Thursday, April 23, 2009

Survey Says

And now it's time for a little survey here at Six Hours Ahead:

Choose your answer before reading on.

Did you answer? Huh? Did you?

We were warned by people and guidebooks that the Swiss would be cold, aloof and perhaps even unhelpful. Our experience has been anything but that. In fact, my experience has been that these are the nicest, friendliest, most gracious people I have ever met. Even the teenagers will stand to give you a seat on the tram.

Everyone has been amazing. Yet, there does seem to be a little bit of racism running amok.

Example 1:

Health Insurance Guy: If you take this cheap insurance, your wife could end up sharing a hospital room with a Turkish woman!

Jason: Blank look.

Health Insurance Guy: Turkish!!!!

Now, truth be told, I don't want to share a hospital room with a Turkish woman. I don't want to share a hospital room with an American woman either. I did that in Doylestown and it was the closest I've ever come to murdering someone. I am glad we moved because I was afraid that Daniel and her daughter would end up in the same school class and I would have to deal with her again. She was so obnoxious and rude and screechy that I could hardly stand it.

So, no, I don't want to share a room with anyone. But if I do, Turkish is probably preferable to my previous roommate.

Example two:

Jason to Relocation Woman: What about Pratteln? Is that a nice area? (We asked because there is an LDS congregation out there.)

Relocation woman: Oh no, you don't want to live there. That's where the foreigners live.

Suzanne and Jason: (quite puzzled.)

Jason: But we're foreigners.

Relocation woman: No. For-eign-ers.

So, we get it. We're the right type of foreigners because we're white and have money. Pratteln has the wrong kind of foreigners, apparently. Probably Turkish. (But Turkish food, yum.) Plus, the Ikea is out there, so it's an attractive place for us.

Here's a little political advertisement:

The text means "For Our Security." Notice the sheep colors.

But it's not just about skin color. It's about ethnicity, apparently. Here's another political ad:

The birds are black, but this is apparently about allowing Bulgarians and Romanians to work in Switzerland.

Interesting, is what I have to say.

But, as I've said, everyone has been beyond nice to us. But I still don't want to share a hospital room with any of them.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Stroller Rage

I have never used a stroller more in my life. After doing research and talking with Bonnie about stroller usage in NYC, I bought a Maclaren triumph. It's a high quality umbrella stroller, with a basket underneath. It's compact, lightweight and easy to use. The basket is a bit small, but what do you expect for an umbrella stroller?

I, clearly, should have waited until I got here to buy a stroller, because apparently the proper thing to do is buy a stroller roughly the size of a Chevy Suburban. Then place your little darling in a sweater, coat, and hat (make sure the ears are covered!), then cover the baby in a sheepskin covering (or better yet, just place a live lamb on her lap), and head off. Never mind the fact that you, yourself, are wearing a short sleeve t-shirt and it's 22 degrees out. (I don't know what that means either.) Your baby must be freezing!

It's probably all that extra space in her ginormous stroller. Maybe there are airconditioners built in. That would make sense.

These strollers are so obnoxious, I don't know why you would feel the need for one. I guess they are expensive, so therefore, cool.

And another note. On all but the super new trams, there is only one car where strollers and wheelchairs can go. The other cars all have stairs. So, if you have trouble walking, it also makes sense for you to be in this car.

But, if you are healthy, it makes no sense at all to be in the one spot where people with limitations can go. I mean, are we so lazy that we can't step up two stairs? I've seen cars practically empty, but the handicapped car (where we are because of the stroller) is packed with people. Why? Why would you want to be there? I don't understand it.

And don't tell me that all these people have non-obvious problems that make negotiating two stairs difficult. I don't buy it for one second.

School Starts

Yesterday was Sarah's first day of school. We still don't have a car, so on the tram we went.

Sarah's school is quite close, as the crow flies (or even as the car drives), but there's no direct way to get there from our house via public transportation. We have to ride Tram 10 in towards the city--to Dreispitz (which makes me wonder, isn't all spitz wet?) and then get on Tram 11 to go to her school. It's about 30 minutes of tram time.

We left the house at 7:25 and went to the tram. We, of course, just missed the 7:29 tram and had to wait until the 7:39 tram, which started making me nervous. I mean, who wants to be late on your first day of school, especially in Switzerland.

