Thursday, December 15, 2016

Caught Between American and Swiss Christmas Traditions

Happy Holidays, Yodelers.

Long time no see.

That is The Frau’s fault, and since she’s in the U.S., allow her to apologize with a big, fat American “sorry.”
No more bringing the Christmas tree
home on a public bus for The Frau. Sad.

Sorry, sorry, sorry, but it seems like every time The Frau sits down to write a blog post, she's either distracted by election woes or what she writes turns into an essay she wants to send to a publication. (Therefore, she cannot post it here as publications will rarely re-publish posts from personal blogs. Sigh.)

So instead, The Frau will share a holiday post turned essay, which was published yesterday by the Washington Post. It’s called Creating new Christmas traditions, one overly commercialized experience at a time and it’s about what to do when you no longer have your American childhood holiday tradition and you no longer have your Swiss holiday tradition (bring your Christmas tree home from Jumbo on a Swiss public bus) and you are caught in that strange place of non-tradition. Can anyone relate?

In other news, The Frau is hard at work on her next Swiss-related book, which will be out next May. Part travel guide, part cultural guide, it's a book that aims to make even the most foreign of us who gave up our Swiss C-permits for a little Trumpland maintain a little Swissness (and sanity). Stay tuned.

In the meantime, you might enjoy this ultimate Swiss Gift Guide, which The Frau previously created for any of you who aren’t quite Swiss enough to have all of your shopping done yet.

Frohe Weihnachten, mitenand.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

What does someone in Trumpland think of Switzerland?

What does an American, specifically you, think of Switzerland?

That was the assignment The Frau received from an editor at Die Zeit a few weeks ago.

Her answer, in essay format, was published today in the Swiss edition of the German-language weekly. This week's issue explores how various nationalities see Switzerland. A smart idea and The Frau looks forward to reading what others authors think too.

However. What would be even more interesting, at this point in time, is an American magazine that did an issue about what the rest of the world thinks of the United States. That we're gullible? That we're ignorant? That we're a bad reality show with too much reality to even digest anymore? That we're going to ruin their lives too?

What does The Frau think about America? Well, let's just say it's not good. But she is no longer speechless. Instead of just sitting there, sick to her stomach in her pajamas until 4 p.m. on a Wednesday, she is speaking up, both in written and verbal formats. Yodelers, she is determined to save her country and use her Swiss wisdom and international viewpoints to do so.

Her strategies include:

1.     Writing essays and articles that push progressive ideas (you know, those oh-so “radical” Swiss ideas, like universal healthcare, paid parental leave, etc.) ideally for publication in high circulation places.
2.     Continuing to write the sequel to Swiss Life, which is titled, American Life: 30 Things I Wish I’d Known. The book suddenly became an even more interesting project on November 9.
3.     Participating on her local citizen’s council, which slates candidates who seek office in her suburban town.
4.     Giving back creatively to any potential progressive candidate who may need some advertising or copywriting assistance.
5.     Continuing to consider moving back to Switzerland, especially if the SVP goes away.

What do you think of Switzerland? Of the United States? Can the United States be saved? How?

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Speechless in Trumpland

First disbelief. Then trembling. Then sweating. The second-guessing. Then a Swiss reporter called, resulting in this

That is all the mostly speechless Frau has to say for now.

Monday, November 07, 2016

Leave the U.S. again or not? Tomorrow is decision day.

Tomorrow may be the biggest day in the United States in a long time.

The Frau is glad to be able experience such a day on U.S. soil, but she is also completely scared of the possible result, as it may mean she will need to leave U.S. soil once again. Having given up her Swiss C-permit over a month ago, this is not the best timing for such a possibility.

She’s trying to have faith. This is a harder thing to have these days in America than it should be.

Any American who moves back to the U.S. after being abroad experiences reverse culture shock. But the Frau’s timing, having moved back here at the end of 2014, was to experience it in the extreme. This isn’t the country she left it in 2006, and she finds the attitudes of some of people extremely alarming.

Will The Frau leave the U.S. again?
The American electorate may help her decide.
No one discusses issues calmly and deeply, people just yell at each other. It’s horrible. The Frau even took her Bernie Sanders bumper sticker off her car after the primaries—she didn’t want to risk someone shooting her—can you believe she would have to consider such a thing?

Which begs the question: What kind of country has this become? The Frau had a friend who voted early precisely because she was scared of what would happen on election day—would there be riots and shootings at the polls? Can you imagine? This country is morally disintegrating—anyone who thinks Trump should represent our country on the world stage is somehow morally confused or uneducated.

Part of the problem is that so few Americans have passports. About 36% of Americans have passports, so there are a lot of people who have no idea about the world beyond U.S. borders—some haven’t left their state—or their hometown. They are scared of anyone who is different than them and don’t realize that many of policies they call progressive (or heaven forbid, socialist), like legalized vacation time, paid family and medical leave, and universal healthcare are not radical ideas. And the very Americans many of these policies would benefit are the ones who are against them—it makes no intellectual sense.

