Update: I missed all the action.
Last year we accidentally stumbled into the Labor Day festivities here in Zurich. We were ignorant of the significance of the holiday outside the US and when we were out that morning we couldn’t figure out why the place had turned into a ghost town overnight. A ghost town with a large parade going through the center of it. More like a march, actually. The socialist and commies were out marching for the little people and opening peoples’ eyes to evils of “the man”. I guess these marches have some history of getting a bit out of hand and people generally stay indoors all morning until the crowds have dispersed a bit.
This year, I was more prepared and I went down there with my camera to get some snaps. It was much more crowded this year and there were tons of people just out walking around and taking the whole spectacle in. I still don’t read the language, so I only got the general idea of what a lot of the groups were about.
This was the front of the march. I think this translates to something like, “Justice is not a dream”. As in, “not a pipe dream”.
If anybody was looking for trouble, it would have been the youths. Here is a disenfranchised and marginalized group of them now. Something like, “Capitalism divides us. Class warfare unites us.” Kids.
I think these guys were playing the role of “the man”. They were signing this song to the tune of “Oh Christmas Tree” and it seems to be a song about how the worker has no rights to strike and all their hard work just ends up in the pockets of the corporation.
They are widening the sidewalks on Limmatquai. It’s going to be a real pedestrian treat when they finish. You should really come and check out the new sidewalks when they are done.
Ohh… I think I see pop culture’s favorite revolutionary son in that sea of flags.
How many miles must we march?
I understood exactly what this group was about. They were chanting “Ahmadinajad ist ein Terrorist.”
Same group. If I translated their banner correctly, this was a group of Iranians who have fled the country and don’t much care for the leadership there. Something like, “Iran is not a safe/secure country”.
The police were everywhere and nowhere. They were not along the parade route at all, but if you went down a side street or a few blocks over you could find groups of them. Good job.
It really was a nice day!
You know how advertisements for housing will say “on a bus line” or “near public transportation”? Except for a brief stint in college when it was a necessity, this has never been a big plus for me. In fact, I usually would associate a nearby bus stop as a possible hindrance to a good night’s sleep. What with rowdy teenagers or mentally disabled people shouting at themselves at all hours of the night. Unless there was absolutely no other possible option, I would never take a bus in Seattle. You can judge me with that information if you want, but then again you are probably somebody I know and I didn’t have any friends who took the bus unless absolutely necessary either. Those who did never liked having to do it. So when I heard about all the great public transportation systems in many European cities, I generally just shrugged and thought ‘whoopdy frikin doo’. Our brief stay in France didn’t do much to change my mind either. With that background in mind, I have to say, the public transportation in this city is great.
I spend about 45 minutes a day on the Zurich trams. It is one aspect of living here that I think I have a pretty good handle on. It isn’t a chore to take a tram or to figure out how to get somewhere. They are amazingly clean and amazingly abundant which means they are not often packed and you can find a seat easily. Many locations in the city are serviced by more than one line and there are numerous hubs which make for great people watching. And, of course, their punctuality is world famous. Not that it would even matter if the tram showed up at 12:26 instead of 12:24 like the timetable says because the next one is only 7 minutes behind it. Unless you are traveling at night or early in the morning, you don’t need to have a timetable at all. Also, the nice color coding makes it easy to spot which tram is heading your way and to read the tram map.
Here is the stop next to our apartment. Chiz is partial to the 4 since it is the purple line, but I'm a die hard number 2 man.
The trams are so popular that one of the ex-pat events I attended (Chiz was out of town) was based around which tram line was the best...Continue reading "Tramtastic"...
We got our names on our mailbox the other day. This was a huge step for us because having your name on the box is required for apartment living. There are no apartment numbers here. You just have the street and number for an address. We share this building with at least two buinesses, so it's fun to think what would happen if somebody with my name started working at one of them. HAHAH.. . whooo
Having your name on the mailbox means you can order things like broadband Internet access to your apartment. And then that package with the cable modem can arrive, but be too large to fit in the mailbox and you may not be at home because you are at German class so the Brieftrager leaves you a friendly note that you can pick it up at the post office. And then you walk a half block to pick it up at the post office which also doubles as a bank where you may open a bank account with the same nice folks that will mail your packages afterwards. This is the same post office that will not be receiving any mail from your credit card company who has employed a customer service individual who choose SZ (Swaziland) from a pulldown menu instead of CH (Switzerland) when entering your new address and are secretly happy about because you are not even the least bit curious if moving out the country is enough of a barrier for them to stop sending you junk mail. Then you bring the package home by flashing a Washington State Drivers License and can finally network your snazzy new desktop machine that has essentially sat useless without Internet access for four months and update your website with a story that touches a little bit on Swiss living while telling a story about getting your name on a mailbox.
