Sunday, April 21, 2013

Smoking and Salads

First Few Weeks at Work

Two Swiss, two Belgians, two Germans, and one American all walked into a bar.

No, this isn't the beginning of one of those bar jokes.  This was an after-work cocktail hour that my coworkers and I attended last week.  I work in a very international environment, and although the company's official language is English, more often than not German or Dutch (Flemish) is the language of choice between co-workers.  This leaves me in an interesting position.  When German is being spoken around me, I can often understand what is being said, but can't put together a cohesive response, so I jump into the conversation in English.  It doesn't bother anyone, but if you were a fly on the wall of our office, the conversational dynamics might puzzle you.

Additionally, I am having to learn very specialized legal vocabulary in German.  I was given a 100-page document last week containing the entire immigration law code of Switzerland.  In GERMAN.  I am still taking German classes at night, but I am not yet officially at the intermediate "B" level.  In other words, I am still learning the basics.  So, as you might imagine, when I had this massive file dropped on my desk with instructions to try to read it, I slightly wanted to crawl under my desk and cry.

But you know what?  This feeling was so common to law school that I realized I could attack this challenge in the same way I might try to get through a horribly dense law school reading.  I focused on the general shape of the document.  I didn't allow myself to get bogged down in all the details, but I made sure I could understand what the chapter headings meant, along with about one sentence per page.  Oddly enough, this strategy really worked.  I have a good idea of which laws are located where, but I didn't get overwhelmed.  If you ever find yourself in a similar pickle, I highly recommend this method.  German is tough though...I am still wrestling with it, and I think it is still winning.  Hopefully one of these days the tides will change.

I love my new job.  I find it intellectually challenging and sometimes just plain fun.  I studied Italian and French at the U of A, enjoying every moment of Dante and Camus, yet knowing that I might never get to use these language skills I was learning.  At my new job, however, I am doing just this.  I read through Swiss immigration law, and as it is available in the three major languages of Switzerland, (German, French, and Italian), I skip around sections in different languages depending on how my vocabulary serves me in that particular bit of text.

The Lone American

I am the only American in my office.  If you ever find yourself as the only American in an all-European working context, here are some things that you should avoid.  As I have recently learned, if you do them, your co-workers will likely think you are nuts.

1.  Don't eat at your desk for any reason.

I made this mistake on my second day of work.  We typically take an hour for lunch, and I had used my hour taking care of a few errands and had run out of time.  I got back to the office and decided it would be best if I simply ate lunch at my desk.  I sit in a room with three co-workers, and as I carried my salad dish in, they all looked up at me in surprise.  Concerned comments immediately followed:

"You really don't need to do that!" one woman said.

All three of them looked horrified, as if I was cutting my wrists over my keyboard.  The woman in the cubicle next to me continued,  "Really.  Take it into the conference room and enjoy.  There is no need for this."

I slightly poo-pooed them, and politely said it wasn't a problem.  They didn't look convinced.  And then my boss came in.  He walked into the room with a smile on his face, as if he was about to say something funny.  However, he looked down at me, saw my plate, and frowned.

"You are eating at your desk!  What are you people doing to this poor girl?!"  He then looked directly at me very seriously,  "You don't have to do that you know."

I then decided it would be best for everyone if I ate in the other room.  The little bit of work I could accomplish during my lunch wasn't worth the stress it caused.  Just relax and enjoy your food.

2.  Don't ever belittle your illness if you aren't feeling well.

I came down with a serious cough my first week of work.  On Friday, it got so bad that I decided I needed to see a doctor that day and would have to leave work early.  I looked over my cubicle wall and peered over at a co-worker.  I didn't want to make a fuss, but I wanted to know what would happen for my pay for the day if I left early.  I whispered, "So, if I leave early, I get docked half a day's pay, right?"  Although my employment contract includes vacation days, it was silent on sick days.  I assumed this meant I didn't have any.  How wrong I was.

My co-worker raised his eyebrows and looked up at me.  "No no.  This is Europe."   At this point the other two co-workers peered over at me over their cubicle walls.  First, one said, "You should take care of yourself.  Go see a doctor and feel better.  Unless you are sick for like a month, it isn't a problem and you will be paid normally."

I was utterly shocked.  I have never been paid for a sick day in my entire life.  I was accustomed to downing medicine and just pretending that everything was fine, alone in my misery.  I could feel my brain short-circuiting.  It didn't compute.  I was going to be paid for a sick day!?!?

