Saturday, December 19, 2009

Brrr! Living in a Cold Climate

 

Well.  It’s here.  Winter.  This is one of the things I have really been dreading.  Unrelenting cold weather.  It is no secret to my friends and family that I truly abhor cold weather.  I had to live in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for 17 months approximately 20 years ago and I still go on and on and on about how dark, dank and dismal it was.  If Mr. Big were peering over my shoulder right now, he would be saying, “Enough already about Pittsburgh!  There’s not a person left breathing on the planet who is not aware of your issues with Pittsburgh!”



Sometimes I am a trial to Mr. Big.

For the last 20 years, I lived in Southern California and South Carolina.  I have thin, wimpy blood.  The only time I am ever in cold weather is when our family goes on its’ annual ski trip to Europe.  I am one of those people who wears “Hot Hands” and “Toastie Toes” inside my gloves and boots and sits in the lodge drinking Bailey’s and Coffee between runs.  OK, I am the first to admit it, I become a miserable, whiny, (that’s whingy? whingey? for all you Brits) grousing brat when I get cold.



And then I learned two key things.  A)  It’s all about layers, and B)  Your coat IS your outfit.

I swear, I spend half my time here in Switzerland checking out what people are wearing.  It’s because I can’t seem to get it just quite right.  Their scarves always looks incredibly, casually cool and mine look like they are trying to asphyxiate me.  They walk effortlessly on these friggin’ cobblestone streets in boots with spike heels which,  when I try to mimic, just looks like I’ve had too much to drink.  Which I probably have had, but that’s pretty crass of you to point that out.






So, unlike in warmer climes, when planning a winter outfit for the day,  you start with the coat first and work your way IN, all of the time attempting not to look like the Michelin Man.  These are the questions you must ask yourself before you even take off your towel, post-shower:

1.        Long coat below the knee, medium, which covers the hips or short, which only goes to the waist?
2.       Wool, leather, twill, down, or other waterproof?
3.       Dressy or casual?

This is just for the coat, mind you.  Next, boots:

1.       Above the knee, to the knee, half-calf or shoe-bootie?
2.       Leather, waterproof, Ugg or fur?
3.        Black or brown (Note, must match coat).  (Also note, no other color choices acceptable).



Now, if you are just going into town shopping and have no plans for eating out or stopping for coffee,  THE REST DOES NOT MATTER.  You could wear a gunny sack or footie pajamas or a goriilla costume.  It will never be seen by the general population.  If your coat is long enough to reach the top of your boots, you could even be naked for the rest of the day.  You would be cold, but you could be naked.





Me, I’m freezing.  Plus, I do tend to indulge in the random wine or coffee bar, (where one is expected to shed all outer layers),  on my excursions out on the town, so my outfit planning must go on to include the following:

1.       Camisole
2.       Long sleeve tee
3.       Tights
4.       Sweater
5.       Pants (or skirt if I am shopping in Geneva where one “dresses” to buy loo rolls)
6.       Scarf, casually wrapped 2.5 times around neck
7.       Stylish hat
8.       Polar-tec gloves

By now, it is approaching 11:30 a.m. and I haven’t even left the house.  But, I am dressed!  This dressing warm stuff is still a learning experience for me so I am sure that I will touch upon it in future blogs.   I am aware that all of you out there who are well-used to cold weather are laughing at me, rather than with me.  That’s OK.  I hope your thick-blooded selves get transferred to Macon, Georgia someday.  Then we will see who is laughing at whom!

Dressing for hot/humid weather is an art form, as well.  A jean jacket suffices as a winter coat.  You might as well just pre-admit yourself to the hospital for heatstroke if you are foolish enough to wear panty hose or tights in any month that does not start with Jan- or Feb-.  There are legions of adolescent boys who do not even own a pair of long pants except for their “church pants”.  The concept of the “summer weight” scarf is beyond comprehension.  People from the Southern Hemisphere know that they don’t even need to exercise in the summer.  They can just walk to the mailbox and back and lose 5 lbs. of water weight.




I promise, I am not complaining.  Even when the mercury never rises above 20 degrees Fahrenheit here, it is still breathtakingly beautiful.  Literally.  Ha!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Christmas Shopping a la Suisse

 The Christmas Market is a charming European tradition that I have embraced with abandon not only because these markets are just so impossibly cute but mostly because every other booth, or mini-chalet, is serving Vin Chaud (or Gluhwein in the German-speaking areas) which is a delicious hot, mulled wine.  It’s quite proper, even expected, to have a Vin Chaud at, say, 11 a.m. and continue throughout the day into the evening.  One must love a tradition that combines drinking and shopping.




The markets have a variety of offerings by local artists, winegrowers, cheesemakers, toymakers, bakers, chocolate-makers, etc.  They are usually outdoors and set in the old parts of the towns beginning in one of the main squares and meandering along the pedestrian-only cobblestone streets.  It turns the hassle of Christmas shopping into an enjoyable experience.  A chilly experience, but enjoyable.  (The Vin Chaud helps here as well!)







However, my chauffeur to these events, Mr. Big, is really not much of a strolling, shopping, meandering kind of guy.  He is a Point A to Point B kind of guy.  So, we have worked out a system that keeps his antsy self busy while I am shopping.  He is in charge of the camera.  If I see something picture-worthy, I point it out and he shoots.  The rest of the pictures are up to him and I must say the man has a thing for clocktowers.  A high percentage of the pictures are of the back of my head or me turning around, cup of Vin Chaud in hand, because he has called my name.









His other job is planning out the walking route to insure that I don’t miss anything.  This is not an easy task because no streets in Europe are straight.  They are bendy and twisty and involve bridges, alleys and little tunnelish passageways.  He really gets excited when there are booths on both sides of the street—his planning becomes much more intricate.  He also sets a goal for himself that we are not “allowed” to double-back and see the same thing twice.  Consequently, he never actually “sees” anything in any of the booths because he is too preoccupied with where we are headed and not where we are now.  It’s not like he really cares, either.  His feedback is usually limited to “Uhuh, that’s nice” or “Whatever, Trailing Spouse, just buy it” or “Do you need more Vin Chaud?”

Using this system, we have set a personal best of three Marches des Noel in one day in two different countries.  For those of you reading this from the local area, here’s my synopsis of the ones we have been to so far:




Switzerland
Lausanne:           Don’t bother, only about 25 booths.  Vin Chaud, delicious.
Geneva:               Don’t bother, way too many vendors of cheap, crap Indonesian stuff.
Montreaux:        Cute, crowded and very photogenic.
Bremgarten:      Mr. Big gave a big thumbs-up to their Park-N-Ride system.  Gluhwein, excellent.  Large, 190 vendors.  Also, Christmas tree farm 2km outside of town where you can cut your own tree.
Morges:       Covered market inside hall of the train station, big plus.  High percentage of artists, good gift ideas.





















