I always wanted to be a débutante

Post by Lauren

It’s official….I am now a student of the University of Genève. Actually, I am just taking a 3 week intensive French course. The unfortunate thing about it is that I’ll have to turn in my handy student ID on August 6th. I was looking forward to the student discounts!!

We had to take a knowledge test yesterday and then all anxiously arrived early today to see what class we were placed in. I am an A2. Which means, I am not the lowest in the bunch, but still a beginner. And did you know that “beginner” in French is “débutante” ? Sweet, I always wanted to be a débutante.

University of Geneva

It turns out, A2’s are a little bit advanced for my pace. The teacher only speaks in French to teach us. Plus, I am the only one in my classroom who doesn’t already know a second language. People are working on their 3rd, 4th and 5th ones. I am a bit behind but am determined that I will get better faster by swimming in the bigger pond.

In my class, we had to say where we are from and group whether it was masculine or feminine. Here are a few of the countries. Guess which one I am from?

Origins of our class

I missed one because I couldn’t understand her, but it sounded exotic. Also, I shouldn’t leave out the fact that our professor lives part time in Switzerland, France and Morocco. These next 3 weeks are going to be interesting…..



Yvoire, France

Post by Lauren

We had heard from our friend A that Yvoire was a really cool medieval town on the lake to check out. He had traveled there on a co-worker’s boat for dinner one evening. We personally think his way was the best way to travel. However, since we were in Northern Geneva countryside so that Gabe could attempt to teach moi how to drive a stick shift, it was only a 15 minute trip.

It was a cute town and I can’t wait to bring my Mom back to see the beautiful flower covered buildings. But, as A had noted, a bit crowded so we might choose to go back in the evening or when it isn’t the middle of summer.

Another small world story – we bumped into a lady Gabe works with in Yvoire. So, two days in a row, we have collided with people we actually know while we were out and about. Switzerland is starting to feel like home!

Fête de la Tomate & Carouge

Post by Lauren

Friday night, we checked out the Fête de la Tomate in Carouge. The Swiss love their festivals (we have seen/been to 4 already in our short time here) and we equally love going to them. Mainly, because it provides a neat outing and more tasty & affordable cuisine than we can find in the restaurants.

The Fête de la Tomate was a really enjoyable evening, but this festival was a lot smaller than the others. Especially as I think it is a bit more lively on Saturday vs. Friday night since it apparently was the first year its been open Friday night. Maybe everyone didn’t get the memo including the vendors as the tomato stands, tomato sauce stands, etc. weren’t open.

We explored it for a bit, enjoyed the band, had some food, and then headed back into Carouge to have a glass of wine and dessert.  Ironically, we ran into friends A & A and their pups during our walk.


Why our life looks like the NYSE

Post by Lauren


I actually hope that by the time I post this, I am over my down-funk that I have been living in all week.

But I knew that it would likely come…….

In acclimation class, we learned about the various stages of culture shock. This is the true terminology, but I realize that when I use the phrase “culture shock”, it comes across as strong or extreme. I think maybe a better way to describe it is “culture disorientation,” so for the purpose of this blog post, I’ll use that vocabulary.

For those who aren’t familiar, the textbook stages of “cultural disorientation” go like this:

1. Initial excitement
2. Initial anxiety
3. Arrival fascination
4. Initial culture shock
5. Surface adjustment
6. Internal shock
7. Acceptance & adaptation
8. Return anxiety
9. Reintegration shock

However, it is not guaranteed how long you stay in each stage as well as both spouses can be in different stages or move along the continuum at different paces.

Here is a depiction of this with our 8 weeks here in Geneva. The pink is me and the blue is Gabe. I actually don’t even know where we are on the numbered list…..maybe somewhere between 3 and 5.

“How can you be blue in the land of cheese and chocolate?” one might say. “Don’t the Alp views you see daily give you a high all the time?”

We would probably be happy non-stop if it weren’t for culture disorientation – a reaction to the loss and to the ambiguity created by the unknown rules of the new culture. So, at our downturns, some may seem reasonable (we miss friends and family) but some others may seem a little silly (laundry, not being understood, not understanding).

However, sometimes the little things can have pretty big effects. The textbook explanation is that these little things get at the core of your self image – on how you view yourself as a person. You used to be capable, but in this new situation, you are not. While you were seen one way amongst your community in your home country, in this new country, people react to you and see you differently. While you expect to miss your friends and family, you don’t expect to feel like a different person some days because of your environment.

