Monday, September 27, 2004

27 September 2004

Scene: a group of Swiss and Americans, sitting on my terrace. One of the Swiss guys has brought a small water gun upstairs, and is shooting his friends, then decides that he wants to shoot some of the Americans.

Swiss guy (turning to one of the American guys): Can I make your girlfriend wet?
Americans: (laughter)

Scene: 12:59 p.m. in the checkout line at the grocery store. Lunch comes with a free drink after 1 p.m.

Customer: Can I get my drink for free?
Cashier: No, it’s not 1 o’clock yet, you have to wait.
Customer: Come on, it’s 1 already.
Cashier: No, you still have one minute
Second customer: Are you kidding?
Cashier: Just wait.
(They wait one minute.)
(Cashier rings customer up and gives him the free drink.)

Scene: daytime in the street in Zurich. Feeling too lazy to put it in a trashcan, a pedestrian throws a piece of paper trash on the ground.

Passerby (picking up the trash and handing it back to the first pedestrian): Sir, you dropped this!!
Littering pedestrian: Oh… uh, thanks.

A few things to think about: imagine trying to explain the following...

1) Who is Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, and why is he so damn funny?
2) What do you mean when you call someone a punk?
3) Why would anyone in their right mind vote for Bush? (This one is the hardest).

How to Pass for a Swiss Person, Part I, Section 2: Appearance for Women

Women, here is your guide to looking like a proper Swiss person. First and foremost, think extreme in all cases. Don’t do anything by halves, or you’re only making half of a statement. Let’s start with shoes. *Always* wear heels, and make sure that they’re very, very pointy. Your heels should be at least 3 inches high, even if you’re wearing jeans or capris. The pointy part of the shoe should evoke thoughts of the Wicked Witch of the West. If you can easily walk in them, then the heels aren’t high enough and the toes aren’t pointy enough. You can go for an ankle strap or no ankle strap, whatever suits your fancy, but make sure that the shoes are very colorful. Fuschia, yellow, silver, lavender, any color is fine, as long as it will only match one or two items in your wardrobe. Flip flops are for Americans and slobs.

If you’re going to wear low-rise pants, make sure that they’re low enough to rival the plumber, and that they highlight the exposed rear cleavage with underwear that hangs out the top. If not low-rise, then please be sure that your pants at least go up to your natural waist, if not higher. Cuffing your jeans is absolutely acceptable. Do you prefer skirts? The flouncier and more floral, the better. Shirts should be worn off the shoulder, 80s-style, so that your shoulder-length earrings won’t interfere with your neckline.

Going to get a haircut? Ask for a femme-mullet, or a something long and shaggy, or if you want to be surprised, just ask for the most junior trainee at SuperCuts, tell them to knock themselves out, and that should be about right. Please don’t get your highlights and dye jobs touched up; it is much better to leave them as they grow, so that you can have two-tone hair. See note in the Men’s section (last week) regarding smoking. Everyone does it, and it gives your skin that nice 14-going-on-40 look to it, which you can then build on with matte foundation and heavy eye makeup.

Also, please note that all men should have at least one visible tattoo or piercing, and all women should have at least one visible tattoo or piercing, in addition to normal earrings.

Monday, September 20, 2004

20 September 2004

Hello again. Got back yesterday from my trip to New York and DC. The wedding was beautiful, it was good to see friends, and I ate a ton!! All you can eat sushi, all you can eat blue crab, two lobsters at Joshua Tree, Korean BBQ at Kum Gang San, Ethiopian food at Meskerem, pizza, “street meat” hot dogs, apple pie from Little Pie Company, soup dumplings at Shanghai Café, bagels, clam chowder, filet mignon, and so on. I brought back all the books, CDs, clothes, and DVDs that I bought in the States, as well as all of my winter clothes, a comforter, a spare dog bed for Fiver, sheets, towels, etc., and had quite a time trying to navigate my 5,000 pounds of luggage through the trip.

Things that I had forgotten about the States, and things that I hadn’t realized before moving away: it is HUMID over there! And air conditioning, while refreshing, can make you REALLY COLD -- I wrapped myself in three blankets on the plane flight over, and the flight attendant asked me if I was all right. I miss smoke-free New York; it was nice to be able to go to a bar or restaurant and not come out smelling like an ashtray. And I never really noticed the amount of gum on the ground in New York until living in a ground-gum-free city for three months. Look around, there is a lot of gum on the sidewalks, it’s amazing!! Also, I still have no idea how Zurich avoids that “rancid trash” smell that is seemingly ubiquitous in the summertime in the city.

