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Archive for November, 2009

It’s been a while since my last post, and I’m afraid that the blog has turned into Natasha’s personal edition of “The Antique Road Show”.

There’s so much to say… here’s a collection of things that have surprised and amused me.

  • I received mail from my Canadian bank, but the address listed my country as ‘Swaziland’. They operator on the telephone must have assumed the country code for Switzerland is ‘SW’. Thankfully, our postal code includes our country code.
  • Swiss electrical circuits are the same power supply as the rest of Europe, but they have different outlet plugs that are unique. I went to Germany and purchased a toaster and an iron, only to then find out that I needed an adapter to plug them in here.
  • Contextual ads on websites are now all in Deutsch as I surf the intarwebs.
  • People from other countries are called ‘ex-pats’ if they are from first-world nations, or ‘immigrants’ of they are from third-world nations.
  • If you own a radio or television, you must pay a “subscription” fee to the government. I think that it’s a few hundred Franks per year.

The Christmas Market is now in full swing. This is a big event in Switzerland (and Germany), and it’s the sort of thing that makes me love living here.

Many of the city squares are now jammed full of stalls of vendors selling all sorts of things – scarves & mittens, ornaments, hand-made treats, and this magical drink called Glüwein (pronounced: gloo-vine). It’s a warm, mulled wine, but I think that they add rum to it. It’s served in ceramic mugs, and people just wander the markets with these things in hand, or crowd around little high-top tables to drink them.

We chose to enjoy ours last night on a small rotating bar that was made from an old carousel. For real. The bar was in the middle, and we (with J&L) sat on the outside of this contraption, enjoying our warm bevvies and watching the lights around us.

So the Christmas season is upon us! I wonder what sorts of crazy Swiss Christmas traditions we will find?

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From Shabby to Chic

If you followed my previous blog, you may recall my love for thrifting. It’s a beautiful marriage between good deals and one-of-a-kind finds that keeps you coming back for more, even if it’s mainly the same junk nine times out of ten.  But that one time…oh that one glorious time…when you find that stunning Shaker-style hall table crying out for a good home and a decent coat of paint. Or that exquisite Provincial dining chair that’s suffocating beneath a gawd-awful fabric that someone thought was a good idea.

After one of those successful visits, you walk out of the store with your treasure under your arm, on your back or Lord willing, pushed on a trolley behind you, and there’s a certain bounce in your step. The bounce of thrifting.

And then you’re hooked.

I was worried that I wouldn’t find thrift stores here in Switzerland because I had heard that it wasn’t really the “thing to do” here. But over the past week, I have scoured the internet and the English forums to find quite a few shops. There are two Salvation Army locations and a handful of “Brokenhaus” shops, which are similar but with higher end furniture (typically antiques).  For my first foray into Swiss secondhand land, I was certainly not dissapointed. Unforutnately, I wasn’t prepared to buy anything either as we’re still finalizing our car co-op membership and have no way of picking this stuff up. But just knowing that these pieces have gone to a good home is enough for me.

I think they made a mistake when they priced this beautiful piece at 65-. I think I made a mistake by not buying it. (sniff)
Although priced at 140- per nightstand, the beautiful post-modern look of these makes it certainly worth it. And let’s keep things in perspective, you can’t even get IKEA particle board crap for that price!

But with every incredible find comes 99 not-so-incredible finds. Or 99 thoughts of “somebody actually manufactured that?!” I love snapping photos of those “treasures” to share with you — somehow laughing and snickering in the aisle by myself doesn’t really satisfy.

A throw pillow…but with built-in foot holes. Seriously. Just slip those cold footsies right in there. All for the bargain price of 14-!

Deciding what to wear every day is soooo five minutes ago.

Let me just start by saying, I have NO idea what these are. But apparently the Swiss love ’em. Our best guess was some sort of carbonation machine as the Swiss LOVE carbonated everything.

The overflowing stock of these used water bottles was probably your first clue that these are not the “treasures” I speak of!

My taste in home decor has changed dramatically in the past year and I went from loving all things straight and sterile to french country and shabby chic. Not sure if I’m going to convince Tim to let me turn our flat into a shabby chic home (of warmth!!) but perhaps by refinishing one piece at a time, he won’t notice…

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The other day I attended a Swiss School information night for expat parents. There are many options for schooling here and Switzerland is known to have some of the finest International (i.e. English-speaking) schools in the world.  But unless you’re willing to fork out up to CHF 30,000 per child every year, the public system (“State School”) is a pretty attractive option from the get-go.

With over 50 parents jammed into a small meeting room, we heard a presentation from a School Superintendent on all the options and processes for entering your child into Swiss State school.  At the onset of the presentation, a middle-aged woman dressed in a grey pants suit with an…um…functional…blonde bob shot up her hand and blurted out a question for the speaker.

