Suiting it up in Geneva

Post by Lauren

Barney Stinson would love Geneva. Obviously for the level of awesomeness, but really the fellows in Geneva really know how to “suit it up”.

I still find it amazing to see everyone in their perfectly pressed suits whizzing by on their mopeds to work, on their bikes, and motorcycles. Men and women.

If you walk down the downtown Geneva anytime between 9a and 11a, you are sure to have a 3:1 suit to normal wear ratio. It makes me feel super self conscious since I am normally found in my gym clothes at that time.

If you think I’m kidding, even the guys at Globo gym behind the reception desk wear suits. Seriously..the gym?

I learned recently that the word suit in French is costume. I find this particularly funny in Geneva.

Look!!! A big sale on costumes!!

For more Swiss fashion trends, check out A’s blog.


A page from the Swiss Rule Book: Personal Space

Post by Lauren

Today we are addressing the Swiss rule book on personal space. Or lack thereof.

My displeasure at this cultural difference has been brewing for months. It erupted most often prior to most recent events at IKEA. As you shop at European IKEAs, people brush beside you, even where there is plenty of room. By the time we get to the frames, I am usually really to kill somebody. Gabe knows I have a time limit at IKEA due to this issue and tries to get me out of there in under an hour. Sometimes we had to go only in for one thing as we knew that the time to decide on two items might push me over the hour limit, and thus over the edge of sanity.

This place makes me go bonkers

While noticeable throughout the summer, the invasion of personal space became a forgotten thing at the end of the summer. I spent a lot of time back in the US where everyone sticks to themselves.

And upon return to Europe, the number of people in Geneva has multiplied. Like rabbits. If you were wondering where they went, they were all on vacation. Trams, buses, places are generally more crowded. In a crowd, one might try to separate from others to not invade another’s area. Not true in Switzerland. Even in empty places, they try to snuggle up next to you.

Yesterday, I went to the gym at 6:45am. The bus is empty at that hour. People usually don’t get going until 9am. So, I happily found an empty row on the bus. There were about 10 empty rows. I even had room to put my gym bag / purse on the seat next to me. So guess what next lady to board does? Sit beside me. I had to move my bag to my lap. Really?

And this morning, Gabe and I went together to the gym at 6:30am. Empty. Blissful. You get your pick of equipment. I laid a mat down to do abs for 20 minutes before disco spin. And my keys to my locker that i have to keep up with the whole time. On the vast vast vast floor, a lady comes and lays her mat on top of my keys about 3 inches from me. I said “pardon” and reached under her mat to get my keys. And she gave me a nasty look. Really?

I am just waiting for what fun is in store for space invasion tomorrow. I am considering getting a bubble suit to protect myself.

A page from the Swiss Rule Book: The Honor System

Post by Lauren

As you have probably noticed from our blog, the Swiss love to follow rules. Part of the reason I get yelled and honked at is that they assume everyone else wants to follow all the rules, perfectly, just like them. They aren’t trying to be mean, they just assume that others would want to know that we are doing something wrong so I could fix it. In their minds, they are “helping you out”. Sometimes, its okay, when I really do something wrong…I want to fix it. But when I am yelled at for crossing the street, with no cars coming for miles, just because the red man hasn’t turned to a green man, then that is when it annoys me.

But along the same lines, it’s this trait that shapes one of my favorite Swiss characteristics and that is their trust and honesty. It isn’t unusual for the Swiss to leave their doors unlocked, and even keys in the car on the street. Its that same assumption that no one would do anything wrong knowingly.

That is why Swiss bank accounts are numbered, without names in association. It’s each persons responsibility to report their taxes honestly. This is why there was such a big to-do when the US demanded Switzerland hand over the American’s bank account information who might be hiding money. To the Swiss, banking is private, and they believe their citizens will report honestly their bank information when it comes to tax time.

An example of this is the TPG, the transportation system. There are machines to buy tickets, but no one checks your tickets prior to boarding the bus or tram. Yet, they don’t seem to have any problem with this. I have seen two random checks in my 4 months here, and no one was in violation.

