Measuring. Never the same.

Post by Lauren

Aside from the language barrier, another barrier for those living in foreign countries is measurement.


No more inches, feet, yards, pounds, miles.

Everything is by the meter, the gram, the kilo.

And after 4 months, I still haven’t adjusted to grocery shopping in terms of measurements. I shy away from the meat and cheese counters as I am not sure I’ll know exactly how much to order. In the US if something like that happened, I’d just suck it up and buy whatever I ordered. Here, if I make a mistake in meat, my two steaks could cost the equivalent of $100 USD. No kidding.

And here are some more examples of how the quirks of measurement affect our lives:

Paper. Printer paper is not the same size. It’s about halfway between the US size and a legal size. I had to chop off the bottoms of my French assignments to get them to fit into my notebook.

Printing Photos. Here are the options for printing photos on my nearest photo lab machine. If I don’t happen to carry my tape measurer with me, I am screwed.

A4 is a apparently a common size in Europe to print photos for display. I needed to submit a display photo for the women’s club exhibition. After 2 hours of attempts to get my printer to do it and taking it on memory stick to printshop twice and not being able to find the right size, eventually, I had to ask someone else to do it. Talk about feeling incompetent.

Frames. Not the same. I am learning this with art. US canvases don’t fit Swiss frames. US frames don’t fit Swiss canvases. This was surprising to me that standards would be different in this area. I spent an hour in the art store and the frame store trying to figure out which ones would match each other for my upcoming art booth.

Weights. At the gym, all the weights are in kilos, not pounds. I feel really weak here.

Distances. Of course, everything is in km. We have tricked our GPS to talk in miles so we have a better concept of when a turn is coming up since we haven’t master the kilometer. Roughly, its 3.2 miles for 5 kilos, so I sort of just divide in half. The good news is that when you see a high number, it feels much faster when you reach your destination.

Outdoor temperature. I still remember someone at the women’s club exclaiming it would be high thirties in Spain that weekend. Everyone gasped and I just looked confused and tried to calculate it. I keep my weather updates in Fahrenheit on my iPhone & laptop because even though I know the math behind it, I have am not able to quickly do the conversion enough to make a judgement in what to wear.

Cooking temperature. Our oven of course is in Celsius degrees. I just tend to double what I think it should be in Fahrenheit. Truly, the math is to multiply by 1.8 and add 32, but doubling is just simpler to me. This might be why I burn a lot of things in our oven.

Furniture. They don’t have the same bed sizes here. A coworker of Gabe’s brought their mattress and sheets and planned to buy a bed frame in Switzerland upon arrival. They couldn’t find one to match so they ended up shipping a new US double bed frame to our house before our move so we could bring it with us.

Knowing this, I ended up bringing extra sheets since it would be impossible to get them here.

Annecy, France

Post by Lauren

We had to do some shopping for our upcoming Halloween festivities this weekend. Since groceries can be 1/2 to 1/3 the cost in nearby France, we decided to make a trip there to pick up the goods for the soiree.

Instead of picking a close border town, we chose to drive to Annecy, which is about 30 minutes from Geneva. Gabe had been to Lake Annecy before for work, but neither of us had been to the Annecy Old Town.

It was very charming. I loved the reflective colors in the canals that wove in and out of the charming French streets. I know my Mom will love this place when she comes to visit.


Our verdict on shopping in France is that it is really only worth it for large parties or stocking up on pantry goods. The Swiss are so strict on what goods you import, it took a lot of brain power when shopping to add up the weights to make sure we were under. In fact, I picked up a small frozen bag of veal meatballs and had to put them back because they were twice our limit.

We know not to push the limits. One of Gabe’s co-workers went to France to prepare for a big American style BBQ at her house. She bought 80 euros worth of meat there…a steal for a party….but ended up with 400 francs of importation fines. Ouch.

Check out Lady J’s blog more on shopping in France, including the limits.

Friday Hikes in the Swiss countryside

Post by Lauren

I had taken a sabbatical from Friday hikes for awhile because of my feet, but started back up for the past two weeks. I absolutely love the views walking in the countryside, so was grateful for time outdoors. Here are a few snapshots :

AVUSY, a 50 minute bus ride from center city Geneva:


GLAND to ROLLE, a 15-20 minute train from Geneva’s main station:

The great news is that between this and Burgundy last weekend, I have a lot more painting inspiration. I hope people like vineyards 🙂

Gratitute Friday: Painting en plein air

Post by Lauren

It’s been a great week…..I got to paint 3 times outdoors in the last 8 or so days. I am very thankful for the burst of beautiful weather before we head into winter here in Switzerland.

The first time, I painted on the right bank, and had a glorious view of Mt. Blanc. You have to look really hard at the above photo, but you can see the snowy white mountain range almost disguised by the clouds. Here was the result:

The second time, I did the left bank in the financial district. This little guy kept hanging out after I shared a part of my baguette.

The third time A met me. It was the best time for three reasons. One, I had company. Two, she brought wine. Three, some Americans tried to buy her painting on the spot. An interesting time!

Bon weekend, everyone!