We got on with a bunch of kids on scooters. Sarah was relieved to see that they had backpacks, as she was afraid that backpacks weren't the in thing in Switzerland.

Our transfer worked perfectly--our next tram was one minute after we got off the first tram. The only problem was that we need to get into the second car, because of Daniel's stroller. Fighting your way through a crowd, with a stroller is a bit nerve-wracking.

We had a brief orientation, and then headed to meet Sarah's teacher. Her name is Miss Sara, so that was a bonus. There is a full time aide in the class room as well, so that's great. They teach cursive lower case letters here. The teacher explained that it was beneficial to students with dyslexia because all the letters start in the same spot. I decided to smile and nod, since I know nothing about dyslexia and you can be sure I know nothing about handwritting.

They have coffee for the parents (read: mothers) on Monday mornings. Daniel and I were going to go home, but the mother of another new student asked me to come with her, so I did.

I met a woman from Bluebell, PA, which is about 20 minutes from Doylestown. Her husband also works for Novartis and she used to work for Merck. Small world. We talked about how neither of us wants to move to NJ when we leave Switzerland.

Sarah got three recesses, which is fabulous, and she thoroughly enjoyed lunch. "I had Thai food mom!" she said enthusiastically. She declared it delicious except for the raisins in the food. "Don't they know raisins are a snack food?" I thought it was an excellent question. Raisins should be thrown away, as they are nothing more than shriveled up grapes, but I digress.

This morning things were a little shakier. We didn't get up on time, so we had to rush. But, wonder of wonders, we got the NEW tram. There are a couple new high tech trams with television monitors that tell you what stop you are at, and where you can bring a stroller into any car. Sarah lives for these, so she was thrilled to get it.

She had a little bit of a clingy time getting into school, but I deposited her with her teacher and we headed home.

The trip home was much better, as the trams weren't crowded. Daniel made up for the lack of crowds by pooping. Yeah, pooping. Let's just say that the few people in our car definitely knew Daniel was there.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Please stay in this country

Sunday afteroon we rode the tram by our house (beloved Tram 10) all the way to it's other end, in Flüh. This is right on the French border. There were beautiful walking and riding trails, so we went for a walk.

Sarah loved the dandelion fields and she collected a huge bouquet, but then she got angry and threw it away. We're still operating on not a lot of sleep around here.

Note the pollen on Jason's pants. Lots of dandelions.

The path we took back had stone markers. One side said S for Switzerland and the other said F for France. Yes, we were strolling along the border. (This time, no guards with guns, thankfully.)

Sarah kept jumping over to France. How often do you say to your child, "Get back in this country right now!" and "Don't go to France without permission."

At one point, I pushed Daniel's stroller over the border, while staying in Switzerland myself, so we could say we sent the children to France without us.

I know, we're not as funny as we think we are. But, dang it, I thought it was funny, and it's my blog. So laugh.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

I need to lower my hovering skills

There is a strange park next to Jason's office. It is fenced in and only open at certain times. What times those are, we're not quite sure, but it was open yesterday, so we went.

We had gone to Jason's office so that I could sign mortgage papers, accepting an offer on our house. (A terrible offer, with lots of contingencies, but an offer nonetheless. Better than no offers.) Jason took the baby with him to go scan it and e-mail it back and Sarah and I went into the park.

There was a tree house building section. Trees, boards, nails (rusty!) and hammers. Build your own tree house, kids. Then there was a zip line, which stopped you by ramming you into an old tire, and hopefully you didn't break your head. Sarah played on rope swings that started you four feet off the ground. (You pulled them up to a jumping off point if you didn't have a mother to lift you up.)

In short, it was the most dangerous playground I have ever seen.

And I was the only mother.

Sure, from time to time another parent would come in, call their child's name and their kid would trot off. But, I was the only hoverer.

It struck me that this park would never be built in America. The lawyers wouldn't allow it. I mean, "here kid, build your own tree house!" in a public park? No. A zip line without safety equipment and monitors? Never! (Sarah rode it twice and loved it.)

And let's just say, to humor me, that it was built. There would be mothers everywhere. "Watch your step, honey!" and "Pound that nail carefully, darling." Aiyee! So very different.