Here is an example…..after standing in a really long line at the grocery store, I happened to have a zucchini in my basket. When the cashier got to it, I hadn’t known to put a produce sticker on it from the machine in the produce department. So, it didn’t have a barcode for her and she growled some French disdain at me. I didn’t know enough French to explain that I didn’t know and I was sorry, that they could put it back, or I could put it back, whatever was easier to keep the line moving. I just kind of muttered “je suis désolé” which i thought was “I’m sorry” and just stood there pitifully while they got a manager to come take the zucchini, weigh it, bring it back and plop it on the register with even more disdain for me and my idiocy. The people in line behind me gave me exasperated looks like I ruined their day.

And this happens every day – I don’t necessarily get down on myself that I didn’t know how to do things – that is to be expected. But, some of the disorientation comes when people perceive you as something you never believed yourself to be. In the US, that situation would have gone differently for me because I knew the language and norms of my local grocery. I would handled myself fine. And it gives me empathy for those visiting the US and how they are treated if English isn’t their primary language and they are just starting to learn, like I am here.

And of course, the peaks of this experience are well worth these downturns. As I share on Gratitude Fridays, these highs are just incredible. The highs are just balanced by the valleys too; as is life – full of ups and downs.

Like the top photo, I am sure our experience in the end will turn out soaring like this mountain range. However, I just wanted to share a little more on this subject, and it gives me a reason to use PowerPoint, which i miss and used to be really good at 🙂

Gratitude Friday: Cosmopolitans Anyone?

Post by Lauren

This Gratitude Friday, my post is both a vocabulary lesson and a story of my appreciation for this new word.

Before moving to Switzerland, my definition of the word “cosmopolitan” consisted of : #1 the pinky yummy martini, #2 the magazine, and #3 maybe an adjective to describe a swanky metropolitan environment.

Pre-Geneva me knew cosmopolitan as this

I realized I was a bit naïve in this area when our cultural trainer Gary kept referring to Geneva as “cosmopolitan”. See, we’d been there just a month prior and I wouldn’t have described it as using the word cosmopolitan, as I knew it. In fact, what came to mind was beautiful, ancient, wordly and a bit ecclectic.

However, thanks to Wikipedia, I learned the proper definition of cosmopolitan is:
–A city/place or person that embraces its multicultural demographics
World citizen, one who eschews traditional geopolitical divisions derived from national citizenship
Cosmopolitanism, the idea that all of humanity belongs to a single moral community
–Cosmopolitan Society/Cosmopolitan City, where people of many ethnicities, religions and cultures meet and live in close proximity (especially applied to busy sea ports)

Well, in living in Geneva, I think I would agree with those better than my prior vocabulary.

In fact, Geneva is quite an anomaly compared to the rest of Switzerland. In training, we learned about Swiss stereotypes, how our personalities matched to their customs, and how to adjust our behaviors accordingly. However, Geneva is more “Swiss-light”, with a big influence from France, and an even bigger cosmopolitan influence.

One big reason is the proximity to France and influence of French culture, food, language, and architecture. Fast Fact: the canton of Geneva shares only 4 km of border with Switzerland, but 108 km with France. I read that most Swiss Germans don’t even consider Geneva really part of Switzerland at all!

the tail is not wagging the dog here

However, probably the biggest reason is the cosmopolitan nature of Geneva. Based on the numerous humanitarian agencies, world organizations, and corporations headquartered here, 40% of Geneva residents are foreigners. There are people here from all over the world, living, working, and bringing their cultural influences in. Just in my own experiences, there are 40 nationalities represented at my church and 54 at my women’s club. It’s mind boggling!

So, onto Gratitude Friday. I absolutely love this about Geneva: interacting with people from completely different backgrounds as me and the exposure to all of their opinions, interests & beliefs.

Here are just a few specific examples of this :

In my Monday French classes, there is a South African woman, an Ethiopian woman, a Dutch woman, a British woman and me. Our teacher, Esther, is Swiss and was a teenager during WW2 here. All learning French together, we all have different accents and interpretations of words which is really entertaining and Esther considers it her English lesson at the same time.

Last week, Esther asked what the lady from South Africa thought of Nelson Mandela’s leadership, and it was a really neat education for me to hear firsthand from someone who lived there to hear about her own experiences. Prior to living in Geneva, I had never had this opportunity – all I learned was from movies and books.

