Guests: How Spelling Errors can be Deadly

Post by Lauren

One thing I noticed on my first trip to Europe is that you need make sure to know city names in the native language. Example: when going to Venice or Florence, look for Venezia or Firenze, their Italian names.

This was amplified when we moved to Switzerland. There are 4 official languages, so you always need to know the other versions for each city so you are sure you know where you are going.

To make matters worse, many cities sound the same.

Lausanne sounds like Lucerne a little. When we have had friends come, it has been a tripping point. Wait…are we going to Lausanne or Lucerne? Or are they the same? They are both cities in Switzerland but not near each other at all.

Complicating that with the multiple language concept, Lucerne is French. It is Luzern in English, Lucerna in Italian and Lozärn in Swiss-German. If I saw Lozärn on a train board, I am willing to bet bet I would think it was just a variation of Lausanne.

 

This is Lausanne, not Lucerne.

In fact, in WWII, the British Air Force got confused and bombed Geneva instead of Genoa (Italy) on June 11, 1940 in three successive waves. Four Swiss people died because of the mistake and a dozen were injured. They are noted to have gotten off-position and said, “We thought it was Genoa.”

How terrible to die of a spelling error.

To our visitors, please note Geneva is Genève in French, Genf in German, Ginevra in Italian and Generva in Romansch. We don’t want you to end up in Genoa, Italy.

Guests: How to Tell Time Here

Post by Lauren

A few months ago, I did a post on the metric system and how difficult it is to get used to when you are used to another system.

Another cultural difference is in reading time.

Clock tower in Bern

 

In Europe they use military time most of the time So, I get invitations for lunch at 13:15 and for French class at 14:30.

But, sometimes not. And that makes it really difficult when taking appointments over the phone. When arranging our next rendez-vous, I heard my French teacher say at “à douze heure” [ah-douz-urr] but she really said “à deux heure” [ah-dooz-urr]. One is 12 and one is 2. I asked for clarification once I saw her pencil it into her afternoon instead of mid-day and she quickly told me no one says 12pm, only “midi”. Okay, glad we have that solved.

They don’t use a.m. and p.m. here. I do some copywriting for the women’s club. As a habit, I write things like a certain group meets at 11am and constantly get reminded that it simply doesn’t apply. It’s 11:00. The other day I was tutoring English to a French lady at the women’s home and tried to explain the concept of a.m. and p.m. She commented that it was very odd we had that.

To keep complicating things, dates are listed here in Day / Month / Year vs. Month / Day / Year. So the grocery item marked 12/04/2012 actually expires in April instead of December of 2012. When you have mixed US and Swiss pantry items and medicine, it can get a bit confusing.

How does this apply to guests??
Please note that when filling out any paperwork, doing the date Day / Month / Year is important. Also, when you buy any type of train or airfare, pay attention to the date in this format and the time in this format. This would also be key for buying tickets to a show or museum. An 8:00 ticket would be in the morning vs. 20:00 in the evening. A train ticket on 2/3/12 is March 2nd, not February 3rd.

Guests: How to Ride the TPG (bus/tram)

Post by Lauren

It is likely that we won’t make you ride the public transport by yourself for your first time, but it is good to get a lesson on how it works. Once you know how to buy a ticket and how to go the right direction, it is easy!

Switzerland is so rich they have an Hermes tram

The first thing to know is that you must have a ticket. If you are caught without it, it is something like 100 CHF payable on the spot. If you don’t have 100 CHF, they will walk with you to an ATM.

The second thing is that you do not actually have to show that ticket to anyone unless you are “checked” by a TPG officer (rarely happens). But tuck it in a safe place in case that happens on your journey.

The third thing to know is that you must have change handy to buy a ticket. In Switzerland, everything under a 10 CHF note is in change (see A’s post for the breakdown). If it is not exact change, it gives you a receipt that you can cash in for your change. There are only two offices and the lines are long, so I recommend putting in exact change. Or, you can always give your credit receipts to me as a present.

