Thursday, December 20, 2007

Guten Tag!

Greetings from Zurich! I left this morning at 830am to go to the normally calm Geneva airport. But what is holiday travel without a ginormous flock of people at every airport in the world? I waited in line to check in for 45 minutes and when I got up to the front, my check in woman appeared panicked as she ran my passport through, especially as my flight had started to board while I toiled in line.

"Oh la la madamoiselle!" she clicked and got out a small little book to find a special phone number. (Incidentally, I love being called "madamoiselle," I find it charming and much better than being called madam). I understood enough French that the computer was claiming there was no boarding pass for me to Chicago. Quoi?? When she was off the phone, she sadly told me that my flight to Zurich (now leaving in 20 minutes) was fine but my flight to Chicago was delayed until 17:45. Seventeen?!! It was supposed to leave at 12:55. Flights that leave at 17:45 are not supposed to fly 9 hours away!! Anyway she was so sweet and felt bad for me that my lunch voucher was only 20 CHF, she told me to lie and say I hadn't gotten one so I could get a better lunch. Ha!!

So, as I have still over 3 hours to kill, this post will be quite random and wandering.

I went to the ATM which is great because the UBS atms can also dispense Euros, Pounds and dollars. If you are a worldly girl like me, you might have noticed that the exchange rate on the dollar is not so good these days. Well, that's good for me, because I get a lot more Francs than I ever got dollars. I have been too lazy to actually make a transfer of funds but I needed to do all my Christmas shopping at home still. So I hit the ATM very very hard to get my dollars needed for 2 weeks of partying and shopping. I got 800 dollars (we got paid a week early for Christmas, isn't that nice??). Except they only come out in 20s....oops. If anyone sees my wallet, they are going to either rob me or turn me into the poliezi!!

I landed in Zurich and used my lunch voucher. I calculated that my lunch was 23CHF (15CHF pizza plus 5 CHF salad plus 3chf coca light) so I was preparing to pay more. Instead, the woman at the counter asked me if I wanted a free Tobelerone. Um, what?? OK!!! Maybe my little friend back in Geneva made some calls for me.

I read about 200 pages in my book and did a little shopping and now I am at a weird internet cafe. The first computer ate 5 francs and shut off after 3 minutes, which is total crap. This one seems ok.

NOW, let's talk about airports. And the Europeans that are in them. And why I don't understand.

1) MOVING QUICKLY. No one over here understands the concept of moving quickly. I mean WALKING. I was running through the airport to make it to my flight, literally running and I get behind Shuffling Sham and Sharon and cannot get around them. MOVE people! Or don't take up so much room! I don't even understand how you can even move that slow. Then, I was running through the security line (still behind Sham and Sharon) which was thank god empty except for me and them and they would NOT move to a belt or take their bags to go somewhere or anything. They both just stood there in my way, turning around in a daze and not attempting to move through the line. The kicker is I knew that they were on a flight to Helsinki which also left at 1020, same as mine (it is now 1005). Are you high?? (actually, I did mutter this under my breath, because I saw NO WAY that any person whose plane was about to leave would act like that, unless they were high)

2) QUEUEING. Be proud to know how to wait in line, my fellow Americans. We may grumble and crowd but we are NO cutters. It must be because we are raised so well - "No cuts no buts no coconuts" and taunts of "she CUUuuuuuuUUUUUt!!!" from a young age. I first learned about this phenomenon when I was in India in 2006. However I figured there are a billion people in the country and they are probably used to having to fight crowds everywhere and it is just natural. So, you would imagine my surprise in orderly, orderly Switzerland, that there are just as many cutters here!!! And unlike Indian cutters, Euro cutters are RUDE and think it is their birthright to cut you. I got in the back of a super long line to check in at the airport and this entire family suddenly pulls up next to me trying to get in front of me. I shot the woman a totally dirty look and she ignored me, but she had to answer her phone or something so I reclaimed my proper place in line. heheheh. But later while I was checking my phone, I was cut again by some ipod wearing jerk who ignored my cold stares. Why do you think it is ok to cut?!! I saw it happen at least 10 times. Forget, incidentally, about skiing or getting a drink at a bar, those places are 100 times worse than the airport. But checking in at the airport is generally such a miserable experience that it would really be doing humanity a favor if these people would learn not to cut!

