Why My Appliances Fit in Barbie’s Dream House

Switzerland is one of the smallest, but most densely populated countries in Europe.  It has a population of approximately 7.3 million, with 173 people per square kilometer.  Here, space is at a premium.  In all other European countries, appliances are 60 centimeters wide. Here, they are 55 centimeters wide.  Why?  Space. There is a lack of it.

When we were looking for apartments, I noticed all the elevators were the same (tiny) size. This appears to be a pretty standard size that is just large enough to fit appliances in one at a time.  Our kitchen is packed like the blocks from a game of Tetris, but it all fits. We are lucky to even have appliances like a dishwasher, oven, washing machine and dryer.

They are also smaller than we were used to in the US and only hold about a half to a third of what our washer in the US did.  It also takes a bit longer to wash and dry a load here, clocking in at about 4 hours. The result, we wear things a little more before throwing them in the wash.

By the way, everything seems larger in the US.  Check out the size of the US toilet paper roll compared to the Swiss role.

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Les Soldes! Who Doesn’t Love A Sale?

What are “Les Soldes“?  It translates to “the sales”.  Here in Europe, sales don’t happen like they do in the US.  This is not the land of constant markdowns and bargain shopping.  Twice a year for about a month (in August and January), they sell off the previous season’s merchandise at a discount.  In France, the dates are set by the government!

At first, they start with 20-30%.  After a couple of weeks, they mark things down to a second reduction of 50% off.     If you get really lucky, they will mark things down to a final reduction of 70% off.  Even though “never pay retail” should be tattooed on me somewhere, I haven’t gone buck nutty.  I still think you can buy things less expensively in the US.  Knowing there is a better deal out there somewhere takes all the fun out of it.

Les Soldes are practically a national sport around here.  People will scout things out ahead of time, stalk the remaining garmets in the store and play the waiting game to get the best deal.

Some stores splash the discounts all over their storefronts.

Others (like Valentino) are a bit more discreet.

I didn’t even see any markdowns at Gucci.

By the way, the crazy storefront had this in the window for him.  Unfortunately it hasn’t gone on sale yet.

If you are planning on doing some shopping, EuroCheapo and Europe Up Close have some good ideas for tackling the sales.

Baby, Baby, Baby, Oh

Our friends are having a baby so a bunch of us got together for a baby shower.

Baby showers in Europe are not like in the US in that, well, they don’t have them. People may send or give a gift after the baby is born, but don’t get together to celebrate of give presents before the baby.  Since you can’t go to the stores here and purchase baby shower invitations, I made the invitations.

It was a couples shower so we focused less on games, decorations and incredible cuteness.  Instead, we had food and drinks.  I made and individually wrapped Rice Krispie Treats for favors.  Some of our European guests had never tasted them before.  We were proud to introduce them to a new guilty pleasure.

Since we are American and can only adapt so much, we had one anyway.  In deference to the multicultural nature of this shower, we did not play any of the following games:

  • Guessing the circumference of the expectant mother’s tummy
  • Smearing melted candy bars in diapers and have people sniff to guess the brand
  • Tasting jars of baby food to guess the flavors
  • Collecting baby pictures of guests, putting them in a slide show and have guests guess whose picture it is
  • Making guess drink from baby bottles. Yes, I realize this is technically not a game.  They may have drunk from other types of bottles.
  • Have guests guess how much an assortment of baby supplies costs.  In Switzerland, I think this would only scare the parents to be…and everyone else.

In fact, we didn’t play any games (unless you count the impromptu Chartreuse tasting as a game).

The parents-to-be opened presents, many of which had an adorable Swiss theme.

Congratulations and best wishes guys.  We can’t wait to meet her.

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.

 

2011 By The Numbers

999      A conservative estimate on the number of times we have been lost (or at least taken wrong turns).

998      Pots of yummy, Swiss yogurt eaten.  I know that this number is a bit low.  We found the world’s best cottage cheese a couple of months in.  It definitely hurt our yogurt consumption.  We will try to do better next year.

45        The number of dollars paid in speeding tickets.  Astoundingly, we have gotten fewer tickets than anyone we know.  We were “lucky” enough to get ours in France so we paid it in Euros, much cheaper than tickets in CHF‘s.

40        Number (more or less) of cute pairs of heels in my closet here that have gone unworn due to large amounts of walking and heel eating cobblestones.   What has happened to me?

30        Roughly, the number of times I have been honked at while driving.  This works out to more or less one honk per drive.  Not too shabby.

17        Number of languages we can watch tv  in.  They are: French, German, Italian, English, Spanish, Catalan, Galician, Portuguese, Turkish, Serbian, Bosnian, Albanian, Arabic, Dutch, Russian, Mandarin and Thai.  Unfortunately, we can only understand 1 or  2 of these.

15       The approximate number of emails he receives when I post pictures of him in      “fashionable” attire.  I get calls saying “what did you post about me because my email is blowing up”.

13       British TV Shows viewed (don’t judge): Top GearGrand DesignsWallace and GromitSnog Marry AvoidTake Me OutHow Clean Is Your House (it is extremely motivational to put on while cleaning), Horrible HistoriesGok’s Fashion Fix/Gok’s Clothes RoadshowSherlock (fantastic, a must see), Doctor WhoJamie’s Great BritianTime TeamHistory of Ancient Britain (History of Britain is better).  We did not watch the royal wedding even though there is still excessive coverage of it on British TV.

12        Countries Visited: DenmarkSwedenSpainFranceEngland, Scotland  (him), Germany (him), Belgium (me), Switzerland, South Africa, Egypt, and the United States.