“Why does the Swiss school system start at 6 years old compared to 3 years of age in most other countries?” she said in a confrontational tone made even more aggressive by her strong American accent.

The speaker averted the question by saying it was a lengthy answer and perhaps they could speak after the presentation.  Thirty minutes later, as the presentation came to a close and the crowd applauded in thanks, Ms. Blonde Bob raised her voice once more.

“So you didn’t answer my question yet. Why is it that Swiss school starts at 6 years old and not 3?”

The speaker, having already avoided the question once, was cornered. She spent the next two minutes uncomfortably trying to explain to a crowd of foreigners that Swiss culture is a bit “traditional” and “some would believe that a woman should be home with her child until at least the age of six for the good of the family”.  As she carefully and politely gave us all a crash course in Swiss values, the Suits in the front row were heckling in disgust.

After a bit of banter and the speaker trying her best to be politically correct (for their sakes I’m sure) Ms. Blonde Bob finally pushed me over the edge with the comment of “Oh, and I guess these are the same ‘some’ that think women shouldn’t vote!”. That was it for me and without even knowing what I was about to say, blurted out from the back row:

“Actually, I have to say that the prominent Swiss ‘traditional values’ was one of the things that attracted me to Switzerland the most. To get away from the Westernized culture of having babies just to have someone else raise them in their most formative years.”

You think you know dagger-eyes but you don’t. Not until you could see the blazing dragon eyeballs that were shooting them at me from the grey blazer in the front row. No love lost. I ruled out her friendship the moment I saw the boring pearl earrings underneath the bad aforementioned bob.

For those of you who know me, you might be calling the pot a little bit black considering I had a nanny from the time the boys were 1.5 – 3 years old. But what got me so infuriated in this instance wasn’t the fact that these were working mothers but rather, the fact that they had made the choice to come to a foreign country and then proceeded to tell the residents of said country that they are doing things wrong. The audacity!  Regardless of what my opinion is on whether a mom should stay home, the point is that this woman can easily give up her high-paying Swiss job and take her ass back to America where they apparently do all things “right” (ahem).

A few days later, a disturbing thing happened at a kids activity centre and I couldn’t help but draw a line in my “if you don’t like it, go home” theory.  The boys were in a playroom while the parents were sitting at cafe tables just outside. I heard Jack doing his boisterous “RAAWWWRR!” noise where he pretends to be a scary monster and instantly looked to see who he was terrorizing. Before I could piece it all together, I heard the blood-curdling screams of a little girl. Running into the room, I saw the little girl in the corner wailing away.  The mother came marching in and bee-lined it for the boy who Jack was pointing at saying “No mommy, it was him! He did it first!”  As I tried to get the truth out of Jack, I couldn’t help but notice the mom grab her son’s shoulder while screaming in his face. Wow, she was really givin’ it to him…all the while his little sister is still screaming in the fetal position.  Then it happened. She slapped him across the face.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m all for a good spanking when the kid needs it, but if there is one law we have when it comes to discipline, it is that we do NOT slap J&L across the face. There is just something so degrading about it and in all honesty, it does more for the angry parent than it ever does for the disobedient child. In my opinion (and drat, here you are reading my blog so I guess you have to hear it!), physical discipline should be an after-the-fact thing where the parent is in control of their emotions. Not in the heat of the moment but a contrived “event” where the lesson is clearly drawn for the child that their actions have resulted in this consequence.

But I digress. Back to the screaming disobedient children.

As I was contemplating whether I should cover my ears to shut out the still-wailing girl in the corner and now her older brother’s deafening screams, another mother came marching in. Like a final puzzle piece just clicked into place, I realized that this boy wasn’t her son at all! This woman just fully assaulted a complete stranger’s child and now the real mom was trying to piece together why her son was screaming and cradling his cheek.  The very thought of it boiled my blood and I nearly slapped her across the face. In fact, in telling Tim the story later that night, I asked him if our Swiss Personal Accident Insurance covers me for kicking another mom’s ass (it doesn’t) because I just know that things would have got ugly if Jack had been the one to take the fall for their boy behaviour.

I quickly did some charades to explain to the real mom why her child was screaming (funny that the abusive woman disappeared as soon as the mother responded to her son’s screams) and then I marched up to the offending woman. I don’t know if she spoke any English but I think my angry tone and “you are the scum of the earth” visage probably sufficed.

As we left to go home and I sat in disbelief at what I just saw, I was reminded of an expat forum post I read once that described how Swiss people think it’s socially acceptable to correct another person’s child. I know the post author was referring to verbal correction but it got me to thinking…was that just a normal Swiss occurrence?

Thankfully, I was able to reflect on the absolute shock of all the other mothers present (Swiss and English speaking alike) and deduce that it most likely isn’t a typical Swiss thing. Everyone was outraged by the whole ordeal.  So in this case, I can tell this woman to shove it, English accent and all. And of course, I can still go home if I don’t like it.