Another example is when paying for a paper. You aren’t required to put the coins in before taking a paper. You just drop them in a separate bucket. Its simple….just the honor system.

You never have to worry about someone short-changing you in Switzerland. It would be unheard of. Its a good thing, as my French numbers are still not up to par.

I find it refreshing that they have this must trust in others.

A Page from the Swiss Rule Book: The Dryer

Post by Lauren

It isn’t unusual to see people wear the same outfit for a few days in a row in Europe. It’s a very common occurrence for your professor to wear the same outfit all week, or co-workers.

One theory I have is on the difficulty of doing laundry. We find ourselves very lucky to have a washer/dryer in our place. This isn’t normal. There are two main reasons someone wouldn’t have this in their home:
1. most buildings are older and don’t have the hookups.
2. the price is insane. I mean insane.

Buying a W/D in the US isn’t that bad. I did get a GE Friends and Family deal, but think mine maybe cost 800 for both, including the delivery. We were floored by prices upon arrival here. The low end units are about 3000 CHF for a pair, with most being in the 5000-6000 / pair range. Add on 20% for exchange rate and it ends up being more than a lot of cars.

I actually recently learned that there is a reason….that is, beyond the fact that everything is just laughably more expensive here. On of my books states that everything is tinier in Switzerland so they have to make special W/D units for this little country in order for them to fit into most bathrooms. You can then see how producing only a few units a year would raise the prices. And thank goodness we have the tiny ones. As you read in our post about their arrival, there are only 6 inches between the edge and our shower pit currently. If it were bigger, we couldn’t fit in the shower.

Don't be jealous that I can do laundry and shower at the same time.

But, these little guys can’t fit but maybe 8 garments at a time. Or two towels. Or maybe one set of sheets – if you are lucky to get the fitted and the normal in the same load. And then it takes 5 hours to do a completely load as the washer cycle is 2:20 and the dryer is 2:30. Don’t even think you’d be lucky enough to have a set of dry clothes after 2 ½ hours either. They are still wet at that point. I think it is some sort of protective mechanism to prevent wasting electricity. I mean, why would you even want your clothes to be dry when they come out of the dryer? So wasteful. Just kidding. I only have that attitude since I can’t trick the darn thing. I try to empty the bladder* turn it off/on and confuse the machine to dry it like a fresh load, but it knows. It’s smart. It turns for a minute until I leave the room. Then it shuts off again. There is no tricking a Swiss dryer to waste electricity. It wouldn’t be very Swiss of it. So I still have to air dry everything all over the house after it has dryer time.

*Don’t be jealous of the fact that our dryer has a bladder. You have to empty it after every load or else nothing gets dry at all. Don’t believe me or know what a dryer bladder is? Here is a shot….luckily the bathtub is right there so i don’t have to find out where to dump the entire tank.

This must be emptied between every load and sometimes during loads with heavy items like towels

Why Everything is Always Closed in Europe

Post by Lauren

Before we decided to move, one of Gabe’s cons to moving to Switzerland was that stores weren’t open on Sundays. I questioned why that mattered so much and proclaimed that I would gladly exchange my current over-stressed situation for one that forbade errands to be done on Sunday. It would give me a chance to relax, after all instead of to squeeze in 10 errands from dawn til dusk! He just shrugged.

The jury is still out on preference, but I will admit I was a bit naïve on the impact this has to day-to-day life. I figured it was time to delve into the topic of Sunday closings as well as European vacation time.

Here is how it works here, without exception:

#1: All stores are open 9-7pm** on weekdays. They close at 5 or 6pm on Saturdays. Clincher: this includes ALL grocery stores.
#2: All stores are closed on Sundays. Clincher: this includes ALL grocery stores
#3: Stores are closed on any holiday. Even the random ones in the middle of the week that no one has ever heard of. Clincher: this includes ALL grocery stores

**Note, most of the time small stores, post offices, and independent businesses are also closed two hours for lunch. Forget getting stamps or nails from the hardware store during this time.

The nice thing is you don’t have to wonder if a store opens late on Sunday or is open on Sunday. In the US it was only Chic-fil-a you had to be careful of. Here, you just know its EVERYTHING!