Here is how to buy a ticket:

Make all your decisions first or some angry Swiss person will get peeved you are taking too long. The Swiss like to buy their ticket right as the train is approaching so that they can maximize the hour, so if you don’t want to get yelled at in French, think about the following:

1. Decide how many separate times you’ll take public transport in the day. If just once or twice, you should just get a ordinary one-hour ticket [A] for 3.50 CHF. If you want to use it a few times, you should get a day ticket so that you can use it all day long.
1. If you are getting a day ticket, check your watch. If its after 9am, you are entitled to a cheaper full day ticket [B] for 8 CHF. If it is before 9am and you still want a regular full day ticket, hit [C] for 10.60 CHF.
2. If you are entitled to a half fare ticket (if you have a half fare card or Swiss Flexi Pass) hit [E] before inserting your money and it will make a reduction. For a one-hour ticket, it becomes 2.50 CHF, 5.60 CHF for a reduced full day and 7.60 for a full day regular.

Then the machine shows you how much you owe, you slip in the change, and voila! out comes your paper ticket. Put it somewhere safe so you can access it if checked.

 

But wait, how do I know where I am going???

You should know the number you want to take by referencing a map, or having us tell you which one to take. The tram runs two ways though so be careful to go the right way. They will be labeled with their end destination. You should reference on a map which direction you want to go, based on where you are. Each tram/bus stop also has the list of stops for each # on a sign that you could look at as well.

Careful that some lines have different destinations to provide frequency during rush hour. For example, the #5 in the northern direction goes to Aeroport usually (the end of the line) but sometimes there is also a #5 Nations. If you are going to the Aeroport (end of the line), don’t get on the Nations #5 or it won’t go far enough.

Here are some others that I know do this:
#12 Palettes and #12 Carouge
#14 Meyrin and #14 Cern
#8 OMS and #8 Appia

What is the difference between a bus and a tram?
They work in effect the same way. You have to hit the red button on the bus to make it stop for you. However, on a tram, it stops every time. You only have to hit the red button to open the doors so that you can exit.

Why do some buses have numbers and some letters?
The numbers travel in town and the letters travel out further into the countryside.

Are there other public transportation methods I can use?
Why yes, you can take the mouettes, the boats. For a one-way, you can buy a ticket simple [D] for 2 CHF that is good for one crossing or riding the bus/tram only 3 stops (usually you ride it more than 3 stops so that is why I didn’t mention it above). Your hour pass or day pass also covers travel on these, if you already have that type of ticket, you are good to go.

Is there anything else I need to know?
Yes….when your stop is approaching, you need to stand up and by the door. If you do not show initiative to exit, the people waiting to get on the tram/bus could end up boxing you in. As the cheerleaders say,” Be aggressive…be be aggressive.”

And…watch your wallet/purse. Pick pocketing is very common in Geneva. Just be smart!

Guests: How to Ride Swiss Trains

Post by Lauren

Swiss Trains are AMAZING. They run on time and get you to pretty much any place in Switzerland.

 

Handy map of Switzerland and its train system: http://www.swisstravelsystem.ch/fileadmin/pdf/STS-GB-M-11-EN-WEB.pdf

Here is some basic information on what approaches to take when buying train tickets:

DISCOUNTS FOR ANYONE:

Half fare card = 150 CHF to obtain – knocks all train / boat / cable-car purchases in half.
*You can just use it to reduce your fare in half
OR
    *Holders of half fare card may purchase day cards for 64 CHF which provide unlimited travel for a whole day on all SBB trains and Post Buses. Day cards after 9am are 48 CHF but can’t be used Sat, Sun or holidays
How it works: you must buy in Switzerland upon arrival. You must have a small passport photo.

Pro: If you are here a long time and are traveling long distances, it could be worth it

Con: It is a year pass, non transferable, and you wouldn’t be able to use it rest of year – unless you visit us again 🙂

DISCOUNTS, ONLY FOR TOURISTS:



Swiss Pass – must buy not in Switzerland at ST offices and travel agents or  www.swisstravelsystem.ch in advance of your trip. Covers all travel on rail, buses and boats and some cable ways. Must validate at airport upon landing in Switzerland. 4 day = 260 CHF, 8 day = 376 CHF, etc. Must be concurrent days. You get 15% discount for 2 adults.

