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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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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Friendly Faces in Far Off Places

I know you are all are clamoring to see if we made it to Atlanta. Unfortunately the Volcano with an unbelievable amount of vowels in its name won and we did not make it back for a visit. To say I was disappointed is an understatement but one of the things that made me feel better about not seeing our old friends, was seeing our new ones.

Expat success is a jumble of many factors but I believe none is more important than having a good friend base and social life. What is better at connecting and rooting you to your new home than having people to share it with? We have met some great people, so how did we do it?

1. Stay Motivated: If there is a group of people motivated to meet new people, it is Expats. There is no use in telling you to get motivated because you are likely polishing your best ice breakers and go-to stories in preparation, long before you even get to your new host country. The trick is to stay motivated while you are there otherwise all that hard work in the beginning is for naught. Stay the course Sailors and Sailor-chicks!

2. Start Before you Move: I am no stranger to making friends on-line much to the Boy's dismay. When I learned we "might" move, I started trolling the internet and came across blogs and forums and other forms of personal experiences. I reached out to several women in the blogging community, all willing to help and meet me upon my arrival. To this date I haven't attracted any psychopaths selling me on a "6 Minute Abs" video, so I still use it as a networking tool with great success.

3. Put your Fear in a Corner and Slap it Around: We are all afraid to a certain extent of rejection or failure so the thought of having to make a whole new group of friends can be daunting while producing a good deal of fear. This is especially the case if you are an introvert, but if there is ever a time to get out of your comfort zone, it is when you are an Expat. Tell your fear to look the other way and then bitch slap it. It may yell back "no one puts Fear in a corner!" but you can just walk away knowing that as an Expat, you are having the time of your life.

4. Join Something: You all know by now that my something was Intensive German Class, but it can be anything group oriented. Do you like knitting or cooking? Well then find a class. Have you always wanted to bring out your inner Mother Theresa but never had the time? Well then find a volunteer organization. The sky is the limit and through my something, I met some really great people and formed friendships.

5. Broadcast your News: Before we came over, we told anything that moved of our plans. We were excited and while I garnered a good deal of strange looks while talking to squirrels and the cashiers at Publix about our big move, a great deal of connections started popping up as a result. One neighbor in Atlanta alone connected us to 8 people in Zurich. Pretend you are a walking "Toastmasters Club" and network yourself, the results can be rewarding.

These 5 simples strategies have made for a busy social life and one that is very fulfilling. It requires a bit of effort but it is all well worth it because as I have mentioned before, home for me is where my heart is. When I learned we couldn't go to Atlanta, I got a BBQ together and it turned into one of my favorite nights here. Not only was the weather beautiful and the food awesome, the fact I had new friends to get over not seeing my old ones was a great comfort. So get yourself out there!

Any other tips for making friends in a strange new land? Any success stories you would like to share?

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.
Monday, April 26, 2010

Sexy Loitering

Last Monday the Boy and I took in another great Zurich Festival called "Sechselaeuten" which in my warped brain sounds a lot like "sexy loitering". As it would turn out, it sort of felt that way at the end...more on that later.

The festivities started out with what could have possibly been the longest parade I have ever witnessed and easily lasted over 3-4 hours. The parade consisted mostly of men representing a different working class guild and dressed like Benjamin Franklin holding flowers (sorta looked like an 18th Century version of the Gay Pride Parade).

Historically this day marked the beginning of "summer hours" for the working men. Summer hours meant once the church bells rang at 6pm, the working men could stop their work and enjoy a few hours of sunlight. Today the practice of summer hours no longer applies unfortunately and there isn't a mass exodus from businesses at 6pm, rather it is just more of an excuse to celebrate the coming of better weather...hopefully.

The festivities culminate with the burning of the Boogg which is a happy looking snowman towering over the part of Zurich called Bellevue. Little does happy snowman know he is about suffer an ugly death as he is filled with fire crackers and composed of highly flammable materials. The quicker the Boogg burns, the better Summer will be...the Swiss version of Groundhog Day. I am happy to report that sucker cooked in 12 minutes 54 seconds which is a very good time according to the Boogg Scale of Burnage. Since this is all very scientific, I am certain this Summer's weather is going to rock.

So back to Sexy Loitering. While taking in the burning of the Boogg, I couldn't help but notice that we were packed in like sardines which led to everyone inadvertently bumping and grinding with each other. It was crazier than Poison show filled with Rock of Love contestants (a little shout out to my favorite hair band front man Brett, Godspeed brother). Even though the fire was contained, I couldn't help but feel a little uneasy given the lack of escape routes.

It was an awesome day and further proof the Swiss know how to put on a festival/parade. More pics from the day:

This dude was about to throw this fish at some other dude. Homey in the corner looked pretty excited about it.

