Grocery Shopping In France

 

I went grocery shopping in France.  It was a little bit different than in Switzerland.  The store was larger than I have become used to.  I confess, I was a bit overwhelmed.  I have gotten to know the Swiss grocery stores, but there were so many crazy French foods that I was overwhelmed trying to make sense of them all.  When I saw the butter… well, I froze.

 
There was a wall of it.  I have never seen that much butter (buerre in French).  Heck, over the course of my existence I have probably not consumed than much butter.  Actually, now that I think about it, Luciano Pavarotti probably never consumed that much butter.
 
 
I counted over 100 different types!  In actuality, I stopped counting at a hundred with more to go (including margarines).  
 
When faced with the seemingly insurmountable task of choosing the correct type of butter, I immediately started laughing at myself and whipped out my phone to surreptitiously take pictures for you. There were so many different types.  Each of the 27 regions of France must have had several of their own. Butter was salted, half salted, soft and types I can’t even remember. 
 
 
 
I ended up just picking one and hoping that our inexperience palates wouldn’t pick out the nuances of the my poor butter choice.  
 
 
 
While shopping, I saw a few familiar faces.
 
 
Your French lesson for the day géant = giant, vert = green.  Yep, it’s your old friend, the jolly green giant.
 
 
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out propre = clean and Mr. Propre is Mr. Clean.  I didn’t end up buying him.  He was more expensive than an organic herb scented cleaner.  Desole Monsieur Propre.*
 
* Desole means sorry.







 

How To Finance Building Roads in the Alps

Every car that drives on Swiss highways must have a sticker (referred to as a vignette) showing that the car has paid the yearly approximately 40 CHF fee.

What if you don’t live in Switzerland? Even better. If you are a foreigner heading south and taking the Swiss roads because they are the fastest, most direct way to your Italian vacation, you’ve got to pony up. If you don’t have one, you have a large fine that must be paid on the spot.

Looking at these photos (I swear I was changing lanes in that one) you can start to get an idea of why roads might be expensive. We aren’t even in the alps yet and you have tunnels, mountains and lakes to contend with.  Please note that even though it regularly thaws and freezes here, there isn’t a pothole in sight!

 

Jailbreak! What? Who? Me?

While we were home over the holidays, we got to see one of our dogs.  He is doing well and clearly loves his new family.  Being sweet, affectionate and very attached, he wants to be near people all the time.  He isn’t, however, the most trustworthy when left unsupervised. When no one around his new home, he gets to stay in the bathroom. He doesn’t seem to mind and willingly trots inside.
 
His new parents painted the bathroom before hosting Thanksgiving.  Since they couldn’t put him in the bathroom with wet paint, they put him in a crate.  He’d never really been crated before.  Let’s just say he wasn’t a fan.  The crate was a plastic one with a metal closure that you have to pinch.  When they returned home, he was bashful… and outside the crate.  He ate through the metal closure to get out!  Jailbreak.  No more cute bandanas, it’s orange jumpsuits for you.  No shoelaces either.
Unfortunately, in busting out, he broke one of his incisors.  The vet said it would continue to get infected and recommended removing it.  He made it out, but it is now down a tooth.  We’re trying to get his new parents to replace it with a gold grill.
 

What The Heck Is A Bidet?

Although we (unfortunately for our visitors who want to take one for a test drive) don’t have a bidet in our apartment here in Switzerland, we had one at our hotel in Prague. It occurred to me that are unfamiliar with bidets and it’s probably about time to for Bidet 101.
Until I came to Europe for the first time, I’d never heard of a bidet.  I saw this perplexing contraption between the toilet and the shower and couldn’t understand why you just wouldn’t use one or the other.
A bidet (pronounced bid-day) is a low-mounted plumbing fixture, similar in size to a toilet, or type of sink intended for washing the bits that rub together when you walk.  In other words, it’s a mini-shower for your undercarriage.

