The Swiss: They are just like us!

You hear so often from us what is different in our ex-pat lives compared to our previous life in America.  This week, I thought it would be funny to do a spoof on US Weekly’s “Stars: They’re Just Like Us!” column to show a few everyday examples of the similarities in American and Swiss citizen’s day-to-day life:

When their cats go missing, they post signs! This reads “Little tricolor cat lost. Please call # if you find it. Thank you.”

They don’t like junk mail. This sign reads “No ads/junk mail in this mailbox”

Baby on board sign

They have troops of Boy Scouts looming around town, saving the day.

They have dollar stores. Sort of. This is a 2 Franc store in the Italian part of Switzerland. So, its more like $2.25 store. Close enough.

They send spam on phones too. Not cool.

They advertise about going green.

Their youngsters play beer pong.  Article / photo courtesy of 20 Minutes.

I’ll keep on the hunt of more examples…..stay tuned!

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Pumpkins Galore at the Fête de la Courge

The Sunday after our guests left we went into withdrawal.  We’ve been traveling non-stop for what seems like 4 months.   So what should we do?

Luckily, the small commune of Corsier was holding the annual Fête de la Courge.   Courge means pumpkin in French.  We didn’t quite know what to expect, but we were pleasantly surprised by the sweet little festival.

The pumpkin was certainly in the spotlight.  Farmers were selling every variety of gourd….from pumpkin, to squash, to small decorative ones.  They had pumpkins from Switzerland and pumpkins from Provence.

Lots of little pumpkins

A very attractive line-up

They had pumpkin pie.  Pumpkin quiche with bacon.  Pumpkin soup.    We even found the “great pumpkin”.

Delicious pumpkin treats

Gabe with the Great Pumpkin

However, sorry to report that there were no pumpkin spice lattes.

They also had a ton of local merchandise: sausages, macarons, wine, and Gabe’s favorite: Brasserie des Murailles beer.

A nice spread

Homemade macarons

Sausage

Brasserie des Murailles beer

We enjoyed the revelry and even bought our own pumpkins to decorate our flat.  They are not the traditional Halloween kind….more natural and lopsided, but they will do!

For more on the festival and dates for 2013, check out the Corsier website.

Desalpe Festival

Sometimes I have to pinch myself when I realize that we live in Switzerland.   We love getting to experience a completely new way of life and new customs.   This past weekend was no exception, when we attended the Semsales Desalpe Festival.

What is a Desalpe you might ask?    In Switzerland, the cows happily live in the Alps in the summer, munching away on the greenest of grassy pastures.  However, the cold snowy temperatures that come in the winter are even too harsh for Swiss cattle.  So every Fall, the happy Swiss cows come down from their summer home in the high Alps to their lower grassy pastures and barns.

Most small villages celebrate their return home with a Desalpe Festival, literally translated, “from the Alps”.

We attended the festival in the town of Semsales, in the canton of Fribourg, near Gruyeres.   This festival is special because of its spacing.  Typically, all the herds are condensed in one parade.  However, in Semsales, each group gets the individual spotlight.    From 10:00 in the morning until 18:00 in the evening, a total of 14 families march through town proudly, welcoming their herd home for the winter.

We got quite an awakening to the procession when parking our car.   Literally, one of the herds came into us!

Well, hello there.

Walking into town, we got to see quite a few more processions.    The first few cows wear very tall ornamentation.  Sort of like Christmas trees on their heads:

Nope – not Christmas in October. Just the Desalpe festival!

Then comes the more subdued cows….smaller floral arrangements.

This lady has a classier look going on. But what she looses in floral prowess, she makes up in cowbell size. Holy cow.

Moo-ve over and get out of my way, lady.

Just an everyday walk on the highway

In addition to the cows, groups of musicians were also a special part of the Desalpe.   We enjoyed the cowbell group:

The cowbell band

Handling their bells. The muscles on these folks have to be strong!

We really enjoyed the Alphorn band

They also have delicious cheese and meat based foods.

This was a super big pot of cheesy potatoes

Local meat, cheeses, and breads for lunch. Plus some nice red wine from the nearby vineyards.

If you are attending a Desalpe, just make sure to wear old shoes or maybe even some wellies.  You are most certainly going to step in something nasty.

Hey lady, maybe you want to keep your baby out of the cow poo

I thought this was my best picture of the day until I realized what was happening.