France:
Besancon:           Just OK, not worth a special trip
Montbeliard:     Fabulous in every way.  My favorite.  The lightshow is super.  Here’s the link, sorry it’s only in French but the pictures are worth a click.
http://www.lumieres-de-noel.fr/





It is not even 8 a.m. here but today is Sunday so I am already Google Mapping trying to outline our plan of attack for today.  Mr. Big is still lying innocently asleep upstairs, completely unaware that he has yet another day in store stomping around outside in the cold drinking Vin Chaud.  Bless his heart!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Returning "Home"?

For ex-pats on temporary assignment, the word “home” can be confusing.  Is home your new country or is it the place you will return to someday?  For people who have kept a home in their country of origin, it’s even more muddled because they technically have homes in two places.  I have found my answer just listening to the running commentary inside my own head.  Right now I’m packing to return to Switzerland after a Thanksgiving stay in the US.  As I’m packing, I’m going through my mental checklist:

“Don’t forget to bring home more banana peppers.”
“I can’t wait to go to the Colmar Christmas Market when we get home.”
“I wonder if it snowed while we were away?”




See?  Home has subconsciously become Switzerland and away is now what used to be home.  It’s like an Abbott and Costello movie.  Just because you know I like to play “What’s in Your Suitcase?”, I will let you look inside the empty one I brought with me from home to fill up with stuff while I was away.  (If you followed that you are really paying attention!)

2 bed pillows
2 twin sheet sets
5 jars of banana peppers
All of the silver and gold Xmas balls and garland from the attic
A box of brown sugar
A box of Arm & Hammer baking soda
A bottle of Vanilla Extract
The couch cushion cover that got red wine spilled all over it during Thanksgiving

Why, you ask, is she bringing part of her couch?  Because her sewing machine is in Switzerland, of course!  It makes perfect sense to me to tote a stained couch cover 8,000 miles only to use it as a pattern and then throw it away.  Perfect sense.  Although, with the strict recycling laws in Switzerland, I will probably not be able to throw it away at all and will have to bring it back with me next time I return to the US. 

I had to write up a chart to help me throw away my trash without receiving a fine.  There are certain assigned days of the week for yard waste, glass, paper, plastic, etc.  If you dare attempt to dispose of anything on the wrong day, you will be reported to the Trash Police by a “helpful” neighbor.  And, God help you if you attempt to throw away your glass bottles on a Sunday, the National Day of peace and quiet.  Glass bottles make noise, you see.  They clink.  You can receive an actual fine for clanking on a Sunday.  I’m pretty sure you can be deported if you’re stupid enough to fire up a lawn mower on a Sunday.  Here’s a word of warning to any army out there that might be considering attacking Switzerland.  Do not attack on a Sunday.  We will be able to hear you coming while you are still in Austria.  It’s that quiet on Sundays. 

My Trash Chart also tells me the one day per quarter that it is OK to throw away something bigger than our regulation-size trash bags.  Which encompasses pretty much everything and will definitely pertain to the couch cover.  So, if I miss the next Oversized Trash Pickup Day, I will have to “store” it for another 3 months.  Where, I don’t know.  I’m thinking under the bed.




One last word on Swiss trash.  No, not Roman Polanski, the other Swiss trash.  I am only allowed to throw away my “ordures”, aka my non-recyclable trash,  in a regulation-size bag.  All of Switzerland uses the same trash bag.  All.  Of.  Switzerland.  So, Mr. Big, who is not very good with rules, needs to be monitored.  He is forever trying to use yard waste bags as trash bags.  I have explained nicely and also, not so nicely. 

“Mr. Big.  If you put that whomping huge trash bag out on Monday with everyone else’s teeny Swiss-sized bags, you are going to make us the laughing stock of the neighborhood and possibly get us deported.”
“Well, Trailing Spouse, then just put the big bag out on Tuesday with everyone else’s big bags and no one will know and we will live to see another week.”
“But, Mr. Big.”  (Gnashing of teeth).  “Ours will be so much heavier than theirs.  Theirs are filled with leaves.  Ours is filled with coffee grinds, potato peels and a random couch cover that I snuck in there.”

Ahhh! Can’t wait to get home!

 

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Misfit Thanksgiving

It’s 5:30 in the morning in South Carolina and I have serious Time Zone Confusion.  I’m wide awake and ready for lunch and the rest of this country is still sleeping.  We came home for Thanksgiving.  We decided we would rather be home for Thanksgiving than Christmas.  Thanksgiving is one of those holidays that you don’t know you are going to miss until you move somewhere where it is not celebrated.  Who knew it was possible to wax nostalgic over a tin can of jellied cranberry sauce?  Anyway, the logistics of preparing a traditional Thanksgiving dinner in Switzerland were so mind-bogglingly insurmountable, it was easier and less expensive just to fly 8,000 miles and cook it there. 

Let’s begin with my teeny Euro oven.


It is the size of an Easy-Bake.  Remember those?  You cooked mini cakes and pies with the heat from a little light bulb?  My Swiss oven has two little racks that fit a 9” x 13” baking pan each.  In order to roast a turkey, bake the stuffing, make the pies, brown the rolls, etc., I would have had to begin cooking Thanksgiving dinner in, like, August.  This is assuming that I could even find the raw ingredients.  For a solid month, every other question on the Swiss website englishforum.ch has been from American ex-pats trying to procure the following:

A turkey.  Answer—Must be ordered from a  butcher well ahead of time.  Cost approximately 7 dollars per pound.  Not unheard of to pay 170 dollars for a large bird which will, of course, be Swiss and not frozen.
Brown Sugar.  Answer—Doesn’t exist.  Make your own using white sugar and molasses or special order online at astronomical prices.
Cream of Tartar.  Ditto.
Vanilla Flavoring.  Ditto.
Self-Rising Flour.  Ditto.
Ocean Spray Jellied Cranberry Sauce.  Answer—Available at the American Market in Geneva.  Cost--$7.30 per can.
Don’t even get me started on Pepperidge Farm Bread Cubes.

Do you see why we have come home?  By the time I got my act together enough to order everything online, it would be Valentine’s Day.  One poor guy on that website was looking for Kahlua to make White Russians for his guests.  He had ex-pats all over Switzerland checking every grocery store and liquor store in the land.  The only place anybody could find Kahlua was in the Duty Free Shop at the Geneva airport.  The problem was that the shop was located inside the security check.  Now, I don’t know about you, but I would change my cocktail choice before I purchased a plane ticket just so I could buy a durned bottle of Kahlua. 