Theories about as to why Americans don’t have or use bidets:

  • They don’t come standard and cost extra money.
  • Saving water and energy (which is expensive here) isn’t as much of a priority for Americans.
  • Americans shower more frequently.
  • We don’t know how to use them.  Wikipedia says that bidet is an old French world for pony and that helps you imagine how you would use one. Without go-go gadget legs, it’s next to impossible.
  • When the Ritz Carlton hotel in New York installed bidets, the puritanical League of Decency immediately compelled their removal.  Perhaps bidets are still morally objectionable?
Now that you know how to use a bidet, it’s time to get creative.  Possible other uses for your hotel room’s bidet include:
  • Baby Bath
  • Storage – It’s useful for storing things, kind of like a medicine cabinet.  You could also store your reading material or extra toilet paper in one.
  • Wet bar – Filled with ice, it makes a great ice bucket.
  • Doggie water bowl

  • Water fountain
  • Vomitoir – It is handy for throwing up in the case of flu or food poisoning.
  • Foot bath – Soak your feet after a long day of walking
  • I’m sure Cosmo Kramer could find another use.  How do you follow up installing a disposer in the shower?  Just imagine what Kramer could do with a bidet…
  • Children’s toy? Fishing Pond?  Barbie bathtub?

Sorry, it appears that some of my suggested uses for a bidet are not permitted.
 

 

Skiing

We’d planned to go skiing over new year’s, but stayed home since we were sick.  The following weekend, we went skiing.  Let’s just say it wasn’t pretty, but it was a heck of a lot of fun.
Four couples piled into two cars and headed off to France.  Since we were surrounded by mountains, we had many choices.  We chose La Clusaz.  La Clusaz is a pretty town with a traditional village feel, skiing for a variety of levels and a lot of runs.  As you can see from the maps, it is not far from Geneva.*
It only took about an hour to get there.  Unfortunately, it took a bit longer when we got into town because everyone had the same idea.
Ski rental is quite reasonable.  Since we went in France, we got to pay in Euros too.   We rendezvoused with the other couples on the mountain and got a quick pic before someone broke something.  Thanks to the Hughes‘ for the picture.  Please note how it was easier for me to twist my body to face the camera than turn around and go the right way.

We have skied before, it’s just been awhile.  A long while.  The last time we were on skis was about 15 years ago.  Full disclosure: he’s skied once in the intervening years…in North Carolina (so it doesn’t really count as skiing).
The mountains are a little larger than they are in Michigan and I had to screw up my courage.  I told myself that I’m not going to spend the winters inside and alone because I live in Switzerland and don’t ski.  If I’m going to ski, there has to be a first time and there is no time like the present.
This is how I looked on my first run down the mountain. Thank goodness Wildcat was there encouraging me. She was very kind not to point like Nelson from The Simpsons and do the “ha ha”.
I was so excited to go skiing that I didn’t really notice the length of my skis at the rental place.  I’m not sure if you can tell from the above photo, but my skis were just about as tall as I was.  Oops.  I was going a little too fast for my skill set.  Once I got to the bottom, I exchanged my skis for some smaller (kid sized ones). After that, things went a bit more smoothly and I didn’t fall quite as much (although Wildcat did put up some good wipeout video on the Hughes’).
The great thing about going skiing with a bunch of foodies is that stopping for a wonderful lunch is mandatory. Just in case our 5 million burgers while we were home during the holidays weren’t enough, both of us ordered “le burger.”  Quels américaines!
My legs got a bit tired part of the way through the afternoon.  I’d “wisely” switched my long training run for the week from Saturday to Friday.  Us ladies were embarrassed because our ski apparel wasn’t as fly as the ladies from Hot Tub Time Machine.
The guys did a few more runs and our brave friend did the blacks on snowboard!  We slinked off the slopes to where we could really shine, the ice rink.
If you want to see video, check out the Swiss Watch Blog.  Cinematic genius.  We look better than the Ice Capades!
* Tour de France fans might recognize the names of some of the towns around there.  The tour has hit more than a few of them.

 

A Giant Spider Traveling The World

When I visited Geneva on my apartment hunting trip, I spent an afternoon in Bern, Switzerland. In front of the parliment building, there was a fantastic statute of a giant spider. When we moved to Geneva a month later, the sculpture had moved here!  It made me curious and I wanted to learn more.
The spider gets around; it is better traveled than us. The statute first appeared as part of an exhibition as part of the Tate Modern in London (below).
Since then, it has vacationed in fantastic spots all over the world. Temporary locations include:

Permanent locations of bronze cast replicas include:

Maman has been well received in each place and has become very popular.* It’s easy to see why.  The sculpture photographs well, children love to play around its legs and it’s a hit with art connoisseurs.

