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Per Annum

We just passed the one-year mark of life in America.

To be honest, it’s a mixed-bag.

Working for Apple – very cool.
Working in Information Systems & Technology dept. – very lame.
Plenty of sunshine – awesome.
Having a car – fun.
Driving everywhere – depressing.
Cheap consumer goods – helpful/frightening.
Violent crime in neighbourhood – alarming.
Proximity to extended family – blessing.
Surrounded by English language – useful/dull.
“Wild” wilderness – amazing.
Bankrupted state/federal governments – frustrating

It’s very difficult not to compare it to both our life in Canada and our (brief) time in Switzerland. There was much that we loved in Europe, but there are aspects to California that also inspire and excite us.

But does that outweigh the negatives?

Time will tell.

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Our Little Actor

Liam has decided that he wants to be an actor when he grows up. And he’s already practicing…

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I’ve decided to try to fit in a bit more with my new surroundings.

I’ve stopped spelling English words correctly – gasp! What would my Queen say!

I now grudgingly spell “gray” instead of “grey”, and I have adapted to a host of other changes such as:

  • analyze vs. analyse
  • center vs. centre
  • honor vs. honour
  • check vs. cheque
  • catalog vs. catalogue

But what can I do? I’m immersed in the overpowering cultural tsunami of Americana!

Hell, I’ve even started to pronounce words like them, just for fun!

I now sked-jool meetings to plan prah-jex or to improve prah-ssess.

But fear not, I still drop the inadvertent “eh” bomb often enough so that people know where I come from.

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Mmmmm…. America

After securing both a new car, and a new home, we decided to enjoy some fun in the sun on the Labor Day long weekend.

We grabbed our swimsuits and drove to the coastal town of Santa Cruz, home to a famous beach boardwalk that includes a vibrant and grimy amusement park.

I noticed a food stand offering nothing less than deep fried Twinkies. For real. As if the Twinkie isn’t bad enough on it’s own, you go and coat it in batter and then deep fry it in oil. It’s estimated to contain a whopping 425 calories of creamy, fluffy goodness.

And with that, I’m well on my way to fitting in with the “50% overweight” part of America (and busting out of my jeans).

Good grief… my enrolment with the Apple fitness centre can’t come soon enough!

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We spent (another) whole day in the car, navigating freeways and expressways and U-turns and traffic. It doesn’t stress me out at all, though. There are far more cars on the road than in Basel region, but I expected this.

Yet despite my expectations, I am still in shock and awe of the expansiveness of the highway and road systems here.

And today, in the blazing heat, we hit the DMV and then headed out to explore North San Jose.

Big mistake.

It’s basically ground zero for tech companies, such as Cisco, Symantec, Creative, Lockheed Martin and others, but there is no residential neighbourhoods. Big waste of time (although I was bubbling with excitement to see the names of various companies).

So the gruelling day continued with a few test drives of cars. The dealers were friendly and not pushy, but it was too hot out.

And after a cruise through downtown Mountain View (home of Google), we finally arrived “home” and I found this picture in my email inbox from a longtime friend and soon-to-be colleague (again), and it made all of the crappiness disappear.

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Learning the local language is very important to us.  It never ceases to amaze me how many expats I meet who have been here for years and have yet to learn even basic German.  In their defense, it can be difficult to learn as most people in the cities speak fantastic English and with an expat community of over 30,000 people in Basel alone, it’s easy to surround yourself with nothing but English-speaking foreigners like yourself.  So the general yes/no (ja/nein), please/thank you (bitte/danke schön) and 1,2,3 (eins, zwei, drei) can get you remarkably far and before you know it, you’ve been here for two years and still don’t know how to say “how are you today?”. One: it’s a bit tricky (Wie geht es Ihnen?). Two: the expected German response would make no sense to you anyway.

The boys start Swiss public school in August and from all the stories we’ve read and parents we’ve talked to, they will be fluent in Swiss-German in less than six months. How that’s possible, I still have no idea but there is some psycho-babble reasoning for it, I’m sure.  Regardless, their going to come home yapping away in German and I’m sure it’ll only be a matter of time before I outlaw the language at the dinner table.  There’s just something incredibly wrong with your own kids being able to talk behind your back, right to your face.

And so I find myself in a weekly German class, learning a language that I truly have no desire to learn (let’s be honest…who would CHOOSE to learn German?).  And although it wouldn’t be my first choice (Italian?  Spanish? Better French? Anything!), I have to say that I’m enjoying the experience more and more as the weeks go by. Joining the class was also a chance to meet other women in the same boat as me but we were only ten minutes into the first class when I realized that our boats were in completely different oceans.  In fact, my boat was looking like a hundred foot yacht beside their inflatable dingy.

A simple question of What brings you to Basel? brought out amazing stories of personal triumph, hope for a better life and perseverance. Jemma, Jaenette, Jennifer, Marcell…beautiful women from all over the world, explaining how coming to Basel is their “new beginning” and their “chance for a future”.  I know I said something similar on this very blog. I spoke of coming to Basel as a “new beginning” — but not in the way these women spoke of.  One by one, they told their stories. Stories of oppression. Stories of being married for 20 years yet never living in the same city as their husbands who worked abroad to send money home. Tears came to my eyes and I was silently dreading my turn to share. What could I possibly say after this? My original answer of “we wanted to see Europe and give our kids a chance to experience another culture” suddenly became pompous and spoiled. Yes, we all chose to come to Basel, but my motivation was one of excitement and leisure. Theirs was survival.

That day in December will always stick with me. I think it was the first time this extremely-fortunate Canadian girl realized that what she thought she knew about hard times, she really didn’t know at all.

Stay tuned for Part Two: The Interview.

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So much snow.
So little sunshine.
Be back soon.

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