Well. I'm down to about a minute here so I'll post this bad boy and go. Its now 230. And they don't sell english books here. Off to make some fun for myself in the Zurich airport and hopefully hopefully see some of you soon!

And of course gentle readers, Happiest of Holidays and New Years to you. Looking forward to more adventures in 2008!! Aufwiedersein Au Revoir and goodbye!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

More Happiness!

Another post about les animaux. I have included some kitty photos below! I am sure some people think I am weird because I get so obsessed with animals. I am sorry, but when you study ALL day and two little furballs sleep at your feet to keep you company, or when you close your door to get some sleep and they open it and come nuzzle right next to your face, or when they have a perfectly good bowl of water in the next room but prefer to drink out of YOUR glass...that's cute. I never had pets growing up and after getting Hiccup and Rookie, I learned why people get so obsessed with their animals. They are so loving and generally hilarious. So since I missed out on getting to know pets for the first 25 years of my life, I think that's why I get such a kick out of them now.

Another thing that is great about animals here is they are bilingual. Seriously. I know a lot of people who give commands to their pets in English and French and they LISTEN. A little sad that the canine population of Switzerland probably has a better grasp on a second language than a majority of Americans? Also dogs are welcome everywhere, as I have said before. I have actually never seen an animal misbehave when I am out and about so I guess it works. I don't know if I would take my dog to IKEA but in Switzerland it is your prerogative to do so.

Here are some pictures of Pat and Fleur, my weekend guests. Thanks to Karen for letting me see them when they were babies, and to Geoff and Severine, to whom these little guys actually belong to!

To be honest I'm not 100% positive this is them...but I think so. There were 4 and 2 were all grey (the girls) and both boys had a little white face. This is from when they were born in May. Pat has the white face.

I love this picture! C'est trop chou!!

Here's Justin with Pat at the end of July when we went to watch them. Check out how fuzzy he is (Pat, not Justin).

Ok then I took a few more funny ones this weekend...generally all in various stages of napping or waking up.


Pat feels the same way I do about reading Circular 230


Oh Tennanbaum oh Tennanbaum...

What the heck is a "tennanbaum?" My sister and I sing O Christmas Tree this way when we like to be "jerky" as my mom would say.

I got a "tennenbaum" this year and it is so cute. See my photos. It's real too! And amazingly only 22CHF. Cheaper than most lunches in Switzerland. I got an even smaller one for my office that was 16CHF.

I LOVE Christmas. I love the lights, the smells, the cheesy songs, the horrble sweaters, the ridiculous office parties getting slaughtered off the holiday nog. Switzerland as you might suspect, is somewhat low-key when it comes to Christmas. There are no tacky light displays. Stores are NOT open any later (I find this shocking). There are no sales. And I can't say I have learned any Swiss or French Christmas songs, although I am sure they exist. I organized a Secret Santa for my office and people had no clue what I was talking about. I explained it and you would have thought that I invented something novel and clever like Clocky. (I highly recommend this as a Christmas gift!) And when we started selecting names, the first person immediately blurted out who they chose. SECRET! I explained. The word is the same in French so I was really confused why this message didn't get through. Anyway.
Two things here that I have noticed which I find funny -

Santa apparently uses the window and not the chimney. A lot of people have little Santas climbing "ladders" up through their windows outside their apartments. I suppose the Swiss are too rational to think that someone could ACTUALLY get down a chimney and naturally you would have to use the window. I will try to take a picture of this if I see it.