Sarah loved it. Loved it. She wants to go back next time it is open. I think we'll go, as we now have our Swiss health insurance. Plus, her tetnus shots are up to date.

Jason asks a stupid question

We walked from Jason's office to Germany yesterday. (Two days ago, we walked from there to France. We are truly international travelers!) It was a bit chilly and we were all starving and our destination was farther than we had originally thought, so when we got to the mall, we were crabby.

We headed straight for the food court, at which point Jason announces he needs to go to the bathroom and leaves me with the two children and a few Euros to procure dinner. Sarah spots a McDonalds.

I get to the counter and say in my best German, "Ein Happy Meal mit cheeseburger." The man behind the counter says, "With fries and a coke?" Shockingly, he has figured out that I am English speaking. Sarah gets her happy meal (fries and Sprite and mayonnaise on the side).

Then Jason reappears and takes the children to a table while I go order our food. There was a Greek or perhaps Turkish restaurant that was serving pita bread with meat and yogurt sauce and such.

Again, I look at the picture menu (thankfully!) above the workers' heads and order in my best German. The man looks at me blankly. Since he's probably Greek (or Turkish, hard to tell), he may easily identify me as English speaking but he does not speak English. He points. I say, "yes." He points again. I'm confused. He puts together an order. He asks a question. I say, "Ja!" No idea what he asked, but he starts putting things on my sandwich, so I guess he was asking if I wanted everything on it.

He makes two things up, which somewhat resemble what I thought I ordered, but had some definite differences. Then he puts it into a bag and hands it to me. I take it to the cashier who asks, I presume, what I had in the bag. Oh dear. I have food. I try to tell her what I'd ordered (which may or may not have any relation to what is actually in the bag). She asks another question. I shrug. She rings me up for some amount and I hand her money and she hands me change and I leave.

I make it to the table and Jason, noticing the bag, says, "Why did you get it to go?"

"Because," I said, "I don't speak German."

For the wrong order, it was very delicious.

Friday, April 17, 2009


There are two main stores here, Migros and Coop. Migros has a "budget" brand that is (we understand) generally good quality. It's also quite a bit cheaper than name brand. There is no picture of the product on the wrapper, and the wrapper is opaque, so you have to make a judgement based on the written description.

This would not be a problem if we spoke German. Or French. Or even Italian. But, we don't.

So, we bought what we thought was crackers. They were next to the crackers. We took them home and got out some cheese to put on our crackers. We opened the package and disocovered--vanilla sandwich cookies with chocolate filling.

So now when Sarah asked for an "Unhealthy treat" she asks for either "the cookies we bought on purpose" or the "cookies we didn't mean to buy."


Things that are different

  • Exit doors open in, not out. This does not bode well in case of a fire and panicked exit. Of course, the Swiss would probably just line up.
  • Grocery carts go forward and backwards, just like in the States. But, they also go sideways. Seriously. Sideways.
  • If you want to cross the street, just stand there and look like you want to cross and no matter how much traffic there is, all the cars will come to a halt. I always feel embarassed by this. Really, keep driving. I'll wait.
  • It takes 1 hour and 40 minutes for my washing machine to run. My very small washing machine. Thankfully, I have my own. I don't know how I'd manage a shared one.
  • Church bells ring regularly. It sounds just like the marriage scene in the Sound of Music.
  • Totillas are 5.40CHF for 8
  • Grocery stores close at 6:00, or 8:00 on Friday and 4:00 on Saturday. They aren't open on Sunday. All stores follow these rules unless they are close to a train station (train, not tram) or are a gas station. Stores can be open on Sunday if they are independantly owned and only family members work there.
  • As Sarah keeps pointing out, everybody speaks German.
  • People assume that there will be people walking in the streets. This is nice for us walkers.
  • I now worry about letting Sarah watch French television. Will this inhibit her German acquisition?
  • You can't buy boxes of baking powder. Only two tsp sized packages.
  • Bottled vanilla is non-existent as well. You can get vanilla sugar, or vanilla beans.
  • Corn chips? Ha! If you find them, it's 7CHF for a small, small bag.

Monday, April 13, 2009

And So We Cause an International Incident

After Church we went for a drive. We headed into the French speaking portion of Switzerland. We saw a beautiful field of daffodils and a cow getting a massage. (Seriously. It was this big rotating brush thing and the cow stood under it. If we were cows, we'd want to be Swiss cows.)

