back to the big, wide world solves this.

Needless to say, it's good to be back. 

Thursday, October 01, 2015

One Year in the U.S.

Ja, ja, yodelers. The Frau is officially one year into her repatriation experiment.

It hasn’t been an easy year. As Dr. Nan M. Sussman, who researches expat and repat issues has said, repatriation is harder than expatriation.

Dr. Sussman is right.

She’s also correct in saying that it takes at least a year to feel comfortable in your home country again.

One year in, The Frau feels better. She’s not exactly 100% American (will she ever be?) and many American things still piss her off (certain political parties especially) but alas. The Frau is happier than she’s been in a year.

Which begs the question:

Will The Frau return to Switzerland next year?

She doesn’t know. She is returning to Switzerland this month to see how it feels to be there after a year away. Will Switzerland feel like home? Or will it feel like a foreign country? Or somewhere in between?

Only one thing is now certain: the desire to return abroad, whether it is next year or in ten years, will always be there for The Frau. She wrote about this recently for the Wall Street Journal in a piece called The Eternal Expatriate. Once an expat, always an expat, yodelers.

The Frau is excited about her upcoming trip to Switzerland though. (Warning: small promotional blurb ahead.)

For those who are interested, she is speaking on repatriation and expatriate issues as well as reading essays from her work-in-progress, American Life: 30 Things I Wish I’d Known, at an event sponsored by the American Women’s Club of Zurich. It will be held October 16, 2015 at the BellaVista Wine Bar from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Contrary to popular belief, you do not need to be either an American or a woman to attend. See flyer.

The Frau is also teaching at the Zurich Writers Workshop from October 23-25, 2015. There are still a few spots available if you’re interested in attending.


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