The chocolate section of the grocery store multiplies like 10000 times. And it is out of control with the variety and fancy boxes and this and that. This is one part of Swiss Christmas that is American commercialism at its best. Major displays everywhere. It is the gaudiest flashiest part of Christmas over here that I can think of. Imagine it as normally the chocolate display is one plain small charlie-brown esque fir tree. And at this time of year its the tree in Daley Plaza. That should give you an idea of the proportions we are talking about!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Happiness is Pets

That's the name of a store on Ashland in Chicago, and I have to agree. There are certain things I have found when living by yourself in a foreign country that become automatic for you. For example:

1) People always assume that you don't have a very active social life and you become the designated friend. Dinner invitations, nights drinking after work, trips in town or out of town - you get invited to pretty much everything. And it has definitely been to my advantage to accept about as many of these as I possibly can because then suddenly it does fill up your social calendar!

2) People assume that you don't like cooking "for one" and always give you leftovers or other treats. You get sent home with things after parties. Most people I know are only 2 at home anyway so if they make a big meal, somehow leftovers will appear for me at the office the next day. I cannot tell you how many free lunches I have had (I know there is no such thing, but you get the idea), cookies, chocolate, etc. It doesn't hurt that I'm not a picky eater eiher. Only a gift of olives would be returned.

3) And finally, if you are an animal lover like me, you become the resident pet sitter for your office. I wrote previously about my time with the famous Java. I have watched him since then without incident (thank God) and will likely watch him a few more times. But what is great about this is you basically get the experience of having your own pet without the responsibility of having to deal with it all the time.

Also I have done a lot of cat sitting. As much as I wanted to bring Hiccup and Rookie to Switzerland, it would not have been a good idea, and I think they are much happier with my mom. Anyway, earlier this year in May, my friend's cat had kittens. Two of them went to a girl in my office and the other two went to a guy I work with as well, Geoff. Geoff used to live only about 2 blocks from me and had to go out of town a few weekends this summer, so I was called upon to watch Pat and Fleur (brother and sister). The best part about watching these guys is that I met them when they were teeeeeeny - I could hold both of them in my one hand. Ever since they have gotten bigger and more rambunctious and crazy. But they are so sweet that it's hard to get mad at them. They pretty much like to follow you wherever you go and lick your toes and snuggle you. And they trashed a lot of things at Geoff's apartment, but that is the beauty of just having to go watch them at someone else's place!

Anyway, Geoff just left for holiday and needed a catsitter for one week before another friend could take them. So now they are with me. At this moment, picture me sitting and typing in this blog...Pat is laying SPRAWLED out across me, with his head on my one arm, curled up toward my chest, sleeping, with his one leg perched up on top of my other arm, obviously ignoring the fact that I am typing about him. I mean so freaking cute. My cats NEVER do that and I think they must have had a rough childhood before we got them because they are so absolutely spoiled that would be the only possible explanation.

Oh one other thing. Pat can open doors. He leaps up one meter in the air and brings the door handle down with him. So you can imagine that I didn't get much sleep last night. I did get quite a few nuzzles though.

For now I am off to the store to get some study treats because I have another exam on Tues. But me (and Pat and Fleur) will update you on our weekend adventures.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Amer? I Can!

Ok, after that sap of a post I just did, here is a fun one I have been meaning to post for a while.

There's not much that Switzerland doesn't have that America does. There's not many things that I miss. After my first 6 months, I would say that the things I missed the most (food wise) were: buffalo wings (still stings this one), Miller Lite, Gatorade, egg and bagel sandwiches, saltines. I think some of you probably noticed a theme there...anyway, you also start missing things that you didn't obsess about, but now that you can't have them, you do. Like Doritos. Or books in English. Take out thai food for less than 10 bucks. You get the picture.

And THEN you find some of these things here in Switzerland. Not only do you find them but they are branded differently. I can't really explain it. First, you are happy to find something that is like home. And second, you laugh because it's an American thing dressed it up in a really stupid Eurotrash Halloween costume.