Grande Vacances

You may already know that Europeans take off 4-8 weeks every summer for their grande vacances. We knew this from working with Europeans in the US but never gave a ton of thought to it except to be jealous.

When we first moved, a lot of people asked us where we were taking our holiday. I would reply that we were just working on settling and we planned to take some time in the winter holidays to visit friends and family. They would look at me strangely.

My French tutor informed me in mid-June that she was going to depart in a week for 6-8 weeks of vacation and we’d resume in mid-August, date TBD. I asked if we were still meeting the next week since she still had a week before she left. She looked at me funny and told me she had to pack over the next week for vacation. Oh.

Gabe was on a conference call and the question came up as one of the managers wanted to get the schedule straight of who was in when. Pretty much every single person he works with is off at least a full month in July/August. He likes it as he is getting to do a lot of big independent projects without a single person in the office.

While this works for Gabe, if you are in client services, you can’t work as your client is gone. Our friend A works with a client who was closed for August, so they encouraged him to take the month off as well.

It is very common to see signs all over town – restaurants, businesses – just closed for 8 weeks. A ran into this when she was baking her cake treats for a Canadienne buffet. The only bake shop in Geneva is closed for the entire summer, so she had to make do without it. We ran into last night when out to dinner with S & S. We arrived to the restaurant I selected in Carouge to find “closed” signs on a primo Saturday night due to their 3 week vacation.

This concept is very hard for Americans to understand. We have a personality of production and are generally not given a lot of vacation time. A few of us had a big conversation on this at the AIWC one day. How do they afford to take four weeks on vacation? How do businesses run without anyone there for 4 weeks? Don’t they need groceries on Sunday? What if you need medicine? If you are single and work full time, how do you ever get groceries or necessities…especially with so many lunch closings!?

The short answer that I was given is that it’s for their health. The Europeans believe that they will simply get sick if they don’t take at least a month off to decompress in the summer. While it is a stretch to afford a four week trip, they truly think they can’t afford not to do it in terms of stress/illness.

And in regards to the Sunday closings and early evening closings, that is the time that they set aside for families and charging their “batteries”. That is why it is forbidden to do any type of work – cleaning house, yard-work, taking out the trash, recycling, laundry, even drying laundry on a Sunday or after 8pm. It’s a time for rest for everyone. You aren’t allowed to exercise your hyper-productivity as a foreigner either. You’ll be pointed at and corrected.

And, it actually isn’t rooted in religion like you might think. My theory is that it maybe originally was. But now, its simply that they fear the stress will kill them.

Switzerland has the #4 life expectancy rate in the world. Take a look at this life expectancy chart. Many Western European nations are at the top. Should I continue to complain or take heed….maybe they have figured something out?


A Page from the Swiss Rule Book: Recycling

Post by Lauren

I am all about protecting Mother Earth. However, here in Switzerland, it really requires a lot of knowledge and time to keep up with your recycling. I really don’t know how I would manage if I were working full-time and had to do all of this, especially with the limited hours that the bins are available for use and stores are open. Also, they have “garbage police” that track down any offenders via rooting though your garbage for clues about your identity.

So, here is a breakdown of what is required:

Aluminum – cans go to a special aluminum bin that is normally located in your neighborhood recycling area. Note that my closest one is on the walk to the women’s club, so I take aluminum on days I have French.

Batteries & Lightbulbs – you have to take these back to the store you bought them. Usually the bin is right before you get into the store. We haven’t had this happen yet but good to know.


Compost – you are required collect your natural food scraps and put it in the special bin for compost. They make special bags for this but I have been using the bags that my salad comes in to dump since the teeny bags are about 1 CHF each.

Glass bottles – these go to a neighborhood collection site. The closest one is 3 blocks away, on my way to the post office. Usually this bag gets quite heavy as I despise going to the post office. Note the bag can get very full if you have a dinner party with beer and wine.

WARNING – you are only allowed to do this within certain hours, 8a-8pm, and NEVER on Sundays or holidays. My friend Alysoun and her husband were severely reprimanded by two separate neighbors for breaking this ordinance on the last Swiss holiday during the middle of the day, which was on a Monday.