I nearly got weepy.  I wasn't feeling well, and I felt so lucky to work somewhere that valued my health so much.  No need for a doctor's note.  Just go home and stay there until you feel human again.

A German co-worker, a very kind young woman of around my age looked at me, perplexed by my surprise.  I decided to ask her another question, curious how this approach to sick days worked if you were ill for a longer period of time. 

"So, if I have a flu for two weeks, what happens?"

My poor co-worker's level of perplexity climbed to new heights.  She looked so confused by my question, she had to pause to search for the right words.  After a few seconds, the looked at me with total kindness and said gently, "Nothing.  We believe that if you are sick, are...sick."  The way she said it sounded like she was saying something so obvious that it was hard to articulate.

3.  Don't eat salads every day for lunch.

I am viewed as a health-nut because I eat salads, fruit, and yogurt at work.  I once declined an offer for ice-cream and was looked at as if I was some sort of alien.

4.  If you are a non-smoker, expect commentary.

Almost everyone in my office smokes.  They all go out on the balcony of our building for smoke breaks and chat, smoke, and laugh.  When they take their smoke break, I take a "text Hodge" break, in which I find a way to poke Hodge and say hello somehow with my phone.  They have noticed my habit, and think it is very fair.

4. Don't eat low-fat dairy products.

This is perplexing to many.  I bought low-fat yogurt and again was looked at with a bit of suspicion.  One co-worker asked, "Are you worried about your weight?"

I answered honestly and said, "No, not worried really.  I am just trying to be healthy."  I decided it was too early in our co-worker relationship to reveal that I only fit into half of my suits because I gained ten pounds since moving to Europe.

It started with eating crumpets in London and then was compounded with repeated delicious cooking by Hodge.  When you are in a country whose recipes are all based upon bread, butter, cheese, or chocolate, it isn't easy to stay lean.  I have been able to lose about 4 pounds in the last month, but it has been challenging.

Attempting to cut out carbohydrates in Switzerland is hell.  As I wait at my bus-stop in the morning, I smell freshly baked bread from the bakery next to the bus stop.  I then take the bus to the train station, where there are more bakeries with delicious smells oozing out of them.  I then get on the train where many commuters have a coffee and a "gipfeli."  (Swiss-German for croissant).  I then get off the train in Zurich where I smell more bakeries.  And yes, when I get off my subway train I walk up to the street where my work is and guess what!?  A beautiful boutique bakery with fresh bread, donuts, muffins and god knows what else.  Difficult.

5.  When you do start eating something in the presence of a European co-worker, don't forget to say your "bon appetit."  It is a little bit unseemly to just dig into your food without this sort of official "let us begin" tradition.

My co-workers don't care so much about this.  We all sat down to lunch in our conference room the first week and I quickly noticed that this was the norm.  It isn't a big deal, actually, but it is a habit I seem unable to remember.  I am hungry and I just want to eat, so I do.  I frequently give a belated and retro-active "än guete,"  which is "bon appetit" in Swiss German.  Oh well.  I am who I am, and there are certain things I am perhaps unable and unwilling to change.  This leads me to another little story.

I take a banana to work every day, and I often eat it on the train to Zurich.  They are portable and delicious and I love them.  I rather prefer to be ignored when I eat on a train.  I just want to sit happily with my banana and look out the window.  My first banana, on the way to my first day at work a few weeks ago, created a bit of a situation.

I sat by the window, pulled out my banana, and peeled it back halfway. I then noticed that a man sitting across from me was watching with interest.  He looked at me and said "än guete" and smiled.  He looked at me as if he had done me an immense favor, and that now I could eat, thanks to his blessing.  I smiled pack at him politely and said "Danke."  But the interaction didn't end there.

He watched me eat my banana, and then I threw away the peel in the bin next to my seat.  (Yes, Swiss trains have these and they are very convenient).  He was still staring at me.  I rubbed my hands together to get the little bit of banana off my skin.  He looked concerned.

I wondered what he wanted.  I felt as if I had suddenly entered a Mr. Bean skit.  As I had this thought, almost on cue, he reached into his bag and pulled out a kleenex.  He smiled brightly, shook it out ceremoniously, and nodded as I took it.  He looked happy, as if he yet again saved me from a very undesirable situation.  I had clean, banana-free hands.

