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The Boy, 2 Muttleys and I have finally realized our dream of living 1 mile from the Lindt Chocolate Factory. Leaving Atlanta (the World of Coke) for Zurich (the World of Chocolate) hasn't come without challenges, incredible fun or giggles. Follow along as I chronicle our adventures as we acclimate to this new Swiss lifestyle.
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Saturday, March 27, 2010

What is your "Thing"?

Before you say "none of your beeswax, my thing is "A", you are "B", so "C" your way outta here"...hear me out. I am not talking body parts, k? I believe every Expat has a "thing", something that keeps you connected to where you came from. It is that one comfort you long for. It could be something tangible like a particular store (come on, we all miss Target!) or something intangible like communication:

Me: "Ich hatte gern blahty blah" (I would gladly like to have blahty blah)

Salesperson: "Ok, would you like blahty blah to go?" (Ok, would you like blahty blah to go?)

Me: "Sheisse! Du sprichst fricken English, weil meine Deutsch so schlecht ist" (Poop! You are speaking fricken English, because my German is so bad)

Salesperson: "It is just easier, there is a long line behind you... so giddy up cowgirl" (no translation needed unfortunately)

I suppose you could have more than one "thing", I know I do. In addition to wanting the ability to communicate, I want me some bacon.

You think I jest, but I am dead serious about my unhealthy obsession with bacon. I firmly believe my heart and stomach are connected...I was born to love food and the best seasoning, side dish, strip of something, is bacon. I mentioned missing my fave food to another Expat 3 months ago or so. She looked at me like I was Whitney Houston after a crack binge and exclaimed "There is bacon here!". Needless to say I in turn looked at her like she was Whitney Houston on crack because at that point in time, I had only found Speck. There is a very good reason it rhymes with "heck": "Speck? That is no Bacon, what the heck?"....good thing it wasn't named "Spuck".

Then last week divine intervention happened. While I was looking for a less lame package of Speck, I decided to turn the corner and I caught a glimpse of something familiar. It was thick cut, it was happy, it spoke to me...it was BACON! I didn't even need to fry it in a pan to know it was bacon. I think the feeling I had would be similar to meeting with a long lost blood relative, something about it felt "familiar".

So the point of all this bacon talk is this: Expats have a "thing" or multiple "things" that they long for and can't seem to find in their new home. Is it homesickness? Is it an umbilical cord keeping them connected to their homeland? Whatever it is, it is totally benign, totally normal and it doesn't mean you are failing as an Expat.

Now that I found one of my "things" here, it undoubtedly needs to be replaced. I am not sure what my new "thing" will be but I have a trip to the States coming up, so I am sure I will learn what it is soon enough.

So what is your "thing"? What is that something familiar that keeps you connected to your homeland?

This post was written for AffordableCallingCards.net, a community linking Expats and soon to be Expats. In addition to being a great source of Expat information, they offer affordable calling cards, keeping you connected.
Thursday, March 25, 2010

Today You Can Find Me...

over at TwoFools in Zurich talking about the upcoming smoking ban in Zurich. I have been looking forward to this day since my first meal in a Zurich restaurant. Between Spring springing and smoking bans banning, I am so excited I could eat some chocolate...so that is exactly what I will do.
Tuesday, March 23, 2010

MY Morning Jacket

I miss the days I could just open the back door, let my dogs out and they would do their bidness. You could find me lazily watching them from the window with coffee cup in hand, making sure no poopage was ingested or rolled around in. Here there is no back door to open or window to watch poopage action from. The Boy or I must take the dudes to the closest park, all of which are really quite close however at 7:30 am, they seem so so SO far away. As they eat their breakfast a la "Hills Science Diet Allergen Free", I get dressed for battle in my DAILY morning outfit:

Exhibit A

First I want to thank "One Eyed Teddy" for being my model. I think he wears this outfit better than I do. As you can see, I look like a hobo, and we aren't talking "Hobo Chic" either. I am a bandana-bag-on-a-stick away from being a legit hobo. Let's take a closer look, shall we?

