Friday, May 29, 2009

Not Ogden




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Explaining Ogden

I referred to Basel as the Ogden (or Allentown) of Switzerland in an earlier post, but without true explanation. So, here's the explanation:

We were in a mall in Germany (right across the border) eating (what else?) turkish food when two women asked us if we were Americans. We told them we were and found out that they were Mormons from Utah. Geesh, how lucky can they be to find us to help them out?

The daughter had been living in London while her husband did an "externship" (someone explain how this is different than in internship, please), and her mother had come to visit. Super. They wanted to come to Switzerland and picked Basel because Ryanair flies from London to Basel for like $25 or something ridiculous.

So, they got here, thinking, "Swiss Alps! Cows with bells!" and got, instead the industrial part of Switzerland. Jason said, "yeah, this is the Draper of Switzerland."

We helped them get oriented, taught them how to use the tram system and instructed them to take a train to somewhere with Alps. They were so relieved to have found us.

Then Jason started reflecting, and based on the fact that Draper just received this:

he decided it was more Ogdenish, than Draper.

I disagree, and shall be posting pictures shortly. But, the fact does remain--we're not in the Alps, although there are plenty of cows.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The high cost of living

I may have mentioned that Switzerland is expensive. For instance, the high cost of electricity is exacerbated by the size of the light fixtures.

We've also been forced to build our own furniture out of old barrels. It's not as comfortable as some furniture, but it works okay:

Fortunately, in order to make ends meet, Sarah's been able to obtain a job repairing trains:

We hope this helps out some.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Credit Again

We went to Lucerne on Friday (it was another Swiss holiday! Yeah!). While waiting for food at a little deli a man came up next to us and handed the woman behind the counter his purchases. The total came to about 7CHF. He pulled out his credit card.

Note, up until this point, the man had not opened his mouth. He was a generic looking white guy.

The woman, who had spoken to me in German, said to him, in perfect English: "Ten Franc minimum on credit card purchases."

I guess it's only the Americans (or Canadians, Brits, Australians?) who would think to buy a small purchase on a credit card.

Dry Cleaning Take II

So, the super expensive dry cleaning came back on silver hangars, not white like our cheap Plumsteadville cleaners, so clearly it's worth it.

Or not.

I asked around and dry cleaning is a very hot topic among the expat wives. But, the responses were all identical--it's just that expensive. One woman, who was the envy of all the moms, had an iron that cost 600Euro,($840.72). She said it works fabulously. The overall consensus is that I need to buy a high end iron and iron my husband's shirts. I've been looking around, but it's hard to figure out when everything is in German.

So, I took two more pairs of pants to the dry cleaner. This time (same dry cleaner) it was 12.50CHF and 7 days. I picked those up today and dropped off 3 more pairs of pants. 10CHF and 10 days. I'm so confused. So confused.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Living in Ogden

My long time friend, Amy, came to visit us. She arrived Sunday night and is leaving bright and early Thursday morning. It is her first trip to Switzerland.

Unfortunately, as she found out, we live in the Ogden of Switzerland. That's Jason's description of it anyway. You think you are coming to this fabulous country and find out that while it is fabulous, you're stuck in the less than fabulous region. (For my Pennsylvania readers, I think the comparison would be that Basel is the Allentown of Switzerland, if you get my drift.)

Not saying that I don't like Basel, because I do. And yesterday Amy and I walked to two castles, and then for dinner we walked to Germany and ate Turkish food at the grocery store. We crossed the Rhine and saw huge barges floating down it. We even toured an old church that is the final resting place for many 14th century knights. So, it's not a bad place.

But, it's not the Alps either. It's the industrial center of Switzerland. We have lots of business and lots of factories, but very few mountains. Which is why, this morning, Amy decided not to come with me to take Sarah to school, but rather she hopped a train to Gimmelwald. This village is only accessible by cable car. So, she'll take two different trains, a bus and then a cable car up to this little village in the alps.