Back on this side of the pond, I’ve decided to start putting out a handy dandy guide to assist people in blending in among the Swiss. I have decided to remain conspicuous and non-Swiss, but if I ever decide to become an undercover agent here, at least I’ll have a guide all ready to go. This week’s lesson is about basic dress code for men.

How to Pass for a Swiss Person, Part I, Section 1: Appearance for Men

Are you male? Then this issue applies to you. Image is king! Always buy your jeans tight. If your girlfriend’s jeans are tighter than yours, you’re doing something wrong. Make sure that the legs taper at the ankles. Never go without a belt. You don’t technically need it, since you bought your jeans tight enough that you couldn’t get them off without a paint scraper, but the belt is essential. If you object to really tight jeans, you can also opt for capri-length cargo pants (if you don’t know what “capri-length” is, go ask at your nearest Gap, or ask a female friend).

Tuck your shirt in, you look like a slob. Make sure that your shirt is tight, even if it makes people wonder which team you’re playing for. Bonus points if your shirt has no sleeves, or if you flip the collar up. Color coordination is important, too; get help on this one if it’s too hard for you. It’s pretty simple, though: if you’re wearing a red and yellow shirt, make sure that your shoes are also red and yellow, and preferably made by Adidas. Only leather shoes, or else people will think you’re a slob with no money.

Finding it hard to squeeze your wallet and keys into your jeans, because they’re too tight? Not a problem, go buy a fanny pack!! Preferably black leather. You can put it around your waist, or you can sling it over your shoulder. Everyone has one. But again, make sure your clothes are really tight, or else people might get you mixed up with an American tourist.

You’d better shave, or else your female friends might get annoyed, since you kiss every one of them three times every time you see them. Stock up on hair gel, because crunchy hair is a must.

Not a smoker? That will have to change. Switzerland is one of the heaviest smoking countries in the world. Don’t like nicotine? That’s OK, you can cut your cigs open, mix the tobacco with pot, and re-roll it, and you’re good to go. Too poor to do that? That’s OK, too, because there are enough people smoking in the street that you can just breathe deeply in their vicinity and get a contact high.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

7 September 2004

So I’m heading back to the States on Friday, with stops in New York and D.C., and I’m already making mental lists of things I’m going to do. Actually, it’s mostly a list of things I’m going to eat. At the top of the list: bagels, Ethiopian food at Meskerem, all-you-can-eat sushi, Korean BBQ, soup dumplings at Shanghai Cafe, lobster at Joshua Tree, burgers at Island Burgers, bloody steak, tapas, tiramisu at Ferrara, French toast at Eatery, smoothies at Route 66, and so on and so forth. I was out for drinks last night with some co-workers, all of them fellow expats, and the topic of “what to do when back in the States” came up, and everyone just started listing their favorite restaurants and how much food costs at those restaurants. The variety/quality/price of food in New York is just unbeatable. Which is why I’m going to eat non-stop while I’m there.

Then there are the things I need to buy or bring back. I’ve already bombarded Amazon and Barnes and Noble with orders for books, CDs, and DVDs that are either unavailable or prohibitively expensive here. It should be fun seeing me try to lug all of that stuff back to Zurich. I also plan on stocking up on cold medications and toiletries, which are all sold in Oompa Loompa portions here, for monopoly prices. Ahh… somewhere in the world, things are sold at market prices in econo-size packaging. Expats dream about such things for long spans of time, in between food cravings and laundry angst. The strange thing is that while most things here are sold in small packages, and there is no such thing as Costco, they have a proliferation of “erotic warehouses” that are as big as any IKEA or Costco I’ve ever seen. I haven’t yet ventured inside one of them, but I can only imagine that they must sell “erotic products” in containers ten times the size of the shampoo and laundry detergent bottles.

Speaking of all things erotic, this past weekend was the street fair celebrating the red-light district in Zurich. The weekend before was the street fair for my neighborhood, which is sort of a cross between the village and Times Square, if you can imagine such a hybrid. But this past weekend, we took the tram out to the red-light district (which, incidentally, is also where my office is). This area of town is the most dangerous part of Zurich, which means that there is perhaps a 0.05% chance that you might get pick-pocketed, and a small chance that you might be asked for drugs or money. It’s about as dangerous as Central Park on a sunny Saturday afternoon in June. In any case, at some point as we were walking down the street, eating cotton candy, drinking sangria, looking at random trinkets, and deciding what to eat next, these two big tough guys got drunkenly upset at each other for some unknown offense. I slowed down, thinking that maybe I would finally see some real craziness. However, one of the guys just stood there with his arms crossed, yelling at the other guy, and consulting with his friends. The other guy, who was sporting full biker leather and long biker hair, and therefore seemed promising, was also screaming. He would occasionally rush in and do tentative little toe-kicks and wind-milling bitch-slaps. He fought about as well as a third-grade girl. Amusing, but unfulfilling. Nobody does random street violence like the good ole U S of A.