We were very close to France, so we decided to go home through France. We had our passports, so everything should have been fine.

Except it wasn't.

We got to the border and presented our passports. The border guards only spoke French. Fortunately, Jason's high school French really paid off and he was able to communicate clearly with them. (Or at least, clearly enough that we didn't end up in jail.)

The children and I have not yet been to the Munchenstein police station to register. The border guards told us that if we left Switzerland we would not be allowed back in. It was all very confusing. Becuase we have a visas, we are under different rules then we would be otherwise. You don't need a visa to enter Switzerland, but if you have one, you have to register.

Jason was discussing this in French and the guards took our passports and disappeared into the building. When they came back, they mentioned that Jason worked for Novartis, so they must have looked us up in their computer and discovered things about us.

They asked to see Jason's driver's license, and that's when we discovered that he had forgotten his wallet. We got a little nervous at this point. Nothing like conversing in a foreign language with an armed man who has the power to put you in jail for attempting to illegally leave the country. Yeah! Welcome to Europe!

Fortunately, they let us turn around and we went back home through Switzerland.

Sunday Activities

We attended our first church meetings in Switzerland. We arrived about 3 minutes early, which is excellent because the Swiss do not operate on Mormon Standard Time. (Although one of the speakers did come in late.)

A missionary from Taylorsville, UT translated for us. He was very nice.

The speakers (theoretically, as the missionary could have been saying anything he wanted to) all gave very nice talks about Easter and how to be more Christlike.

For Primary, they provided Sarah with several translators. One reported to me that Sarah was answering questions, just like we knew she would. She met a girl named Piera who speaks very good English. She also met another girl, whose name she doesn't remember, who speaks English.

Almost all of the adults speak English, and the people couldn't have been any nicer. Everybody was so kind and friendly and helpful.

But, here's the spooky part. When I took Daniel out of Sunday School to feed him, no one was in the hall. And there is just one hall, so I knew they couldn't be hiding.

Relief Society was kind of a nightmare. It's a rented building, so not LDS standard issue. The floor was tile. Tile is loud. Daniel wanted to throw his toys. Plink, plink, crash.

There was a small area rug in the corner, so I took him back there and tried to entertain him. Wahh! I got some bunnies (plastic, unfortunately) together for him to play with and returned to our seat. On the tile. Crash! Smash! Fling! See Daniel, the only baby in the room, throw stuff at people, who I don't know, and who are speaking German. Ja!

That's when they politely asked me to move my chair onto the carpet.


Daniel was just too cranky to sit through RS, so I took him out to the hallway. Again, there were no other people out there. What is wrong with these people? Don't they understand that you are supposed to skip portions of your meetings?

Daniel finally calmed down a little bit and we returned for the closing song and prayer.

We didn't end up leaving the building for at least 30 minutes because we were talking with everyone. As I said, the people could not have been any nicer. It was a wonderful branch and I really look forward to being there.

Sarah had a great time in primary, and after church we discovered the nursery (called kindergarten here) and let's just say that we all wish we were toddlers because it's an awesome nursery. 7 months to go for Herr Baby.

After church we ate bread and cheese and "oster fleisch." (Easter Meat. Don't ask, we don't know.) Then we headed out to visit Sarah's new school.

Sarah's school looks absolutely amazing. There is a cool track for running, that also has a long jump track. We ran lots of races. Daniel made Dad run super fast and he would giggle while they were running together. Sarah loved the playground. It had wooden climbers and a rope and a cement climbing wall. The slides were built into the side of a hill, which makes sense. That way, if you fall off the side, you are not high in the air. Duh. I guess we would do that in the US if we had as many hills as we do there.

We played on the playground and walked around the school and looked in all the windows. Just from looking in the window, we can tell that the curriculum is stronger than the Central Bucks school district. And considering that CB is one of the best districts in the state, that says something.

We left the school and went for a drive, which will be described in the next post.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Swiss Culture is Different

Well, in addition to Jason not having to work over Easter weekend, the people who work at the grocery stores don't have to work either. Yikes, as we had no food.

