Gratitude Friday: Our time in Geneva

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Thank you, Geneva.   We are grateful for our time here.   We have learned many valuable lessons.

We have struggled with a new language, cursing it, shedding tears, and jumping for joy when finally mastering a phrase or actually starting to form these foreign sentences in our own heads. While we still are far from French speakers, we value what it has taught us.  Humiliation (ourselves).  Appreciation (those who are kind to us even when we butcher the pronunciation).  Admiration (that the Europeans know so many languages).

We realized a language barrier isn’t always the biggest roadblock.  Most of the time, we delighted at the cultural differences.  Other days, we didn’t.    We judged when to bend the rules (still running at crosswalks sometimes) and when to really respect them (Bonjour, Madame.  Bonjour Monsieur).

We met truly interesting people.  The small table, 3 serving dishes, and 6-place setting we brought thinking we wouldn’t meet any true friends here, soon became a laugh.     We were fortunate and met oodles of fantastic people.   We learned from them.  We traveled with them.   We taught them about Halloween, 4th of July, and Thanksgiving.  They generously shared their customs with us.   Our way of thinking and understanding the world broadened and became different because of them.

At work and through my volunteering, we got exposure to having a professional relationship with different nationalities.  At first, we languished the difference in speed and approach, yet walked away later thinking maybe our workaholic mentality has a lot to learn from other countries.

We fell into the pace.  While we once spent life apart in different cities, we enjoyed precious evenings together.  Just us.  No obligations.  No dozens of activities to consider and balance.   We only had a working TV for half the time and didn’t miss it a bit (maybe had to do with my VT football team having such a cruddy season!).   We walked to the market on Saturdays we were here, just to buy a fresh chicken and some vegetables.  We attended every festival Geneva had to offer and came to really adore the fabulous street food that came with it…roasted boar anyone?     We embraced a leisurely during-the-week  lifestyle with less stress and chaos.

We got healthy.  We enjoyed not eating steroid-induced, processed foods.   Gabe ate full fat yogurt every day (that tasted more like ice cream) for breakfast or a “pain au chocolat” which is like a croissant stuffed with chocolate.   He still lost 15 pounds over here.    I loved the bread, getting fresh baguettes a few times a week.  I went from needing chiropractic care, acupuncture and massage weekly for chronic back pain, to having a body free of any maladies.   When I went home, my masseuse, she said that my back…it wasn’t the same one she used to treat back then.

We became weekend warriors, soaking up all Switzerland and the neighboring countries had to offer.  We learned to adore France and eat our way through most of Italy, traveling to each country over 10 times.   We also made it to the United Kingdom, Ireland, Scotland, The Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Turkey, The Vatican, Monaco, Greece, Spain, Thailand, and Cambodia.   And visited over 30 UNESCO world heritage sites.  What I never dreamed I’d see in a lifetime became a reality in less than 2 years.

We fortunately skied on the Alps many times.  And we watched it snow almost every single day the December before we had to move.   We continually witnessed amazing winter wonderlands that continually took our breath away.  Long periods spent in the car became a delight instead of a dread….just seeing the snow on those Alps and those tall pines…I always got giddy.  God did amazing work here in this part of the world.

We built our first home here.  Having moved a few days after the wedding, we are honored to have spent the first year and a half of our marriage in this place.  We are grateful for the strong foundation that this expat experience brought to us.  We wouldn’t trade it for a thing.

Genève:  Merci beaucoup, toujours.  Au revoir, ma chère ville.

A Page From The Swiss Rule Book: Leaving Switzerland

For as hard as Switzerland is to get into as a resident, they surprisingly make it pretty hard to leave.   In the US, you just notify the post office, send friends & family a “New Address” card, and you are off.

Here are a few differences we encountered:

Uber-notification.   Globo Gym requires 3 months notice by registered post.    So I have to go to a post office, pay CHF 6 to send them a letter, signed in blue ink, by us.    Also required as an attachment is an official letter from the company or a copy of a one-way plane ticket showing your departure.   We ourselves received five weeks notice on our move, and still don’t even know where we are officially going.   I actually composed the letter the day I received the official notification from Gabe’s company we had to depart Geneva.  While it was Dec 4, and we were leaving Jan 14, I figured we’d have to eat the other 7 weeks of membership.   In turn, I received a letter notifying us our membership was cancelled effective APRIL 1, 2013.   My Dec 4 letter wouldn’t take affect until the next first of the next month..January 1.   So, we are looking forward to paying 750 CHF extra in gym fees AFTER we leave.  This is coming from a gym we belonged to for 20 months.