 
It was made by French-American sculptor Louise Bourgeois. Before passing away in 2010 at age 98, she was the world’s highest paid living female artist. The sculpture is called “Maman“. The spider’s sac contains 26 marble eggs.  You can see them looking up from underneath the spider.
It’s called “Maman” and is an homage to her mother who worked as a restorer of tapestries in Paris (get it, spiders weave webs, her mom rewove tapestries).
She made a giant spider statue for her mother, so it doesn’t come as a surprise that she had daddy issues. When she was a child, she learned that her tyrannical, sadistic, father was having a long-term affair with her live-in nanny!  Insert Freud jokes here.  She spent her career exorcising these demons.  Much of her work dealt with revenge, feminism, women’s roles and power.
She saw spiders as clever, protective, life-giving and useful.  Others see it/them as both frightening and/or threatening.
*Maman has its own Facebook page with its picture in different locations.
 

Planes, Trains and Automobiles to South Africa

We took several modes of transportation during our journey to South Africa.  We flew Egypt Air to Cairo then on to Johannesburg.

 
On the descent, we saw pyramids silhouetted against Cairo’s lights!  It made us want to go to Egypt. He sat next to someone on the plane who was going to Cairo to retrieve their valuables because they were moving back to Germany.  The gentleman said that the situation was too problematic and unstable to stay.  Hopefully, things will improve over the coming months and years.
When we arrived in Johannesburg and picked up our rental, we were surprised by its size.  He did a wonderful job driving the big rig, but unfortunately, it was not always the easiest to park.
Cabs function as a form of inexpensive mass transit in South Africa.  People use hand signals to indicate their desired destination and vans headed in that direction stop.   Below you can see tons of them at a cab stop on Soweto.

Notice the cabs look exactly like our van.    They constantly break every conceivable traffic law.  We joked that since our big rig looked just like a cab, he could run red lights, cut people off, speed as much as he wanted and no one would think anything of it.   In case you were wondering, he did not take advantage of his apparent ability to break every traffic law known to man with no foreseeable consequences.

We saw people crammed into the giant taxis.  As there isn’t a large mass transit system, they were crammed into every vehicle, including the beds of pickups on the highway.

Our big rig turned out to be a great vehicle on the animal preserve.  I spent a fair amount of time hanging out the open door with my camera gawking at wildlife.
Oh yeah, when you arrive at Geneva’s airport, there are free regular trains to the city.  All trains go from the airport to the main train station!  From there, it’s just an easy tram or bus ride home.

 

What Trendy Ladies Are Wearing Over Here

While I was home, a friend asked me about fashion trends in Europe.  I didn’t have a good answer at the time.  I’ve looked at what ladies are wearing on the Geneva’s streets, thought a bit about it and here’s my best guess:  

Daisy Dukes (or at least shorter jean shorts) over tights. Since I was around when the Dukes of Hazzard originally aired, I will not be wearing them.  We saw a lot of this look in London.

From Accessorizeblog

From Two Firey Fashionistas
From Two Firey Fashionistas

Colored and/or patterned tights
The Maltese Muse Blog

From Fashion Cookie Jar

Also knee high boots worn with visible woolen socks

From Live Originally
From Runway Daily
From Awkwardly Chic
From Airwar

Sometimes, I’ll find myself gazing wistfully at someones cute heels, but you definitely don’t see as much of them.  They are lunch for cobblestones and people tend to walk more here.  In winter, you see cute, comfy boots everywhere.  I think the prevailing style varies from city to city.

From YouLookFab

I loved wearing wellies when I worked in my garden. When I came to visit, it rained so much that I brought a pair. I see a lot of other people wearing them on rainy days.  He hates them, but he can kiss my wellie. My feet are staying dry.  Due to their warmth, you also see a fair number of moon boots.

From Fashionassist
Lady J in her moon boots – She writes from Switzerland at Lady J’s Musings

He’s a much larger fan of the leggings trend.  

From That Petite Girl
From Fashionassist

The skinny jean…still popular.

From Mama’s A Rolling Stone

Just about everyone here wears scarves.  Gents too (The Swiss Watch Blog’s post on man scarves).

From YouLookFab

In addition to the “it” bags, I see a lot of Louis Vitton and Longchamps.

From YouLookFab
These fold up bags are everywhere – From Madmoizelle

One visitor remarked that you don’t see women wearing huge wedding rings as much as you do in the US.  They tend to be smaller and a bit more discreet than Kim Kardashian’s boulder.  Come to think of it, most things are a bit more discreet than Kim Kardashian here.