Exhibit B

As you can see, I have a LOT going on (or wrong) with this outfit. I haven't been beeped at in this outfit but I am certainly not going unnoticed either. Thanks to the Tarheel's hat, circa 1972, I have almost caused several 12+ car pileups. The purpose of this hat was not only to keep me warm, but to hide my untamed "bed head". Now that Spring is seemingly here, I need a plan B to hide my gnarly mane. The Target purchased Pink Floyd T-shirt is the only variable in my morning outfit. This can be replaced quite easily with an old high school basketball T-shirt or one of my 5 sizes too big sorority T-shirts. The jacket, if you look closely...is dirty from who knows what and I am A-ok with that.

Exhibit C

I am afraid this is where things go downhill, and fast. Let's start with the fuzzy pants. I seriously wear them every morning, they are 2 sizes too big and I stuff them into my rubber boots. I like how they puff out like pirate pants when I do so...Yaaaaaar! The red socks were a gift from Delta Air Lines. I like to have a little "first class" with my morning outfit. Finally, the boots...as you can see, they are filthy. I have no plans to rectify this situation as I think the mud and dirt gives them character. Everyone knows rubber boots need a little bit of character.

Over dinner one evening with friends, one of which is Swiss, we were talking about the dress code here. The Swiss participant said that anything but sweat pants in public is OK and I blurted out "whoopsies, then I need to go to Swiss Fashion Jail". I don't limit the sweat pants to just morning poopage walks unfortunately. You can sometimes catch me wearing something breathable and comfy on my way to the gym. Unfortunately for me and the casual observers around me, my gym is in the heart of the city where everyone seems to be dressed to the "nines". I can't even imagine what our neighbors must think of me.

What I take away from my morning outfit is this, I am getting one step closer to being "ego free". It really takes someone with iron self esteem to dress this way, or incredible laziness. One or the other.
Sunday, March 21, 2010

You Can't Be Serious!!!!

Nothing says "child of the 80's" quite like an unhealthy love of its music and John McEnroe. Well, at least I loved Johnny Mac, but I was a die hard tennis fan and player growing up. When I learned he and several other retired players were coming to Zurich for an exhibition, I was tickled fuzzy tennis-ball-yellow.

The event was held at the Zurich Saalsportshalle which only holds approximately 2,300 people. Had I put my thinking cap on while ordering tickets, I would have bought the cheapies because there isn't a bad seat in the house. It didn't disappoint as you were not only treated to some excellent tennis, you got to see classic John McEnroe outbursts and men wearing headbands:

Nothing screams American quite like McEnroe asking if the line judge speaks English, but everyone seemed to be enjoying one of our most famous bad boy exports...myself included.

I don't think Mac puts on an act either, rather he appears to be a honest to goodness poopy pants McGhee. His opponent Henri Leconte was extremely amusing to offset the tense moments, not to mention I loved his man hairband or "Mand". I think you can find them where the Murse or Mansiere are sold.

Other players represented included my one time favorite Stefan Edberg, who at age 12 I dreamed of marrying but alas I wasn't blonde or Swedish enough for him:

Also in attendance was Goran Ivanisevic who wasn't a favorite of mine, but was the most impressive tennis player of the bunch. He could probably still do some damage on the tour and he certainly sported the Mand quite well:

I laughed and reminisced this evening, along with 2,000 or so other participants. The love of a sport is about as universal and cross cultural as it comes.
Thursday, March 18, 2010

Branching Out

Today I begin posting regularly for ACC. Check out how to find a doctor in Switzerland, or at the very least you can see my beautiful prose in a different setting.
Friday, March 12, 2010

The Expat Bill of Rights- The Right to Complain

When you arrive to your new country as an Expat, you feel like a guest and the host country is, well your host. It almost borders on dinner party formality and etiquette, the Expat being polite and almost subservient while the host country is telling you what to do, where to sit, what to eat, where to pee, where your dogs can pee, etc etc etc...