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Going Black

“Lo, and then did the Black Death (influenza) descend upon us, and all was quiet (except for frequent coughing) for a long, long time.”
nuremberg-chronicles-danceofdeath

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McDonald’s.

That perfect engine of convenience, addiction, child-marketing, and … regional specialty foods?

We’re in Switzerland, but McDonald’s is universal. They are everywhere.

As we walked by a local joint, I noticed a strange advert outside, featuring three “Swiss-style” burgers on sale for a limited time only.

The McFondue, the McRaclette and the McRösti. These are only available in Switzerland, and only for one week at a time (per burger).

We figured that it is our duty to try these local delicacies and report our findings to our family and friends back home in Canada, so here it goes…

First up is the McFondue.

Most of you are probably familiar with fondue – that gooey pot of melting cheese and white wine – into which you dip vegetables and eat until your heart explodes.

Now imagine that… on a McDonald’s hamburger! Awesome, right?

Here’s the facts:

Nutrition

Big Mac* McFondue
Calories (kcal) 495 760
Energy (kj) 2071 3180
Protein (g) 27 39
Carbs (g) 40 54
Fat (g) 25 43
Price (CHF) 6.50 7.90

*for comparison purposes only

Well, just from a nutritional point of view, the McFondue is clearly the chief burger.

So on to the ratings…

Presentation

Tim: This is a classic, greasy burger on a ciabatta bun. Greasy. I like a little oozey cheese coming out the sides, but showing too much makes you look easy.

Tasha: At first impression, this bun had seen better days. If I wanted to save fifty cents on a day-old bun, I’d be at the bakery, not McDonald’s.

Aroma

Tim: I enjoy the pungent tang of Emmental (aka “Swiss”) cheese, but this was a bit too much for my senses.

Tasha: The “pungent tang” that Tim so lovingly spoke of is better described as sheer stank. The only worse “aroma” would be this thing coming back up.

Flavour

Tim: I like ciabatta. I like beef. I like lotsa cheese. So why didn’t I love this burger? Mysteries of the Universe!

Tasha: Sorry, flavour? There was a flavour??

Texture

Tim: Oozing cheese is one thing, but when it is squished out the sides of a ciabatta bun that is so greasy that you can hear the grease oozing from the bun… that’s too much. Still, there is the fun factor…

Tasha: One bite was all I could muster down and even that was a challenge. I think this burger nearly pushed me over the brink into complete vegetarianism.  Nearly.

Overall, this burger comes out as … just gross.

Tim:

thumbs-upthumbs-down

 

 

Tasha: This is one of those times you wish you had more thumbs…

thumbs-down

thumbs-down

 

 

IMG_1731

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Up next… McRösti!

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One Man’s Junk

As a child, I hated to shop. Get me in, get me out.  But slowly, through much training and exercise, I have developed the necessary muscles for marathon expeditions and as my sisters can attest, currently hold the world record for Highest Volume per Hundred Dollars Spent — nothing beats finding something you love AND on sale.

While riding the trams here in Basel, I have come across a few ads for Flöh Markts (flea markets) and have made the treks to two neighboring communities to see what a European Flea Market is really like. What I have quickly discovered is that most of what Europeans consider to be “junk”, we North Americans would consider to be “treasure”. In fact, their idea of “antique” constitutes something older than the Canadian Confederation.

I was like a kid in a candy store. My eyes darting around from one colorful treat to another. I could barely contain my glee, fearing that my wide-eyed excitement would give the wrong impression to the local vendors (how do you say “sucker” in German?).

Tim & J at Flea Market

Our first flea market experience!

Flea Market Shopping with Mommy

Flea Market Shopping with Mommy -- we love the toy vendors!

Old Milk Crate Planter Box

I think this metal container was for milk bottle deliveries...but it makes a great herb planter!

Thanks to German-speaking Anne coming along and bartering for me, I managed to get this massive china set for 200 franks! Plates, bowls, serving jugs, coffee/tea urns, gravy boats, tea/sugar sets, teacups and saucers, OH MY!

China

I'm going to need a hutch just for this set...it's over 150 pieces!

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Last week I posted a note about cycling in Basel, about how safe and enjoyable it is. I included a video of my morning commute to work.

Well, the very next morning, I got hit by a car during my morning commute. If you watch the video, the section around minute 1:50 is where a minivan pulled out from the street parking and swiped me. I saw that she was angled out, so I gave her some room, but I thought that she was parking, not pulling out (no turn indicator!). Then she suddenly accelerated out. I lifted my foot, and my right pedal crashed into her front corner, sending me careening off to the side of the road. I didn’t bail, but I fell over at the end.

bicycle-crash

She was freaked out. I check myself over, and checked my bike. No scratches. Her van was less lucky, but what do I care?

I calmed her down (no English), and went on my way with a chuckle. Oh irony… you bitch.

 

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