Besides, if we didn’t come home, Domestic Son, Charming Daughter and Small Son would be left to fend for themselves.  I have visions of Small Son eating Ramen Noodles or Kraft Mac & Cheese looking forlornly out over an emptied-out college campus.  Since we have no extended family in South Carolina, every year we invite all of our friends and neighbors who also would be eating by themselves to our house for Misfit Thanksgiving Dinner.  It has become a tradition, Misfit Thanksgiving.  I never know who or how many are coming, so I just set up tables for about 20 and we play it by ear.  We eat, we drink, we play cards, we drink, we dance stupidly to the soundtrack from the Big Chill and then we uh, drink.

One year, Domestic Son, back when he was still Juvenile Delinquent Son, introduced a number of the ladies to Jaegerbombs.  One of the ladies subsequently drove her car into a neighbor’s backyard swimming pool which involved various First Responders.  Domestic Son is no longer allowed to mix the drinks at Misfit Thanksgiving.

One year, we set the house on fire.  The ladies were all in the butler’s pantry dancing and singing along with Charming Daughter’s karaoke machine.  The men were consuming large quantities of brown liquor and watching football in the den.  No one was left in the dining room except one poor chap who had yet to realize that dinner was long over.  Right after “I Will Always Love You” finished and just before commencing with a stunning rendition of “Leavin’ on a Jet Plant”, I heard a little voice coming from the dining room.

“Hey, your mirror’s on fire.”  And then, a little louder, “I said, HEY!  Your MIRROR is on FIRE.”

Sure enough, the candles on the mantle had set the wooden frame of the mirror hanging over the fireplace ablaze.  Well, let me be the first to tell you that throwing a vodka cranberry on an open flame is not really effective.  We eventually put out the fire without the aid of any First Responders.  I was later able to salvage the mirror by scraping off most of the charring and painting the gold frame black.  It’s hanging in the bathroom now and every year on Thanksgiving we have to share that story with the newbies and take them into the powder room to see “The Mirror That Caught On Fire in 2003”.



Monday, November 16, 2009

How the Swiss Eat

I’m not referring to physically how; they eat with utensils just like everybody else, although they do eat with their fork upside down in that veddy British way.  I’m referring to the mindset of eating over here.  They eat according to what is in season.  Take, for example, this week.  I just found out today that it is now “Metzgete” Time and everyone is really excited.  This basically means all of the restaurants and all of the many, many festivals will be featuring pig and all it’s trimmin’s.  Not yummy trimmin’s like applesauce or sweet potatoes.  No, no, no.  I mean trimmin’s as in utilizing all of those odd bits and bobs of pork that us wasteful North Americans feed to Mr. Garbage Disposal.  Their favorite is blutwurst.  (It means blood sausage.)  Just saying it makes me gag, nevermind eating it.  Here is a picture of a typical Metzgete platter:



Yum!  Notice the poor forgotten tomato and zucchini slice tucked under the pigs’ trotters.  Those are the only vegetables, folks.  You can go months in Switzerland without seeing a veg.  The Swiss think a few lettuce leaves and potatoes done 381 ways count as vegetables.  Whenever Mr. Big and I see a side of vegetables listed on the menu, we order it because we never know when we are going to see another one.

The changing of the seasonal foods is a Very Big Deal.  Restaurant menus change and they announce it in large letters on their chalkboard sidewalk signs.  People want to know when, as in what day, these special foods will arrive at the markets.  The street markets become crazy around the farmer’s booth who is the first to pick his WHATEVER.  OK, lady, step away from the peaches.  There are plenty to go around.  That’s it, Lady!  Back off!  No peaches for you today!

This is what took me awhile to understand.  There is such a frenzy because it’s like Cadbury Chocolate Easter Eggs.  Once they’re gone, they’re gone.  If it’s out of season, it ain’t happenin’.  So, you really like that watermelon?  Well, you better gorge yourself, because we don’t believe in importing any foods and you will not see another watermelon until next July.  Sorry.

I didn’t take any of this personally until they stopped selling my favorite rose wine, (that “e” should have an accent over it, but I only have a dumb American keyboard—it’s pronounced ro-zay).  See, in Europe, pink wine is called rose and it is a perfectly legitimate thing to order.  It is very dry and refreshing and doesn’t give me a red wine headache.  It is not that crap sweet White Zinfandel that they sell in the states.  It is, in a word, delicious.  So, I go to the market one day in October to get the stuff for dinner and a bottle of my local rose wine and it’s not there.  Not only is the one I like from a town up the hill gone, THERE’S NOT ANOTHER BOTTLE OF ROSE WINE on the shelves.  I thought I was in the Twilight Zone.  Like, only yesterday there were cases of the stuff in this exact same store.  Sold.  Gone.  I must wait until next year to have it again.  I had to channel my newfound Europeaness in order to remain calm and not demand to see the manager.    Ahh, but I learned, you see.  Next year, when it is in season, I will buy it by the case and hoard it all winter like a friggin’ squirrel.

Other seasonal foods which are here and gone are dent de lion salade, (dandelion greens), white asparagus, Valencia oranges, wild game including goat and horse and kurbis (squash) soup.  I can’t say that I will miss the goat.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Long Live The King

Sorry to have been gone so long.  We had a family tragedy back in the US.  It is every ex-pat’s worst nightmare.  To be so far away when disaster strikes.  Here’s my advice.  Keep a strong support group back at home.  Whether it involves your home, your children, your parents, your extended family or whatever, you need to have people in place to deal with anything and everything because, here’s the sad truth, you cannot get there as soon as you would like.

I cannot describe to you the feeling you fellow Traveling Spouses will have when you get the word that something really, really bad is going on back at home and, even if you book your plane tickets within the hour, you know that you are not going to be back there for another day, at the minimum.  Thank God, I live in a small town back in the US.  Those Southern Mommas rallied around all three of my children like they were their own.  As the Secretary of State once said, “It takes a village to raise a child”.

On a lighter note, I was not aware until last week that the current trend among the younger generation is to commemorate a friends’ death by going out and getting a tattoo in their honor.  Who knew?  Two weeks ago my precious 20-year old baby boy still had the skin he was born into.



Today he has a tattoo on his back the size of a dinner plate.  Ah me.  He and all of his friends think it is the bomb.  They think it is flippin’ awesome.  What do I know?  I am just the mother who endured 16 hours of labor and many stitches to bring him into this cruel world.  I also walked five miles every day in bare feet in the snow to school, but that is another story.

So, to all of the folks back in South Carolina who did my job when I could not be there, I am forever in your debt.  Thank you, thank you for being in my village.

Rest In Peace, Reid Andrew Addy. 
http://web.me.com/jelevan/Reido/Welcome.html

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Bridge Days

I need to digress here for a few entries and talk about specific things that are happening to me here in Europe.  My girlfriends back in the States are enjoying my general tips for Trailing Spouses, but they are starving for info about my day-to-day life.

