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Posts Tagged ‘differences’

Seems like the last thing for me to sell is my annual membership at the local fitness club and it will be one of the first things I find in California. Nothing beats putting the kids in a (fun) daycare for a few hours while Mommy pumps some iron and then relaxes in the Cafe with a post-workout latte.

Exercising in a European gym has definitely had it’s interesting moments.  Although my bicep curls and squat thrusts are the same no matter what part of the world I’m in, pretty much every other aspect of the gym has produced it’s own type of culture shock.

Gym Speak Canada Switzerland
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Cost $50/month is pretty average. If you included the $6/hour it cost having my kids in the daycare, my membership soared to over $100 per month. Not cool. No monthly payment plan here! In Switzerland, they expect you to have your financial crap together so you pay for the year up front. CHF 70/month includes a better quality facility AND unlimited daycare access.
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Attire Pretty much a guarantee that when you walk into a west-coast Canadian gym, you’ll find 8 out of 10 women wearing Lulu Lemon (much to the delight of the male gym-goers). Do you know what it feels like to be the only woman in the entire building (heck, this entire city!) wearing the coveted Lulu magic?! If you’ve never seen your rear in a pair of Lulu’s, you have no idea what I’m talking about. And that’s what’s so glorious about it.
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Amenities For my aforementioned $100, I got a crappy little daycare where the chick talked on her cell phone the entire time she was with my kids (darn you stupid contract!) and some decent equipment around 5-10 years old. Let’s do it up Swiss-style. Gleaming hardwood floors, a plethora of shiny new equipment and weights, a pool and a ton of other amenities that I haven’t even bothered to use. Like, the co-ed sauna. Sorry, the mandatory nude co-ed sauna. (Because honestly, bathing suits are such a hassle). And plus, this photo on the gym’s homepage really brings out the dudes.
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Members Women Only gyms are easy to find in NA. Perhaps impossible here. My last gym had a ladies’ floor so you could do those bent-over rows without worrying about some juice monkey checking out your Lulu-Hotness (although, they were distracted by the other 20 Lulu-clad women in the place, anyway). Other than the über-hairy Eastern Europeans that keep me from ever stepping foot into the whirlpool, it’s mainly old people working out when I do. Well, them and the Spandex Guy.

Every day. Same spandex.

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Oy! In my experience, the most shocking thing you’ll find in a Canadian gym is a woman exercising sans t-shirt and just a sports bra.

That amount of skin attracts a lot of stares and most self-respecting women just don’t want to be bothered, no matter how rockin’ their six-pack is.

It’s been five months and I think I’m finally desensitized to the most shocking part of working out here. The pool is in the basement level and the change rooms are on the main floor above it. The stairs and (glass) elevator wind their way up through the middle of the main entrance and weight machine areas.

If I had a nickel for every hairy, old guy I’ve witnessed walk up in nothing but a towel casually wrapped around their waist, I’d be building my own gym.

Focusing on the last set of killer tricep extensions is hard enough without some old guys’ butt crack getting in the way.

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I’ve been here for nearly a year and today I saw, for the first time ever, a female motorcycle rider.  So she does exist in Europe! And because I would never dream of trying to ride a bike on these foreign roads (yes, it’s the same side of the street but seriously, everything else is completely arse-backward here), I’ll have to just post this photo as a tribute to my beloved, whom I sold nearly one year ago. Sadly, it still stings the same as it did the day I handed over the keys.

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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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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.

Poschi…what?

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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Snowflakes the size of quarters are wistfully cascading to the ground outside my window.  It’s just the right amount of snow where the trees sparkle with white romance but the sidewalks are clear and dry.

It is now officially Christmas.

And quite literally, it is Christmas today.  For this is the day that a local moving company will finally bring us the contents of our shipping container which docked in Liverpool last month. Boxes and boxes of our coveted kitchen tools, linens and bedding, and more importantly, my shoes and handbags. For the boys, the shipment brings all of their coveted toys from home that didn’t fit on the plane; 100+ Hot Wheels cars, race tracks, the entire Disney Cars collection and of course, their beat-up plastic hockey player figurines (which amazingly enough, still manage to play incredible hockey without the use of any sticks or in some cases, arms).

The anticipation began building over the past few weeks when Tim and I would remember certain items that we had shipped and experience a wave of excitement for the coming delivery.  On a good note, we have realized that it is in fact possible to live with less. For instance, we managed to go an entire three months without an ironing board (kitchen table + towel = an excuse for my poor ironing), the mounds of toys from home (although dangerously approaching the “dark side” with this comment, I think the boys actually played better with fewer toys because they weren’t so overwhelmed by them all), and my Tupperware collection (amazing how valuable an empty cream cheese container becomes when you need to pack a snack!).  So although we realized how possible it is to get by without your usual luxuries, we also realized how fond we are of them all.

Tim is looking forward to having his guitar and harmonica.  I’m looking forward to my imperial measuring cups (sorry, my North American recipes don’t call for “decilitres!”) and did I mention my shoes and handbags?!

And of course, with Christmas comes the accumulation of more stuff.  We are doing a very pared-down Christmas this year but just to help Tim out (wink, wink), I thought I’d create a little list of all the local items I’ve found here in Europe that I just simply can’t live without!

The Face Rug

We need a rug for the entryway. What says “welcome” more than a giant face?! Only problem is, I just can’t shake the feeling I’ve seen this girl before…

The Brain Massage

This is either a really great stress-buster or an alien invasion waiting to happen. Either way, I might find it useful for when the boys start acting up.

Mop Slippers

Why bother wearing slippers AND holding a mop when you can do both in one go?! All the mom’s are doing it.

The Deli Stacker

Because nothin’ turns a girl on like a good stack of meat.

No seriously, I really want this.

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Merry Christmas!  Frohe Wiehnachten!

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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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