I have a pretty bad memory so it is always interesting to me when I can recall something from my childhood that seems completely trivial. One such memory I still hold with me is a vow I made one middle school day standing in my driveway talking to some of my neighborhood friends. The quote isn’t verbatim, but it was something to the effect of, “I will always be a jeans and T-shirt guy”. I obviously had no idea where my life would lead and what kind of wardrobe it would require but I do remember being pretty serious about my statement. I sometimes wonder if the reason I am a jeans and T-shirt guy to this day is because I still remember that promise and have some inherit need to keep my word or if I really knew myself well enough at that age to realize I just couldn’t pull off a trench coat, scarf, and shiny black shoes. In either case, the practical result in my adult life is that I have absolutely no idea of how to buy clothing. I mean this in every possible sense you can imagine. I don’t understand color, style, size, or trends. I think I know if somebody is well dressed but I wouldn’t know where to start if I tried to go to the mall and imitate it. I went through a couple phases where I tried to grow up but I only ended up with clothes that I literally never wore outside that dressing room.
With this background you can understand that I was worried about fitting in clothes-wise when we got here. The (in)famous Euro look haunted me. Mainly, this was just my anxiety of being the clueless American fulfilling the all the stereotypes and drawing unwanted attention. In France I was pretty uncomfortable in most settings as I almost always felt underdressed. When I tried to compensate with my limited selection of ‘nice’ clothes (khakis and button shirts) we would find ourselves in a bar where I would be overdressed.
Now imagine a place where I feel 10 times more fashion illiterate. You’ve just imagined Zurich. Because I can’t even buy clothes I can’t correctly describe what I am seeing here. I’ll need to get some photos and put them up. Basically, I see dozens of men on the street everyday wearing outfits that cost more than my entire wardrobe. Sure, you will see a lot of jeans, but they are JEANS. Oh, and the shoes, and the jackets, and the shirts. Use your imagination.
The good thing for me is that the 10x factor has completely had the opposite effect on my clothing attitude. First, there is no way I could afford the clothes these guys are wearing. Second, there is no way I would feel the least bit comfortable wearing them. So, here I am. Sitting here in my jeans and T-shirt and feeling pretty dang good about myself after all. I was so smart in middle school.
When we were having our garage sale in Seattle this odd man who bought my desk went to extraordinary lengths to rack his brain so he could draw me a map to the “only theater in Paris that plays movies in English”. He informed me this location would be of great respite after a few weeks of not being able to understand anything people were saying on the streets and on TV. So of course I conjured up thoughts of every French cinema playing these black and white arthouse movies of crying clowns holding black balloons standing in empty train stations.
I’m not sure when this guy was last in Paris but he really could not have been more wrong. Oh, it is certainly true that Paris is any cinema lovers dream city with tons of theaters and movies from around the world and there are several where you can’t find an English language movie playing. It’s just that it turns out Hollywood is not only the movie making capital of America. Granted, we were walking on probably the most tourist-ridden street in Paris but there were many cinemas and they were all playing at least one major English language film. Also, our internet search of potential movies to watch seemed to confirm this was not confined to the area we were in. As Chizzy smartly informed me, all you have to do is look for the words ‘version original’ (there are probably supposed to be some accents in there or a slightly different spelling) to identify the movies that are playing the original version. They are just subtitled in French.
Unfortunately the movie we decided to see was Oceans Twelve. I didn’t care for it. Call me petty but the primary requisite for my enjoyment of a movie is a plot that actually makes sense. I can’t get excited by good acting or witty dialog. I can only appreciate those things once I have convinced myself the story actually holds water. If you have seen this movie and think I missed something please let me know.
Sometimes the names of the movies are just slightly off or a mix of the languages. In France the movie is called The Indestructibles instead of The Incredibles. In Zurich we could have watched Spongebob Schwammkopf. It rolls of the tongue quite nicely.
In Seattle, every night before getting ready for bed I used to reach into my front right jean pocket and pull out all the coin change I had collected from purchases that day and put them in my "Got Milk" glass bottle. When the bottle was full after a few months I'd head over to the nearest QFC and make a massive spectacle as they loudly fell into the Coinstar. I didn't even feel too bad about them taking their 7-9% cut because I would end up with about $100 from a full bottle which I considered bonus money. I think our trip out here is going to cure me of my habit of not reaching in that pocket to find the 37 cents for that 7.37 purchase.