OK, as all of my girlfriends know, I am a bridge addict.  The card game, bridge.  Not viaducts.  You know what I mean.  Southern girls in the US play bridge.  We have bridge clubs and we have bridge night and we drink a lot of alcohol and eat a lot of food and play a few rounds of cards in between.  The best thing about bridge night is the prizes.  Whomever is the hostess that evening is responsible for buying a High Score prize and a Low Score prize.  I love the prizes.



Anyway, I learned online that there was an English-speaking bridge group associated with the American International Women’s Club in Lausanne, Switzerland, where I live.  Well, one cannot just join the bridge group.  One must first attend a “Meet and Greet Coffee” at this women’s club, pay the yearly dues, fill out two forms, yadda, yadda, before one can even enquire about the various and sundry “subgroups”.

I am not a joiner.  I hate making small talk.  I am a Corporate Wife.  Small talk is like, my job.  I have to do Small Talk all of the time and I’m quite good at it until I’ve had a few drinks and then the real person emerges and my Small Talk quickly becomes loud, profane, Large Talk.  That is usually when Mr. Big calls for a cab.  “OK, time to go, dear.  You just called that nice 34th wife from Abu Dhabi a Burka Durka.”  And away I am whooshed.

So, here I am at this Meet and Greet and there are only 9 other women there and I drink my coffee out of a dainty cup and saucer, as one does, and mingle and try to look interested when all I really want to know is “WHO PLAYS BRIDGE HERE?!”

I asked all 9.  No bridge players.  I go into the little reception area/office and politely inquire about the bridge group.  Well, you would have thought I was the Second Coming.  The woman in the office looks at me and asks if I am a beginner.  No, if I am being modest, I would say I am intermediate.  If I am being honest, I would say I am a cut-throat, take no prisoners, queen of bridge bitches, but I don’t say that.  C’mon give me some credit!

“Oh!”, this office woman says.  “We are looking for some new (read younger) players for the advanced group.”  OK, great, sign me up.  Then she asks me if there are stairs involved with my domicile.  Huh?  I’m like, yeah, about 20 or 30.  Too bad, Charlie.  The advanced bridge group is comprised of so many really, really, really old ladies that they are dying off like fruit flies and cannot see and cannot hear and, most importantly, cannot walk up stairs.

But, but!  They are looking for fresh blood.  So, there is hope.  In the meantime, I am going to be playing with a bunch of blue hairs who cannot see or hear and have to be carried up the stairs to my apartment.  But I am down with this!  I will install one of those chairs that travels up the walls to get these crones up there.  I will provide magnifying glasses and ear horns.  At this point, I just don’t care.

And then my baby sister pointed out to me that I could just join the BEGINNER’S group and fake it.  Girl, I can do me some fakin’.  I’ll be like, what?  I bid 3 no trump.  I bid 4 hearts.  I bid 5 diamonds.  Right out of the shoot.  I bid BABY SLAM!  I bid whatever it takes to keep me in this beginner group so I don’t have to carry no old ladies upstairs or buy any ear horns.  I don’t even know the word for ear horn in French.

I bet these Swiss women don’t have prizes, either.  And if they do, it’s probably some cheese.  With holes.


                                                                     That smells.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Language Issues

The Language Issue

This is always the elephant in the room when you move to another country.  When any English-speaking ex-pats get together either in person or online, the third question after “Have you found an apartment?” and “Where’s home for you?” is “So, how’s your –insert new language—coming along?”

Oh, everybody arrives with big plans to jump right on the language fast track.  From where I am sitting right now at my desk I can count four French dictionaries and three different brands of French CDs.  I can also see the Big Red Book from my actual French class that I attended a whopping 13 days sitting there taunting me, “Oh, Riki, ma cherie, here I am.  Over here on the shelf, Riki.  Why have you spurned me so, dear Trailing Spouse?  What did I ever do to you, besides give you anxiety attacks and make you feel dumber than dirt?  Come back to me, Riki, come back, sil vous plait!



I remember thinking that I would be fluent in French in six months.  OMG, that is such a joke.  There are ex-pats here in Switzerland who have been here FOR DECADES who are not fluent.  (I know, because I checked because I felt like such a doofus that I was just not getting it.)  I am blaming it on the fact that I am American. 

Top Ten Reasons Why Americans Suck at Foreign Languages

10.  It is really hard.  We are, by nature, lazy. 

9.  There are 8 different ways in French to say “this one” and “that one”.  That’s right, eight.  (That was my lesson #13 and the day I threw up my hands in defeat and quit French school).

8.  For some unknown reason, nouns have a gender.  Why is that, you say?  Why is “rug” a boy (le tapis) but the “chair” (la chaise) that is sitting on it is a girl?   There is no answer to that question.  It is what it is.  Americans hate that answer.  We want to know why.

7.  Some/many languages are in another alphabet.  Don’t even get me started.  I cannot wrap my mind around that one.  I think Americans who manage to become fluent in Mandarin or Farsi should have automatic membership in Mensa.  Hello, ma’am,  that says “How are you”.

Yes, I know it looks like Pick-Up-Sticks tossed down on the sidewalk, but they are, in fact, actual words. 







6.  We do not learn it in school.  HA, parents, pay attention.  You might think we are actually learning something in 10th grade Spanish class, but the joke is on you, we are coasting through for an easy “A”.  We can take 4 years of Spanish in high school and not be able to tell our maid that we are unhappy with her vaccuuming skills by our 10-year reunion.  Hell, we don’t even know what “yo quiero, Taco Bell” means, well, except for the Taco Bell part.

5.  We do not tend to marry/date people who don’t speak English.  I still haven’t figured this one out.  I have talked to soooo many people in Europe who do not speak the same language as their spouse/boyfriend.  I’m like, uh, OK, so how do you communicate?  Well, he speaks Languages X and Y fluently and a little bit of A and B.  She speaks Languages N, O and P fluently and a little bit of A and Q.  So, they speak Language “A” to each other.  I think they must all have great sex lives because there ain’t a lot of conversation goin’ on, if you know what I mean.

4.  We do not hire au pairs or nannies who speak a third language to our children.  They do this over here.  Mom is a Brit and speaks only English to the kiddies.  Dad is Swiss and speaks only Swiss German to them.  Then they hire an au pair from some other country, specifically for the purpose of teaching the children a third language. 

3.  We have enough trouble simply learning correct English.  Y’all know whut ah mean?

2.  We cannot make the sounds correctly and risk sounding stupid.  The French letter “r” and the German “ch” come immediately to mind.  They sound like when your disgusting Uncle Bertie coughs up something unmentionable.

And the number ONE reason Americans suck at foreign languages is because we don’t need to.  We are spoiled rotten.  Everybody else speaks at least a little bit of English and if they don’t, then we probably don’t want to talk to them anyway.  We had the good sense to organize our country so that all of the states have the same native language.  You can travel 5,000 miles from Anchorage to Miami and still order a burger and fries and be understood.  In Switzerland, they have four native languages just one country.  This is just poor planning on the King’s part, I’m thinking.