Permission to leave.   Before we can cancel things like our mobile phone or our internet, we have to have a letter from the canton (equivalent of county in the States) saying they acknowledge our departure. It also serves as a guarantee you are going to pay all your debts before you move, like your phone & electricity.   This becomes a problem when you get short notice like us.  You need the letter to do things….but you don’t know when/where you are going, so you don’t have firm details in order to secure the letter.

Flawlessness.   I had a Pre-Inspection one month prior to the move, so they could detect anything wrong with the flat so we’d have time to fix it.      I nervously cleaned the apartment from top to bottom and used an entire box of my imported Magic Erasers to clean up scuffs, deep clean the sink, and stove, before the committee was to come.    Even with my bad French, I knew the gentlemen muttering ” dommage” and “dégât” was not good news.   Before this, I thought “dégat” was reserved for circumstances like tornados and hurricanes but apparently not in the eyes of the Swiss.   Our  small apartment inhabited by just 2, no pets, for 1.5 years, and cleaned by me for a solid day, was in his mind, a ‘disastrous situation’.   Floor technicians – an actual hardwood company – had to be hired to address the scuff marks and scratch he saw.   Additionally, we had hung 20 paintings/photos on our walls.  I had to show evidence I’d paid a painter (CHF 150, in fact) to patch my holes….they required evidence of a professional….no DIY putty jobs here in Switzerland.

Also, after your movers come, you are required to hire a professional cleaning crew.    While Gabe’s company kindly helps us with this, this crew costs 1042 Swiss francs, so like 1200 USD for cleaning a tiny apartment.  Insanity.  And maybe I should’ve been a cleaning lady here.

Soon after, comes the Final Inspection.  This is where the committee judges your final work and decides if you are allowed to leave.   Not to put any stress on the plane tickets you have for the next day.

Turning Out the Lights.   In Europe, you have to provide your own light fixtures.  So, we had to purchase them or either live with a lone lightbulb dangling from each room.   We requested that we are happy to leave our fixtures here for the benefit of the next renter, since we cannot use them in the United States.  Perhaps it could save them a few hundred francs we wished we didn’t have to spend?   This was debated and in the end, we are allowed to leave OUR light fixtures here in our apartment….as long as we promised each would have fresh new bulbs.  It was cheaper than hiring an electrician, which is required for the electrical work to install and take down your fixtures.

Too bad one of the bulbs got stuck and we ended up having to hire an emergency electrician to help us out in changing to a new fixture to comply with the agreement.

Letting in Strangers. Even though we are renters, we are obligated to show people the flat who are interested in becoming the next tenants.   While it didn’t happen to us with our crazy tight timing, it would be expected that arrange our schedule we show them around, with a complete tour.   Isn’t this nuts for renters to have to do this?

Immediate Bank Account Closure.  You have 90 days to transfer all funds out of Switzerland.   These days, they aren’t too keen on Americans due to the US regulations which forced Switzerland to turn over private banking information.  Thus, you are only allowed Swiss bank accounts now as a resident.    You are given 90 days of course, so you can make sure to pay all those bills you owe from your move.  Ouch.

Oh, Switzerland, how I’m gonna miss your rules.

The reasons we’ll miss Europe….and the reasons why we are excited to come home

Our time is running short.   There are lots of lists on the blog lately, but I thought I’d sum up our list on what we’ll miss and what we are excited to come home to.    If you are friends & family, it goes without saying….we can’t wait to see you and on the flipside to new Geneva friends, we’ll miss you.  So, here is the rundown of all the other things:

Why we will miss Geneva / Europe:

Respect for environment – Sure I may complain about the time it takes to recycle here, but these guys sure do have their stuff together when it comes to less waste.  And I challenge you to count the amount of to-go cups, bottles, you see walking around Geneva.  You may get to ten in one day of counting.   People don’t take the lazy way out as much as we do in the US.

In the end, I got used to separating 8 different types of recyclables and taking them to different places each week

Food supply - It’s nice not to question if your food is good for you or not.  I’m not talking about BigMacs here either.  In the USA, you always have to question what drugs your meat has been given and whether your apple has been hyped up with steroids. In Europe, these horrific practices are illegal.  We’ll be buying organic when we return. Our bodies have never felt better during our time in Geneva.

The Plainpalais farmer’s market

Pace – We have a really nice balance here.  Stores are closed after 7pm and on Sundays so that employees can spend time with their families.  Vacation time is revered & respected in Europe.   In the USA, people (including yours truly) tend to wear stress like a badge of honor.   I’ve heard it called “the rush to the grave”.  We will miss the slower pace here.
Public transport – It’s awesome not to get road rage from a car.  Not having driven the entire 1.5 years we lived in Europe, it is actually a refreshing change.  Also, it’s nice not to figure out who is driving when we go out for dinner or drinks….the bus is our automatic designated driver.