At least in Geneva, the fashion seems to be lots of black and neutrals.

From YouLookFab

Leather bombers or motorcycle jackets (when its warmer), fur vests and shiny puffy coats are common.  

From Embracing Style
From Golestaneh

He wonders why she’s wearing sandals if she’s cold? – From Silly Messy Chic

Fortunately, I haven’t seen the leggings – From Flights of Fab

I don’t know much of anything about fashion (except for maybe a few tricks to make myself look taller).  To see what one expat has been wearing, check out Lady J in Geneva.

Les Incompetents Vol. 7 – Locked Out!

It was bound to happen sooner or later.  Apartment doors here automatically latch shut when they close.
Right after we moved, I heard a story about a poor lady who was 5 months pregnant getting locked out at 8:00 a.m.  They were so new, she didn’t know her husband’s work phone number and had no money on her.  Luckily, she got some assistance from the American Women’s Club and made it through the day until her husband returned home that evening.
Yesterday, I went for a run.  I walked out of the apartment and shut the door…with my keys still on the table by the door!  I was locked out.
Some people look cute when they work out.  Check out Jessica Biel above.  She definitely looks cute on her runs. I do not. I wasn’t wearing any makeup. I had on running tights with a burgundy dry fit top.  My clashing red sports bra was visible.  My blue gloves and white hat (covering up my greasy hair) didn’t exactly coordinate either.
This is perhaps the only running gear that is worse than what I had on.   Normally, I just don’t care what I look like when I’m running.  Once the door locked, I regretted my apathy because it meant I had to run across town to his work to get the keys.

I showed up at his very busy office building 45 minutes later looking like a hot mess. I was mortified. Compared to me, Snookie is looking good for a workout

Unfortunately, he was in meetings so I had to sit and wait in the lobby while people walked by.  It was worth it though because I was able to get the keys from him.  Once I had them in my hot little hands, I got the heck out of Dodge and ran back home.

 

My First Go ‘Round With Customer Service In French

Every expat in Geneva has laundry horror storiesblogs are full of them.

  • Washers are tiny, and hold about a third of what they do in the US.
  • Sometimes, entire buildings share them with each resident receiving 3 hour slots each week (or every other week) during which they are permitted to use them.
  • Doing laundry at a laundromat is astoundingly expensive (give or tai $5 for a tiny load).
In November, I opened our dryer to find broken glass in with our clothes and a wire hanging down into our dryer.  During the cycle, the bulb had come loose, been tossed around and broken.  I called the repairman who came to fix it.
We bought our dryer when me moved here and it is still under warranty, so I was shocked when I received the significant bill for the repairs.  Nothing gets under my skin like wasting money, so I prepared myself for a giant test of my French skills and called to dispute the bill.
My repairman didn’t have a snazzy uniform like the one above. Ladies, don’t you want to get your man one of those?
I was transferred around from one customer service representative to another.  Finally, I got to speak to someone with some authority.  Their first question was “what did you do, that doesn’t happen.”  They may as well have asked when I stopped beating my wife.  Of course I did something, I used the dryer to dry my clothes.   Try explaining that you didn’t do anything wrong (a) in another language, (b) to someone who doesn’t want to hear it.
Yep, that’s me.  Cheap.  They told me that it wasn’t covered by the warranty because it didn’t render the machine inoperable.  I told them that although, in theory the machine might still have been able to dry clothes, no one will put wet clothes in a place with wires hanging down and turn it on.  Therefore, you can’t operate it and it should be covered.  Seriously, we went around and around on this for about a half an hour.  When I hung up, I burst into tears (probably from suppressed anger as I remained polite and did not use any of my nice collection of French naughty words).

The next day, someone from the company called me. As I hadn’t conceded defeat the previous day, my file landed on their desk.  I went through the whole story once again and…success!!!!  We don’t have to pay.  When I asked them to send me something confirming this, they replied, “this isn’t America, we don’t go around suing people.” 

I only wish I had spoken to them on a hamburger phone…

In the US, this would have been a single item crossed off a “to do” list. Here, this was a huge victory for me. First, I’m super cheap and would rather spend the money on something else.  Secondly, it was hard to figure out a way to tell the story (including describing all the washing machine parts) in French and persuasively explain my side.  I felt like shouting “I made fire” a la Tom Hanks in Castaway.