 

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A Dinner Party?

Can I just have a small moment here and then I will go back to being my cheerful Trailing Spouse self?

OK, so you will all remember that the stuff we brought to Switzerland was all of the stuff out of the Clemson house, right?  The Clemson house was really like a play house, not a real house.  The kitchen, for example, was not fully equipped.  I mean, I had dishes, a corkscrew and wine glasses and that was about it.  I never really cooked anything in that house because I always took the kids out to eat when I went up there.

Anyway, so we had to buy one of those sets of graduated sauce pans when we moved here.  We also bought a frying pan.  Do you see where I am going with this?  So, Mr. Big just calls (it is 11 a.m. on Thursday) from Nuremberg, Germany wanting to know if it is OK if we have 4 of his colleagues to the house for dinner tomorrow night.  I really want to, because even though they are his controllers and accountants and conversation will be oh-so-stimulating I’m sure, at least it will be something to do and it will be people to talk to besides Mr. Big.

However.  However.  Remember, I do not have a car.  Our one car is at the Geneva airport, where it has been since Tuesday morning when Mr. Big left.  I am trying to wrap my mind around the physical logistics of serving a dinner party for 6 including appetizers and dessert with only my own two feet, public transportation, a bookbag , my two Mindy bags and my six ice trays.  I estimate, conservatively, that it would involve at least 5 trips back and forth to town to buy all of the alcohol, foodstuffs and pans that I would need.  I mean, I don’t even have a cookie sheet or a baking pan, or anything.  Maybe even more than 5 because a nice dessert has to be carried in two hands, so that’s one trip all by itself.


I told Mr. Big that I didn’t think it was going to work out, but I don’t think he gets it.  Ya know, what’s wrong with a nice restaurant?  OK, moment over.  Only 29 minutes to go until noon when I can open the wine.

Cheers

What should have been in my suitcase!

Looking at these first four entries, it is obvious that I don’t know what I’m doing.  They are way too long, I need more pictures and more paragraph breaks.  This is a learning experience, bear with me.

See there, new paragraph.  So, once you have found your new home abroad, the next question is “What should I bring from home and what’s the best way to get it over there?”

Once again, your negotiating skills will need to be sharpened.  The ideal situation is for the Company to pay for a 20 or 40 foot container which will be packed up in your home country and shipped across the ocean to your new location.  It usually takes about 6 to 8 weeks for a container to travel from Point A to Point B.  Additionally, you might want to ask for an air shipment as well, which takes about 10 days to 2 weeks to arrive.  The little air shipment is a pallet of your boxes, (we fit nine cardboard boxes on our pallet), of stuff that you need to survive during the weeks before your ocean container arrives.

What goes where?  Well, this is up to your personal needs and what may or may not be available in your new country. When you go for your househunting trip make sure to visit the grocery stores, liquor stores, electronic stores, etc.  to see what YOU WILL NOT BE ABLE TO BUY that you are addicted to back home.   Ex-pats love to play a game called “What’s in your suitcase?”  We pack the strangest stuff!

Here’s a list of some of the crazy things that I have smuggled in suitcases and boxes from the US to Switzerland, some of which may or may not be illegal, but I really don’t care.


1.        Large glass bottles of Texas Pete hot sauce.

2.       Cans and cans of jalapeno, Anaheim, chipotle, ancho and any other kind of non-perishable peppers I can find.  They don’t quite get the whole Mexican food thing here in Switzerland.
3.       Seed packets of cilantro, all of the above peppers and tomatillos.
4.       Jars and jars of banana peppers.
5.       Cans of black beans.
6.       Boxes of brown sugar and self-rising flour.

7.       4 vintage Eames fiberglass shell chairs, disassembled and brought through customs as checked baggage.
8.       Goo Gone

The one thing I miss that, alas, cannot be shipped is bagged ice.  The story of hosting my first cocktail party here in Switzerland and what I had to go through to amass enough ice is a story for another day.



The one thing that most ex-pats say that they regret not bringing is more books.  Books are very expensive to ship after the fact, so make sure to get them on the container.

The air shipment will most likely be more clothes, your guide books and language tapes, your TV and printer (if you are bringing them), air mattresses, pillows, bedding, towels, a few family photos—all of the stuff that will make your life easier for the two months before your container arrives.  Besides, it feels like Christmas when you have been living out of your suitcases for two weeks and then this little bit of home shows up.    Take advantage of it!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Househunting

When we last got together, Mr. Big and I were looking at houses with Boris, our Relocation Expert.  Because we only had seven places, in total, to view that entire week, needless to say, we were not successful in finding anything.  Let the record show, Mr. Big and I are very experienced in home buying and selling.  I mean, we are not neophytes here.  The Company has moved us three times and, prior to Mr. Big, I had moved 22 times.  We also own 4 houses currently in the States as investment properties.  Renting a durned apartment should be like a walk in the park, right?  Let’s face it.  Renting an apartment or townhouse in the US goes something like this: 
 
US:                         Hello, we would like to rent a 3 bedroom apartment.
THEM:                   Fine, do you have a pulse?
US:                         Yes.
THEM:                   Do you have a job?
US:                         Yes.
THEM:                   Do you have two month’s rent and a security deposit?
US:                         Yes.
THEM:                   Great.  Here’s the keys.  What was your name again?
 
The only thing we did accomplish in that first Swiss trip was determining what we did NOT want.  Just like any place else, the further you go out in the countryside, the more house you get for your money.  



However, I was determined to be really “green” and “healthy” in that oh-so-smug Euro way and get by with just public transportation, a bicycle and my own two feet.  When in Rome and all that hoohah.  Anyway, 7 out of 7 of those first places were in the country.  After the first four of them, we told Boris that he needed to be concentrating more on city properties, not country settings.  Sure enough, the next three properties were out in the country.  Boris, Boris, Boris.
 
Now, when I say “country” I am not talking about suburbia with shopping malls and whatnot.  I am talking cows.  I am talking trains that run down into civilization only a few times a day.  I am talking about a butcher, a baker and a candlestick maker, and I am exaggerating about the candlestick maker.  I had visions of me taking ill one day and, only being able to speak mangled French, literally withering away and dying inside my country chalet because I couldn’t make myself understood to the local Doctor or Veterinarian or whatever.  Me:  “Medicin!”  Him:  “Oui?”  Me:  “Medicin!”  Him:  “Oui?”  (Medicin means “doctor” in French, not medicine).  And so, I would be dead.  No, no, the country life was not for me.
 