Hermes tram, I’m gonna miss you!

Squares/plazas – There is not much better in Europe that hanging out in a square / plaza, piazza, place or platz.   We love doing this when traveling.  We’ll miss having many options just walking distance from our flat.

Place du Molard, one of our favorites

Fashion – This was Gabe’s.  He enjoys the variety and trendiness.   This is actually not on my list….see point #4 below.

The man scarf with a tee shirt is popular here.

Multiculturalism – We are constantly surrounded by different cultures and traditions.  It is very eye-opening to have exposure to friends and co-workers from all over the world, who open our minds to new views.  We have learned a lot from them.
Easy International Travel – What do you mean we can’t jet off to Italy for the night?  This will undoubtedly be one of the biggest things we miss.  We loved the accessibility to new and different places in Europe.
Being uncomfortable daily – There is a quote from one of my favorite brands, Lululemon, that says “do something everyday that scares you”.   Living in Europe as a foreigner has given us plenty of opportunities for this saying.  Every day, we have our challenges.  And, I think it is good for us.  It has given us a real sense of adaptability and also humility.

Geneva can be a little cold & lonely. But that can be good.

Why we are excited to come home:

 
Customer service – We have been stripped of any expectation of customer service during our time in Europe.  Forget a waiter checking on you or actually having a issue resolved.  In Switzerland, the store owner is always right and you should feel indebted to him for being allowed to even enter their establishment.
Speed/efficiency – Being a person who loves things done fast, I had to give up on any shred of this in Switzerland.  Hello, bureaucracy.  Can’t wait to go back to the States where speed is a virtue.
Being able to read things – I look forward to understand packaging and all signs.  Okay, maybe not political signs but all the other ones.

Hopefully I won’t buy the wrong ingredients anymore!

Not walking all our groceries home – as charming as walking everywhere is, hauling all your goods on your back is not so charming.  More like sweat and tear inducing.  I will vow to take my bike to the farmers market, bakery and occasionally the Harris Teeter, but will be happy never to have to carry all our groceries up “devil hill” anymore.

Won’t miss you, grocery cart thing

Gym clothes are okay – As someone who has gotten worse looks that the average Geneva homeless person, I can’t wait to get back to a country where it isn’t a crime to grocery shop in your lululemon. Seriously, people.  How do you wear your stilettos on cobblestones anyhow?

Grilling – oh how we have missed the deliciousness of grilled meat.  the fun of a backyard BBQ.  Corn on the cob. Baked beans. Steaks that actually taste good.  Mmmmmm.

No more fake grill

Laundry horror stories  – Having a load of laundry take less than an hour……heaven.

Won’t miss the 5 hour load, or having restricted hours!

Closet space – in Charlotte, my closet was actually the previous owners’ nursery.   Moving into a closet that was smaller than any broom closet I’ve ever seen, my clothing will be very happy to spread out. Even sharing with my hubby still gives both of us each 6x the room we have in Switzerland.

Lack of cobblestones – Sure cobblestones add charm and character.  But living with them and walking on them in day-to-day living can grow old.  I’m excited for some flat pavement.

Control over our own thermostat.  Living in a flat, we are at the mercy of when the regie thinks it is appropriate to turn on the heat in the winter.  Also, as much as we got accustomed to living without air conditioning, it can be hard to sleep in 95 degree heat sans A/C.  We’ll use our heat and A/C more sparingly now but will be awesome to have control again.

I was always one cold ducky

It’s the most wonderful time of the year

It’s officially Christmas season in Geneva.

My favorite addition is the large Sapine de Noël (Christmas Tree) at Place du Molard.   Each morning I walked to the gym, I noted its progress.

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Day 1….Tree going up

Tree being decorated

Day 2….Tree being decorated

And...magic

Day 3..magic

In our household as well, our tree has been fully decorated.   However, it pales in size compared to the one in Place du Molard.   While we bought the largest the store offered, I am still taller than it.

Most people don't have to bend over to decorate their tree

Most people don’t have to bend over to decorate their tree.  Our fern is also almost bigger than the tree. 

Tree with a snowy backyard in the background

Daytime tree with a snowy background

Because we did not bring any decorations with us in the move, we have been accumulating ornaments from some places we’ve traveled, to complement our paper ones we made last year.  These include a bike from Brugge, some tiny clogs from Amsterdam, a snowy chalet from Chamonix, a hot air balloon from Chateaux-D’Oex:

Sometimes, when we couldn’t find an ornament, we had to get creative.  Take this airplane bottle of Scotch for example.   Hey, we had to have something from Scotland!