In apartment news, I think I’m still recovering from furniture deprivation, as I have not been able to shake this furniture-hoarding instinct that has suddenly been awakened in me. I have yet to get rid of any of my 9 small tables. I also have two couches, two barstools, four indoor chairs, five outdoor chairs, four outdoor stools, a kitchen table, a terrace table, and a TV from the Stone Age. Also, there is always the bed frame. Still no slats, so it’s still useless, but I’ve sanded and varnished the rest of the frame, so I prefer to think of it as an ornamental piece, for now. I still need to figure out what to do with some halogen lamps I just inherited from a friend who is leaving. In any case, if you’re looking for a place to sit, lie down, or put things on, my apartment now has a plethora of items suitable for such uses.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

1 September 2004

So I had always thought that no one could out-polite us Asians. Think of the simultaneous stereotypes of the smiling, bowing, gracious Asian, and listen to how much weight Asian parents give to addressing people in the proper way, bringing the right gift to someone’s house, holding your chopsticks just so, giving and deflecting compliments, and you will start to understand what I mean. However, I have discovered that there is a place where the people are just as etiquette-conscious, and that place is Switzerland. I think they might be Asians in disguise.

Example 1: When having a drink with friends or acquaintances, you have to stop, clink glasses, and make serious eye contact with each and every person you are with, even if that group is 12 people. And this has to happen every time someone gets a new drink. So much for a quick round of shots.

Example 2: When writing an SMS, it is considered quite impolite to say something like, “When are we mtg tomorrow?” Instead, you have to sit there and type away on your phone, something more along these lines, “Hello, Billy Bob, how are you? I was wondering what time would be good for you to meet tomorrow? Hope you are well!! Bye, Angela.” So much for the “S” part of SMS.

Example 3: Don’t even think of picking up your fork before saying, “En guete” or “Bon appetit,” even if you’re just having fast food.

Example 4: Don’t answer the phone by saying “Hello,” use your name, because otherwise, your caller won’t know whom they are calling. Even though they called you in the first place. No calling after 9 p.m., because people might be asleep.

However, I also think that part of the way they make it look like they are so fastidious about the rules of etiquette is that they use a completely different set of rules, which makes it harder for outsiders to learn and understand them, and easier for the Swiss to make us look completely clueless and rude, which we very well might be, but not always knowingly.

For instance, they don’t have the rule about not eating the last piece of food on a serving plate, but there is a whole litany of rules regarding how bread works. Bread that is shaped a certain way is not free, even though it is brought out and placed on the table at the beginning of a meal. Bread that is placed in the center of the table is not necessarily for everyone at the table; and may only be intended for one person, depending on what people ordered.

Anyways... despite the fact that I am finding endless differences and quirks to amuse me, Fiver has settled down as if this is the only place he has ever lived in his entire life. Dogs can go anywhere, just about -- bars, restaurants, shops -- my office has four dogs, as well. Fiver is fine with that. He has developed quite a little attitude since getting here.

When we lived in New York, Fiver was used to being left home alone all day, every day, while I was at work. He would make his little martyr face, but he would deal with it pretty well.

Since getting here, he has developed delusions of grandeur and supreme importance. He loves coming to the office, but makes me coax him out of bed before he will get up. He eats anything and everything he can find, and always has dog food on hand (on paw?) but he begs *shamelessly* from friends and strangers alike. He made such pathetic faces at some woman in the street that she handed me half a loaf of bread and repeated several times that it was for my dog, as if Fiver were some poor, starved, and abused animal. If I leave him at home alone, he will bark at me when I come back, then ignore me for a little while, and then *allow* me to pet him in a benevolent act of forgiveness.

He was stung by a bee, which shocked him to no end, and made his foot swell and hurt. Once it had stopped hurting (and I know it did, because he was running around chasing his butt), he continued limping whenever he knew I was looking, to get more attention and treats. Silly Fiver.