Wednesday, August 25, 2004

NEWS BULLETIN -- 25 August 2004

We got an email this morning that someone was coming through to clean our phones at work. Um, OK. Sure 'nuff, a woman comes through to clean our office phones, and I kid you not, she had a full toolbelt of things used to clean phones: soft brushes, hard brushes, fabric cloths, dust cloths, cleaning spray, cleaning picks, and one of those click-and-count contraptions so she can keep track of the number of phones cleaned. I have never seen a phone get such close and loving attention. I am tempted to really dirty it up next time to see a full-blown treatment.

Monday, August 23, 2004

23 August 2004

The furniture saga continues. Apparently, when you buy a bed, you have to buy the bed slats separately. These things never occured to me as being separate items that people would get at different times or in different combinations. Bed slats are bed slats. So I ordered my bedframe, and it was delivered, and I put it together, and it looks quite nice except for the fact thatit is entirely useless when it comes to supporting a mattress, since there are no bed slats, and my mattress is not of the levitating variety. You would think that the ordering site would either say quite prominently, "This bed won't work as a bed unless you buy more things with it," or give a helpful link to "Things you will definitely need in order to make this bed functional." I suppose they do it that way so that if you already have some bed slats lying around, you don't have to end up with an extra set. Except that I don't know anyone who has random bed slats, since THEY COME WITH THE BED. Also, they were quite pointed in telling me that the mattress and sheets didn't come with the bed. Yes, I realize that, and I'm pretty sure the model sitting on the bed in the pictures is not included, either. I just want a large, elevated, flat surface to hold my mattress off of the ground. Is that so hard to get?

The Swiss like things to be a certain way, and that way is clean. In fact, the German word for "clean" is used colloquially to mean "good" in Switzerland. How far does this go? Some examples:

1) A friend killed a cockroach on my terrace, and threw it over the side. When he left the building, he saw the cockroach in the street, and picked it up and moved it into the gutter, because it didn't belong in the street.

2) Three roommates that I know have a cleaner kitchen than most Americans I know. At the end of a meal, they are incapable of leaving the dishes overnight, or even worse, letting them accumulate until the sink is full. Dishes can only be dirty while they are in use.

3) Another friend vacuumed his bedroom at 5 in the morning, because he simply could not sleep, knowing that the room was dirty. How dirty, you might ask, it must have been pretty bad. There were small dust bunnies that had come from a down comforter and feather pillows, but the thought of them was just so disturbing that he couldn't rest until they were gone.

You should see the ice cream ads here. Perhaps to provide some form of release from the rigors of everyday rules and regulations concerning propriety, the Swiss have the most sexually charged ice cream ads you have ever seen. They're not on the same level as Playboy or Penthouse, but I think they would fit into Maxim pretty well. Girls seductively eating popsicles, guys holding out large ice cream cones, just out of reach of their girlfriends, girls sharing ice cream with each other. Strangely, though, this hyper-sexualization seems to go almost exclusively with ice cream ads, and not with other products. Salami and bratwurst are sold with serious pictures of mountain men and cows, but ice cream is all about getting laid.

It is entirely possible to get locked in your apartment here. The locks work with keys on both sides, rather than a key on one side and a knob on the other. If you are prone to losing track of your keys, you can find yourself stuck inside until you find them. The outer doors of the buildings are the same way, such that, if someone has locked the front door, I have to go fishing through my bag to let myself out, and the keys by the time I get downstairs have somehow managed to get under everything else.

Monday, August 16, 2004

16 August 2004

So the Olympics started over the weekend, and I was watching the opening ceremony, and the Swiss commentator was making the usual inane chatter about the different teams as they walked into the arean, "This team has 57 athletes here this year," "This team is really strong in cycling," "Here come the defending champions for volleyball." Then the team from Singapore walked in, and the Swiss commentator said, "Here is the team from Singapore. Singapore is even cleaner than Switzerland." No joke, that is really what he said.