He then stared at me for the rest of the train-ride, and then as we both got off at the Zurich main station he tipped his hat to me and told me to have a wonderful day.  He was harmless enough I suppose, but it was an awkward train ride.

Hodge met me on the train from Zurich after my first day of work.

Monday, April 1, 2013


“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”

This is an Eleanor Roosevelt quotation that touched me very deeply the first time I read it.  In fact, it resonated with me on such a profound level that I asked it to be woven into our wedding ceremony last year.  

I warn you that the following post might strike you as a little bit "New Age."  I don't burn Patchouli incense and I don't wear tye-dye shirts, (anymore at least...), but I have a few thoughts to share today that some of you might find a little...alternative.  

I have come to believe that just as the food we eat everyday becomes our physical composition in life, the dreams we have about what we want to do or experience come to define our minds and hearts in a similar way.  Our dreams are the manifestations of the deepest yearnings of our souls. If we don't allow ourselves to dream, or if we are unable to dream, we are filled with a grey emptiness.

This idea came full circle for me about a week ago when I was offered a job that seemed to have been made for me.  I'm sure if you have been following this blog, you've listened to me agonize about the job search and the difficulty I have had.  I never would have found this job had I not thought very carefully about my dreams. 

There was one cold morning about a month ago when I was walking down our hill to meet Hodge for a coffee in one of our favorite little cafes.  I was feeling down about not having found any work, and I badly needed something to pick me up a little.  I walked steadily down the hill, and a father and daughter slowly approached me walking up the hill on the same side of the road on the sidewalk.  The father seemed angry.  He appeared to be yelling at his 7 or 8 year old daughter, perhaps reprimanding her for something.  I continued walking towards them, expecting to hear Swiss German.  How wrong I was.  The first words I heard out of the father's mouth were the following:

"I DON'T CARE WHO TOLD YOU THAT!!!  Don't let ANYONE tell you that you can't do something!  NEVER GIVE UP ON YOUR DREAMS!!! Ever.  You can do anything you want, baby!"

It was perfect American English.  I don't know if they were expats or tourists, but it seemed almost as if the universe wanted me to wake up that morning and have these words be the first I heard.  I smiled as I walked past them.  The words stayed with me for days.  

About a week after that, those words still circling around my mind, I found myself looking for jobs one morning and feeling especially depressed.  I had submitted so many applications to positions that held absolutely no meaning for me.  They were all corporate positions that sounded both boring and unfulfilling.  With each job application I felt a part of myself get sadder and sadder.  I felt adrift and lost and as if I would never be able to do work that I loved.  What if I really was unable to find anything in Switzerland?  We would have to leave this land of lakes and cheese and chocolate and good health care.  I couldn't bear it.  And then suddenly, it happened.  I snapped.  And thank God I did. 

I'm convinced that the human psychological "snapping" mechanism can be one of the most corrective and helpful things that we have .  We throw up our hands into the air and say "Fuck it!"  We lose our fear of being silly, or ridiculous, or just plain unrealistic.  And the freedom and honesty that can come from moments like these is profound.

So, there I was.  Snapped.  Fuck it, I thought.  I want to do immigration law.  I suddenly found myself unable to do anything but google search "immigration law Switzerland."  I perused the results for nearly an hour, and I that is how I came upon the Fragomen law firm.  For those of you know don't know, Fragomen is THE top immigration law firm in the US.  They do wonderful work and are very well-respected.  They are so expert in what they do that they often publish guides that are used by the whole immigration law community. 

I discovered that Fragomen had just opened an office in Zurich.  I couldn't find any jobs posted on their website, but I decided to email them all of my documents anyway.  I wrote an impassioned letter about how I adored immigration law and would be thrilled to contribute to the work they do in their new office in any way I could.  I even broke my personal rule about not putting any SHOUTY CAPITALS in a job application and wrote that "working with immigration law issues in a multicultural environment is my PASSION."

After having sent that email, I felt so much better.  I recognized that I had just done something a little bit unconventional, but it was a positive and cathartic experience.  I felt that at least I had been true to myself, if nothing else.  I fully expected to hear nothing back.  How wrong I was.

Before I knew it I had a phone interview.  An hour after the phone interview they asked me to come into Zurich the next day for a 2nd interview.  And four days after that they offered me a position as an Immigration Consultant.  Unbelievable.
The point of this story is that my dreams about what I wanted to do with my career guided me in the right direction.  