Note: you must validate it to start or you’ll get in trouble

Pro: If you travel every day long distances, this is a good value

Con: Must be used in concurrent days so isn’t a good value if you are resting in cities or in Geneva other days
OR

Swiss Flexi Pass – allows between 3 and 6 days travel within one month. You get 15% discount for 2 adults. On the travel days, you can have free travel on most public transport. On days in between, you can travel for half the fare. You are also entitled to receive a discount on many gondolas, funiculars and mountain trains.
3 days = 249 CHF
4 days = 302 CHF
5 days = 349 CHF
Note: you must validate it for the days you use it

Pro: Makes a lot of sense if you are here for a week and we are traveling a lot in Switzerland
For more, see this: http://www.myswissalps.com/swissflexipass.asp?lang=EN

OR, BUY AS YOU GO

Supersaver single tickets – provide large discounts on selected long distance routes – http://sparbillette.sbb.ch  (limited in number and only 14 days out).
Pro: Good to know about for one-off trips

Con: you can’t book up until 14 days in advance

OR

We can buy as we go on the machines at the train station. You can see timetables and quote trips at:

http://www.sbb.ch/en/home.html

Pro: flexibility
Con: not as many savings

General Tips:

What is best is to do the math for the individual trips. Example, If you invest in a 150 Half fare card, you can deduct the fares in half, but do the number of trips make up the 150 CHF investment? With the Swiss Flexi pass, are your savings more than adding up the trips? If not, it might be cheaper to buy as you go. Use this URL to quote one-off trips:
http://www.sbb.ch/en/home.html

Please note that with day passes, Swiss passes and Swiss Flexi passes, you must Validate your ticket in an orange machine, provided on all platforms by inserting the ticket into the slot.

Some things to know about Swiss trains:

-The big train signs that show where to go to catch it always list the end destination. If you are not going to its’ end destination, make sure to note the other stops to confirm it is your train. It will then give you a “Voie” or “Bin” which means the # of the track your train will come on. Sub tips:
-If your destination isn’t listed and its more than 15 minutes until yours departs, don’t assume you are in the wrong place. Trains come through every 10-15 minutes so yours will show up soon if you are the correct Voie.
-Once its time for yours, your board will change. Then the next train that arrives is safe to get on. Also use the clock shown to verify. If its 13:29 (1:29pm), then its too early for the 13:42. If its 13:35-13:40, then this is about the time when it will arrive.

-Take heed to make sure you enter the trains marked 2 if you are in 2nd class. Otherwise, you might be contributing to Switzerland’s economy more than you want. We learned this the hard way.

-They don’t check your ticket to get on the train, but shortly into the trip, someone comes by. You must have all forms of documentation – for example, your ticket plus your half fare card together.

-They have bathrooms

– They do have a drink/food cart and on longer trains, a dining car. However, the food cart doesn’t look appealing and is expensive so consider bringing your own snacks and food (plus a bottle of wine!)

-You do not get assigned seats unless you are going to another country (France, Italy) or riding a scenic train (Glacier Express, Golden Pass, Bernina Express, William Tell). But you might get booted at some point from yours if you are sitting in someone’s who is doing a trip like this.

-If you ride the scenic trains, you need a reservation in addition to your ticket. We can help you get that at the station.

-You can generally get off in a city that looks appealing for a few hours, and hop on a later train to your destination

Bon voyage!

 

Guests: What you need to know!

Post by Lauren

We have visitors coming soon!! The next few posts are all about what you need to know when you visit us.

Logistics wise:

-We live in Geneva, so the GVA airport is the best to fly into. It is only 20 minutes driving or a 30 minute bus ride from our house.

-If we are picking you up: when you exit baggage claim, there is only one exit to the GVA airport so don’t worry about getting lost! We’ll be there waiting!

-If for some reason you are taking public transportation, please note that you can get a free transportation ticket in the baggage claim area, good for one hour. Make sure to get it at the time when you are leaving so you maximize the hour.