I ordered furniture from IKEA the other week -- a bedframe, a couch, some end tables, and a kitchen table and chairs. The same day, my landlord offered to show me some things that I could borrow. Being completely furniture deprived, I said yes to almost everything he offered, and it was only upon returning with the goods to my apartment that I realized that in addition to the three end tables I ordered from IKEA, I also borrowed another 6 small tables from my landlord. Who needs chairs and television when you have a lifetime supply of small tables?

IKEA delivers. In Switzerland, IKEA delivers whenever they decide to deliver. You get a letter in the mail and a voicemail in Swiss German saying the date that they will drop the things off, and a time frame, and you'd better be home when the stuff comes. It's sort of like cable in the U.S. Apparently, they also have a tendency to forget some items, or to only deliver parts of items, so I had a coworker call them to make sure that they were delivering a bedframe, a couch, three end tables, and a kitchen table and chairs. The person on the phone said he couldn't verify what was being delivered, but he could tell her that it weighed 160 kilograms. For all I know, I could get a delivery of 160 kilograms of toilet seat covers. In any case, I went onto the IKEA website to look at how much their stuff weighs, and the things I ordered should weigh, in total, 110 kilograms. So either they don't know how to weigh things, or I'm getting an extra 50 kg of furniture and household items for free!

Got my DSL set up, so my Vonage phone now works again, so I spent half the weekend on the phone, since I don't have to worry about long-distance rates anymore. The crazy thing is that it's also cheaper for me to call Switzerland, now that I have my old phone up and running again. How can it be cheaper for me to call Swiss lines from what is supposedly an American line, than to call Swiss lines from my Swiss numbers?

Because it's so expensive to make phone calls here (some cell phone plans charge about 80 cents a minute for local calls), everyone does SMS, instead. In New York, you walk around, and everyone has a headset or a cell phone attached to their ears. Here, everyone walks around looking down at the cell phones in their hands, where they are madly typing and sending text messages. It's quieter, but it's also hard to walk, when everyone is looking at their cell phone screen. I don't think I'm coordinated enough.

Another laundry mystery: the laundry machines here are really small and very slow. You put in two sheets and two pillowcases, and the machine is stuffed full. The shortest wash cycle is 46 minutes, and some options go for over 2 hours. I ask you, if you lived in a building that only gave you 2 days a month to do laundry, and those days were almost always during the week, and the loads are tiny and the cycles long, and you had to finish by 9 pm on your days, would you have enough clean clothes? Thankfully, I can do laundry whenever I want, unlike in most buildings, but I don't see how I would get by, otherwise...

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

10 August 2004

My birthday came and went in peace, and I am now 26. Oof. Celebrated on the actual day with dinner out with a few friends, and had a waiter who spoke Chinese. I think he was just as pleased to find someone to speak Chinese with as I was to be able to communicate with someone in complete sentences.

Saturday was the Street Parade. It’s no wonder that the Street Parade comes only once a year. It is a huge event, equally interesting and exhausting. About 1 million people descended on Zürich for the city-wide party, which is a lot, considering that the normal population of Zürich is under 350,000. The Swiss are nothing if not efficient. They can assemble huge scaffolds, speaker systems, stages, and other equipment as if by magic, and then spirit them away again when they are no longer needed. A poll conducted by a local paper indicated that at least a quarter of the people at the Street Parade were on drugs ranging from pot to Ecstasy to coke, which may explain the craziness of the day. And this is a family event.

Starting at about 10 on Saturday morning, there were speakers blasting techno music all around town, and by 3 in the afternoon, they had reached full volume, meaning that I could feel my building shaking. I ventured forth into the city for the Parade with 5 Swiss friends, and it was a mix of Mardi Gras, an outdoor rave, Gay Pride Day, and Halloween. People were dressed up or undressed, with punked out hair and body paint, and there was ear-shattering noise coming from the 30-odd floats blasting music from their on-board DJs, and from the many parties scattered around town, in every square and alley, and even in the main train station. From a distance, all you could hear was a huge, constant roar, which became more defined if you were close to a float or a street party. They were pumping water from the lake over the crowds in one area, and there was a foam-filled dance floor, sponsored by (who else but) a shampoo company. The floats snaked through the crowds until about 10 pm, and then everyone headed to any of dozens of parties in the city that lasted until noon on Sunday. My friends and I went to Club Q, and called it a night around 4. An almost overwhelming spectacle, but lots of fun.