In my photography group, there are three ladies from the Netherlands, a few Americans, one from the U.K., one from Australia, and one from Brazil. We all bring different things to the table. I really enjoy how much time the women from the Netherlands take to find out how you are doing and to learn about you. I always felt so much in a whirlwind that I am not sure if I have done this enough with people.

Friend and fellow blogger, Lady J, has taught me about Singapore and her time in Japan and I love her passion for her favorite foods and her dedication to bringing those flavors to Geneva in a beautiful way.

At Canadienne Buffets, we have been so lucky to meet great people from China, South Africa & Australia who we really have enjoyed hanging out with and learning about their experiences.

So much to be grateful for this week when it comes to the word cosmopolitan!

Bon weekend!

What’s the opposite of Lance Armstrong? That’s me.

Post by Lauren

Yesterday was really pretty so I decided to go to the beach to study French.

Normally, my mode of transportation is the TPG ( transports publics genevois) because #1 – I am lazy and #2 – I have a toe condition that I am supposed to limit walking and # 3 – TPG is awesome. We splurged on TPG annual passes and it was our best purchase yet. We can hop on and off the trams, buses and boats anytime we want. Even still, I probably still walk 2 to 3 miles a day.

While there are two buses that go to the beach, they require connections. It’s not a bad walk either, but yesterday with the sun shining, I felt brave enough to take my bike out.

We have been out on our bikes 3 times, but this was my first time without Gabe. I have been afraid so far since I am not a very good at it and city biking is intimidating to me. The big deal is that In Geneva, you have to blend in with traffic and are forbidden from using sidewalks. I like to follow him and just do whatever he since I have no clue.

I should also note that the few times we had been, it was late in the evening or on the weekends where Geneva is very quiet so there weren’t a lot of cars. For a great recap of what it’s like to bike in Geneva during the day with obstacles, check out my friend A’s post. She has really good diagrams.

On the way there, I got honked at twice. Once, really really loud. I am not sure if I mentioned that Swiss people like to point out when you do something wrong, so this was no exception. It has just never happened to me with horns yet.

Nevertheless, most of this venture to the beach was downhill, so I just managed to weave in and out of traffic to make it to the main Quai where it was easy-peasy and I could mingle with the other beach cruisers on the large bike path.

Grateful for still having my life, I happily camped out on the beach for a few hours with my French workbook enjoying the day.

Going home, I was more determined to not have anyone honk at me. I choose to go home through the park where I didn’t have to work in with the traffic. The steep park. I almost had to stop halfway through as my legs couldn’t go anymore. Then onto the main roads again.

Stopped at a light, a homeless man kept smiling at me and pointing at a BMW motorcycle parked right beside me and pointing. I am not sure if he was saying that bike was better than mine, or just laughing at my bike-skills, but it was in French and I couldn’t understand.

Nevertheless, I trudged on, up more and more hills. Cars, motorcycles, and buses whizzed by me coming about 6 inches from me. I wish they knew that I didn’t really have very much control at all. In fact, I almost hit an elderly lady while going uphill in the park. However, they continued to get within inches.

I considered leaving the bike on one particular hill as my legs wouldn’t go anymore after a really hard lifting session today at Globo Gym. I could always go back and get it later. However, I realized how hard Gabe would laugh at me if I did this. I am not sure where the energy came from in the end, or maybe it was the flat road that finally came, but I finally made it home. I had never been so grateful to see that place. I was so tired, it took 3 attempts to lift the bike back on its hook in our scary basement.

I think I may stick to the TPG during traffic hours from now on. It’s much safer for me.

Dorothy, we’re not in Kansas Anymore: Part 1

Post by Lauren

This is a new series meant to bring a little bit of humor to things that we see on a day-to-day basis. Of course, we want visitors to come see these neat differences yourselves, but hopefully this will keep you up-to-date in the interim!

1 – Freshly baked pastries and FREE wine on short flights – this is a normal occurrence on Swiss Air. I understand they had some financial problems recently but I am not complaining. I have never had an airplane meal this good, sans charge.

2 – The lack of refrigeration of dairy (milk, cream, whipped cream) and egg products. Milk products are ultra pasteurized so that they can stay on shelf. They’ll last up to two months before opening. Eggs are also left on shelf, but just need to be consumed within a week. If you could see the size of our fridge, you’d be trés grateful you can stock up on dairy without needing precious cold space!

3 – Don’t even try it, folks. This gas station does not take 1000 CHF bills. Note: this is like $1200 USD. In the US, they frown at you for giving 50 dollar bills.