For a more interesting visual, check out the video footage from our day at the Desalpe:

Six more pieces of “chocolate trivia”

While the Heidi and Olga were in town, we managed to sneak in a chocolate tour at Stettler Laboratories.   I had done a tour with the AIWC back in February, and it was really well done, so thought they’d like doing it.    Plus, the last time I did the tour, it was in French.   So, this time, we opted for English and I soaked up a few more facts that my previous visit.    Here is what we learned:

Chocolate can help get your full day’s servings of fruits & vegetables.   The cocoa pod, from which chocolately goodness is extracted, is actually a FRUIT!

The cocoa plant.  Kind of creepy.  Like a brain.

Chocolate can help your garden grow.    You can actually use the non-edible parts of cocoa shells for garden mulch.  Just be careful if you have a dog!!

Cocoa shell images courtesy of Homejelly.com

White chocolate actually isn’t chocolate.    It is a derivative of the delicious stuff, but really only uses the cocoa butter.

Learning about the differences in cocoa and cocoa butter

You can spread out the joy over many months.    Most chocolate keeps six months.   If it has cream or fruit-type ingredients, you should consume it over 8 weeks.  Good to know!  I always try to consume it within a week so it didn’t go stale or maybe that was just because there was fresh yummy chocolate in the house and I couldn’t resist.  But, I guess I can savor it a bit more now!

Chocolate can’t be kept as long as a fine wine, but longer than I had assumed!   Loved Stettler’s chocolate wine bottles, just in time for the grape harvest, come stuffed with truffles 🙂

However, speaking of storage, don’t keep chocolate in the fridge.  The moisture can break it down.  If you don’t have a cool, dark place, make sure you wrap it tightly so the moisture doesn’t reach it.

Mmmmmm. Tasty!

Like most hand-crafted goods, expect to pay more for quality chocolate.  Stettler is a very quality Swiss brand and all of the chocolate is made by hand.

The classic marmites for Geneva’s L’Escalade take a lot of hand-work.

If you would like to visit Stettler, you can call or email them to make an appointment for a visit.   The visit costs 20 CHF per person, but includes a lovely gift of the famous Paves de Genève at the end.
Chocolats Stettler
49 avenue Blanc
1202 Genève
Téléphone: 022 738 17 20
Related links:

The Swiss Watch Blog:   It’s Raining – I guess we have to go to the chocolate factory

The Swiss Watch Blog: The Land of Chocolate & Cheese

The Swiss Watch Blog:  Famous Swiss Foods – Chocolate (My first Stettler visit)

A Perfect Swiss Day

Hooray!   Isabella and Ferdinand have been here!    They had a wedding to attend in England and we were lucky that they came to Geneva to visit us beforehand.

Ferdinand had to work at the beginning, organizing a golf event.  Once work was done, on the weekend, the four of us set off on a Swiss adventure.

Our first stop was the Lavaux wine region.  Isabella can’t drink currently (she is expecting), but we wanted to show them this UNESCO gem nonetheless.  So, we took the Chexbres exit off of the A1 and descended down the village towns into Rivaz.   They were breathtaken with the gorgeous terraced vineyards as we are every time we visit.

Next stop…..Gruyères.

Ramparts of Gruyères

Walking around the château

Lovely little village

We skipped the cheese tour (we knew we were having raclette for dinner), but all did order Gruyère-cheese based dishes for lunch.

After Gruyères, we drove to Broc, home of Cailler chocolate factory.

Smelling the cocoa beans.

Branche candy bar machine

Ta da! The tasting room!

I just go straight to the good stuff at the end now. I am trained.

Discussing the merits of milk & white chocolate

Weeeeee!

 

 

After playing on the playground a bit, we headed back to Geneva.  We had a big night in store.

The Schwingen & Switzerland crew was hosting a raclette party before the big Fête de Genève fireworks.   Ferdinand and Isabella had raclette their last time in Switzerland, in Zurich, but they were impressed by S’s monstrous spread.

The spread at the S’s

Raclette in action

 

For dessert, S had “Creme de Gruyère” and “Creme Brulée” Movenpick ice cream.  She surprised her dad and me with a candle in each carton for a birthday surprise.  It was the loveliest ‘cake’ I have ever had.  If you have an opportunity, I urge you to try Movenpick ice cream.  Full of Swiss whole cream, its the real deal.

We left their house and were immersed in the madness that is Fête de Genève.  We say it is the absolute busiest, craziest time of year in Geneva.

We luckily found a spot for 12 of us, near the rides, and watched the magnificent hour long fireworks:

The beginning of the fireworks

 

Love this type!