The "Scary Larry" Guild was in attendance.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Remicks vs the Volcano

The life of an Expat is never dull. Tomorrow we are supposed to fly to Atlanta to visit family, friends, BBQ's and Mexican restaurants but Mother Nature decided it is time to be a total ash-hole. I suppose she has every right to be, we sort of destroy her daily so perhaps we are getting our just desserts. According to our airline Delta, we have a 50/50 chance to fly out tomorrow which sounds promising right? I actually translate 50/50 to mean: you may fly out, you may not...we really don't know anything, we are just Delta representatives. Wait a sec, we do know something...how to say "no" 20 different ways, all the while convincing you customer service is dead". Sorry, I have long standing Delta Resentment Syndrome.

Originally this post was going to be titled "We're Coming to America...Tuesday!" and I was going to whip out some Neil Diamond pics and perhaps even video myself singing a few bars of some of his greatest hits. Who doesn't like the Diamond? I was also going to list, with a great deal of zeal, the top 5 things I was looking forward to on our first return visit. I suppose it wouldn't hurt to still list them although my "zeal" is now tempered with sad anticipation of what may come. Here is the list anyway, maybe if Mother Nature sees what I will be missing out on, she may pipe down:

1. Food- Restaurant food here is shockingly expensive while at the same time lacking in variety or quality. Meat is also "stick a fork in your eye" expensive so me want ribs, bacon, beef, BBQ'd flesh and the Boy wants Mexican food. I am a walking contradiction really. I love animals and I hate when they suffer, but I also chomp the hell out of them while uttering the following attractive noises: nom, nom, nom, CHOMP!, nom...burp. Word on the Expat street is by day 2 or 3 of gorging ourselves, our tummies may start rebelling. I am willing to risk a little belly discomfort for some temporary food comfort.

2. Shopping- I am not a shopper and it is quite disconcerting that all of a sudden I have turned into a chick who is looking forward to a little shopping action. I am not sure if I will even buy that much while in Atlanta, but I just want to walk all the aisles in Target. I mean EVERY AISLE, including the ones carrying automotive and scrap-booking supplies. I don't miss being a consumer, but I do miss finding a bargain. After living in Zurich for almost 9 months, sadly everything will seem like a bargain and I may feel temporarily rich. A very dangerous formula which could lead to mass consumerism.

3. Warm Weather- Atlanta's Spring has sprung and it appears to be barreling towards Summer. Zurich is sitting in an easy chair knitting socks because is still FRACKING cold out. Apparently Zurich doesn't spring towards anything, it sort of ambles about while twiddling its thumbs. We have had more sunshine and it is getting warmer, but we have yet to have real T-shirt weather. Shivering is over-rated and I am ready to be uncomfortably hot while trying to pick out the people who didn't use deodorant.

4. Understanding- I am looking forward to understanding the language that is being spoken to me and around me. There will be so many opportunities to eavesdrop and order the right thing and not make silly grammar mistakes. Just the other day I asked a sales person if I could "give him a colder beer" instead of "can I take a colder beer". My brain needs a language vacation like Lindsay Lohan needs rehab and a fried Twinkie.

5. Family and Friends- If home is where your heart is, then I have two. My heart can't wait to see everyone we left behind in the ATL.

Expat life is not "normal" and the only thing you can expect is the unexpected even though the unexpected doesn't always work out in your favor. If our trip planned for tomorrow wasn't meant to be, Expat life will move on and I will too, likely discussing a new topic that involves some sort of Top 5 list or play on words because that is what an Expat does.

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, April 15, 2010

Der, Die oder Das- What the What?

Today marks the end of my Intensive German class. I have come a long way my friends but I am nowhere near where I hope to be someday. I compare my current competence to a rebellious teenager:

1. I have to think before I speak or else I may offend someone (inadvertently of course).

2. When being spoken to, I look all angsty, like the teens from Twighlight.

3. I don't talk that much and when I do, my sentences consist of 3-4 words with "nicht" (commonly used as a negation) being the word I use most often.

Many times over the past 5 months I have considered running away from class while making this dramatic exit: "You don't understand me and I don't understand you!". I subsequently slam the door and meet a hot vampire and all is right with the world again. Ok, I saw Twighlight for the first time last weekend and have been cast under its uber-tween spell. I am OK with this, the dude in it is totally hot.

It has also been a constant struggle to not feel like a complete dumb ass. Learning a language has this strange way of bringing out the worst in your ego and mine has been bruised pretty badly, like Ed Norton in Fight Club.

While I have had my downs, there have been more than enough ups to compensate. Take for instance the day I tried to explain my word association technique to my fellow classmates. In the German language, you have what are called "articles" designating a noun. The noun can be feminine, masculine or neutral and a lot of times the designation makes absolutely no sense.

On this particular day everyone was frustrated so I decided to share what helped me the most. My first tip was with an easy word- das Madchen which means "little girl". "Das" is the neutral article and pairing it with the word that means little girl is of course counterintuitive. Why in the holy frackin world would they make a little girl neutral? A little girl should be feminine or "die". So I told the class to just think of Jamie Lee Curtis. She was born sort of neutral as she had both the "der" and the "die", which cancelled each other out making her more of a "das". Needless to say I got a lot of stares after this tip.