On our next househunting trip, I was better prepared.  Future Trailing Spouses, take note.  I had done my homework via the internet.  I presented Boris with a list of properties that I wanted to see BEFORE he set up any appointments.  I wanted to do “drive-by” weeding out of the really bad ones before he went to the trouble of contacting the owners.  Well, this was a whole new concept to Boris, bless his heart.    
 

Boris is very Swiss.  Many Americans have the wrong mental image of the Swiss, I know I did.  We get Switzerland and Sweden mixed up.  So, when we hear Swiss, we think big, strapping blondes with names like Olga and Sven.  That is Swedish and that is not right.  Swiss men are tall and thin, but they have darker hair, cut ultra short, are all clean shaven and wear large watches.  They look like Boris and Boris looks like a cuter, less insane,  version of PeeWee Herman.  Their suits are tapered and their skinny pants legs come only to the ankle.  They wear ties all of the time and their single breasted suits are always buttoned.  Tres Metrosexual.  At first, you will think they are all gay, but they are not, they are just Swiss.  On the weekends, they wear their Spandex bike outfits when recreating, (i.e. biking all over God and Creation including UP mountains, roller-blading or alpine hiking or running).  In the winter, they switch to ski clothes.  Other popular leisure wear includes Capri pants.  On men.  You heard me.  The men wear pants here that would get you killed in the US.  It appears that they won’t wear cargo shorts or khaki shorts that show their knees.  Instead, they wear a Euro-version of those that fit quite snugly and fall into the mid-calf region.  Exactly like women’s Capri pants.  Exactly.


 
Men and women also wear bowling shoes as sneakers.  If a person here has on a pair of sneakers and that person is not actively physically engaged at that moment in either running or working out at a gym, he or she is obviously American.  Instead, they wear what I call bowling shoes.  
So far, I have bought four pairs in various colors for myself and I have made Mr. Big buy a pair of brown ones.  I am trying to acclimate here, people!  Mr. Big has only quasi got the hang of the bowling shoes.  He still often comes out of the bedroom to go on an outing in his tacky-ass white Asics with his little white ankle socks, his blue striped golf shirt and his above-the-knee khaki shorts.  I’m like, Mr. Big, puhleez, work with me here.  Could you look any more American?  He will glance down at himself and be, like, what?  What have I done wrong now, Trailing Spouse?  One can only shake their head at the hopelessness of training the non-Metrosexual American male in the fine art of dressing Euro.
 
The upside to the househunt was that I (Mr. Big had, by this time, thrown in the towel and left then entire thing up to me to get solved) eventually taught Boris a new phrase in English.  “On the ball”.  As in, Boris, you need to be more . . .  Yes, Boris, it is possible to begin our day together at 8 or even 9 in the morning, as opposed to 10.  You will not perish if you work more than 6 hours a day.    Can we meet the homeowner at 7 p.m. when he gets home from work to see the house?  Yes, Boris, I think you will need to “make that happen” (another new phrase to him) so that we don’t have to wait until three Thursdays from now until the homeowner can break away at 11 to fit your schedule.    Trailing Spouses, do your homework and don’t be afraid to take charge.  



The apartment we ended up in is everything we wanted and it was found by me on the internet THE DAY IT WAS POSTED and we were the first people to see it.  I scooped that sucker up like it was a winning lottery ticket laying on the sidewalk.  This is the one, Boris, now MAKE IT HAPPEN.  And so, he did.  Go, Boris.  You rock.

Trailing Etiquette

Just like with deaths and divorces, relocating to another country causes a person to go through a series of well-documented stages.  There are a ton of these graphs out there floating around, but here is a link to one of them. http://www.bgsu.edu/departments/greal/NewAYA/salzburg_info/subpages/survival_cultureshock.html
These charts all basically follow the same path with the first stage in the ex-pat rollercoaster ride of emotions being the “Honeymoon Phase”.  The Honeymoon Phase begins as soon as you accept your assignment and continues until such time as you arrive, find a place to live, get settled and actually try to start living your life.  Then comes the “Oh, Crap What Have I Done” phase.  That stage is horrible, so let’s not talk about it too much and go back to the much more fun Honeymoon Phase. 
 
One of the first things you will do, if you are being transferred with your spouse’s Company, is go on an initial househunting/reconnaissance mission to scope out the situation.  This is exciting stuff.  If you can get the Company to spring for Business Class plane tickets, do it!  The difference between Coach and Business on a long flight is WalMart to Nordstroms.  All of the clich├ęs you have heard are true.  Business Class is like when you are in labor during childbirth and the doctor finally gives you the epidural.   Aaaah.  All your pain and woes just float away.  Baby, what baby?  Is someone here having a baby?  Not me, I’m just laying here relaxing, chewing on some ice, watching the soaps.  You can tell right away the Business Class regulars from the wannabees .  The regulars immediately find their little goodie bag and rummage around for the lovely booties.  Off go the shoes, on go the booties.  They hand their jackets to the stewardess FROM THEIR SEAT to be hung up.  I was flushed out as a poseur one of my first times because I made the mistake of trying to give my coat to the Lufthansa attendant as I was getting on the plane.  I was told with a knowing smirk that it would be collected from my seat, bitte, so that they would know who to return it to at the end of the flight without having to ask around, which would be tacky.  Um, OK, sorry, hangs head in shame.
 
No lines at check-in or Security, the Business Class lounges, the almost-completely-reclining seats, the lovely menu from which you pick your, not one, but two, meals.   You deserve all of this, you see, because you are making the ultimate sacrifice for the Company.  The Company OWES you.  You are giving up your entire life at their request.  You are relinquishing 24-hour a day shopping availability.  You are sacrificing your SUV.  You are giving up your God-given right to bagged ice.  You are owed that real silverware and free champagne, by gum, and the Honeymoon Phase is when you try and get it.  Polish up your negotiating skills because the time to really stick it to the Company is BEFORE you ever agree to the move.  Once you are already over there and your stuff is in a container being tossed about in the waves, it too late.  Much, much too late.  Your duty, as a good Trailing Spouse, is to help your little worker-bee to think of all the possible expenses you might incur THAT YOU WOULD NOT HAVE ENCOUNTERED had you stayed right there, safe and sound, in your own comfort zone.   
 
Onto the big adventure.  Hopefully you have been listening and have negotiated into your contract the services of a Relocation Expert in your new locale.  Ours was named Boris.  Boris’ job on this first expedition was to simply help us find a place to live.  If you are not moving to Switzerland, this will probably be a fun project for you, going around looking at all of your choices, picking the one that is “just right” for you and your family.  Switzerland, however, is a different kettle of fish, altogether.  I thought I was mentally prepared for Switzerland’s “tight” housing market.  I had done my internet research and knew the statistics.  70% of the Swiss rent, not own, their homes.  So, I was prepared to be a renter.  The rental availability in the Canton (like a county) of Vaud (pronounced Vo) was less than 1%.  See, you can read that statistic on the internet but you really can’t grasp what it actually means until you experience it in the flesh.   It is even worse than New York City where people go apartment hunting by reading the obituaries and flocking to the poor dead guy’s door.  New Yorkers have no problem tiptoeing through a pack of still-weeping relatives in their quest to be first to view a vacancy. 
 