So last week randomly, I found peanut butter. I do kind of miss it, but not that much. But it was exciting. When I got it home, I took a closer look at the label:

So they have "Nick's" peanut butter here, at least in the local market. And I'm not sure if you can tell, probably not, but apparently as you can see on the center label, tough guys riding motorcycles are the demographic most commonly associated with peanut butter. You will see that it is also called "the Easy Rider."

And in exhibit 2, we learn that peanut butter is an integral part of "The American Way of Life." Not just for school age children. For easy riders like Nick too.

I doubled checked the back label and this peanut butter was legitimately imported from the U.S. So Switzerland can power their country without using fossil fuels, but they don't know how to make peanut butter. Interesting....

Ok, well you may like that, but the best one so far I have found was when Abby was here. I won't even introduce it because the picture is enough. Those of you familiar with this blue bag will know my little buddies below by a different name. But I will say that we were hysterically laughing at the store and of course had to buy them. Interestingly enough we found these at the train station grocery which I would assume had worse selection than the actual grocery. Apparently not. A-MAZING! I think that we should start calling them this too!!

I will keep you all posted on more of these fun "Amer-I-can" objects that I encounter in my travels. I will say that I have found "The Laughing Cow" cheese, better known here as La Vache Qui Rit, in Portugal, France and Norway, and that little laughing cow speaks a LOT of languages!


I know it has been a long time since my last post and I apologize. During that time I was very busy working and stuying and frankly, tired and not in a mood to blog when I was done. I was also home for Thanksgiving (more on those observations in a futue post). And I celebrated my one year anniversary of living abroad! Happy Anniversary to meeeeeee. Briefly - my top 5 highs and lows from the past year:

Lows - in no particular order (boo)
1) When I went to a work party last Feb and could not understand a word of French and went home and cried
2) One day in April when I had a really bad day at work and then promptly lost CHF 300 in the casino and went home and cried
3) The day after Justin left in Sept and I went home and saw a glass he had used the day before and cried
4) January last year in the office when I got a bucketload of work dumped on me (promised to never happen again...we will find out in 4 weeks)
5) Hearing them sing take me out to the ballgame at a Cubs game on tv...I teared up

1) Going to the top of Mt. Pilatus with Aimee and Chris
2) Hiking in First, Switzerland with Justin (and Aimee and Chris, seperately)
3) Snowboarding in Zermatt
4) The first time I ordered delivery in French
5) Martini and Rib (and singalong) night at Dave and Lisa's

Ok, well, I wrote this list in about 5 minutes. And it took me about 4 minutes to come up with the lows and 1 to come up with the highs, and I have so many more of those highs I could list. Actually the intent was not really to say that I have sooo many more highs than lows, because believe me honey, it don't feel like that all the time. It's pretty easy to get caught up in the lows and concentrate on that - same as in your normal daily life. I mean isn't it so much easier to get annoyed with some stupid idiot who sent you an e-mail than it is to get jazzed up about a nice e-mail a friend sent you a few days ago? Or more easy to get annoyed about having to stay late at work for a week than to remember the day you skipped to snuggle with your boyfriend. But I guess I do have more highs than lows, which is good!

So anyway, I guess my point is that this past year, while at times it has been super hard, and I have complained a LOT and cried to my mom, to Justin, by myself, to guys I work with that weirded them has also been as well one of the most rewarding years of my life. Being all on my own can be hard, but at the same time, all the failures and successes are pretty much entirely mine, which makes them that much harder or sweeter. An interesting year for sure. Which is by all accounts better than an easy boring one.

Well well, I wasn't planning to post about this, but I guess my writer's block is over. My goals (briefly) for the next year:

1) Improve my French where I can talk to all my friends in the office easily
2) Learn to ski
3) Visit Ireland
4) Visit Spain
5) Visit Italian Switzerland
6) Read more books on my balcony (need visitors to help with this!!)
7) Stop leaving my laundry all over my bedroom floor

That's it for now. I am sure I'll come up with more, but I think these are good for the time being.