Posts Tagged ‘culture’

I thought it would be nice to give Tim the Swiss country code sticker in his stocking. The other day we drove past a store called “The Swiss Shop” so I gave them a call to confirm they had one before making the drive.  A man with an Indian accent answered the phone and I couldn’t quite make out the name of the store when he rattled it off. Nevertheless, I continued on…

“Hi there. I just found you on the internet but I wanted to know what kind of products you have before I drive out to you.”

“Uh…what are you looking for?”

“Well, I’m actually looking for the CH sticker,” I replied.

<awkward pause>

“What sticker?” he asked, totally puzzled by my request.

“Um…you know, the Swiss country code sticker…that says CH…”

<more awkward pause>

“Oh…no, we don’t have that…we just have the Portugal one.”

“Oh.  So…is this The Swiss Shop?” I asked, perplexed.

“Yep, it is,” he replied.

“Okay…so…um…what kind of products do you sell?” I asked.

“Mainly touristy things…and many of our customers are Portugese so we have lots of Portugese items, too.”

“Sorry…so, you said that this is The Swiss Shop?” I am SO confused by this point.

“Uh…yah,” the man’s voice gave off a not-so-subtle hint of annoyance.

“Okay, well, thanks anyway…” ….click….the man had hung up before my words were even out of my mouth.

And then I burst out laughing.


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Now that we’ve been here a few weeks, I’m going to just come out and say it.

Americans are mean.

And then, just when I’ve decided that I’ve had enough of being honked at for no good reason, yelled at for no good reason, and cussed at for no good reason, I go to my local Whole Foods, Starbucks or any other consumer-driven market place and experience the best customer service I’ve ever known…ever.

So my only conclusion is that Americans are using up all their friendly mojo at work and saving their haggard snobbishness for their day’s off.

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We were recently invited to a friend’s house for a traditional Swiss Raclette dinner. Although I had never heard of such a thing before moving here, I can honestly say that I will be promptly buying my own Raclette machine. Yes, a machine. Just like the traditional fondue has its own appliance, so does Raclette. In fact, most every traditional Swiss dish I can think of has its own appliance of some sort.

Of course, there’s Fondue and the Fondue Pot:

No fancy dipping accompaniments with the traditional Swiss Fondue...just chunks of white bread...and cheese.

In NA, we love our chocolate fondues, but in Switzerland, it's always about the cheese...and more cheese...and well, more cheese.

Spätzli (pronounced “sh-paht-zlee”) and the Spätzli Pan:

Spätzli (also known in other countries as Spätzle, Spaetzli, Spaetzle) is an egg noodle typically prepared like pasta.

You put the batter on the pan and then using the scraper, work it back and forth so the dough shoves through the holes in the pan and drops into the hot oil below.

Even Swiss Tupperware has its own Spätzli device!

Rösti (pronounced “rah-shtee”) can be easily made in a typical frying pan but it’s common to have a Rösti double-pan for easy flipping (yet to see that in action):

Rösti is just shredded potatoes. But instead of having them for breakfast (like we would have hashbrowns), this is a *dinner* side dish.

Using a double-sided pan (also known as a frittata pan) allows you to cook both sides of the Rösti without having to flip the potatoes onto a plate and then back into the pan.

And the glorious, oh-so-yummy and guilt-inducing Raclette Grill:

It's sort of like fondue in the sense that it's melted cheese, but it's not as pungent as fondue cheese...and once it's melted, you scrape it on top of all your grilled veggies.

During winter festivals, street vendors sell Raclette just like this...scraped right off a big block of it. To. Die. For. Literally, this stuff has gotta be bad for your arteries.

And now for some (iPhone) photos of our own Raclette experience with Rahel and Jonas, our lovely Swiss friends!

Warming up the grill! The little handles are individual grill plates for your own piece of cheese. You keep your own just like you would keep your own fondue stick.

Mmmmmm....bubbling cheese...

I love Liam's face in this one...he's not so sure about this scraped cheese thing...

Starchy potatoes slathered in fatty cheese...somehow, in a European diet, it's all good.

This morning, we had these same friends over for a “Canadian breakfast”…whatever that is!  Because they are vegetarians, we were fairly limited (bacon, sausage, ham…you know, the Canadian staples) so instead, I came up with french toast drenched in maple syrup, cinnamon buns, fresh fruit and hashbrowns.  The hashbrowns died an unfortunate death so we ended up having a breakfast that consisted entirely of bread, sugar and icing…with a little bit of pineapple in there somewhere.

My favourite "Clone of a Cinnabon" recipe. Our Swiss friends have never had cream cheese icing and of course, brown sugar is NOT available here...anywhere. So these were a very foreign treat!

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There are certain things that we absolutely love about Europe and other things we could do without.  But not a day goes by without some sort of culture shock moment where you realize how extremely far you really are from “home”.  I find myself shaking my head a lot here — sometimes I’m shaking it in wonder, other times in disbelief.

Last night Tim had a group of friends over and this morning, as we cleaned up the kitchen, I washed out the massive 2L drink bottles the boys left behind. It made me think about the popular drinks here in Switzerland.  Considering the über-healthy eating habits of the locals, it’s surprising to realize that their go-to beverage choices are all absolute garbage…and this, coming from the North American (who eats four single-serving portions in every meal and coats everything in refined sugar, didn’t you know?!).

If you walk into a Swiss grocery store, you’ll notice that they have 1/10th of the selection we have in NA and not nearly as much processed crap.  But their beverage sections are just as large as ours — turns out they have plenty of guilty pleasures in liquid form.