4 – The use of Indians to guide angry cars and people during construction. Here he is saying, “Caution – roadwork. I am your guide”.

No further comment. I am just pretty sure I wouldn’t see something like this back home.

Mr. Edible

Post by Lauren

If you love animals, you might want to stop here.

So, as a beginner in French, our first week here, I took notice of a menu posted on the street with “cheval”.


“Hmm” I commented to Gabe, “ I thought that cheval meant horse! Ha, my French is really awful….Rosetta Stone really didn’t pay off, huh?”

A few weeks later, I saw it again. It must be some sort of goat cheese…..like fromage de chèvre. Sort of sounds the same, right?! So, thirsty for French knowledge, I looked it up.

Oh no.

And, I found that I was accurate the first time.

Yup, as confirmed by the meat labels in our local store, people here like to eat Mr. Ed.

Riding or eating. Either will work!

I was shocked and brought it up on our next women’s hike. My friend M noted that usually this is served prior to fondue, as a dried meat. Bleccccck!!!!

Horse steaks on sale in Carouge!

If you don’t believe me, check out the little animals on the packages they have at the Co-op to help people identify the meats. I should dedicate a Gratitude Friday to these labels so that I haven’t mistakenly eaten horse.

Speaking of mistakes, when we were in Chamonix a few weeks ago, I was eating the dried meats they served with raclette until I remembered M’s fondue advice mid-bite of a really tough piece.

Getting upset thinking about what I might be eating

Don’t worry, we asked the waitress and it was a false alarm – all jambon, or ham. I couldn’t eat any more after that though.

Our first Geneva dinner party

Post by Lauren

When packing for our big move, it was hard to know what to take and what not to take. Some things got packed we don’t need, and there are other things that we totally wished we had thrown in to our shipment since they are either hard to find in Switzerland or 4x the price. Anyhow, it is not an exact science, so we figure its okay.

I remember specifically standing in our Charlotte dining room figuring out what serving dishes and table we should take (Gabe and i were combining households at the same time). In the end, we under-packed in this area as Gabe and I assumed that we wouldn’t know enough people to have more than 6 over for dinner!

We feel so blessed that in Geneva, this has actually not been the case. We have met lots of great people and had our first dinner party as a married couple. However, I’d like to point out what happens when you don’t bring the leaf pieces to your dining room table…..yup, we are “bringing back” the concept of kids table by using our entry table as an extension.

I think many of our new friends are in the same boat with improvisation though, so luckily I don’t think anyone minded!

Fun fact : Most of us are Swiss newbies. The combined time in Geneva at this table = 23 total months counting Gabe behind the camera. A & A are the experts, being here 4 months. They are throwing off the “curve” with their tenure 🙂

European Fashion: The Man Scarf

Post by Lauren

One of the really intriguing things about living in Geneva is the incredibly International fashion scene here. Geneva has quite a selection of luxury goods available on the main rues – consisting of watches, jewelry and couture fashion.

The stores are so high-end here that after 8 weeks living in Geneva, I still have yet to walk into one. It is best not to tempt myself as my clothing budget in one of the top 5 most expensive cities in the world would not get me very far.

Gabe and I were amazed on our visits. We’d peer into the beautiful windows and see ski jackets, leather boots.

“Really, nice,” we would comment.

Then we would take a closer look at the price tag and see a Columbia jacket that would be $200 in the US at 999 CHF ($1200 USD) and the boots I adored at 800 CHF ($1000 USD). It was then that we decided that most of our clothing shopping would need to happen back home in the US. In fact, if we needed to buy 4 pieces of clothing between the two of us, it would be less expensive for me to book a flight home to DC and purchase it at Tyson’s Corner and fly right back to Geneva.

While everyone dresses to the nines (except moi, who tromps around Rue to Rhone in my gym clothes on – gasp – my way to the gym ) , Geneva has quite a varied fashion scene as 40% of its residents are foreigners. It is one of the things that I really enjoy – the exposure to different ways of dressing and people watching while waiting for the tram or bus.

One of the fashion trends for European men is the man-scarf. This is not commonly seen in the US unless it is the dead of winter, but it is very popular here…in fact, all of these shots were taken in one July weekend. It is so much more a fashion accessory than a necessity for warmth that many sport it with short sleeve tees. Anyhow, I think the guys pull it off well.

So, we need to decide if we are going to get Gabe on the scarf-train.

Please leave a comment below with your vote – scarf for Gabe? Or leave it to the European men?