After the stares I tried another tip. This time I used a slightly more difficult word- der Kase which means "cheese". We had just gotten through learning the rule "if a noun ends in "e" then 90% of the time it is feminine or "die". And then came cheese in all its masculinity and I told the class- "just think of a guy who hasn't showered in a really long time and you..." I didn't get a chance to finish as I got a lot of "ewwwws". I bet no one has forgotten the article for cheese though. I did what I had to do to help the class as we were all drowning. I was Jack saving Rose in the Titanic, all the while sacrificing myself for the greater good.

A few more examples of my word association skills:

1. die Welt- feminine- the World- chicks rule

2. die Schlange- feminine- snake- chicks don't have one

3. die Wurst- feminine- sausage- again, chicks don't have one

This morning the Boy asked me if I would miss class. My first reaction was "hell no, I live in Zurich not Crazy Town". Then I got to thinking more about my experience and what it did for me. It did more than teach me a language that I still barely know, it also made me a more self confident Expat. It gave me that much needed sense of belonging and accomplishment that I used to receive from working. It has also garnered the respect of several German speakers I have happened across. It is easy to get by here without learning German so when an English speaker tries, it doesn't go unnoticed. I encourage anyone making a move abroad to at the very least take a beginners course as it can really do so much for you.

I plan to continue with my studies but in a much less intensive fashion. In addition to the 5 notebooks full of German grammar, I have all sorts of notes describing funny things that have taken place in class. I am like Woody Allen: I promise more stories to come taking place in the same place, on the same subject matter, with the same muse.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Are you Ready for some Football?

So what do you get when you take a Swiss, Mexican and South African and put them in outdoor foldable chairs? We are talking pimp folding chairs, the kind that fit neatly in a bag with the all important cup holders.

a. A United Nations Meeting...with some pretty severe furniture budget cuts and booze.
b. A bar of chocolate, a tamale and World Cup Ticket.
c. A group of three people, with international flair, watching American style football.
d. All of the Above

If you answered "All of the Above", you were wrong...but that would be pretty psychedelic. The answer is right here:

Please notice who sponsors this team...please...can I give you a hint? It rhymes with "cooters".

Somehow the Boy managed to discover that Zurich has an American style football team called the "Zurich Renegades". I am a coach's daughter and the Boy a graduate of University of Georgia, so you could say we are diehard football fans. A bunch of Europeans playing football of course piqued our interest so we got a bunch of friends together and went to the Stadium. The Stadium turned out to be a grassy knoll and the field is one you can sign up for on a chalkboard, but there was a real-deal-Holyfield game going on:

The game had all the necessary ingredients: Cheerleaders (whose formations resembled more the Leaning Tower of Pisa than the Egyptian Pyramids), Refs with giant bellies, girls on unicycles (that is not a typo) and grown men in tight pants showing off their assets while beating the holy crap out of each other. The only thing missing was 5 yards between the 40 and 50 yard lines...no seriously, for some reason the 40-50 on both sides of the field were only 5 yards long therefore only making the field 90 yards long. We forgave this tiny detail.

So back to the Swiss, Mexican and South African attendees. I was walking around taking pictures and happened across a pretty serious set up, including a foldable table with cup holders:

I was so touched by their genuine appreciation for the game and their attention to detail, I mean look at this table...it is breathtaking. After chatting for a bit, I took a few more pics of the day:

No, it wasn't 7:20 in the evening rather this was their scoreboard. We still aren't sure how accurate the scores were as a little girl thought this was a toy and upon leaving, the Renegades appeared to have lost two points in the 4th Quarter.

These jackets and the 15 year old cheerleaders gave the game had a very "high school circa 1965" feel to it. We also had the all important opportunity to chant "Rudy, Rudy, Rudy" as a 5'2" running back for the Zurich Renegades scored a touchdown. It really doesn't get better than that.

Between watching a game I truly love and seeing it with great friends on a crisp fall-like day, it made for an enjoyable, hilarious and surreal experience.

You can also check me out over on ACC today talking about "Expat Types". Check it out!
Monday, April 5, 2010

Sometimes the Best things in Life are Almost Free

Have dogs? Want to see them go Ape-poo crazy? Here is what you need to do and it is almost free:

1. Go to the store.
2. Buy something wrapped in plastic.
3. Unwrap what you just bought.
4. Get dogs excited by saying "look what I got!"
5. Watch your one dog start to shake.
6. Giggle.
7. Give your crazy dogs the plastic wrap.
8. Watch magic unfold, and it is almost free.

Also check me out on ACC where you will find me giving tips on how to survive as a trailing spouse. Unfortunately my tip list does not include taking plastic wrap, putting it into your mouth and trying to kill it like a woodland squirrel, but maybe I should have listed it...seems like a great stress reliever.