Our dreams, our SHOUTY CAPITALS, define us.  I think if we feel compelled to express something that strongly, it can only be a good thing for our lives in the long run.  I suppose I can't really tell people to include SHOUTY CAPITALS in all work-related documents...but isn't always a bad thing.  

Life can shift very quickly.  Even if you don't believe in things like the Universe or God sending you a message, it is reasonable to say that you are noticing certain things for a reason.  What if I hadn't heard that father lecturing his daughter on dreams?  Would I have been sufficiently inspired to finally "snap" and find this wonderful job?

As Hodge and I approach our first anniversary, I feel compelled to gush a little bit, and it is directly linked to this theme of dreams.  I remind myself that he wouldn't be my husband today if we both hadn't believed in our dreams.  For nearly a decade we had wondered about each other from our separate corners of the planet.  In my last semester of law school we started talking more frequently, and we skyped for the first time ever.  I will never, ever, forget what that was like.

We were both in a bit of a rush and didn't have much time for that first Skype session, but we couldn't resist a quick hello.  I had just signed up for a Skype account and I was eager to try it.  The laptop did its magic and suddenly there he was, right in front of me.  I hadn't seen his face up close like that for seven years.  The amount of joy I felt when I saw him that day, well, it is still hard for me to describe.

After that brief conversation, I walked around for the next few days feeling as if I carried a warmth in my heart that nothing could take away.  I dreamed of seeing him again in person, but, as with most dreams that really mean something to us, it seemed utterly unrealistic and crazy.  We lived on separate continents.  We hadn't seen each other for nearly a decade.  I had a job lined up in Denver and he was working as a tour guide all over Europe.  How would any of this actually materialize?  How do you start dating someone who is on the other side of the earth?  You can't just meet somewhere and have a coffee.  You've got to drop the questions, drop the doubts, and be brave enough to just do exactly what your heart tells you, which in our case was planning a 10-day vacation together in Costa Rica.

 So believe in the beauty of your dreams.  You never know what might happen.  

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Coming Out of Hibernation

I'll admit it.

I am sorry for the couple of blogless months.  I hit a Winter slump.

It is hard to explain to someone who doesn't live in Switzerland, but January and February are difficult here.   The mountains are often covered with fog, the air is chilled, and the Luzern feels a bit empty and slow.  Hodge and I have found that when the fog is thick and we can't see our local giant from our windows, (Mt. Pilatus), we get a little down.  Add to the mix my frustrating job search and my constant battle with learning German, and you've got yourself a bit of a mess.

Anyway, the Spring has arrived here ever so slightly with warmer air and the smell of cows, (what causes this exactly?),  and I am once again up to writing my blog.  So here are some highlights from that past few months:


People seem to always be saying that Switzerland is boring.  That's because they haven't been to Fasnacht.  Fasnacht is like Las Vegas in the form of a holiday.  What happens during Fasnacht, stays at Fasnacht.  Literally.  A friend told me that in old Swiss law you couldn't ask for a divorce based on anything that transpired during the five days of Fasnacht.  The easiest way of describing it is categorizing it as the Swiss version of carnival.  This is sort of true...but also inaccurate.  It is its own thing, highly different from other carnivals, and is hard to understand if you don't see it in person.  I'll try to describe it for you.

It all starts with a big bang at 5am on "Dirty Thursday", which officially begins the ceremony.  Everyone in Luzern is awake and already drunk.   See below.

The Swiss get in touch with their darkside for 5 days, and Luzern becomes almost unrecognizable.  Confetti and beer cans litter the streets.  Music blairs into the late hours of the night for five straight days.  People wearing masks scream and sing in ways that they never otherwise would.  It feels like there is total freedom to be as dark, disgusting, and offensive as you want.  In fact, I observed public urination for the first time EVER in Switzerland.  Finally.  

However, it does need to be said that while most of Luzern seems to be drinking for the entire five days of Fasnacht, no one is poisening themselves and being rushed off to the hospital to the same extent as party people in the US and England so frequently tend to do.  People here drink just enough to get wild, but not enough to die like poor Jimi Hendrix.

