Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Annual Review

My Yearly Review                          

It’s time for my annual review as Trailing Spouse Extraordinaire.  Let’s see how I’m doing, shall we?

Subject:  Practical Skillset, Acquirement Thereof

Grade:  B+

Successes:  Since this is the one area where I am doing well, we will talk about this topic first.  Not only am I able to get around town without a car, I get around an entire country without one.  People, I even go to other countries without a car.  For an American, that is like hacking open a fresh coconut to make shredded coconut.  Yes, it is possible but why would anyone want to?  Oh, wait, I’ve done that, too.  Maybe I should change that grade above to an A- because I forgot about the coconut.  Learning the recycle schedule and actually doing it, check.  Buying only one’s days’ worth of groceries at a time, check.  Wearing bowling shoes instead of sneakers, check.     Learning the proper knottage of scarves, check.  Growing tomatillos from seed, check.  Learn to make a kick-ass fondue, check.  I am on a roll, sistuh.

Failures:  Wearing workout clothes to go grocery shopping.  One time, Jeez!  Also, once, when I first got here, I did something so heinous this little old Swiss lady berated me out loud outside the Geneva train station.  I mean she went on and on really loudly, especially for a Swiss person.  Unfortunately for Grannie, I was fresh off the boat and I did not understand one word she was saying and I just raised one eyebrow at her and then ignored her.  So, that counts as a bad thing even though to this day I don’t know what I did.

I also get some points deducted because Mr. Big and I parked in the wrong place one time, but since I was not driving, I really don’t consider this my bad, I think it is like 90% Mr. Big’s bad.  We blocked a bike trail with our car and made some woman crash.  We didn’t know it was a bike trail.  We thought we just got lucky with rockstar parking!  It was pretty ugly.  She was pissed, but, again, the tirade was all in French so it kind of makes it funny, you know?  I mean, these people are literally screaming their heads off and we’re just without one clue what they are nattering on about.  Which, of course, pisses them off even more because we look back at them like Dumb and Dumber and then just ignore them.

One more skillset that I’m still not very good at is converting at the market to grams and kilos for fresh proteins.  Butchers and fishmongers are still terrifying to me.  I’m always afraid I’m going to order enough to feed Guam and look like an idiot.  Luckily, some of the meats/poultry/fish in the grocery stores are prepackaged (this is probably where they store the INFERIOR Non-Swiss stuff) so you can eyeball the products and don’t have to deal with a real live person.  If it were not for these prepackaged products, Mr. Big and I would be vegetarians by now.

Subject:  Social Skillset, Acclimation to Swiss Culture

Grade:  C+

Successes:  Losing weight to blend in with the Swiss, check, although not enough yet to really carry it off, check minus.  I mean, these people are toothpicks.  I’m still like a bamboo skewer, if you get my drift.  Learning to kiss three times, upon both arrival and departure, starting with the left cheek, AND not feeling utterly foolish the entire time, check.  Learning to not smile so much, check.  Learning how to properly toast to one’s health in the appropriate language, check.  Hint, eye contact, eye contact!  Going against all convention and keeping both hands ON the table and not on one’s lap during meals, check.  For that matter, getting the cadence of the two-hour meal down pat and not rushing or going out of order or taking too much cheese or violating any other of the myriad unwritten rules of dining in Europe, check.  Stopped stressing about Euro/Swiss prices and just enjoyed myself shopping?  Check.

Failures:  Eeuuww.  There are a lot.   Just the other night at book club, I was apparently so loud and so dominating that a little pipsqueak of a twentysomething-year-old kid made a snide remark.  To me!  I could be her mother!  I just got carried away and was being my PREVIOUS loud, obnoxious, know-it-all American self and some eyebrows were raised around that table, let me tell you what.  Gotta hand it to her though, it shut me right up!   So, now I’m scared of book club.  (Well, I’m really not, but I’m just practicing being humble and unassuming.)

Another big fail—(this is like the tell-all blog, I feel like I’m in therapy)—I completely dissed a woman who was, apparently, only asking for directions.  See, in Europe, near the train stations, we have a lot of professional beggars.  Not kidding.  This is big business.  A begging “syndicate” buses them in (usually from Eastern Europe) and sets the beggars up at strategic locations (read places where tourists go) and employs runners who run around and collect the money from the beggars and bring it to the bosses.  Professional begging is like a job here.  Now, usually these beggars are pathetic.  I mean, they find no-legged people and lepers and disfigured babies, you name it.  So, we “locals” just learn to disregard them and say non, non, non.  Anyway, some poor woman who was only asking for directions approached me near the Lausanne train station and I automatically gave her my Mean American Face and put forth a forceful “Non”.  It was only after I was about 50 meters beyond her that I translated in my head what she was saying and she was just a normal personal asking for directions.  I still feel really bad about that.

And the number one reason I am only giving myself a C+ for culture acclimation?  I still feel like a tourist, not a local.  Deep down, I know I am just a poseur.  I don’t really belong here, yet.  So, C+.  Ah, me.

Subject:  Language Skills

Grade:  D-

This is like my number one job and I am not doing very well.  I’m getting better, but my verbs suck.  Really, if I’m being honest, learning French might be the hardest thing I’ve ever done.  This subject is so painful, I can barely talk about it.  Truthfully, I can read French now.  I can even, pretty much, understand what people are saying to me.  But SPEAKING?  Terrifying.  I do it.  But I am pathetic.  PATHETIC.  Note to all of you American parents out there with teeny children.  Put them in a language class or hire a nanny who speaks another language.  AND THEN.  Eavesdrop on them so you can learn it, too, starting from scratch babytalk.  Oh, how I wish, wish, wish I had learned another language as a baby when I was young, dumb, and didn’t realize that I was learning a valuable commodity.


Well, obviously, no raise for me this year.  No stock options.  No golden parachute.  I’m average.  Next year, watch out, buddy.  I’m gonna be parlez-vooying Francee like a friggin’ native to get my grade up.


  1. HI Riki! It's Olive from DA...your blog cracks me up! my sister lived in Spain for 4 years in the mid-90's and what you say here could have been her words precisely back then. Add to her story thAT SHE IS 6'2" and her Mr. Big is really big 6'8". Spain is full of small elegantly dressed women and my sister thinks sweat pants ARE appropriate for the grocery store! Hang in there, she made some friends that are still with her despite an ocean and 15 years distance. You'll will stop being a poseur, really. I am on blogspot too. Here's my blog: haven't started withthe house stuff yet, but will do soonish.

  2. My Husband and I recently moved to Zurich, from Atlanta Georgia. He sent me your blog one day because your experiences reminded him of me.

    I think you are hilarious and have enjoyed your blog so much. Keep up the writing, you make me feel sane through this crazy experience.

    Thanks from another trailing wife in Zurich.