But nothing makes sense in the U.S. these days.

If there is one redeeming factor to the Trump phenomenon, it is that he alone has revealed, in the clearest way possible, the very wealth inequality that exists in our nation. That loopholes allow a billionaire to escape paying taxes, while a poor man must pay his, show just how unethical and immoral this country has become.

The entire American system is broken. And Trump has brought this out into the open, which in a way, is a good thing. Whether it will bring about change, well, that’s another story. But at least the inequality that people like Bernie Sanders have talked about relentlessly is no longer just talk. American wealth inequality is blatantly and grossly in the spotlight. Whether people will vote for more great policies for billionaires at their own demise will be answered tomorrow. As will the question of The Frau's future moving plans.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Switzerland (and almost any land) is Better for Working Parents

Do working parents have it better abroad than in the United States?

Most experiences of working parents abroad appear to say yes.

About a month ago, The Frau wrote this piece for the Wall Street Journal Expat section: Working in Switzerland—What’s an Expat Woman to Expect?

Now back in the U.S. and witnessing the realities of
working American parents, The Frau is ever grateful that her
daughter was born abroad.
In case you want the short answer—an American woman can expect better work-life balance and extremely more supportive policies when working in Switzerland, despite a sometimes backwards mindset that a woman’s place is still in the home.

Stories of working parental woes are all over the American press lately.

Last week, a powerful New York Times opinion piece from writer Pamela Druckerman, The Perpetual Panic of American Parenthood, agrees that American parents have it best working elsewhere. The subhead: “Make our country great, by making it a bit more like the rest of the world,” pretty much sums up The Frau's feelings exactly.

Says Ms. Druckerman on leaving the U.S. for Paris, “I gradually understood why European mothers aren’t in perpetual panic about their work-life balance, and don’t write books about how executive moms should just try harder: Their governments are helping them, and doing it competently."

Another great quote from her piece was from writer Ms. Partanen, who, in her book, The Nordic Theory of Everything, says, “While Nordic citizens often don’t realize how good they have it, Americans seem not to realize how terribly they are being treated.”

That’s what really confounds The Frau. The great majority of Americans she talks to have no idea how bad they have it. No idea. They think the stress of trying to work and parent with no legalized parental leave, no legalized vacation time, and no legalized sick time is their fault.

Blaming the individual for what’s wrong instead of looking beyond to greater causes is sadly an American thing. We're very individual and we like to blame the individual too. We need to stop.

Even when moms have access to parental leave in the U.S., they face hassles to get it. On the cover of the Chicago Tribune’s Life+Style section last Sunday was an article about how insurance paperwork issues interfere when new mothers just want to nurture their babies.

Yes, the American system is broken. And The Frau plans to keep writing about it (global outlook included) until it is fixed.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Ten Reasons The Frau is Staying in the U.S. (for now)

Dear Yodelers,

Apologies, it's been awhile. The Frau is sorry.

Americans, as you know, tell you they are sorry when they don't-even-but-almost run into you. And they are sorry when they don't blog as often as they should too.

So here's a big American sorry. And another big American excuse: busy, busy, busy.

But The Frau can say she is busy and sorry. Because The Frau is an American in America. At least for now. 

Yes, The Frau and her family will stay in the U.S. until they are ready for another adventure abroad-–which they will be at some point-–especially if a certain horrid, disgusting excuse for a human being is elected in November.

Yes, it was hard to give up that Swiss C-permit, Yodelers. It was so tempting to run back to Switzerland before it expired, especially with the path to destruction the U.S. appears to be on. But alas, as some of you know, transitions–even good ones–are horrid. So are moving boxes, many of which have STILL not been unpacked even after two years. 

Also, it took The Frau 1.5 years to feel sort-of-normal in the U.S. and it was hard to think about transitioning back to Switzerland so soon. That is reason one for staying. For now.

Choosing between countries is never easy.
Reason two is that The Frau could not imagine telling Child M (yes, she is a little child now and not a baby or toddler!) that she could not just go over to Grandma's house whenever she pleased. Child M has a close relationship with two grandmothers now that could not be replicated if she was 5,000 miles from them.

Reason three is related to reason two--extended family support for working parents is amazing. The Frau has been able to travel for work (and pleasure!) and take on new professional challenges without worry thanks to two caring grandmothers that take care of Child M very, very often.

Reason four. Child M is at an amazing school that is perfect for her. It was a struggle to find the right place for her in the U.S., but this school is it. Changing schools again now is not an appealing option.

Reason five. The Frau has committed to being involved in local politics for the next year. She desperately wants to make a difference in a country that desperately needs fresh ideas and global perspectives. America needs more repatriates in politics because repatriates see their country in a way someone who has never left it simply can't.

Reason six. The Frau really does like living in a house again. Space is nice. Not having to share a laundry room is nice. Not having to live up to Swiss standards of cleanliness is nice.