The only department that might actually have a larger selection than us would be their chocolate aisle…and well, that makes perfect sense. And believe me, the top-of-the-line chocolate in a North American store is equivalent to the no-name budget garbage they sell here. Yeah, I’m bragging.

The "Swiss Chocolate Aisle" in a local grocery store.

Anyway, back to beverages.  Many of you have said that you enjoy hearing about the day-to-day life of the Swiss culture. So for this post, I will showcase the Top Five Swiss Beverages.


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You know it’s been a party when you find confetti here…

My iPhone Case

…and here…

When Jack recoiled from the water saying "Mummy...there's stuff floating in here...", I laughed thinking it was his own hamburger backwash...but no, it was confetti from two days earlier...

…and when you get home from a parade, vacuum, change pants, vacuum again, then get changed into pj’s that night only to find more confetti in your SECOND pair of pants…now where did that come from?!?

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I once read a Swiss blog where the author commented on Switzerland being the largest country in the world. Coming from a relatively small island in Canada that’s actually the same geographical area as the entire Swiss nation, I balked slightly at that and wondered which school the author attended. Surely I’d be avoiding registering my children there!

But the author went on to say that many Swiss citizens believe they have the largest country in the world because although they are geographically small, they are culturally massive. Where else do you condense four national languages, three distinct cultures and a splash of excellent English into just over 40,000 km²?

He has a point.

With my sister visiting this past January, we took Timothy’s most generous offer and escaped sans enfants for a weekend away. Zena had studied Italian for a few years and her heart was set on stealing away to Italy for a week but unfortunately, days after booking the flight, she lost her job in the American economy debacle and was forced to turn her European Escapade into a more centralized Swiss Scamper. Knowing her heart’s desire was to be immersed in Italian, I started researching Italian-speaking cities within Switzerland for our weekend away. Tocino was obviously the first thought but we eventually settled on a journey through the Alps and a night in Poschiavo.


Yeah, that’s what we thought. And I think that’s what went through the SBB Travel Consultant’s mind when I asked him to help us get there. Poschiavo (pronounced poss-KYA-vo) is probably the furthest point one could travel from Basel while remaining in Switzerland. Over 325 km away, it took us six hours to train from Basel to Chur to Samedan to Pontresina before finally ending up in Poschiavo. Just as expected, the world as we knew it transformed into Italian somewhere around Pontresina and my sister was in paradiso.

A typical European snack: bread, cheese and wine...while standing. The non-European thing would be the coffee in a to-go cup (so North American of us!).

Although the trip through the Alps aboard the Bernina Express, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was spectacular, this trip would have been downright excruciating had we brought the kids along. Scenery is just another boring slideshow for most four-year-olds (or even some forty-year-olds, for that matter) and the relief of not having the kids with me crossed my mind more than once.

But with just us to gab and enjoy a bottle of wine, we sat back and took in the ride as the train winded back and forth through 145 km of breathtaking views. We traveled over cavernous viaducts, elegant glaciers, crossed 196 bridges and passed through 55 tunnels. Navigating inclines of up to 70%, the train climbs 2253 meters without the use of rack rails or other engineering tricks and at various spots along the journey, one can look out the window to stare straight down the face of an incredible alp.

Once arrived in Poschiavo, we were greeted by…well, nothing. The quaint village lays between two mountains in the Poschiavo Valley and one can walk the entire distance in less than 20 minutes (yeah, we did that). The stated population is around 3,500 but one local told us only 1,600 people live in the actual town centre. After checking into our hotel (a six-minute walk from the train station, of course), we asked where a local would go for a drink. We were directed to walk out the hotel door, take 10 steps to the left and find ourselves at the local pub, Bar Flora.

I’m positive that in the spring and summer months, this photogenic town would be teeming with sun-filled terrace cafés and charming stone-paved piazzas. Unlike some of the big cities I’ve been to, the locals here seem to take a genuine interest in you and were glad you came. One visit to the town’s watering hole and we were fast friends with the locals; practicing our Italian (or lack thereof), observing the stark differences between our culture and theirs, and learning what it means to be a Swiss Italian verses a German-speaking Swiss (a distinction they were quick to make).

By the time we made our way back to the hotel, it was four in the morning and the entire building was dark. In big-city-girl fashion, I started to panic thinking that we were going to be stuck in the cold while our warm hotel beds awaited our return just inside. But of course, our room key acted as a master and opened up the main doors. Something about that made me smile as I thought of all the busy 24-hour Front Desk’s I’ve encountered. Imagine my delight when the Hotel Chef himself checked us out the next morning, graciously speaking to us in slow, simple Italian — even though he spoke perfect English. The entire experience was more like staying with a family friend, rather than just some hotel in a strange place.

So although there is a time for major sights and world-renowned locales, our little trip to the middle-of-nowhere Poschiavo reminded us that sometimes the best travel experiences are within the hidden pockets of daily life found in small towns, quaint villages and the heart of the locals.

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You’re waiting for your tram.  Two teenage boys sit slouched on the bench beside you, hands crammed into the knee-height pockets of their baggy, ripped jeans.  Three girls pass in front of them and you watch as they take a visual inventory of all their assets, commenting to each other as the girls leave ear shot. They’re too cool for school, for this tram stop, and for the world in general. If life gave us neon signs above our heads to broadcast our inner thoughts, theirs would be scrolling “yeah, you know I did…”.

One of the boys sees his tram coming and stands up while putting his earphones back on.  The boys exchange a few words and a thug handshake.  And then…to completely ruin my beautiful stereotyping, it happened…

…a double-cheek kiss goodbye.

“…yeah, you know I did!”

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