The costumes were amazing.  I saw zebras, giraffes, Romeos, queens, cats, babies, (two teenage girls very creatively put booze in baby bottles and were happily drinking away), Arab kings, penises, (yes, giant stuffed penises), and a Swiss farmer with a blow-up doll.    And these fat fairies.

Everyone dresses up in costumes, and there are several parades with creative and sometimes very political floats.  Here is a particularly creepy one below.

In addition to all that, there are hundreds of small bands that play in the parades and also just wander around town playing endless music.  It is called "Guggenmusik,"and it is basically pep-band style groups playing purposefully slightly out of tune.  My high school band teacher would have been most horrified.

So that was Fasnacht.  It is tons of fun and a wonderful way to break up the foggy Winter here.  I dressed up as a pirate and Hodge dressed up as some sort of 17th century peasant.  There is something truly magical about that week, and if any of you reading this could make it to Switzerland during early February, it is well worth the trouble.

The Job Search

Hodge and I are networking like crazy here and getting my CV into companies and NGO's like you wouldn't believe.  I have to say, in spite of the fact that I have yet to get a job, I am proud of us.  It is a brutal thing to receive emails every day telling you that you didn't get the job.  This is my daily reality and I've had to be tough about it.  In building up my toughness, I've found that a little bit of humor can really take the edge off.  Here are two responses that have disappointed me, but also made me laugh.

"Unfortunately I can't help you. My office is personally and spatially not extendable."

"I was wondering which of the two positions you applied for.  Actually you don't appear qualified for either."


I wake up to this sort of message nearly every day.  Lovely.


I went skiing in Colorado when I lived in Denver, and I was able to do the intermediate slopes.  Well, that was two years ago, and apparently I've forgotten everything I ever knew about it.  Hodge and I went skiing the other day, and I could barely get down the bunny hill.  I fell three times, and had about four nervous breakdowns at the top of a slope that I felt was too steep.  I had no control over my rental skiis...and it was miserable.  The truth is, I need lessons.  But I mention this because I would like to publicly thank my poor husband for putting up with my antics that day.  It was bad.  I cried twice, cursed to the high heavens, and if I had been able to get close enough to a cliff, I would have certainly thrown my skis off of it in a blind rage.  Hodge was nothing but kind to me...constantly trying to give me advice and encouragement.  He sacrificed most of his ski day helping me...and he could have been doing all sorts of more advanced and fun things.  That's true love.  Thank you Hodge!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Existential Crisis

This blog post is not meant to be whiny.  I am truly grateful for all the experiences that I have had in my life.  I am lucky beyond words to have the health, love, and education that I possess.  But I can't help but want to share the following thoughts...

Not working is a strange thing for someone who has worked their entire life. Sure, I'm only 28, and perhaps this sounds like an odd sentiment given that I have only been legally employable for about 10 years.  However, I recently realized that before getting married, I was practicing/studying/struggling virtually nonstop since I was 10 years old.

While I realize, of course, that I am lucky to be able to not work at the moment, I am finding my job search here in Switzerland frustrating and the resulting general quietude of my days to be a little eerie.  Let me explain.  The reasons for this go way back...

For almost three consecutive years in Middle School I was first chair alto saxophone in band.  My mother was struggling to make ends meet, and I was one of the Foothills kids who couldn't afford private music lessons.  I trudged home almost every day with my heavy sax, strapped it around my neck when I got home, and practiced practiced practiced.  I'd show them, I thought.  If I could just be great a everything I did, the fact that I came from rather humble means and a loving single mother wouldn't stop me from doing everything I wanted.  If I just kept practicing my saxophone and getting those A's, I would have it all.  I would have direction.  Not only that, I would find a career path that led me exactly from point A to point B.  Certainty, stability, and comfort. Maybe a ten year old doesn't think exactly in these terms, but it was pretty close to this idea for me.

All three years of Middle School I qualified for Arizona girls all-star softball team.  I was the only left-handed girl on my team and I made a wicked first-baseman.  I used my dad's ancient glove, which was a raggedy old thing that I was sometimes teased about, but it served me well.

I should also mention that I was teased in both Elementary and Middle School about my sometimes different, sometimes Tye-dye, and frequently discount and hand-me-down clothes that I wore.  I was called a lesbian for yelling at kids who called things "gay."  I was told I was fat, unattractive, and undatable, (whatever that means when you are 11!).  But I got through it because I pushed and pushed and pushed myself academically, (which sometimes led to increased teasing, but I digress).  I also had a really solid group of friends, who are still very close and dear to me.