Fortunately, we got two calls from Ward members on Thursday afternoon to warn us that the stores would be closed Friday and Monday. Grocery stores normally close at 6:00 and it was already after 5:00. This is by law, by the way.

Stores located in a train station can stay open until 10:00, so I left Jason with the kids and headed out with a pocket full of francs. (They don't do credit cards the way Americans do, so I have to be prepared with cash, which is totally foreign (ha!) to me.)

This was my first trip out on my own, and I was concerned about getting off the tram at the right spot. Jason had instructed me, and I was all prepared and paranoid. In order to get off the tram, you have to push a button to open the doors. Unlike the subways in NY, they don't automatically open.

I was counting down the stops until the Bahnhoff SBB (Bahnhoff=train station) and the announcement came that my stop was next. I prepared myself to get off. The tram stops. I jump up and push the button. The doors do not open! Everyone is looking at me funny.

Turns out, the tram had stopped prior to the station to wait for another tram to move out of the way and we were still a little bit away from the station. Oh well, embarrassing situations are always fun.

The store was a nightmare. Since the only stores in the region that are open are at the train station, and it was just a small store in the first place, it was so crowded I could hardly fit down the aisles. I stood in line forever as well. But, we got some food, I had enough cash to pay for it, and I headed home.

I did not make a fool of myself on the ride hoome. Whew!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

And We're Off

We just flew across an ocean (Business Class, thank you very much) and landed in a strange land known as Switzerland.

We flew out of Rochester, NY, which made all the difference in the world. First of all, we had a ton of luggage and there was a handy skycap who helped us. (And got a $20 tip for his effort. As I said, we had A LOT of luggage. Heavy luggage. I should not be allowed to pack.) Then, as we were checking in we discovered that someone somewhere had made a mistake and there was no reservation for Daniel.

So we decided to just go ahead and leave him with Grandma.

Just kidding. Jason got that all straightened out. (Turns out there was a reservation for him, it was just lost.) It took about half an hour and this is why we were glad we were in Rochester, rather than Newark. There was no one in line behind us and the Continental employee was as helpful as can be.

Our flight from Rochester to Newark was delayed an hour, as it was snowing and we had to wait to be de-iced. So, maybe Rochester wasn't the greatest. But, Daniel slept and Sarah ate a surprise whistle pop that I had procured before leaving.

Upon arriving in Newark, we had a 3.5 hour layover. Because we were flying business class, we could go into the "president's club lounge." Despite the fact that that sounds like a strip club, there were no strippers, but several Budhist monks. Which made me wonder about that whole vow of poverty. But, let's throw vows out the window, because there was FREE CHEESE and nutella and Fritos. What more could you ask for?

Our flight to Switzerland was also delayed an hour and a half on the runway. But, this wasn't as bad, as we were in our luxury seats and had sparkling water to drink.

We didn't, however, have a seat for Daniel and he was getting a bit punchy on my lap. When we did take off and they began serving dinner (appetizers were spinach somethings, crab cakes and mushroom soup), he began showing all signs of terrorizing tiredness. Jason took him, turned him away from me, so he wouldn't know I was available (advantages of short baby memories), and he fell asleep.

Sarah had a delightful time. She got to watch movies on her personal t.v., had an ice cream sundae for dessert and a refill of Sprite, everytime she got halfway through her glass. (Until Jason made her switch to water.) She stayed awake long after we fell asleep, but we figure, what's the harm in that? It's not like she's going to go anywhere.

When we arrived in Zurich, we sailed through immigration and customs, got our baggage and the kids and I went to play on a slide area while Jason went after the car.

Sarah then proceeded to fall down the slide and bled all over. Hey, welcome to Switzerland!

Amazingly, the luggage that barely fit in our rented SUV in America, fit easily into the rented Passat Station Wagon, and we were off to Basel.

The kids slept and we listened to Swiss Radio. They, apparently, like Alanis Morrissette and Barry Manilow Sound alikes. This amused me to no end.

We arrived in Basel, lugged the luggage up, walked to the gas station to get a little food and then we were home. Totally weird.

Jason had to go to work (ironically to participate in a meeting that was taking place in NJ). But, he got home at 5:30 with good news: It's Easter this Sunday.

Yes, we knew that. What we didn't know is that that meant he had Thursday, Friday and Monday off work. Who could ask for a better start?