But then it happens, something goes awry and feel like complaining about it. As a guest though, complaining feels uncomfortable and you wonder if you really have the right to do it:

"Hey Guest In My Home, how were your beef tips?"

"Well, to be honest Switzerland, they were cold and didn't arrive on time which is strange because you are normally really good with the timing stuff. They made me very, very angry"

"Oh yeah? Well don't let the door hit you in the ass"

"Um, ok...your home is spotless though and I really love what you did with the..."


So how do you earn the right to complain? It isn't that I lacked the intestinal fortitude to do so, it just required a few things to happen before I felt justified:

1. I became competent enough to complain in German.

2. I acknowledged that we too pay our share of Swiss taxes. Which by the way included a 50 page form asking you everything short of "what is your favorite song and why?"

3. Time cures almost everything, including Expat Self Esteem issues.

When I realized that I earned my right to complain, I marched into the office which held the people who did something poorly and/or wasted my time, and did just that. The representative who helped me immediately switched to English, which is par for the course, but I kept on speaking German sorta and complaining sorta. I had a huge cheshire cat grin while I was complaining, the woman likely thought I was insane, but she apologized with sincerity and took me seriously.

I am not suggesting that you HAVE to learn German to earn the right to complain, a 50 page Swiss tax form will do the trick, but you will earn some host country respect and likely get better results.

Happy Complaining!
Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Bat Crap Crazy- Volume 6

It is So Cold I Can See My Breath AND Dead People

Boo freakin hoo Kristi, it is cold in SWITZERLAND...send the Whaaaaambulance. I am getting far too adept at stating the obvious lately and hopefully my redundant subject matter won't leave you feeling cheated. But it is my blog and I will bore you with the obvious, because it is my obvious and and all very new to me.

So we are talking so cold that my tears freeze, much like the tears this fountain cries:

For some reason, and I can't figure out why, I feel really bad for this little cherub who is covered in an ice blanket and encased in a Planet Krypton-esque prison. Not too long ago we had a decent stretch of warmer weather, even Mother Nature was fooled as young shoots started to make their way out of the ground and some really brave purple flowers bloomed. It is Switzerland though and it is still very much Winter I am afraid. Those poor shoots are probably pretty pissed off right now, shaking their green fists up at the sky while shouting "Curses! Foiled again!"

Last weekend we were brutally reminded of Winter's longevity with a mild blizzard, complete with fairly strong winds and approximately 4-5 inches of snowfall. Today it is snowing again, the wind is whipping again and I can no longer compare Zurich weather with Atlanta's. If I know Atlanta, the turn to Spring is coming and likely not looking back. All Winter I could compare the two and at times we had warmer temps and less snow which gave me the sense that Winter here was a piece of cake. That cake has turned into humble pie however as it is becoming clearer each day that Winter lasts much longer here.

The mutterings of "oh sweet Jesus make it stop" or "Holy Crizzap it is cold" or even a little reverse Psychology "warm weather is for Wimps or when you retire", only give a little mental relief. Many Swiss, at least I assume they are Swiss, scoff at the cold by running in these conditions or even biking in them. Those folks are so bat crap crazy I am tempted to trip them, get them in a really vulnerable position and then start shaking them while saying "Stop acting so insane man! Huddle in your warm apartment like me and complain on a blog about how cold it is!". Without these crazy people, whose lives go on in the cold, I probably would be worse for wear though. My impulses to trip and shake them violently, quickly fall by the wayside and I get inspired for a few brief moments to make the best of it, even if "my best of it" consists of power walking towards something warmer.
Thursday, March 4, 2010

My Turn to State the Obvious

So a subject that has been beaten to death, smacked around and put through the proverbial wringer by Swiss Expats, is how expensive Switzerland is. Depending on the wind currents in any given year, Switzerland consistently falls somewhere in the top 10 most expensive places to live in; which means the World, the Planet, and technically the Universe, that is unless you believe in Aliens with Champagne tastes and caviar dreams. For some reason I can't get the image of ET driving a Bentley wagging his really long, lit finger while listening Notorious B.I.G's "Mo Money, Mo Problems". I need help...seriously.