Push the button to get a free TPG ticket. Wait until right before you leave to maximize the hour!

 

What to Bring:

-Many of your small electronics may not work. We have a Swiss hairdryer, so don’t bother to bring yours. Use your curling irons and straigteners at your own risk as the electricity is known to eat them.

-We have a Swiss converter for you to use while you are here. But, if you are going to another country, you may want to buy one in advance for that country since the Swiss one is special.

-If you want to pack lighter and bring only a few outfits, you are welcome to do laundry while you are here. Just know that it takes 5 hours for one load. I will also make you do it so you get to see how fun it is!

-If you have any specific medicines you use or think you might need, bring them. They don’t have things like cold medicine, Pepto Bismol, etc. here. We do have a stock of American Advil and common pain killers though.

-If you have any special things you like, such as Lipton Tea or Sweet & Low, you may want to bring a stash. We don’t have that stuff here either.

-Same goes for snacks. It’s good to maybe bring a stash of your favorite stuff for day trips since a bag of chips at a convenience store will cost 8 francs. Also, they might not have a selection you like.

-We have towels, washcloths and linens so you don’t need to bring that stuff.

-We also have practical things like soap, shampoo, conditioner, lotion, band-aids, etc at our home so you can pack less of that. However, if you like a certain kind, feel free to bring it.

-If we are traveling during your stay to hotels, do bring a little bottle of conditioner if it something you like to use. European hotels don’t provide this. One of my pet peeves!!

-We only have one bathroom, so you may want a light robe or something to walk around in.

-The water is completely safe here and yummy. They have fountains everywhere. Bring a bottle to save money on buying bottled water.

-A large daybag or backpack could be handy for the plane carry-on and you
could also take it on our day trips.

-Women should bring a purse that zips fully and is secure. The main type of crime in Europe is pickpocketing, not violent crime, so you should select a purse that can be
closed up easily.

-If you are doing a smaller trip without us, you are welcome to borrow a backpack or small suitcase of ours.

Finances and Budgeting:

-Depending on where we go, you could need Swiss Francs and Euros (over the border). We recommend that you use an ATM card to take out money at an ATM here. There are a lot of ATMs at the Geneva airport, and around town. You could get them before you leave the US, but most banks charge $10 or so to order them for you, which is more than your fee will be taking the cash out here.

-You can use your credit card for big activities like train tickets, cable car rides and hotels. But, please be warned you’re your card could have a fee associated with it, at 1-2% for International purchases. Also, do not assume you can use your credit card at restaurants, convenience stores, or for street food….this is more of a cash society and they are often not taken.

-Call your credit card company beforehand if you plan to use your card while you are here….just to avoid it being shut off when they see a European purchase

-Switzerland is expensive! We can make meals at home as much as you like, such as breakfasts and dinners, but here is what to budget:

-Breakfast out if not provided by us or hotel: around 10 CHF for coffee & a pastry
-Lunches out: 15 CHF minimum but most places are 20-30 CHF
-Dinners out: 20-30 CHF minimum
-A soda or a water at a cafe: 5-6 CHF
-Train tickets: One hour away – about 30 CHF, two hours, about 50 CHF. See tomorrow’s train post for savings.
-If we’ll be taking public transportation, it only takes coins (3.50 CHF/one or 8-10 CHF/day), so keep your change. Also note that it doesn’t give change so its good to have lots of change handy so that you have the right amount.

-The exchange rate fluctuates between 10-20% over the dollar. So just know that if its marked CHF, its 10-20% more than the USD depending on when your visit is.

Other Travel tips:

-Make a color copy of your passport to slip into each luggage that you bring. Just in case it is stolen, its easier to recover with a copy.

-Always be aware of your belongings. Keep purses and backpacks in your lap on public transportation vs. at your side or on your back. Keep purses in your lap when eating at a restaurant vs. on the back of your chair. If you sit your backpack down on the ground when you are eating, loop your foot through the strap so that it can’t be grabbed. We don’t mean to scare you as you’ll be safe….the crime is just limited to theft. However, we know many very smart and alert people who have been robbed in Europe. Just remember, it is these people’s profession and they are GOOD at stealing.