On our first day, Boris shows up at our hotel in his impossibly tiny car to usher us around the canton to look at places.  All four of them.  Four.  In an area roughly the size of Greater Dallas-Ft. Worth, there were four apartments and/or houses available that had at least 3 bedrooms, 2 baths and were less than 10,000 CHF per month. 


Whoa!  Back up, you say!  10,000 CHF per month?  Isn’t that like 9,000 US dollars?  Why, yes, it is Mr. Mathematics, thank you.  According to our research and our Boris, this was not an unreasonable amount to pay for a nice home in and around Lausanne, Switzerland.  And I wasn’t even being picky!  We only needed one parking place because we were only going to have one car.  



We didn’t need a garden or yard if we had a view or a balcony of some sort.  We set the minimum size requirement at 1200 square feet, which is quite spacious by Swiss standards where a 36 sq. meter apartment (360 sq. feet) rents for 1500 CHF per month (1300 USD).   Are you over the sticker shock?  Can we move on?  We knew going in what the housing prices were like, so we were prepared.  Sorry I had to spring it on you like that.
 


Anyway, I’m thinking with only four places to look at we will be finished by noon in time to enjoy one of those leisurely 2-hour Euro-lunches including a cheese course and a nice bottle of wine with which to toast our successful house hunt.  Um, no.  Boris hands us our typewritten agenda for the day with our appointment times for each house.  We have two morning appointments and two afternoon appointments.  You see, there is no Lock Box System in CH.  A showing requires both the buyer’s representative (Boris) AND the seller’s representative.  This other person might be the seller, himself, a current tenant or a realtor.  The point being that this OTHER PERSON will follow you around and, consequently, you can’t say what you really think, i.e. “Is this guy out of his mind?  He wants how much for this shoebox?” or “I wouldn’t let my dog live here”, like you would if you were back in the US.  No, no, Madame.  You must be polite.  You must not be an Ugly American.  You must go on the entire tour, top to bottom, side to side, even though you knew when you pulled up out front that it was a non-starter.  You must look inside the bomb shelter.



 
Did she just say “bomb shelter”?  Yes, she did.  But I thought Switzerland was a neutral country, you say.  That may be true, however, it is a law in Switzerland that every dwelling come equipped with a bomb shelter to protect its’ residents from nuclear fallout just in case they ever actually enter into a war.  We are using ours to store wine and the coffee table that the movers destroyed.  Well, today’s blog-a-thon has gone on long enough.  Tune in next time for a more in-depth look at Boris and his fabulous Swissiness.
 

A Trailing I Go!

OK, if you have read this far, you must have some interest in the Trailing Spouse phenomenon. Either that or you are my mother. Let’s go back to the beginning, back to the day when your spouse comes home with a job proposal or post-doc offer that involves a move to another country. I would imagine that your immediate reaction will depend entirely upon the “where” more than anything.



In my case, the “where” was Switzerland. Wow. Heidi, the Alps, the Sound of Music (which I have since learned was Austria, but you get my drift), yodelers, lederhosen, cow bells,


secret banks and rich people. My initial response was absolutely positive, no hesitation. I could imagine if the “where” had been Chad or something, I would not have been so quick to start packing. The very next thing you will probably do is go on the internet and research your “where”. I swear, I have a huge respect for those old-timer Trailing Spouses who only had the Encyclopedia Brittanica to turn to. Talk about adventurous! “Oh, yes, honey, let’s go. It says here that the major export is wheat, the government is an oligarchy and look at those fabulous traditional costumes. Woohoo!” And off they went. Those right there are some nerves of steel, buddy.

We, on the other hand, the Modern Trailing Spouses, have the opportunity of researching forums and blogs and ex-pat websites and getting the real skinny on our potential country straight from the mouths of people who are already there doing the relocation thing. In my case, there seemed to be an abundance of happy ex-pats and the griping seemed to be confined to just a few definite Swiss quirks (all later blog entries). However, there did seem to be an undercurrent of amazement amongst the “newbies” as to the prices of everything. Well, it’s just Europe, I remember thinking. Perhaps these are all Americans who have never been to Europe before and don’t realize how much things cost there. Our family had been to Europe many, many times before for both business and pleasure and I was well aware that gas costs like 7 dollars a gallon. I just assumed those Swiss newbies were having the regular old US/EU sticker shock. This was the first of my many wrong assumptions that would later come back to smack me upside the head. Let the record show that I was giddily positive about this move from day one, as any supportive TS should be, especially one who is in the running for TS of the Year.

My decision was made much easier by the fact that none of my children were still living at home and none of them expressed one iota of desire to come along with us. This is as good a place as any to make up some acronyms for the people I will be referring to throughout this blog. My husband is Mr. Big. This is his nickname back home in SC amongst all his drinking and golfing buddies and he absolutely abhors it so, of course, that is what I will call him here.


Next comes my oldest son who lives near Atlanta with his cute girlfriend, her two precious children, one giant dog, a good job, a nice house and a yard. We will call him Domestic Son. He was not always Domestic Son. In years past he has been Juvenile Delinquent Son and Can You Please Come Bail Me Out of Jail Son. He is still I Owe My Father A lot of Money for Past Indiscretions Son, but that is too long to write here on a daily basis. Then we have Charming Daughter
whom her brothers resent because she is practically perfect in every way, not unlike Mary Poppins. On the rare occasion that Charming Daughter strays outside the bounds of stellar behavior, her two brothers are very quick to point this out to the Parental Units in the hopes that one or both of them, (the brothers, I mean), might temporarily displace her as Favorite Child. I am not making this up. There is an ongoing competition that has been going since their middle school years between my kids for Favorite Child status. They text message and email each other if one of them screws up with messages like “Ah! So sorry to hear your friends were unable to awaken you from your drunken stupor whilst on your mini-vacation in Charleston. Too bad they panicked and called the ‘Rents and you are now WALKING everywhere because your car is temporarily residing back at the family homestead. HA! Favorite Child! Favorite Child!” My children call “Favorite Child” like other people’s children call “Shotgun!” to ride in the front seat of the car. Anyway, back to Charming Daughter. She is a senior at University and there was no way in hell she was packing up and moving to Switzerland.

Lastly, we have Small Son who is actually the tallest person in the family at 6 feet 2 inches, but he is the baby and we have always called him that. He actually has other more embarrassing baby-type nicknames but he would die if I posted them on here, so Small Son it is. I think Small Son might have considered the move for no other reason than the drinking age in CH (Switzerland) is 16.