I hope she has a good time.

Friday, May 15, 2009


I've added some pictures to my blog. I've put a few on past posts, so if you care, you can scroll through.

Stroller Rage Part II

Lately, I've become more and more bitter about people without strollers on the tram. Not that I think non-stroller people should be banned from riding, but for heaven's sakes people, unless you have a stroller, wheel chair or a mobility problem, get out of the only wheel chair/stroller accessible car on the tram.

Jason says I need therapy.

Today, we reached stroller insanity. Normally, after dropping Sarah off, Daniel and I head home a different way. This frequently involves a good walk, but today I needed to go shopping, so I wanted to head back towards Basel. This was what I like to call a bad idea.

When we got on the tram, there were 4 strollers, 4 mothers with strollers and 2 women with no children and no visible mobility problems. In fact, one woman wandered around the tram, going up and down the stairs, choosing to end up in the stroller compartment.

At our maximum, there were 8 strollers. 8. And three women who just wanted to be in the stroller compartment. (Two of them were there to talk to their friends. I know this because all were mothers from the school and while I may not know their names, they are certainly familiar to me.)


Of course, Daniel chose this time to be incredibly screechy. And I've decided that while it might be more convenient to go straight from school to Basel for shopping, I will instead head home my usual way and avoid the stroller nightmare.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

I want people to think I'm Swiss

This morning on the way to the tram, Sarah wanted to stop and put her jacket on. It was perfectly warm out, so I asked her why. "I want people to think I'm Swiss," she said.

The jacket is definitely a sign of Swissness. (Swissitude? I'm not sure.) Everyone has jackets around here. Babies are bundled into sweater oblivion.

The weather changes rapidly, and I carry jackets in the stroller, as well as umbrellas, but I don't wear my jacket unless it's cold.

We got on the tram and Sarah was right: There was only one other man on the tram without a jacket. I was wearing short sleeves, capris and sandals. Daniel was in bare feet. (He likes to pull his socks off and fling them, so he's normally barefooted anyway.)

My German is terrible, but I understand all the old ladies who get in a dither over poor freezing Daniel. One lady even grabbed his foot in the grocery store and then said in shock, "He's warm!" "Yes," I said. My kids got the arctic genes from their father.

Sarah, by the way, took off her jacket half way to school. She was too warm.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

No credit? No problem!

(If you read my other blog, Evil HR Lady, you'll notice that this is almost the same post. Why? Because they are my blogs and I'll do what I want to, thank you very much.)

I blew up my computer. Yes, it's true. I bought the right cords and plugged it into the wall and forgot to flip the little switch on the back of the computer that changes it from 115 to 230 volts, or amps, or whatever the heck you measure electricity in. (Can you tell I did not study physics or electrical engineering or whatever one would study to know this? Just ask me about political theory, though. That, I know. Plus, I read The Great Gatsby 3 times in college.)

Anyway, I didn't even turn the computer on. I just plugged it in and there was a bang and smoke and all the power in the room went off.

Fortunately, we have friends at church who are computer savvy. Jan and Jessica came over and inspected my computer and attempted to fix it. But, he didn't have the right part. No bother, though, he sent an e-mail to Jason with the right part number and Jason sent me a text message. I took my cell phone to the computer store and presented it to the man behind the counter.

This man, by the way, spoke English, and apologized to me for his subject/verb order. "I need to work on my English!" he said. I thought that if I could get both a subject and a verb in German I wouldn't care about the proper order, I'd just be thrilled I'd communicated something.

Anyway, the computer store (and I find this amazing), does not accept credit cards. Cash or debit only. They sell computers! And big screen televisions! And fancy computer equipment.

I can only imagine that a place like that in America would go out of business if it didn't accept credit.

