May 1st is like xmas for Bryan. To be in the thick of it all when the riots begin is like a dream come true. At one point today I asked him if he wanted to be a photo journalist because he was just so excited to get in the middle of any mishap in order to get a good shot. Don't worry mama K, lucky for me and you we got a late start and missed the "workers" parade so no pictures this year of red flags and calls for solidarity. And thankfully no riots. The only evidence of May Day was the Globus and ATMs all boarded up. It's funny how the business next door is pretty happenin'.
Continue reading "May Day"...
I can finally say Iíve been skiing in the Alps now. Snowboarding, actually. I went with American co-worker to a place called Flims about 2 hours out of Zurich. My legs held up much better than I expected and we got lots of good runs in. It was fun, the sun was peaking through a fair amount, and the conditions were good. I finally realize now that the snowboard I had back at home was completely wrong for me. It was way too large. The rental I had was smaller and narrower and I now know what itís like to be in complete control. I didnít take a camera and nothing very eventful happen so Iím just using this as a jumping off point for a topic Iíve been meaning to write about for a while now.
People in Switzerland hate lines. They donít think the line is there for them. They just view it as an obstacle they need to overcome to get served. Itís so strange. Iíve never seen anybody actually cut right in the middle of a single file line, but we have often seen people just go straight to the front. They will sidle up along to the checkout and then just step up to the counter when the person being served is finished. This has happen personally to Chiz in a book store and almost happen to me at a department store but the cashier didnít let them get away with it in my case. I wish she had, because I was totally in the mood to call her out and ask what the hell she thought she was doing. This was a classic snotty Zurich woman too and it would have been immensely satisfying to bitch her out in English.
In places where actual lines are more amorphous, it is a complete free-for-all. Lunch counters and delis are insane. A dude will walk into a packed lunch spot, march straight to the front and begin to order. Nobody ever says anything about it. Itís just the Swiss way.
The other place this phenomenon is noticeable is in grocery stores when a new lane opens up. In America, the cashier will walk up to the person who is very next in line and tell them they are opening up a lane so they can be first. In Swizerland, the cashier will just open up the lane and the very last person in a different line will run to be first. Nobody seems to think it is strange. On a related grocery store note, the cashiers have this rule that if nobody is actually in line at that very moment, they close the lane completely. The store will be busy and it is clear more people will want to check out very soon, but they will not wait a single second if there is only one person in line. They will grab the ďLane closedĒ sign and put it on the conveyor belt right behind the items and stare you down if you make a move towards them. Then, two minutes later when the line you are in gets a bit long they will show up again from the break room and the last person in line will jump to the front of the new one.
So anyway, it was with somewhat humorous resignation that I let all the pushy Swiss people fight their way past me in the ski lines this weekend.
We were prepared for a different dining-out culture when we got here. Even if you have never been to Europe (like me) you probably know that they tend to eat dinner later and a meal out can take a few hours. Switzerland isnít anywhere near as extreme as I understand Spain to be, but the differences are still noticeable for somebody coming from the US.
If you are eating dinner before 8 you are part of the early crowd. They are generally happy to seat you if you show up at 7 (not necessarily true in France), but reservations seem pretty important in many places and if you donít have one you will see the hesitation. The hesitation is there even when the restaurant is completely empty. I assume this is because once you have that table they figure you might just be there until morning. But the reason the meal takes so long isnít for the reasons we expected at all. This is probably where things start to diverge a bit amongst countries, but here it isnít the actual ordering, serving, and number of courses that are longer. Itís just getting the check!
In fact, they are generally very quick to get your drink and food orders and they bring them out pretty dang fast. ThenÖ they disappear. As soon as the food arrives, the roles reverse and you have to become the one to initiate everything. It is rare a server will pop by to see if you need anything so you have to flag them down for everything. Sometimes this is pretty difficult. At a minimum, I require eye contact with them because Iím not at a cultural comfort level yet where I can just yell out into an empty room that I want another drink. So, I just lock eyes on them as they enter the vicinity and wait for them to glance over. This takes a lot of dedication and you canít feel rejected if you donít get that eye contact. Itís just the way it is. I donít exactly know what they think you are doing just sitting there, but most people seem pretty happy just breaking out the cigarettes and chatting in front of empty glasses.