He is only 19 and has two more years to go before he is legal to drink in the US. Alas, that bait was not enough to tempt him to transfer to a Swiss University, especially once it dawned on him that both of his parents were not just going away on vacation, they were going 8,000 miles away for a looong, looong time. Can you say “Party On, Dudes”?

Can you tell I miss my children? For the potential Trailing Spouse trying to make up his/her mind, the next issue after “where” is regarding the children. Every other question that future ex-pats have is regarding schools, formula, pediatricians, diapers, teenagers learning foreign languages, etc. I am sorry I won’t be of any help for those of you moving with children. I can only say that if you are leaving them behind, you will miss them. You will count the days until you are either going home for a visit or you are flying them to wherever you are residing. I have been in Switzerland for five months and I have been back to the US once waaaay back in May and Charming Daughter and Small Son have been here once for 9 days just recently. If you can swing frequent visits, it is manageable. Our Christmas gift to Domestic Son and his entire entourage, (sans Giant Dog), is plane tickets here for the holidays and a ski vacation.

If you are bringing children with you, I recommend those ex-pat forums where you can go online and actually ask questions of real people. The one here in Switzerland is englishforum.ch. Overcome any shyness you might have, sign up, log in and ask away. Ex-pats are very supportive of one another, people will answer you. They have helped me immensely. No question is too stupid apparently, all of mine were answered!


One final word about children for today. If you start a blog, you must never, ever post their pictures on it, say anything excruciatingly embarrassing about them on it or reveal their true identities on it. This has been drummed into me. I cannot break the rules, at least not on only the second entry. Plus, they are probably monitoring this even as we speak, so I cannot even get away with a sly wink or anything. Suspicious, ungrateful little things. I think today Giant Dog wins Favorite Child.

A Blog's Beginning

Has there ever been a more depressing job title than “Trailing Spouse”? I think not. Perhaps “Dog Doo Scooper in the Park Who Follows Behind Crap Owners” or “Social Worker who finds Children Locked in Basement for Months with Pet Rat and 2 Can of Del Monte Green Beans”. But it is a legitimate title, it’s written in relocation guide books and hand-outs for people who are sent on assignments outside their home country. It is a well-known term in ex-pat circles. But, Good Gravy, the picture it conjures up of just the faintest shadow of a wife or, in many cases these days, a husband, languishing in the dust ten paces behind their uber-successful spouse who is briskly striding across the street into a new and wonderful adventure sporting a Burberry trench, a Blackberry Storm and the complete volume set of the Rosetta Stone on their iPod.
So, if Trailing Spouse it is, then, by God, I am going to be a good one. I don’t quite know what that entails, but I am going to master the necessary skillset, whatever that may be, plus give myself something to do! (More later about scrounging for things to take up time). I am going to drag my trailing butt out of the shadows and try to provide insight and inspiration to Trailing Spouses everywhere! And if not inspiration, perhaps just a list of Things Not To Do. I am usually quite good at screwing things up and I have no reason to believe that aspect has changed just because I switched continents. I will be the guinea pig and the rest of you potential TS’s can benefit from my experiences.
First, though, a word about this whole blog thing. Let me be the first to stand up and say that I don’t have a clue what I am doing. I am so inept with electronic devices that I am scared of my own cell phone. I’m not kidding. When my cell phone rings, a)I have to actually hear it; b)I have to attempt to find it; c)once found, I have to answer it. You think that is easy! Well, I am here to tell you it is not. The durned thing is usually either dead or turned off. The charger is usually in an unknown place, like the clothes hamper. If I am frantically rummaging through the brown pocketbook, the phone is in the black one, or vice versa. Sometimes I find the evil thing dangling from its’ charger in some random place like the guest bedroom. Huh? On the rare occasion when the stars are aligned and the above mentioned points a, b and c all come together, the screen on the front of the phone invariably says “Number Unavailable” or “Caller Unidentified” or some such nonsense. So, I ignore the ringing. It eventually stops, right? Of course, the next time I check my email, there will be a message from one of my children from 8,000 miles away telling me to “PICK UP YR PHONE MOTHER!” Ooops. I am telling you, this whole cell phone thing just traumatizes me. Truly.
So, the blog. I started, out of boredom (one of the hazards of the job title), emailing my friends and family back home about my (mis)adventures during the Great Move from the US to CH (that is Eurospeak for Switzerland). Soon, other people who were not on the email list started emailing ME, asking why they were not on the list, and could I send them the “backlist” dispatches, etc. and the whole thing was just getting completely out of control. Then, I noticed that the people on the list who were under 35-or-so were telling me I should “blog”. I had to look it up. What do I know from blogging? They could have been telling me to do something nasty. You don’t know my friends. That is not outside the realm of possibility. So, I find out it is simply keeping an online diary with pictures. Easy Peasy, Sneezy! So, for five months, I think about doing a blog. Not four, five. Unfortunately, I come to the realization, that I am hemming and hawing because I don’t have a great grasp, (OK, no grasp whatsoever), of the administrative stuff that goes with a blog and it will turn into yet another project that I abandon half way through, like the 400 Swiss franc worth of oil paints currently collecting dust in the upstairs closet, (future blog entry).
I do, however, have one thing going for me. I’ve got a baby sister back in the States who is very internet savvy and who is a stay-at-home Mom and who is addicted to Facebook and all things online. I do not know how much this is going to cost me, possibly a college tuition or two, but it is well worth whatever she eventually charges, (thank God she only has the two kids and my sister is not named Kate Gosselin which could get really expensive), to spare me the angst of making the blog “pretty” or “cool” or “search-worthy” or whatever it is that one does to administer a blog.
To end this little intro, (I know it’s too long already and y’all are saying, “Wrap it up, lady, some of us have actual lives to get back to here”), let me just insert that I learned a thing or two while researching the ins and outs of blogging. Apparently, I am not supposed to reveal my personal info, (married, three grown kids), age, (47), location, (Switzerland), prior location, (South Carolina, USA), so I won’t. Also, I want this to appeal to the widest audience possible, so I am not supposed to get too specific about the trials and tribulations of moving as a Trailing Spouse to one particular place, but since I don’t know anything about being transferred to Moldova or Bangladesh, I will probably not be able to follow that rule very closely. This means that you will, in all likelihood, be subjected to more pictures of the Alps than you can stand as well as the recipe for authentic fondue. You will also have to join me in a never-ending search for things that I miss from home like Goo Gone, but if you are an ex-pat from the UK or Australia you can just substitute “Colman’s Mustard” or “Vegemite” or whatever you are pining away for in place of my Goo Gone and then we will be right back on track! One thing I do promise, this is not going to be a downer blog with a bunch of rants and whines. It’s going to be a survivor blog as I strive to be Trailing Spouse of the Year. (I just made that up, I don’t think there really is such a thing). Enjoy the pix.