There are 8 coin values in the Euro monetary system: 2, 1, .50, .20, .10, .05, .02, and .01. Yes, they have a 2 cent coin. On top of that, I'm getting the sense that the 5 Euro bill can be as allusive as the American $2 bill. It seems I am generally handed a fistful of coins for any amount of change under 10 Euro. So it is very possible after couple purchases that you could have in the range of 7-10 Euro just sitting there in your pocket weighing you down. You've got to spend them. I figure that while I am digging through dealing with the 1 and 2 Euro coins I might as well find that .37. After all, I haven't seen a Coinstar yet.
Swiss Fancs are different still. Their smallest bill is the 10. They have a 5 CHF coin about the size of the American 50 cent piece. However, they actually have fewer coins than the Euro system. How can that be, you say? The crazy thing about Zurich was that every singe purchase we made came out to a nice round 10 cent increment. In American terms there are no nickels or pennies. So you just have the 5, 2, 1, .50, .20 and .10 coins (I did actually read there is a .05 piece but they don’t use them in Zurich I guess). It’s kind of like a dream come true. How many times have you looked at a stack of pennies and scowled with utter disgust at their insignificance? Is that just me?
When you pick up a travel book about Zurich you always read about how expensive it is. That didn’t really sink in with me until I was here looking to buy something or get some food. It’s insane. To get your bearings, at the current exchange rate you can buy 1.19 Swiss Francs (CHF) for 1 US dollar. A typical no frills sit down lunch spot with an entrée and a beverage will run about 25-30 CHF per person. Throw in a salad or appetizer and you are easily at $30 US dollars for a modest lunch. At the noodle house where we ate for lunch on Monday I ordered Phad Thai and Chiz ordered a soup dish and we shared a bottle of mineral water. We left there $50 lighter. You guys in Bellevue think you have it bad. To punctuate the normality of these prices we were seated right next to two 14 year old skater kids who themselves plopped down an easy 60 CHF for their curry dishes. There are a ton of food stands and “take away” options but the Kabobs go for 8.50 CHF and a bratwurst or pretzel would run you about 6-7. At dinner time, the sandwich board sitting out front of the Spaghetti Factory (no relation) has no problem informing you that the nightly entrée special will run you 40 CHF. Throw in the expected bottle of wine and kiss your money goodbye. Bar prices are no better. You are looking at 7 CHF. minimum for a beer and a whopping 14 CHF for a shot of JD (almost $12). The two pints of Guiness and side order of fries we ordered at Oliver Twist (cool British pub) came to 25 CHF.
The food is just the tip of the iceberg. The myriad of storefronts all prominently display a sample of their wares in the windows. Most of the stores actually have no qualms about displaying the prices right along side the window items. It’s shocking. I would have to say the two most prolific store types are the shoe store and the watch store. They really do love their watches here. I don’t think I ever saw a pair of ladies shoes that was less than 129 CHF. You would be very lucky indeed to find just a simple men’s watch for less than 100 CHF and it was the norm to see the majority of the watches over the 1000 mark. The windows with no prices in them scared me immensely. Jeans are upwards of 100 CHF. A new XBOX game is 90 CHF. A men’s haircut is 90 CHF and a woman’s is 100 CHF. I bought a popular fiction paperback book for 15 CHF. Service related industries are not much better. Our modest hotel room was 240 CHF a night.
Is there a more confusing appliance to figure out than a randomly encountered washing machine? True, you can find some pretty user friendly models out there that clearly show the temperature, time, and cycle but these don't seem to exist in any communal laundry rooms I have ever seen. Take this recently encountered puzzle for example.
I’m pretty sure those things on the left are just lights indicating where in the cycle the load currently is but what is the story with the dial? The section marked ‘A’ is the temperature but I have no idea what the rest of those sections are. I ran my loads with the dial just sitting there on ‘A’ but on closer observation of this photo I am troubled to see that the dial is actually set to ‘C’. The last person to use this clearly had some additional knowledge I was not privy to.
Now that I think about it, I probably most certainly operated it incorrectly. Either that or this washing machine has a very different approach to cleaning clothes. I say this because the entire time I stood there watching it, the clothes would just spin around a turn and half and then stop for a second or two before spinning the opposite direction for another turn and half. I put the soap in something that resembled a proper receptacle but I never did see one single sud through the clear window (not pictured). Oddly, the clothes came out smelling and looking clean. If anybody reading this happens to have a similar model in their homes, please feel free to comment on the proper setting for a warm water wash.