And it isnít so much an issue of bad service. I would say the actual friendliness of servers is better than in Seattle and when you do finally catch their eye they are there with a smile and never make you feel like you are bothering them. They simply just leave you alone because that is what the culture is and they think you want it that way.
A co-worker of Chizzy just got back from a trip to the Big Apple and she definitely commented on how it feels like you are being rushed out of restaurants there. Being brought the check before asking for it is unheard of here. In the US I think it is seen as a courtesy.
The more we live here, the more I realize the Vincent Vega theory of European living is pretty accurate. You remember his first scene during the whole Royale with Cheese discussion when he says itís pretty much the same as the US but just with some odd little differences.
He also says this; ďWell, in Amsterdam, you can buy beer in a movie theatre. And I don't mean in a paper cup either. They give you a glass of beer, like in a bar.Ē What he also could have said was that when you buy a ticket at the cinema you are given an assigned seat. Luckily, we figured this out the easy way when we went to see Million Dollar Baby a few months ago. The movie had been out a while and there werenít many people there. So we thought it was pretty strange when two dudes walked into the nearly empty theater and proceeded to sit directly behind us. As they were sitting down, I heard one of the guys ask which seat number the other one had. I looked at my ticket again and noticed there was a row and seat number printed right on it. Nobody else ended up coming in so we stayed where we were and didnít run the risk of having sat in somebody elseís seat.
The next movie we went to, In Good Company (Iím just saying the movie names here in case anybody has seen them and wanted to comment on it), was more crowded but still not packed. We got there pretty early and there were only a few people actually seated. Our seats ended up being right next to two young girls who were already there. We still didnít know if anybody took the seating assignments that seriously so we decided to give the requisite one empty seat buffer to these girls. We didnít know if it would be considered strange to sit right next to them in an almost empty theater even though our tickets requested it. However, as the theater started to fill up we noticed that it wasnít accidental we were given seats immediately next to somebody. Everybody was just packing in the center about 12 rows back. It looked really odd. There was nobody in the front, back, or sides; just a big mash of people right in the center of the theater. I always likened theater seat selection to that of urinal choice. You want the best location without actually having to be next to somebody. As it fills up, math just takes over and you end up being next to somebody eventually if necessary. Of course, the people who were assigned seats right next to us eventually showed up and were a bit taken aback we werenít following the rules. They just plopped down next to us with the verbal agreement we would all shift down if somebody else came for the seats.
By the third movie, we just went in and sat in our seats and conformed to the rules.
Also, they have intermissions in movies here. I actually like that quite a bit. You can just go ahead and drink that soda with reckless abandon because you know youíll get a chance for a bathroom break in a bit. And I was very thankful to learn that the urinal selection rules are indeed universal.
This is a story about an actual restaurant, here in Zurich, which serves meals in total darkness. We're talking pitch black, can't see your hand in front of your face as much as you try. It's a bit eerie and you THINK your eyes will adjust throughout the meal, but they don't. You are blind. Iíve read several different accounts on how the idea came about for this dining experience, but all point to the same thingÖReverend Jorge Spielmann, blind himself, wanted to give sighted people the opportunity to experience the world of the blind.
If you walk out of our apartment building and take a right, youíll find the ďBlind CowĒ one block down on the right. Apparently this is a world renowned restaurant, though I had never heard of it before. Blindkuh is the name in German and it comes from the Swiss equivalent of the children's game ďBlind Manís Bluff."
Views from outside and inside the restaurant.