Milk bottles – these have to actually go back to the grocery store, they usually go to the milk section inside the store – there is a little hole in the wall you insert your old bottles into. This has to happen during store hours, 8:30-7pm and when you know you are going to the store. One day, I carried three empty milk bottles around all day because I knew I was going to hit the Co-op that afternoon.

Paper & cardboard – this goes in your building’s bin. If your building doesn’t have a bin, you have to tie it up neatly in a 1’ x 1’ bundle tied with twine and put it on the street a certain day.


PET / Plastic Bottles – these have to be collected from the store you brought it from since it is the liability of the store from making profit of selling plastic bottles. So when you go grocery shopping, you need to return them with you. Sometimes these bins are just outside of the store, sometimes they are in the store.


While I feel very eco-responsible, I do miss single stream like we had in the US. And I never leave the house without a bag of something to recycle. I am a continual bag lady. This is typically the size of the load I carry out each day:



We had been keeping everything in the kitchen for convenience:

However, I finally couldn’t take the eyesore and smell, so I invented a new bin using a Rubbermaid tote. It sits outside on our kitchen balcony.

Happy Recycling Everyone!

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 🙂

Reason I Wish I Knew French #77

Today at Globo-gym, we had an unpleasant surprise. Ironically, the class I was taking was named F.I.R.E. and I am not quite sure what those initials stand for in French, since the acronym doesn’t mean anything in that language. However, 20 minutes in, the F.I.R.E. alarm went off.

A french voice came on the loudspeaker and everyone started moving for the doors. Hmm. No clue what they said but I am pretty sure I should follow. We weaved down stairs and were in the basement of the large department store and we eventually found our way outside to find a huge crowd of people, also from other floors in the building.

They ushered us to the lakeside only a block away. Everyone looked down at their feet in dismay. Most of the shoes had never seen the light of day since they have to be brand new and squeaky clean to be worn within the facility.

Yes, that was the first thing that popped in my head too during a fire emergency as well.

A few minutes later, the suited employees came running out of the building with stacks of towels for everyone. Remember, Swiss people (or at least in Geneva) don’t like to be seen in gym clothes in public. Many of the people in the class with them took them and wrapped them around themselves. Not for warmth…it was 70 degrees out….but as the sweaty attire was not appropriate for the posh neighborhood we were in.

My American brain was thinking maybe the instructor should continue class outside – we were wasting precious work out time there!!! I am sure that would have been frowned upon though so I didn’t lead the movement.

You’ll be happy to know that it was a false alarm and we all returned in after 20 minutes.

Glad I hadn’t taken an earlier class and been in the shower – that could have been super unpleasant without being able to understand and follow the lead.

So, this week, I resolve that I will attempt to learn more about emergency words in French so I am better prepared.

Swiss Made

A few of our readers have been concerned about us getting e-coli poisoning from the recent scare with the produce in Germany. Have no fear fair readers….it is actually very hard to find produce from anywhere but Switzerland, here in the local markets and groceries.

One of the things we noticed off the bat was that all goods are labeled with their country of origin. Whether it be meat, produce or even cereal, its clearly marked where all ingredients were sourced. In the later case of cereal, it lists where every single grain came from. Same with menus…all meats have their country listed.

The Swiss take a ton of pride into buying local goods. In reading, one of their reasons is that they are less dependent on others, stemmed from the wars of this past century. Whether or not that is actually true, I find three personal benefits from having Swiss made items:

1- I think it is pretty awesome that they support their local agriculture to such a degree…their pride and commitment is a neat thing to see amongst a nationality.
2- the goods have to travel from shorter distances which is better for the environment and usually means they are fresher.
3- in most cases, their meat and produce is already organic. It’s top notch and of upmost quality and you don’t have to pay more for this feature. In fact, the best strawberries I have ever had in my life are the Swiss berries at our neighborhood Migros grocery.

I have to admit that most times, I had no clue where my food came from in the US. But, here I take more notice. Take a look at a kaleidoscope of Swiss goods from this week’s shopping basket, all clearly labeled with “product Suisse” or a flag:

A collection of Swiss items from a trip to the store