Tuesday, February 27, 2007

27 February 2007

When I was working at the law firm in New York, new associates shared offices with one other associate for a few months before graduating to our own private offices. These spaces, though small and identical, were our own, and we all felt entitled to have them all to ourselves. It was a bit of a surprise, then, when I came to Switzerland and discovered that like most other offices in Switzerland, my office put several people in each (admittedly larger) room. I did some scouting and found out that other friends - engineers, bankers, and consultants – sat in open-plan spaces, sometimes with over a dozen other people.

So I figured, when in (a much cleaner and smaller version of) Rome, do as the Romans (or Swiss) do. I’ve gotten used to sharing office space. When my officemate is sick or on vacation, I have the entire office to myself (well, to myself and my dog, if he’s at work that day), a fact that I much appreciated during the adjustment period. Now, though, it almost gives me the heebie-jeebies. After sharing an office here for almost three years, at one point with three other people, it feels very strange to be alone in the room. Whatever I end up doing next, if it involves my own office and no dogs, it will feel quite foreign, even though that describes pretty much every job I ever pictured myself taking before I moved here.

Speaking of Swiss offices, one strange thing that I’ve learned is that most people working in Swiss offices bring their own personal mug to store in the cabinet in the communal office kitchen. It can be anything, a Starbuck’s mug, a mug with the person’s name on it, a plain mug, but somehow it is clear that no one else should touch that mug. My office, being very international, only partially follows that policy – some people bring in their own mugs, and some people just lay claim to mugs that don’t seem to belong to anyone in particular. In other offices, however, the Rule of the Mug is taken very seriously.

One of my friends, shortly after starting her job at a Swiss company, used a mug from the kitchen cabinet during coffee break, not knowing that that mug belonged to someone. That someone quickly confronted her (and here we thought that the Swiss were so placid, so non-confrontational, so… neutral), and berated her for using his mug. In fact, he continued to berate her even after several apologies and promises never to violate his God-given mug rights again.

As you probably know, last Tuesday was Mardi Gras, which is celebrated and called Fasnacht in the Catholic parts of Switzerland. The typical Fasnacht celebration is family-friendly, and involves marching bands, costumes, and confetti, and, while quite a spectacle, would probably be a bit of a disappointment to beer-guzzling frat boys picturing a live version of Girls Gone Wild.

The Swiss, ever practical, stagger their Fasnacht celebrations by city, so that the major Fasnacht parades and parties don’t conflict with each other. Basel, for instance, is having its big Fasnacht parade tonight, a week after Mardi Gras, when true Catholics are supposed to be done partying and firmly in the midst of Lenten self-deprivation. No other way to do it though, until they find a way for several dozen marching bands to be in multiple places at the same time.

Zurich celebrated Fasnacht last weekend, so my apartment, which is situated in prime parade territory, was, er, serenaded all weekend with the discordant strains of Guggenmusik (what the marching bands play for Fasnacht, which is probably Swiss German for "Oh my God, do they really call that music?") played, at one point, by people dressed as large yellow chickens.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

20 February 2007

Had a quick weekend in Paris, and even though it was still the middle of February, it was sunny and warm (high of about 15 C / 60 F). I love Paris in the (global warming-induced) springtime. It was one of those little collisions of worlds. There was a friend from high school, a friend from law school, an ex-expat I had met in Zurich, and a coworker. Everyone seemed to get along well, and as far as I know, no blood was shed, nor were any terrible secrets revealed.

We got to our hotel on Friday night, and were informed that our room was on the fifth floor (in America it would be called the sixth floor). We headed for the elevator, and if there is a prize for Smallest Elevator in the World, I think our hotel has a good shot. When I first moved to Zurich, I thought that the elevator in my apartment building was very small. It fits three people, or maybe four, if none of them are overweight, and if they are wearing deodorant and don’t mind full-body sardine-style contact with the other passengers. Then I saw some of the other elevators around town that fit only three people in a tight squeeze. But our hotel’s elevator barely fit two of us with our overnight bags. The placard in the elevator warned us not to load it with more than three people or 240 kg (528 lbs.), but I have no idea where it might suggest we could put a third person or extra weight, unless we were to carry him curled up on a platter above our heads.

We unfolded ourselves out of the elevator on the fifth (sixth) floor to look for our room. It seemed a bit odd that Room 13 would be anywhere but the first floor, but we had faith in the desk clerk’s instructions. We lost some of that faith, however, when we noticed the numbers on the doors in the hallway: 40, 39, 38… We almost turned around to look elsewhere before we looked next door to Room 38, and lo and behold, there was Room 13. Quite inexplicable, and completely unlike anything you would see in the precisely organized German-speaking region of Switzerland.