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We will miss going back to the States this year for sure.  However, it does feel good to be surrounded by the signs of Christmas already in Geneva.

Gratitude Friday: Thanksgiving

We weren’t able to make it home this year for Thanksgiving.   It is the first time for both of us not seeing family during at least one to two days over the long weekend.  To boot, Gabe doesn’t get Thanksgiving off as he is on the European system.

Instead of being sad, we decided to infuse Thanksgiving into Geneva by hosting a traditional dinner at our flat.   Our group was comprised of 5 from the United States, 1 from Ireland, 1 from Finland, and 1 from Germany.  Oh, and a Swiss dog!   It was our first International Thanksgiving.

Those of us from the US made some traditional dishes –  green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and cranberry sauce.   It was my first attempt at making turkey and we used the recipe from this site.      Many thanks to the friends and family who sent me recipes over email since I was nervous.

My “Virginia biscuits” didn’t turn out so hot, due to the fact they don’t have self rising flour here.  Oopsie.    The pumpkin pie had a crater, but oh well. It still tasted like a piece of home, and was fun to share an ‘authentic’ Thanksgiving with our friends from other countries.

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While we miss our family and friends back home, we feel fortunate to have been surrounded by wonderful friends and good and plentiful food.

Bon weekend everyone!

Happy Halloween from Geneva

Halloween isn’t a very recognized holiday in Switzerland.  Thus, it is fun to bring some of US traditions to Geneva.   We were able to celebrate with friends and get a little bit silly with costumes and “scary food”.

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Hope your Halloween was great!

Gratitude Friday: We survived our first year

This gratitude Friday, I wanted to express my thanks for a good first year in Geneva.  Yesterday, marked the anniversary of our move.   We have now seen all the seasons in Switzerland.   An amiable summer, an elegant fall, a mind-curdling winter, and a rainy spring.

 

If you’ve been following this blog, you know that it’s been with ups and downs.  However, the positives of our experience have far outweighed the negatives.

– –We continue to love the travel and our central location in Europe.  Somedays, it feels like we are living inside of a Busch Gardens theme park, hopping around to different countries in a weekend.  The ‘cool’ factor of that has definitely not worn out with us.   This is the best part about our expat experience.

–It is still doesn’t feel like home.  I am not sure it will before we have to leave.   I was talking with a woman the other day who has lived here 26 years and still says she feels like she is still a foreigner.

–We love our lifestyle.  I never feel rushed or stressed.  People enjoy life at a more leisurely pace and it has a positive influence on us. Especially me who needs all I can get of this example.  In fact, Gabe just returned from two weeks in the US and said it was remarkable to see the comparison of  tension &  hurriedness when he was back.  He said at the end of his time, he was starting to walk faster as a result.

–It has been interesting to watch our reaction to culture shock over the course of a year.  I mentioned on a previous post how this is a continual process.   It usually forms as a result of multiple inputs, not just one thing.  We knew that this would happen.  We have heard it would continue 1-2 years.  We’ll outsmart it just as its time to return.

–Knowing the language makes it easier.  My french is still not beautiful and nowhere close to fluent but I can make myself understood in simple conversation and getting things done. I no longer avoid making phone calls / appointments — I tackle them head on.  And it feels good to finally be able to do that.

We are very grateful for this year.

Bon weekend, everyone!

Expat Advice: The Goods to Bring

Post by Lauren

We have guests coming this week.  It is great to see the familiar faces of our friends and family.  But you know what is also a perk?  TREASURES!

My mother in law is so very sweet to bring a few items we have been coveting.   For those expats who have yet to move, I wanted to share our TREASURE list so that you could maybe be smarter than us and bring a supply with you during your move!

# 1 – ENCHILADA SAUCE

We can get quasi Mexican products in Geneva.  However, they are overpriced and don’t taste the same.

Here are the prices:

6 pack of wheat tortillas or 8 pack of corn tortillas – 6 CHF  / $7 USD

Refried beans – 5 CHF / $6 USD

Black beans – 2 CHF / $3 USD

Guacamole jarred – 6 CHF  / $7 USD

Salsa that tastes like sugar – 6 CHF  / $7 USD

Fajita seasoning that tastes awful – 4 CHF / $5USD

While I have gotten over the fact that making a Mexican dinner at home costs 40 CHF, what is missing is enchilada sauce.  They do not have it at all here!

I have found it is best to buy the cans and put them in Ziplocs and then in my boots and shoes for better success at traveling.  Also, recently, my friend N told me you could buy McCormicks packets to save space.  I plan to stock up on these when we are back in the U.S.