Fortunately, my part was only 29.90CHF, so not buying on credit wasn't a hardship. Still, I was amazed. They definitely have a different attitude towards credit over here.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Dry Cleaning

Jason's office offers a dry cleaning service. At CHF3.90 per shirt, we were sure we could do better elsewhere. He has a lot of clothes, so I had procrastinated this knowing that we would never find dry cleaners like our beloved Plumsteadville cleaners. (They bought Sarah and Easter dress as a going away present. Plus, it was $1 per shirt.)

I asked around for dry cleaners and no one seemed to be able to help me. Well, let me rephrase, I asked at church. I asked Swiss people. All of them gave the response that they didn't know where to go for shirts and that they only took their suits in on the rare occasion that their child slimed them, or something similar. Anyway, I finally got a recommendation for a cleaner in Arlesheim, which is three tram stops away and where I do most of my grocery shopping. The person said he thought it would be CHF3.00 per shirt, which is better than 3.90.

With vague directions and a bag full of dirty clothes, I set off. I was also nervous because I had no German speaking helper. But, I am a brave woman and was determined to accomplish this.

Except I couldn't find the darn place. I knew it was "close to the Coop", but I couldn't find the Coop. (Coop is one of the two major grocery store chains in Switzerland.)

I finally gave up and headed home, dirty shirts in tow. Using the miracle that is google maps I searched for Coops near my home and found how to get there, using public transportation. I set off again.

This time I found the Coop and I found the dry cleaner. It was also 1:00 (or rather 13:00, they use military time over here.) The cleaner's were closed for lunch until 1:30.

No bother, Daniel and I just went and bought cookies at the grocery store and then sat on a bench and ate them. We'll suffer for a good cause.

At 13:30 we headed to the dry cleaners, which had 20% off signs all over. If I had looked closes, I would have noticed that it was 20% off, excluding shirts, pants and washing. So, I guess I could have gotten 20% off my fur coat, had I needed it cleaned, except I don't have a fur coat and it seems to me that you should just be able to leave that out in the rain, as that is how the original animal got clean.

Anyway, I produce my 7 shirts and 3 pairs of pants. I am then informed that it will be, drum roll please, 10 days. 10 days! For dry cleaning! I asked if it could be any earlier. She looked at her calender, signed and said, "How about 1 week? No, that is a holiday. 10 days."


Cost for 10 shirts and 3 pairs of pants? CHF63.00. Using today's exchange rate, provided by Google, that's about $55.

I left the clothes, but I didn't like it. I decided that I would just iron Jason's shirts myself. After all, I am eine hausfrau, right? Well, Jason's boss had different ideas and told him that he needed to have his shirts professionally cleaned. I guess I'm just not good enough.

I will ask the other mothers at Sarah's school for their recommendation, as apparently the Swiss don't do dry cleaning. And for tgood reason.

All I can say is that when I pick up those clothes, they better be lined in gold.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Occupation: Hausfrau

In order to be legally here, we have to register with the township. We had to fill out forms and then we got our official paperwork back. Well, not quite. We have temporary paperwork right now. We're supposed to get a card.

This card will have our pictures on them. There were strict requirements for the pictures: No glasses, no shadows, ears showing and no teeth. Jason's picture was rejected because of a shadow on his head and I'm sure we'll receive notification that Daniel's is rejected as well because his teeth were showing.

Our pictures look like mug shots you'd see for drunken driving arrests. They are truly awful. In fact, I looked at mine and wondered what on earth possessed Jason to marry such an ugly woman.

Anyway, my form lists my occupation as "Hausfrau." Isn't that great? Hausfrau. I wonder if I can put that on my resume. I should ask an HR advice giver about that...

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Swiss Sins

The Swiss have lots of rules. Of course, we believe that while everyone acknowledges the fact that there are lots of rules, no one quite knows what all those rules are. But, there are some that even we are aware of, and those involve garbage.