Economics in its simplest form tells you why, the more money a country and its people have, the more expensive the cost of goods and services are. Switzerland trails Norway with the second largest GDP in Europe, minimum wage garners you an impressive 40,000 Francs per year (give or take) and taxes are some of the lowest in the world. I get the Economics thang, but it doesn't make my 50 rappen Ibuprofen go down any easier. I am not exaggerating and if anything I rounded down, but I bought a 10 pack of double-strength Ibuprofen for 10.80 Francs. I can get 200 Ibuprofen in the States for less than that. Just taking a 50 rappen Ibuprofen gives me a headache.

Before I even stepped on Swiss soil, I made peace with the fact it would be astonishingly more expensive here. For the most part I have maintained this inner peace, but yesterday when I received a bill for our Annual Doggy Tax which worked out to be 10 times higher than what we paid in Atlanta, I found the nearest corner, slid into a fetal position and started sucking my thumb...all at the risk of reversing my orthodontic work.

Is EVERYthing more expensive here? Well, sorta but not entirely. To keep my sanity and my inner peace, I am constantly searching for a Swiss Bargain and while this is a phrase that typically falls into the "oxymoronic" category, once in a while something can cost less than in the US:

1. Chocolate and Cheese: Well freakin duh, but pound for pound...quality chocolate and cheese are both less expensive here than in the States. Sure you can get processed cheese and Hershey Chocolate (Sorry PA, but Hershey Kisses are more like chocolate farts to me) for less, but you can definitely score here with quality chocolate and cheese. I recently went to a friends house for a dinner party and she had the most amazing Swiss double or triple cream cheese I have ever tried. She paid 9 Francs and it could easily have cost twice that in the States.

2. Wine: In my humble opinion, and many may disagree with me on this subject, I think an 8 Franc bottle of wine is typically of better quality than a $8 bottle from the States. The lack of import fees on European wines likely have something to do with this. The impact of import fees can be seen in how comically expensive crappy American wines are here.

3. Electric: We have only gotten one bill for electric in the 5 months we have lived here and it was $100. Compared to what we paid in the states, this is peanuts.

4. Garbage: The Swiss do garbage different. Instead of billing you for monthly pick up, you pay roughly 1.60-2 Francs per 35L bag. When you first discover this "pay for what you actually use" system, it seems borderline insane to pay close to 2 Francs for a garbage bag. BUT, if you recycle properly, push the garbage down daily and ignore the creeping stench towards Day 6, you can get away with one bag per week. For us, garbage pick up works out to be just under 8 Francs per month which is about half of what we paid in Atlanta.

5. Fruit and Veg: Now, I am treading on thin ice here but again when you consider quality, the fruit and veg at your run of the mill food store is better and cheaper than in the States for in season produce. Out of season and/or organic produce is cheaper in the States.

6. Water: If you buy bottled water in Switzerland, well then you are throwing your hard earned money away. Bye bye rainbow colored pretty Swiss Money. You are too pretty to be in my wallet. The water from the tap is ice cold and free of any chemical taste, precisely what you are paying Evian or Dasani for.

7. Cable and High Speed Internet: We pay less for cable and internet here, 85 Francs vs $115 per month, but the rub is we can't understand 3/4 of what is broadcast on our TV. Most channels are in a different language, so technically you could argue cable is way more expensive here based on number of channels an English speaker can actually use...but on paper, it is cheaper here.

Anything produced, manufactured, packaged, herded or imported can easily be 2-10 times more expensive here. But don't cry for me Argentina, I knew this going in and it is the price we chose to pay for an amazingly rich experience. If I have one really cheap grain of advice for anyone considering a move here, do your best to come to terms with this harsh reality before you come over. Otherwise, you won't be able to see what this country truly has to offer through your blinders of rage .

And with that, any other Swiss Bargains out there that I have not yet discovered?