BAKING GOODS

They don’t have the same rules here for baking. Everything I bake turns to S&^^.   For example, take a look at some cookies I tried to make recently with what I thought was cocoa powder.  It wasn’t.

Fail. Icky cookies

I also attempted to use brownie mix from a French grocery store for a cookie exchange.   They turned out awful.  I didn’t have time to make more. I had to beg people not to take what I had brought…I told them they’d thank me later.

So, I recommend that very expat moving to Europe should bring:  Baking powder, Baking soda (like Arm & Hammer), Crisco, Canola oil, Karo syrup & Vanilla Extract to help you recreate any recipes you know and love.

Better yet, pack a years worth of cake mixes, muffin mixes, and brownie mixes so that you can have easy-to-make treats.

COOKING SPICES

They don’t always have similar spices here in Switzerland.  Chili powder being a huge example.   We love making chili in the winter, so a stockpile of chili powder would be something to bring when you move.   I also to use Lipton soup mixes in recipes so I find these helpful to have in Geneva.

We aren’t ranch-lovers, but my friends A & A always stock up on ranch powder when they go home. Also, I know a few ladies from Louisiana who stockpile their special Cajun seasonings.  You are definitely not going to find anything of that genre in Switzerland.

CLEANING SUPPLIES

Bring your gloves, magic erasers and other things you are used to.

TOILETRIES

Makeup, shampoo, toothpaste/floss, and razors are 3 times as much here.   Bring a two year supply of all your favorite items!

OTHER FOOD

We are pretty lucky that we don’t have too many things that we miss from the US.  I know a few folks who are addicted to a certain type of cheetos, or candy bars, so this takes up prime real estate in their suitcases.   For us, I have noted that we have coveted:

–Kashi Almond Flax cereal (Gabe’s favorite).  We saw a empty box in a recycling bin at a hostel in Interlacken and actually tried to go on a mission to find it thinking that maybe it was available.  Unfortunately, some backpacker probably just brought it from the US.

–Stuff for making smores – graham crackers and marshmallows.  Not necessary but good to have around!

–Crystal Light – I know this isn’t good for me but I am addicted. Particularly the Target brand of Margarita Lime.  This is how I make margaritas on Mexican night :)

 

We’ve Moved (To WordPress)

Post by Lauren

The Swiss Watch Blog has now moved to WordPress.   I have mixed feelings.   I know that moving to WordPress will give this blog a lot more search and categorization functionality.  However, it is a lot more work that iWeb, the old program we have been using.

Why did we switch?  Good question.  Apple is discontinuing their hosting service on MobileMe, where our blog used to live.  To boot, they have decided not to support the iWeb program any longer now that the magical iCloud has been introduced.   So, there was a chance that one day in June, our blog could go “poof” and disappear forever.

We were afraid our mothers would be horrified that they couldn’t check in on us everyday, so we attempted to save the blog.

I found a $50 app that converted all of the text and comments from iWeb.  I purchased it and we are officially online at WordPress.   However, I need to manually add the photos and captions back in.   Good thing that I am glued to my recliner recovering from foot surgery.  Otherwise, the task of updating 208 posts would be too daunting to bear.

So I ask this of my loyal readers…..through the next few weeks, please comment and let me know what you think of the new format.   Let me know if we should keep this thing up!!

 

What exactly are these people doing in my living room?

Post by Lauren


I have been wanting to learn how to use Gabe’s SLR for quite a long time. Even before we moved to Geneva, I looked at taking a photography class when we arrived at a nearby University. The obstacle was that most classes were in French.

When a friend mentioned her partner teaches photography courses in English, I was thrilled and signed up immediately. The course was supposed to happen ten evenings in January but some scheduling conflicts ended up canceling it. It was rescheduled for 3 full days during the week after my surgery. I had sadly accepted I’d just have to wait until the next one.

However, when the group found out that I couldn’t walk in order to get to class, they brainstormed and came up with an ingenious idea…why not bring the class to me?

So over the course of the last week, I have had 8 people (and one puppy) here for a photography course in our living room. We learned a lot of the technical background behind how SLRs work so that it can influence our creativity and ability to take pictures with emotion.

Our professor of photography

Learning our SLRs

The puppy wasn't as interested in learning skills

It’s been so nice to break up the time during my first two weeks home. The social interaction of having 8 people here was awesome since I can’t get out of the house. Also, having 24 hours of instruction on a topic really interesting to me helped make the days past faster.

I learned many new techniques and feel fairly educated on the right approach to use when taking photos in the future. Hopefully you’ll notice it in the coming blog posts.

See Digital Light’s website for upcoming courses in the Geneva & Lausanne area.