Jet d’eau, in harmony with the show

What a perfect Swiss day!

 

 

Related Links:

The Swiss Watch Blog:   Cheese Wars

The Swiss Watch Blog:   It’s Raining – I guess we have to go to the chocolate factory

The Swiss Watch Blog:  Famous Swiss Foods – Cheese

The Swiss Watch Blog:  Famous Swiss Foods – Chocolate

The Swiss Watch Blog: The land of chocolate and cheese

The Swiss Watch Blog: Thanks for a Joyeux Anniversaire, everyone

The Swiss Watch Blog:   The fête commences

 

 

 

A day at the beach…including killer ducks

Hermance is located north of Geneva.  It is 30 minutes on Bus E.    I mentioned in a previous post, it is a nice little village, beautiful and charming.  Also, for guests, it can be a quick way to cross the border into France, as we did this spring.

Charming Hermance

It also has a really nice stone beach.   I visited this summer with my friend San Francisco Gal.  We made a picnic and enjoyed the sunshine.

A few things to know about the beach in Hermance:

-entry is 4 CHF for adults and 1 CHF for kids

-they have a snack shop, so you can purchase food & drinks (alternatively, we brought our own)

-its really windy since it is on a point…be prepared for temperatures cooler than Geneva

-its a rock beach as is common on Lake Geneva.   Maybe bring water shoes if you plan to do a lot of walking/swimming.

Hermance beach

-there are a lot of scuba divers.  They have special scuba showers and it is common to witness scuba activity such as this:

 

Scuba guys

-They have some ‘killer’ ducks.   It started as innocent as them pecking at my big toe, but then they quickly took over our picnic.   Have you ever seen anything like this?

 

 

 

Just how expensive is Switzerland?

Someone recently asked me “how expensive is Switzerland?”.   Well, an article this year named Zurich as the #1 most expensive city in the world.  Geneva ranked at #3.  Just to put it in perspective, New York City is 47th.

I thought I would showcase some examples.

You think US gas is expensive?  I see all your Facebook posts.  Well, it costs us over 125 francs (150 USD) to fill our car up.

462 CHF = 500 USD.   Our yearly TV tax.  Nope, this doesn’t include cable.  Just for the privilege of watching TV or signing up to pay 100 CHF / month more in basic cable.  You don’t even have to have a TV to get taxed….it covers radio too.

Getting your hair done. Gabe pays 85 francs for a men’s cut. This is like 93 USD. One time, he accidentally got a senior stylist and it was over 105 francs. I have a friend who got highlights at the same salon – 350 francs!!!

When people leave their paper & cardboard on the curb, they put it in a Louis Vitton bag.

Drink menu at a bar near our house, prices around 17-19 CHF.  Add 10% for the price of the Swiss franc, and you are spending a cool 20 spot for one drink.

12.70 CHF = about 14 USD for a Medium Value Meal at McDonalds.

The average window sign in Geneva.  These prices are not unusual on Rue du Rhone: Dress 2230 CHF, Bag 1280 CHF, Scarf 330 CHF, Ties 220 or 180 CHF, Shirt 1500 CHF and Pants 1330 CHF.

One of my favorite sources for expensive deals is Glocals, which is like our Living Social or Groupon.

I know these little Roombas are expensive in the US, but I think its only 200 USD. Here, half off, they are 400 CHF!!

What a deal!!! Half off: Only 69 francs (75 USD) for a mani / pedi!!! I used to pay 25 or 30 USD for both, full price.   Let’s just say I have also never paid to have my nails done here.

How do we live in such a city?  

Here, we only eat out once a week.   Back in the States, we ate out 5-8 times a week between lunch and dinners.   However, the average meal out at a low to mid-range restaurant with a glass of wine costs 80 CHF.  A nice place is 200 CHF.     So, thus the cut-back.

We eat less meat. It’s 3-4 times the prices of the US.  So we have more vegetarian meals.

We don’t buy any clothes here.   The extent of our purchases are a H & M furry hat for me when it was -20 degrees and a pair of boxers that were half off for Gabe.

We don’t buy “stuff”.  The desire is less great here (both their less commercialized way of life and the fact we don’t understand all the ads), but we make due with what we have.  We never go out just to shop or pick up something because it looks cool.

Pretty much, we spend all our disposable income on groceries and travel.  All in all, we don’t actually mind this change in lifestyle.  It will be interesting to see how this changes or stays the same when we return home.