Adoring French Villages

Post by Lauren

I have really grown an appreciation for small French villages. The handful of little towns we have visited within driving distance of Geneva are really adorable. We had another lovely experience during our time in Burgundy, checking out a few of the villages in the region.

Beaune & Nuits-St-Georges:

Chalon-sur-Saône, where we stopped an hour or two on the way back to Geneva for market day & exploring the town:

Adventures in Bourgogne Wine

Post by Lauren

This weekend, we traveled with S & S to Bourgogne (Burgundy) wine country. It’s only about a 2 1/2 hour drive from Geneva. Not bad. Below you can see the portion of France that is designated to be Burgundy. I make this designation of what is truly Burgundy because they certainly make sure to educate you that their wines are the most special viticulture region of France, above Champagne and Bordeaux. We had an excellent guide, Jean Michel, who used to be the director of the travel board of Burgundy. In this role, he traveled all over the world educating on Burgundy wines. And after a day with him, we all felt a bit smarter on wine.

Takeaway #1 – Burgundy wines are special because of the geology. The Cote d’Or used to be an actual coast many years ago. When the Alps formed, it rifted the layers of limestone, thus creating different steps of limestone based soil. It was the Cistercian monks In the 11th Century who actually discovered that the different plots produced different tasting wines. It is because of this that they have the four designations today: regional, village level, village premier cru and village grand cru. They can be literally intermingled.

Notice the gradients in the limestone in the top picture and how the different soils make different color leaves, resulting in a "patchwork" effect.

This land is only a cool 6 million for 2.3 acres. What a deal! But this price and scarcity of sale prevents people from buying large plots at once. It isn’t unusually for an owner to only have 3-4 rows of vines in one place, and then own another few rows elsewhere. This also keeps production small and focused on quality.

Why were monks making wine, you might ask? Well in this day and age, they dedicated one-third of their time to prayer, one-third to education/study, and one-third to labor. Their labor was on the land they were given, the vineyards, and they used their production for gifts and for trade.

Scenes from the monastery, Clos de Vougeot
The monks worked here during the week and marched home on Sundays.

Takeaway # 2 – Europeans really believe in the terroir methodology. We heard yet again how Californian wine has a bigger nose, meant to wow, with this mentality being the American style. Jean Michel taught us that Burgundies have a lighter first nose, but then their tastes exceed expectations. You may remember in Italy I learned a lot about Old World vs. New World production. It’s a constant theme here.

At our cellar tasting, Jean Michel taught us that wine tasting was an “intellectual process”.

Takeaway # 3 – Wines are meant to be shared. We talked about the art of selecting a bottle throughout the day, being equally as difficult a skill as tasting. Jean Michel told us that his cellars were never locked for his children, but they were taught that if they took a bottle, they must ensure that the person they shared with appreciated the quality. In the cellars at Gevrey Chambertin, there were bottles from 1934. He told us they were literally “priceless”. I’d strongly encourage anyone traveling through France to make a stop in Burgundy. An incredible place.

Gratitude Friday: Having a Place

Post by Lauren

This Friday, I am grateful for having a home, and the fact that I have never had to worry about having a place to sleep. I would include a “warm place to sleep” in this designation, but we don’t actually have that guaranteed anymore in our current apartment since our heat hasn’t been fully turned on yet by the regie 🙂

Kidding aside, I used to volunteer frequently at The Samaritan House back in Charlotte, cooking meals for and playing games with the guests. The organization was for homeless who were recovering from a hospital stay or had a serious medical condition. Traditional shelters, while good, were not an adequate place for this type of individual needing rest and recuperation. Samaritan House allowed them to live in a family-like setting for up to a month and also provided assistance for housing & jobs upon recovery.

In acclimation training, when I mentioned this and my intention on seeking similar opportunities in Geneva, our trainer commented, “good luck with that”.

When I first arrived, I did find it difficult to find places to give back. Most what I consider “real” volunteer opportunities have the pre-requisite of speaking decent French. I can’t check that box yet. Did you read Wednesday’s post?

The women’s club always has a need for people, and I have been helping with welcoming people and doing pro-bono marketing and PR. It’s a great organization. But, as a sole outlet, it lacked what I got out of my time at Samaritan House.

I phrase this exactly this way because without question, I get more out of volunteering with those in need, exceedingly more than the time or money that I put into it. It provides a paradigm shift for what problems actually are. When you see those give such gratitude for simple gestures like a meal or a conversation, it makes you realize how joyful you need to be with your own situation. I don’t know about you, but I need a healthy dose of that often.

I was so delighted when a friend at the women’s club mentioned her church cooks and serves lunches for a women’s shelter here in Geneva, Café Care. I had my first visit this week and am so grateful for the timing of the experience. I won’t go into the details, but sometimes life in a foreign country can get you down, and it was one of those weeks.

Café Care

We served the lunch, so sat down a few minutes after everyone had started eating, finding spots amongst the twenty women attending that day. As I unfolded my napkin, the girl in front of me looked up and said to me with kind eyes, “bon appétit, madame”.

Just what I needed.

Bon week-end everyone!