Two months ago, the six of us (seven now) sitting in our little office in Zurich, decided that we wanted to try this out, so we booked a reservation for June 21st. When we arrived, we entered a well-lit lobby with the menu projected on one wall. We were instructed to remove all watches, phones and purses (they had lockers for these). There is no place on the floor for a purse and who knows how big the table is. Taking a mental note of what we wanted to eat, we were then greeted by a waitress. We were lucky to have 3 German-speakers among our group, as very little English was spoken by the staff. She guided us into this dimly lit hallway, where we were told to grab onto one anotherís shoulders and make a train. When we walked through those heavy drapes and hit the darkness, my stomach droppedÖimmediate loss of appetite. It was a strange, unsettling feeling, mostly because I just didnít realize how dark it would be. The hunger came back after just a few minutes and I rather enjoyed the experience of listening to people (even though I couldnít understand the German). Iíve heard that this place is pretty popular for blind dates, where they arrange for you to arrive and be seated at separate times. You donít see each other until after youíve had a meal in the dark, and even then you donít have to see each other. You can run far, far away before the other one can catch up.
She sat us down one by one and told us where our glass was, took our orders, brought us drinks, told us where the refill water bottle was with respect to our glass, brought our food, and at that point one girl from our group couldnít take it anymore and had to leave. The Swiss guy in our group called out the waitressí name a good three times and she finally came over to help our colleague out into the light. We found out later that this girl ate her food at a little kidsí table in the lobby and that the food looked like it tasted Ė pretty good, not great.
During the meal there were a lot of threats and promises spewing from our table:
ďNext time Iím gonna bring Tabasco Sauce and put it in peopleís drinksĒ
ďYou canít see me so Iím going to steal your foodĒ
ďI donít want to get anything on my shirt so Iím just going to take it offĒ
Also, some money on the table for dares:
ďIíll give you 20 Francs to get up and run toward the exit. Ha. Ha. Ha.Ē
And then just ridiculous laughter about where the exit would actually be. (In the lobby they have a floor plan and you can figure out afterwards where you were sitting).
Another memorable comment was, ďwhat if there was a fire, how could we see where the exit is?Ē
There was also a lot of eating with the hands and they were nice enough to give us washrags after we were through.
It would be really hilarious to see the infrared video of this meal.
You can listen to NPR's experience here.
You may have noticed there has been very little activity in the Observations and Fun With Culture categories on this site. When I was picking out the categories, I thought those two would get used a lot. They sounded like they would be the most fun to write and probably to read. Itís been bugging me a bit so I tried to figure out why I wasnít using them. Sadly, I realized it probably has a lot to do with how relatively little I have interacted with the culture here so far.
I remember when I told my friends we were moving out here, some of them actually went so far as to say the experience might be wasted on me. Sure, I never had the travel bug like most of them, but I figured even I would find a way of enjoying the adventure. For the record, I have been enjoying it a lotÖ but not as much as I probably could. Iím not an outgoing person in terms of meeting people. This is definitely a city where you have to go out of your way to meet somebody and that just isnít one of my strengths. I think itís just a matter of time. The language thing could be big. You will definitely be hearing about the first German conversation I have outside of class. That will be huge.
I asked these bankers to pretend like they were my friends and do a happy pose. They just gave me blank banker stares.
Itís not an oversight that I typed that completely in the first person without referring to Chizzy at all. That is because when I think of the times I am probably not interacting to my full potential it is during the week, when she is at work and I have a pretty good amount of free time. When I say she is busy with work here, I am referring the 12 hour days every day. So, Chiz gets a lot of interaction at work and when we spend time together on weekends we have a great time and I think we are taking advantage of our situation pretty well.
So, even though they are not going to start off as any great social or political insights that I had in mind for these sections, Iím going to try to use them more often. I have started with an entry about the Zurich Trams.
We got up at 7 this Sunday morning because we were meeting one of Chizzyís coworkers, Shane, at the airport. Heís staying for a couple months to help out. The sun was already shining when we woke and it was really nice the day before so I decided I was just going to wear my khaki shorts out. Not particularly Euro-stylish and very rare here, but Iím starting to care even less. Chizzy correctly noted last night that the fashion sense here took a serious nosedive when the sun came out. Oh sure, give these guys some winter cold to throw on the layers and scarves and walk around all fancy, but give them the sun with the opportunity to dress down and all bets are off. The best look going is the dudes who roll their jeans up to right underneath their knees. No. Even a clueless guy like me knows where the line should be drawn. I feel like Iíve been transported to a surreal high school production of Grease.