11        The number of hours our jet lagged, germ filled bodies slept upon returning to Switzerland (this was followed by several lengthy naps and another long night’s sleep).

10        Tours (KarlsburgBurgundyCheese FactoryCailler Chocolate Factory,  Underground LakeTour of LondonToledo, Cullian Diamond Mine, Nelson Mandela’s Home, Soweto, unsure if safari’s count as an official tour.

9         “Exotic” foods we have eaten: bugs (South Africa), pigeon (England), crocodile (South Africa), horse (at home purchased from the local grocery store), gelatinized foie gras (France – definitely worse than the bugs), ostrich (South Africa), snails (France, bien sur), wild boar (Switzerland), quail (Spain) and duck (France).

8          The number of times he has taken the wrong train, tram or bus to and/or home from work.

7          The approximate number of times I grocery shop in a week (this includes visits to the Patisserie to buy bread).  Before our move, I prided myself on being able to get by for almost two weeks on one shopping trip.  Now that I carry everything home (and therefore buy less at a time), look for sales all over and try to buy the freshest, I have septupled my trips. Craziness.

6(ish)   Fantastic, Unforgettable, Once in A Lifetime Hikes in Switzerland: Gruyeres Cheesemaker’s Path, La Salevethe MatterhornJungfrauLavaux, many around Geneva.

5         Meals eaten out at Geneva restaurants since we moved (due to their high cost and our unwillingness to bankrupt ourselves).

4          The number of snow tires that are currently on our car (also the number of regular tires currently in storage).  Anyone ever heard of all season tires?

3          Family members who have visited; also the number of times the washing machine repairman has visited our miniscule washer.

2          Dogs given away (and are very happy with their new families)

1          Bridge jumpaerobed destroyed, and container shipped to Switzerland.




 

Some Of The Things We Learned This Year

Sorry for the poor posting lately.  We went home to the US for a bit.  Between irregular internet access and cute nieces/nephews, I didn’t update as planned.  Now, we are at home and are both sick.   Our germy, jet-lagged heinies are planted on each couch and drinking tea.

This past year has been filled with changes.  Here are some of the things we have learned:

  • Certain actors become much more bearable when dubbed in other languages.  Although I generally avoid watching David Hasselhoff like the plague, I enjoyed watching Knight Rider dubbed Spanish.
  • Seeing other ways people live has helped us to better understand American culture and how we are products of it.
  • Shockingly, not everyone is as loud and expansive as we Americans are.  When we were in the US, we were a bit overwhelmed by the size of stores, malls and parking lots.  I guess it is a sign we are adapting.
  • What my dad said is true, only boring people are bored.
  • He was always a good packer, but I have learned how to be a much better one.  I can now make it a week with only a backpack!
  • There are all kinds of different ways of communicating.   As Americans, we tend to be more direct, linear and explicit.  Others are more indirect, circular and/or implicit (putting responsibility for understanding on the listener).    People aren’t going to change for you, so you’d better learn how they express themselves so you can understand what is being communicated.
  • If someone does a bad job cutting your hair.  Do not let them be the one to fix it.  Trust me on this one.  If you expressed dissatisfaction with their work, they may bear a grudge.  If they bear a grudge, you don’t want them with scissors anywhere near your hair.
  • Try not to complain.  Regardless of whatever pickle you may be in or frustration you may have, there is always someone who has bigger problems.   What seems like a big deal at the time usually isn’t a bit down the road and you will feel like an idiot if you’ve made too big a deal about something small.
  • You can’t treat your partner too well (especially if they are one of the only people you know on the continent).
  • It makes you feel a lot better when you understand why people do things so differently.  Getting yelled at for crossing the street the wrong way becomes a whole lot easier when you understand where they are coming from.
  • My photos are improving.  Despite regular practice (due to Geneva‘s high cost of living) my cooking has not.  On side note, the war with my oven continues with no end in sight.
  • We are still working on perfect mastery of conversions, but we’ve definitely learned some conversions (metric, Celsius, currency, etc.).
  • Lots of times, we call things learning experiences because there isn’t anything more positive we can say about them.   Change is difficult and stressful, but it is also a huge opportunity to learn and grow.  Plus, change is inevitable.  You may as well learn all you can and try to enjoy yourself along the way.

 


How Fast Do You Think He Went Through This?

He is famous for his love of egg nog.  In the US, he could plow a half-gallon of it in a day. As each of these Borden containers was about $10 at the American store, I told him he needed to make them last.  They made it 4, almost 5, days.

 

This Little Piggy Went To Market

Twice a week, we have a market in our neighborhood.  When the Sweetest Girl in the World and my niece came to visit, we went.
They have wide variety of fruits and vegetables, many of which are locally grown.   Somehow, I doubt these Pineapples are locally grown.
I absolutely had to buy my niece a chocolate croissant.  It’s hard to say no to someone so cute.
I could easily do some major damage to this cheese vendor’s cart and my pocketbook if I let myself go.  Check out the variety.  Most of them are from Switzerland, Italy or the nearby Savoy region of France.  We used goat cheese when we made crepes.  Mmmmmm…
We spent a relaxing morning wandering around the market, oohing and aahing over the wonderful food.

Wild truffles!  I wish that I were rich enough to afford and a good enough cook to get the truffles.
Dried fruits, nuts, olives, beans, peppers, spices, vegetables, many types of mushrooms….
Check out all the different types of greens above.  There were more, but I couldn’t fit them all in the shot.  She bought some homemade soaps as souvenirs.
The first time we went to this market, I had major sticker shock.  A rotisserie chicken, which would be between $5-10 at home was 20 CHF ($22-25 depending on the exchange rate).