Reason seven. The Frau spent 8.5 years traveling Europe and needs to travel North America. She recently had the pleasure of discovering both Alexandria and Georgetown around the DC area and seeing a bit of Phoenix. And Indiana. Yes, even Indiana was surprisingly wonderful in its own way.

Reason eight. English. Living among those speaking your native language allows you to be fully engaged, rather than always an outsider looking in (although The Frau still sometimes feels like an outsider in the U.S.).

Reason nine. Switzerland will always be there. Child M's ability to have a close relationship with older family members will not.

Reason ten. The little things: New Glarus, Wisconsin gives The Frau a little Swissness when she needs it. Amazing restaurant food without walking distance from her house, especially of the ethnic variety at amazing prices. Free water. Libraries with English books. 

Of course, with all the positives, there are many negatives to American life right now. But that's another blog post, mitenand...

Monday, August 22, 2016

America's Little Switzerland. Really.

Grüezi, People.

The Chalet Landhaus Inn
The Frau recently went back to her Swiss home away from home, New Glarus, Wisconsin, for a very good reason—to participate in her first-ever triathlon.

But this was not just any triathlon, mitenand. This was the Alphornman Triathlon. So how could she not participate?

The race began with three men playing alphorns. The race ended with a four-hour Volksfest concert featuring Swiss choirs, Swiss music, Fahnenschwingen with alphorn accompaniment, and a few Wilhelm Tell Guild remarks in Tell Shooting Park. The festival even featured a group from Switzerland itself, the Jodelchörli Alpsteinblick Abtwil.
Volksfest in Tell Shooting Park, New Glarus, WI

The Frau spoke German with a couple of the men from the Swiss group and English with a couple of the people from the New Glarus groups. She fit right in with her strange American Swissness, right there in her own country. The entire weekend was wonderful. The Frau highly recommends a visit to New Glarus for those who feel at home in both Swiss and American culture.

The thing that is great about New Glarus (besides the chalets and cheese options) is that you can come, park your big, fat American car that you really hate being required to have, and not move said car for an entire weekend. The whole town is walkable, there’s a bike path that runs through it, and the Frau’s favorite new restaurant, Sugar River Pizza, is a two-minute walk from the Chalet Landhaus Inn—even with a certain four-year-old taking her time.

Room with a perfect view. If you're The Frau.
In fact, The Frau had such a nice long weekend in New Glarus for the second time this year, that she is going for a third time soon. To do another triathlon. She’s now addicted to both New Glarus and triathlons. C'est la vie, mitenand.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

A Bit of Swiss. In Indiana.

The Frau went to Indiana for vacation last week. (Yes, Yodelers, you heard The Frau right. Indiana. The part not far from Gary. Yes.)

The sunset from the beach in Dune Acres with the
Chicago skyline in the background
Now, after running around places like the Alps, Italy, China, and Spain over the last decade, The Frau never thought she’d go to Indiana for a vacation, but Indiana, specifically the lake-hugging area between Dune Acres and Beverly Shores, has a lot to offer–including, who knew, a little Swissness.

Therefore, if you must know, The Frau recommends going to Indiana for those looking for a little Switzerland in the Midwest. (And also for those who love climbing dunes and enjoying sunsets on the beach.)

Wooded path to Mount Baldy
First of all, this area in Indiana’s northwest corner boasts a lot of biking and hiking paths. In the Indiana Dunes State Park, there are over 16 miles of trails and there are 50 miles more if you count the trails in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, which surrounds the state park. There are paths through marshes, bogs, along the lake, in the dunes, in the woods, and through the prairies. It’s wonderful.
The Three Dune Challenge in
Indiana Dunes State Park
Dune path to the lake
Then, there are pedestrian and bike crossings that go over busy streets like U.S. 12 and U.S. 20 so you don’t have to wait for traffic or fear for your life as you cross the street. (The Frau wishes the Chicago area would take as much care of its pedestrians and bikers as the area between Gary and Michigan City does.)

If you rent a beach house in Dune Acres, a lakeside resort village, then you will also enjoy practically car-less streets, Swiss-style hills, lake access, and a quietly well-located wooded area that allows you to get to the State Park, many hiking and biking trails, as well as to Chesterton via bike instead of car.

European Market in Chesterton
Chesterton, a small village in the area, hosts a European Market every Saturday. How European the market is is debatable, but The Frau did find this gem: A Bit of Swiss.

Bit of Swiss
At first, The Frau was annoyed because A Bit of Swiss wasn’t really very Swiss. It had homemade breads and Danishes that were very yummy looking, but not very Swiss looking. But then, after she ate a raspberry Danish, she got less annoyed. Because can you blame A Bit of Swiss for not being Swiss? It’s owned by an American named Tim. The reality is, it’s an American bakery with a few French baking traditions thrown in for fun. Which is great. Just not Swiss.

This begs the question: Can an American ever be Swiss? The longer The Frau has been back in the U.S., the less Swiss she is becoming. And while she’ll always carry a bit of Swiss in her heart, like the Bit of Swiss bakery, in the end, good or bad, she’ll always be more American than anything else.


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