-If you are traveling without us, its good practice to pick up a hotel card so you always have it in case you get lost, you can use it to get directions or a cab ride.

Gratitude Friday: Swiss Water

Post by Lauren

One of my favorite things about Switzerland is the abundance of free yummy water.

Whether you are in an urban area, a small town, or the middle of the countryside, you are sure to find a babbling spout, as can be seen below. You can easily fill your bottle up no matter where you are.

In the US we have things like this but you wouldn’t dare drink out of it. However, here is is 100% safe and super tasty. I have been told the water supply is monitored three times a day to monitor for any abnormalities. From the swissworld site, they quote:

The drinking water that comes out of Swiss taps is as pure as bottled mineral water – and 500 times cheaper.

In a country where everything is expensive, I am grateful for this natural perk.

Bon weekend, everyone!

 

A page from the Swiss rulebook: Visit and Thank you specifics

Post by Lauren

When moving to Switzerland, I read quite a lot about how to properly thank people and what to bring when you are invited to a true Swiss person’s home. All these books advised that it would be quite rare to actually get invited to a Swiss home as an ex-pat, since they only invite trusted long term friends vs. folks who are only here in two year stints. ( See more on this and tu and vous on Schwingen in Switzerland )

However, I thought we better be prepared, so I have noted the following:

Rule #1 – When going to a dinner party, you should bring a gift for the gentleman and a gift for the lady. So, perhaps a bottle of wine and a bouquet of flowers. Or chocolate for her and whisky for him.

We saw this when Gabe’s co-workers came to pick up the large items we had included in our shipment for them, after they found out it wasn’t possible to buy in Switzerland. They brought him a very nice bottle of champagne and me this gorgeous orchid that has been adding so much color to our home this summer. They obviously read the manual and I was impressed by their gesture.

Sub-Rule 1a – if there are children, you must also bring something for them like a chocolate or a toy.

Sub-Rule 1b – if you bring wine, it is noted to make sure it is of high quality.

Check. Good to know not to bring the Boones farm to the nice gatherings.

Sub-rule 1c – if you bring flowers, they should not be carnations, or lilies which mean death or yellow roses.

Sub-rule 1c1 – do not ever bring an even number of flowers. Only odd. Its bad luck to bring even.

Glad to know about the even/odd thing. I’ll make sure to note this.

However, I am concerned that they had to put the clause about buying carnations in this book…who is out there buying carnations anymore?

Rule # 2 – Always wait for your guest to offer a toast such as “Santé”* before drinking. Don’t clink your glasses like American’s do. Make sure to stare deeply into everyone’s eyes before taking a sip.

Check. I can handle that. We have actually been practicing the “santé” quite a bit. Except everyone seems to interpret “deeply” as “creepy”. See A executing the creepy santé below.

Rule #3 – leave by 9pm.

Check. When I lived in Charlotte and went to the gym at 5am, I can appreciate this rule. Most of my Charlotte friends have witnessed me falling asleep at my own dinner party. That was usually their signal to leave.

Also, we have heard that we shouldn’t make noise between 8pm and 8am. So, no running the dishwasher, washer/dryer and certainly no footsteps. We haven’t had any issues with neighbors so far, but our friends have had neighbors approach them and tell them that they won’t think twice about calling the police if they hear a peep from them after 10pm.

Rule # 4 – never ever show up at someone’s door unannounced. The Swiss are very private people.

Check. Every building has a door code anyway. I don’t plan on breaking in to crash on new nonexistent Swiss friends.

So far we have only done Canadienne Buffets at friends homes, more in the style we are used to. We like this as everyone just brings a dish and we don’t have to buy each other gifts ever time we go over to each others houses. But now we are prepared in the case of Swiss friends. We shall keep you posted if we ever need to use such rules! I’m not banking on it….

*Santé means “to your health” and is pronounced sonn-tay! You should try it at home.