Wednesday, July 28, 2004

28 July 2004

How easily one gets used to changes in lifestyle. I work 9 to 6, with an hour lunch break, five days a week. It’s sunny and 75 degrees, the windows are open, and I’m in the office with my dog sitting on my lap. After work, I’ll take the tram and buy some bread at the bakery, walk home, and then sit on my terrace and listen to music. The church bells will chime every quarter-hour. It will get dark by about 10, and then I’ll study some German and get ready for bed. And it feels like this is the way life has always been and always will be, even though it’s so different from how it was before.

Speaking of church bells, there are a ton of them, and they mark the time every 15 minutes, 24/7, and at certain times they ring for several minutes straight (7 am every morning, and several times a day for Mass). It makes no sense to me that the Swiss can get so upset by the noise made by neighbors showering or flushing their toilets after 10 pm, but really loud church bells are perfectly OK at 4 in the morning. And at 4:15. And 4:30. 4:45. You get the point. Fellow Holdenites: Jim Marvin would be in heaven, with all of the bells ringing all of the time.

Exciting plans for the week include: buying household essentials, like oven mitts, paper towels, and screwdrivers; going to a coworker's apartment for dinner; watching
Kill Bill Vol. 1 at an open air cinema by the lake; German lessons; IKEA; and my humble little shindig...

Went with a Swiss friend to an open-air bar last night that is a Jewish swimming pool during the day, and a grill/bar at night. So by day it is an all-male pool for the Jewish community, and by night it is a co-ed haven for eating pork sausages and drinking beer, which seems an odd combination to me, but if it works.... If you ask to see their menu, they say that there is none. Just sausage and salad.

There are a lot of strange combinations here, actually. There are two large umbrella corporations, Migros and Coop, that do and sell everything: you can go there for a bank account, for your groceries, for electronics, for language classes, to exercise, and so on. It reminds me of Japanese mega-corporations like Asahi and Sapporo. Incidentally, one of the most popular ways to keep your money is in an account with the post office.

People get up *really early* here. The standard Swiss working day is 7:30 to 5:00, with an hour lunch break. I had to get a leaky faucet fixed, and the plumber showed up at 7:30 on the dot. When do these people wake up?? I guess when the bells start going crazy at 7 in the morning.

Non-Swiss news: my nephew can *walk* and say “Uh-oh,” “Mama,” and “Baba,” (which refers both to his dad and to the phone, because my sister always says, “Let’s call Papa,” while holding the phone up); my friend Jeannette Louh is starting at Columbia Business School this fall; and my friend Denise Mak is starting at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris this fall. Change is in the air all over the world...

Thursday, July 22, 2004

22 July 2004

1) So I did laundry the other night in my new building, and I had pangs of residual guilt, despite the fact that there was no laundry schedule, and I wasn't violating any building rules. I have to admit that I kept looking over my shoulder as I did unscheduled laundry at 10 p.m. I think I always used to feel guilty about *not* doing laundry, and now I have to fight feelings of guilt about doing laundry...

2) My German continues to progress very slowly, and I have reached the level of a caveman with a severe learning disorder. I had a conversation in a shop where I often go the other day. the first time I went there, the shopkeeper and I conversed in complex pointing and pantomime. Now, we speak like a Homo sapiens trying to communicate with a slow-witted Neanderthal. Roughly translated:

Him: Welcome! Something something....
Me: Hello! Me want one piece pizza. Please.
Him: One piece of pizza? Something something something all?
Me: No. Also one thing tiramisu.
Him: Something big or small something something?
Me: Yes, big. Big tiramisu.
Him: OK, yes. Something something something?
Me: Sorry? Also a spoon, please.
Him: Of course, a spoon. Something something dog?
Me: Pardon?
Him: Where is your dog? You have a dog.
Me: Oh, yes, exactly. Him in office.
Him: Very good. Something something from?
Me: Pardon?
Him: Where are you from?
Me: Ah, me American, but mine parents are Chinese.
Him: Chinese. Very good. Something something all?
Me: Sorry?
Him: Is that all?
Me: Yes, thank you.
Him: Here is your change. Good bye, and thank you!
Me: Thanks for everything. See soon!

3) I could not for the life of me find the phone jack in my new place. Finally, out of desperation, I emailed the prior tenant to ask him where it was, and he replied that it doesn't look like a phone jack, because it's an old jack which needs an adapter, and it's in the back of a cupboard in the corner of the living room. How was I supposed to know that I was looking for something that doesn't look like a phone jack that is hidden inside a cupboard??

4) The Swiss complain about how high their taxes are, and as much as I like to complain about things, I can't say that I sympathize with them on this one. I pay about 15% of my gross salary in taxes, but when I leave Switzerland, I should get part of that back. I'll take 10-12% in taxes over 40% in taxes any day.

5) Hot slang tip: "super" is the word of choice here, pronounced the way the governor of California would say it: "sooo-pah." "This apartment is sooo-pah." "The food here is sooo-pah." Maybe it will catch on in the U.S.

Monday, July 19, 2004

19 July 2004

1) I've moved! I found a really lovely duplex 1BR apartment in the center of the old part of town. The apartment is very charming, with lots of space, an internal staircase, with eaves, skylights, and exposed beams on the upper floor. There are views of a crooked little cobblestone street, old buildings, church towers, green hills and old rooftops. I have a private garden terrace and no laundry schedule. There is even a dryer! (See note below regarding laundry in Zürich). It's in the expensive part of town, but I'm getting a nicer apartment for less money than I was paying in Manhattan, so I'm still pleased. Unfortunately, I have no furniture, but I hope to remedy that soon.