Anywhoo, itís another holiday here in Zurich. Labor Day/May Day. I just found this out a couple days ago because the tram stops had notices posted that service would be stopped for several hours due to the parade. Wow. I thought this would be such a great day for this dude to show up. First time in Europe and here is a great sunny day and a parade down the middle of town. Well, it turned out that the parade was less of a celebration and more like a massive Communist march. The parade was just getting going as we got into town and we saw lot of hammer and sickle flags and thought we were just seeing the Russian contingent of the parade. It only took a couple minutes to realize what we were actually watching was a huge socialist/communist political march of which we were probably not welcome. Indeed, it became more and more apparent that the number of people out in the streets was conspicuously small for such a nice day. Whatever the Swiss equivalent of the SWAT team is was out in full force and some shops had actually boarded up their storefronts. There was obviously some tension there and a worry that the march would take a physical turn for the worse. It really was strange but the march was pretty peaceful. We moved along and showed Shane some more of the city and explained the Commie march was not an everyday occurrence. We didn't have the camera on us to caputure the event.
Wikipedia (a great online encyclopedia resource if youíve never heard of it) came to the rescue about what was going on. It appears May Day has an international reputation as being ďa focal point for demonstrations by various communist, socialist, and anarchist groups.Ē
When I came across EuroSport on our TV I was doubly excited. First, it is one of the only English language stations we get so I can actually watch something for more than a few minutes without getting confused about what is happening. Although I suppose even if it wasnít in English sports are one of the few things you can watch without having to understand what they are saying. By the way, one thing I have found I definitely canít watch and enjoy is game shows, which is too bad because they are always on. It might be one of the most difficult things to watch actually because the whole thing is based around verbal questions and answers. There are a couple different game shows I would love to know what is going on. There is one German language one where the contestant always ends up very emotional and crying. It almost seems like they are being reunited with a long lost relative, but have to play some game to try to figure out who it is. Maybe it was the inspiration for Foxís ďWhoís Your DaddyĒ.
The second reason I was excited for EuroSport was that I was sure I would be enjoying good soccer all day long. That was silly of me. Sure, they are crazy about their football like we have been led to believe but I should have realized the US focus on only a handful of sports would not fly over here where almost everything is viewed on a more global scale. Except for a few highlight shows once in a while there are no random games on since football is only played on the weekends and EuroSport is very proud of its live coverage of sports. It seems like the channelís goal is to scout out any European Championship or World Championship of any sport and air that. I happen to think they use the word Ďsportí way too generously.
What are the roundabout rules and are they different if you have a yield sign? I heard today that you are supposed to yield to your right, but that makes no sense to me. Is it true? And if so, can someone just simplify it?
Nobody enjoyed my "Laundry" entry and instead called for photos and adventure stories. I'd better break the news to you all now that this isn't going to be a travel blog. We will try to put up as many pictures and stories of new places we go but meanwhile you have to read about the everyday aspects of ours lives. Take this for example...Continue reading "Bad Habits"...
I stepped in poodle poo on the street. It stinks.
In case you didn't know, the poop scoop laws here are not very strict. Maybe the locals need to take some tips from this guy.
Actually it was my first dining out experience altogether. We ended up at a Japanese restaurant because Chizzy couldn't kick her craving for rice even though we already made it at home earlier in the week. I was eager to try the coffee partly because asking for it is the one of the few phrases I learned and partly because I really wanted to try it. I have to say it was pretty good. I did have to add the provided sugar cube though because it essentially is just a shot of espresso in an elven cup.
This dinner also featured my first questionable food substance. I ordered this kind of skewer plate with 6 different meats. One of which we couldn't translate. It had something to do with chicken and when it arrived it looked like some sort of meatball made of chicken. It tasted good so I'm better off not ever knowing what it was.
Don't worry. I'm not going to post every meal I eat. I'm still just trying to seed the blog a bit and give some first impressions.
It's true. The French love to kiss hello. Every morning I go in to the office and am greeted by two kisses from each of my co-workers. Some of the guys just give handshakes, but the ones I work with closely give me kisses on the cheek. Bryan's jealous.