You pay for garbage by the bag around here. It's CHF2.40 per bag of garbage, at least in our gemeinda (town). Our apartment building has two dumpsters (small!) for 20 apartments. You can't just throw garbage into the dumpsters, it all must be bagged with the proper tax sticker on it. Different stickers for different sized bags, of course.

So, you can't take out your garbage frequently, unless you wish to go broke. Nor do you wish to take anything but a full bag out. (And by full bag I mean FULL. You should see how these people can stuff those garbage bags. I haven't quite mastered the skill, as my bags always have air pockets.)

The big problem I have is a poop producing baby. I can't throw his stinky diapers in outside trash, because they would have to be properly bagged and stickered, and who wants to pay CHF2.40 for each poopy diaper? (Quite frankly, I think someone should pay me that amount for each diaper.) I don't have spare grocery bags to wrap them in, either, as you have to buy bags and those bags are paper.

I use the bags from the produce or occasionally take a black bag from the ubiquitous dog dropping kits. But sometimes, I have none of these available and the thought of putting a poopy diaper under the sink for 3 or 4 days is rather appalling. So, IK have, on occasion, committed what I am sure is an offense worthy of jail: I take the diaper with me to the tram station and put it in the garbage can there.

I'm sure it's not meant for such disposals, but what am I supposed to do? There is no sign saying I can't. (Although at the park there are signs on the garbage can saying no household trash. The sign is in German, but I figured it out.)

So, that's my sin, and I intend to not give this one up, because I don't want my kitchen smelling like a rest stop.

And speaking of rest stops, every public toilet has a toilet brush next to it. No one would dare walk away leaving any presents for the next person. It's awesome.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Drunken Laborers

May 1st is Worker's day here in Switzerland. This means that nobody has to go to work, except the tram and bus operators and people who work in stores at Train stations. And, well, gas station attendents and medical personnel and others, but I'm sure you get the idea.

Jason is on his way to Newark, NJ, so we all went with him to the airport, which was a fiasco and I still don't care to talk about it.

Anyway, on our way home, we had to wait for our tram at the Bahnhoff SBB, which is the Swiss Railroad station in Basel. It's a very busy place.

To celebrate Worker's day there were about 75-100 drunken college students, each with his or her own case of beer. In addition to the individual cases, two or three people had shopping carts with flags and beer. Fun!

Fortunately, they got on tram 11 and we got on tram 10. I was relieved to see them go. Not all of them, though, apparently made it onto the correct tram, because as we went up a hill an empty beer bottle rolled under our feet.

I picked it up to throw it away, but Sarah insisted that throwing away glass was bad for the environment and she carried it home, to be placed in the recycling bin. Seh has been well brain washed.

Friday, May 1, 2009

I have ice cream in my diaper bag

Let it not be said that I am unprepared for any possible contingency. If you need, say, ice cream, I have it right here, in my diaper bag.

Well, not right now. I did, at one point. It's now safely in the freezer. But, here in Switzerland, you must bring your own shopping bags with you. If you are slothful or not a friend of the environment and forget, you must pay 0.35chf for one. Let's just say that we have so many of these bags that we could be the actual cause of global warming.

So, I am loathe to spend money on yet another one. Two days ago, when coming home from taking Sarah to school, I decided to stop at the grocery store. Seeing how we still do not have a car, we have to go grocery shopping quite regularly, as I have to be able to carry home whatever I purchase.

This trip saw me procuring ice cream. But, I had forgotten my bags. Well, I put the bacon and bread under the stroller and stuffed the ice cream in my diaper bag. Fortunately, it's only about 3 minutes on the tram and then a 5 minute walk to our house, and the trams run (normally) every 10 minutes, so at the most I would have ice cream in my bag for 18 minutes. As it took me longer to get home from Wegmans, I felt relatively confident, albeit strange.

I bet you haven't carried ice cream in your bag.

And speaking of bags, the best bags are the ones I brought with me, from Wegmans. I miss Wegmans. It's probably the thing I miss most. Ahh, Wegmans.