Care packages are welcome, especially if they include such things as tables, chairs, couches, nightstands, beds, and transportation systems that run 24 hours a day. I'm all set on deep-fried pies from McD's, so no need to send those.

If you happen to be in Zürich on July 31, I'll be having a combination housewarming/birthday/Swiss National Day party. Alcohol and garden terrace provided, but bring your own furniture. My phone numbers are staying the same. I may even have my New York number back soon, once I get hi-speed internet set up.

2) Update on my former neighbors in the crackhouse. The girl with the pet rats has dyed her hair a brilliant magenta, and her boyfriend has, as well. They walk around with matching magenta hair and squirming rats. How romantic.

3) Have I mentioned that many buildings here schedule laundry days a year in advance? The building I first lived in does this, and we were allowed to do laundry between 7 am and 9 pm on our scheduled days, and not on any other days. We were allotted laundry days about once every 25 days. On your special day, you use your building key (Key Number 1) to get into the basement, where you go to this hidden pipe. Key Number 2 is hidden in the pipe. This key is used to open the electrical closet, where the laundry key (Key Number 3) is hidden. Then you can do laundry. But only until 9 pm. And only on your day. No dryer, so laundry day results in an apartment decked out in wet clothes. It's almost as hard to do laundry as to get access to your bank account.

4) For the first time in my life, I have witnessed a storm in which there were hailstones that were literally the size of golfballs. The weather here is schizophrenic. It goes from sunny and breezy to pouring and hailing in two minutes, and then back again, as if nothing had ever happened. I believe that the weather gods here have Alzheimer's.

5) August 7 is the annual street parade in Zurich, and it's supposed to b a giant street party that's a combination of the New York Halloween parade, Gay Pride day, Mardi Gras, and techno mayhem. I look forward to witnessing this spectacle of spectacles.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

7 July 2004

To start: Congrats to Jenn and Brian, wish I could have been there, and lots of love (and publicity, now that it's gone out on my list...)

1) I have wonderful news -- my greatest discovery since moving to Zürich! Those of you who were in South America with me in 2000 will understand how important this is to me. THEY STILL DEEP FRY THE PIES AT MCDONALD'S IN SWITZERLAND. This is the only thing I like eating at McD's, and only if it's deep-fried, which they stopped doing years and years ago in the States. Usually, when I'm on vacation, I go to see if the McD's still fry their pies, and if they do, I have to eat 3 a day to get my fill in a short time, but since I'll be here for a year or more, I can eat fried pies at my leisure. Celebrate with me :)

2) There is a lot of miniaturization going on in Switzerland, in much the same way that there is a Super-sizing trend in the U.S. The cars are tiny, the drinks are miniscule, and men's clothing seems to be following the Britney Spears trend: tight jeans and revealing tops. Gay-dar is completely ineffective, since most of the men are running around in skin-tight, low-rise jeans and sneakers that match their muscle tees. Those who don't sport such dashing fashion prefer suits or high-waisted pants with pleats and cuffs. Fannypacks are the men's purses of choice.

3) For women, the 80's are back with a vengeance. We're talking huge plastic earrings, teased hair, leggings, and full Flashdance gear, taken to the extreme. The alternative is shapeless floral clothing, and perhaps a stunning mullet hairstyle.

4) This past weekend was both
Zürifäscht and the finals of the Eurocup (soccer). Zürifäscht happens every 3 years, and the Eurocup happens every 4, so it is only every 12 years that these two events take place in the same summer, and this year, they took place on the /same weekend/. Result: utter insanity. Years of pent-up Swiss emotions and indulgences let out in one weekend of debauchery. There was littering and widespread mingling of recyclables and non-recyclables that would usually make the Swiss cringe. People passed out on the ground, or retching, while everyone else passed by, unconcerned. Policemen on Rollerblades with police lights on their ankles, cruising through the crowds, sometimes chasing belligerents down with assault rifles. Noise (and lots of it) past 10 pm, and continuing until 4 in the morning (gasp!!). It was a cross between a carnival, a street fair, Oktoberfest, live music performances, 4th of July, and general anarchy. The entire population of Switzerland descended on quiet, little Zürich for the weekend, and stayed for the games, fireworks, dancing, and drinking, and then went mad on Sunday for the final game. My favorite two sights from the weekend's festivities: 1) your stereotypical rebellious teenager, all punked out and drinking a beer with his friends, watching the fireworks, and /headbanging/ to the Van Halen song "Jump," which for some reason was the finale song for the fireworks; and 2) an outdoor dance floor playing techno music, completely decorated with phosphorescent gnomes and black lights.

5) After a month of eating almost nothing but bread, PB&J, Nutella, bananas, and yogurt, I finally caught a cold, probably partly due to malnutrition and partly due to Zürifäscht. So now I have upgraded my diet to include vitamins, deli meat, and green things, when I can get to the grocery store when it's open.

6) My ATM card has arrived, a month after opening my account. My PIN code was sent separately, registered mail, and I had to pick that up at the post office, but now my account is complete! I had quite a time trying to get to the post office, since it closes before I leave work, and it closes for lunch break, and it's closed on weekends, and that only left early morning, which isn't the best time for non-morning people... But now I actually have access to my own bank account. Awesome.