At dinner with some friends, I was asked to translate some of the menu, and upon seeing some of the more exotic items on offer, I was sorely tempted to give fake translations in hopes of inducing them to order the wrong thing. I was merciful, however, and my friends decided against ordering the “pork groin, ear, foot, and tail,” and the “calf head with brains.” I’m sure the dishes are both quite delicious, as French food didn’t get its elite reputation by accident, but we made less adventurous choices, at least this time around. We only had one weekend away from the somewhat bland restaurant scene in Zurich, so I wanted to make the most of it, and pork groin didn’t seem to be the best way to do it.

Did some shopping and got my hair cut over the weekend, in order to save money. I always end up spending money in order to save it, but I would argue that it’s absolutely necessary when you live in a city as expensive as Zurich. For instance, I got a haircut that cost 30 euros (about $40), which in Switzerland would have cost 100 Swiss Francs (about $80). Even more importantly, the stylist didn’t give me a mullet, which is a favorite among stylists here in Zurich.

Sunday was Chinese New Year, and as I walked around Paris, I realized that Paris actually has a large enough Asian population to make the holiday slightly relevant. It was strange seeing Asian men around Paris – the small Asian population of Zurich is overwhelmingly female, mostly Southeast Asian women who married Swiss men. On the same note, it was strange to see Asian (particularly East Asian) women who appeared to be single, professional, and non-mail-order.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

13 February 2007

I came down with a nasty cough for the second time since moving here, and have come to the conclusion that Swiss doctors have a nice little racket going. Both times that I’ve had a horrible cough (not just a polite, ladylike cough, a big, hacking, phlegm-filled cough that keeps me up all night), I’ve gone to the doctor after a week of misery. Both times, the doctors have listened to my cough, told me that they weren’t sure if it was viral or bacterial, and told me to wait a week to see. If the cough was still there a week later, then it was probably bacterial and would therefore warrant treatment. So basically, I paid the doctors to tell me that they weren’t going to do anything about my horrendous cough, and to say that they would happily take more of my money if I came in again for the same cough.

The first time, I went back a week later, still with a miserable cough, and the doctor then decided I had proven my need for antibiotics by (barely) surviving two weeks of people treating me like I had the plague. This time, I’ve accepted the fact that the doctor sent me home with a cheerful recommendation of extra fluids and ginger, and perhaps a repeat visit, but have been carefully (over)-dosing myself with Nyquil, Robitussin, Sudafed, Tylenol, Advil, and whatever other American OTC drugs I have on hand. I have a stash of antibiotics, and I’ll take those if the second week passes without any improvement, and the good doctor can keep his fluids and ginger.

Before I came down with tuberculosis, or whatever this affliction is, I decided I wanted to clean up my apartment a bit. Those of you who know me or have ever been to my apartment know that I am not the most meticulous of housekeepers. To be honest, I’m a slob, even by American standards, which means that by Swiss standards, I am about as respectable a housekeeper as an adolescent chimpanzee. This explains why, after living here for over two years, I still did not own a mop. I have one of those wet Swiffers, but not a serious mop.

I decided to go pick one up at a big grocery store at lunch. I checked my wallet, and I had 45 Swiss Francs (about $36), and I figured that that would be more than enough to get a basic mop and a sandwich. How much could a mop possibly cost? I figured that in the States, a basic mop would maybe cost fifteen bucks (a completely wild guess, since I’ve never bought one before). Double that to account for Swiss prices, toss in a few bucks for a sandwich, and I’d be fine, right? Wrong. The cheapest mop in the store cost, you guessed it, 45 Swiss Francs. I decided I needed a sandwich more than I needed a mop, dirty floors be damned. I later found a somewhat cheaper mop at another store, but was still flabbergasted – who would pay that much for a thing that you dunk in a bucket and smear around on your floor? I guess the Swiss would. Elsewhere in the world, cleanliness is next to godliness, but I’m convinced that here in Switzerland, it’s the other way around.

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, and Sunday is Chinese New Year (Happy Year of the Pig!!), so I’m heading to Paris for the weekend to celebrate – get some good food, do some shopping and sightseeing, visit some old friends. Two other friends are supposed to go skiing this weekend, but are unsure whether that will happen. It has been an unusually warm winter here, with very little snow, much to the chagrin of the general Swiss population, who revel in skiing and snowboarding. Looks like upstate New York stole all of the snow from the Alps this year, over ten feet in eight days! They can keep it, if it means I don’t have to be cold and miserable while I’m coughing my lungs out on the way to work.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Editor's Note

Sick sick sick... will update when I'm better.