Perhaps the funniest thing I saw that day was at around 7 pm, when the floats and crowds were still packing the streets. The ground was paved with bottles and litter, with people constantly adding to the mess. A troop of street cleaners was already dutifully walking the street with trash bags in hand, picking up bottles to recycle and trash to discard. It seemed like such an exercise in futility, and charmingly premature. Still, the next morning, there was hardly a trace of the litter generated by a million people, so they must have done something right. The funniest sound was perhaps the mix of the roaring street parties and the church bells calling people in for 7 o’clock Mass. The two sets of sounds were equally cacophonous, and amusing in their juxtaposition.

Sunday morning, I went to get some brunch at a sidewalk café with a view of a quiet street and a church that was about 50 meters away. I sat there recovering from sleep deprivation, eating my brunch, when all of a sudden, the church woke up and set all of its bells ringing in full force, calling its congregation in to do penance for their debauchery at 11 o’clock Mass. The other churches joined in, and for 15 minutes I sat there, assaulted by bells from all sides.

Some pictures are up, including some pictures of Zürich, some of the Street Parade, some of people I know here, and a couple of silly ones of things that amused my very mature self...

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

3 August 2004

So Friday night, I made it out to see Kill Bill, Vol. 1 at an open-air cinema on the lake, and it was a gorgeous night, with an almost-full, orange moon, full views of the lake and the hills.

Saturday was a frenzy of cleaning and setting up, after a week’s worth of shopping. Managed to roust about 50 people to come to my apartment, where they all complimented the views and the space, but teased me for my lack of furniture. (In my defense, I have ordered a mattress to be delivered to my apartment, so I will soon have a non-temporary, full-size mattress, which is a step up from the loaner, twin-size mattress I’ve been sleeping on. One day, I’ll get a bed frame, and maybe even some chairs and a table. One step at a time.)

Sunday was Swiss National Day, which I spent lounging and picnicking by the lake with some Swiss friends, which was quite nice. Because of Swiss National Day, they really went crazy with the bells. Saturday evening, all of the bells went off for 15 minutes straight, and it turns out that my apartment is perfectly lined up with three bell towers, for optimal bell noise. Sunday, the bells went off for similarly long periods of time at various points throughout the day. I am tempted to get a large bell to put on my terrace to join in the daily bell frenzies, but I've been told that I would get in trouble, since I am not a church. So much for my bell envy.

Still haven’t gotten around to figuring out the trash system here. The trash is collected in each neighborhood according to a set schedule, which you have to look up, and you can only put it out at certain places at certain times, and different types of trash go in different kinds of bags, which you have to buy at special places. So until I figure that out, I have resorted to being a trash-smuggler. Every time I leave the apartment, I put a little bit of trash in a small bag, and toss it in one of the public trashcans. Why don’t I take larger bags out, you ask? Because I might get caught and get in trouble, since those are meant for small litter and rubbish that you generate while you’re out and about, not your own, home-grown garbage.

I got in trouble once for throwing a bag of Fiver's poop into the wrong kind of trash can. The man seemed torn between letting the stupid American get away with it once, or making her fish the bag back out and throw it away in a properly designated dog poo trash can. Fortunately, he let it slide. I don't particularly like digging through the trash to pick things out, especially if what I'm fishing for is a bag of dog poo.

The eco-friendly lack of air conditioning is most noticeable at night. There is little that is worse than lying in bed, being kept up by the heat. And then you have to decide whether you want to open the windows to cool the place down a bit, but also let in church bell noise, or if you want a quiet apartment that is on the stuffy side. It doesn’t get that hot here, really, but it’s still warm enough that we would have the A/C on in the States.