I took as many honors classes as I could in High School, although I rejected Honors Physics because I knew that it would eat me alive.  I took, (and passed), 4 AP classes in High School and in so doing received a whole semester of college credit.  I was accepted into the Honors College at the University of Arizona, and during my time there completed a double-major, a double-minor, and graduated from an Italian language school in Rome with a certificate of fluency.  In the middle of college my life was turned upside down when my father was diagnosed with brain cancer. I struggled to concentrate on school, especially after he sadly lost his battle against the disease in the summer of 2003.  He passed the same morning, just by coincidence, as my maternal grandmother.  It was an overwhelming experience, to say the least.  I continued on in my studies, however, and in 2006 I graduated Summa Cum Laude with a honors thesis on Gender and Peacekeeping.  Now I have a degree, I thought.  Not much further to having a successful career, right?

I then slugged on to much more gritty and nonacademic work of being a hostess, cleaning toilets, bar-tending, serving tables, only to get promoted to morning breakfast/lunch manager at an upscale Tucson restaurant and having to work six days a week, rising each day at 4am.

My degree in Political Science and Italian Literature was not leading me to anywhere in particular, and it soon became clear I would need some graduate school work.  If I can just get into graduate school, I thought, I will be back on track.

I was rejected by the University of Arizona for a Masters in Political Science.  I was told quietly later on by an insider that this was largely because I wanted to concentrate on feminist perspectives in global political economy...which was not a popular subject in the "old boys club" that controlled admissions at that time.  So I continued to work ridiculous hours at a job that gave me no intellectual satisfaction or stimulation for another year.  I had no health insurance.  I finally decided to apply to law school.  Surely, that would help me get straight from point A to point B.

In law school my emotional and physical limits were put to the test as never before.  I studied and agonized daily, convinced for the first year that I didn't even belong there and would very likely fail at the whole thing.  After about a year and half of law school, once I finally had in some way found my bearings and steadied myself, I was assaulted by an ex-boyfriend and delved into a very difficult and emotional recovery process.  I struggled through the rest of law school while at the same time trying to grow emotionally, trying to learn from the pain I was experiencing, and trying to become a stronger woman and lawyer.  How could I be strong for others, for my clients, if I couldn't be strong for myself?

Happily, I survived those three years of stress and anxiety, only to be pitted the week after law school graduation into a horrific two-month-long bar-study hell that I have only in the last year more or less recovered from.  But I just kept thinking...once I get my degree....once I pass the bar...I will finally have my prize of certainty, stability, and undeniable earning power.

After the bar, however, I realized I was in the stark reality of a flooded legal employment market.  Many of my classmates had no idea what they would be doing after law school.  Good jobs were very hard to come by, and I considered myself quite lucky to have a job lined up after the bar exam.

I then worked at a small law firm where I was paid only $14 an hour and given no health insurance.  I commuted one hour each way to my place of work, and was given no money for gas.  It was good work experience, but it was tough and I struggled to make ends meet.  I ran up credit card debt that fell on top of my already huge mountain of debt accumulated just from law school...around $200,000.

Once I get these good grades...

Once I get this diploma...

Once I pass this bar exam...

I will have the answers and I will have solid career opportunities.

Years of struggle, struggle, struggle...with my neck barely kept above the flood waters of stress and debt.

And now, in an example of life's many ironies, I am still battling uncertainty about what to do next.

I sit here and for the first time I can remember I am not agonizing over an exhausting and difficult job.  I can sleep in.  I have more than enough time to think about life and what I want to do with it.  While I recognize the importance of having some thinking space, I can't help but feel sometimes a bit of a vacuum.

Here in Luzern the job search has been much harder than anticipated.  I don't speak German yet, so I cannot even begin to think about studying the Swiss legal system.  I have my American law license, yet with only a year of Immigration Law experience, I am hardly a strong candidate for the mostly corporate positions available in American or other International companies here.  The NGO's in the area that I so long to be a part of mostly require German, so that is offline for me until I get my German off the ground a little more.

Short of howling at the moon, I feel that I've done everything I can to have a successful career.

So what is my purpose in life?  What does it all mean?  Why, after all these years, am I still struggling to define the work I want to do?  Why am I so at the mercy of these employers who seem wholly unimpressed with a 3.97 undergraduate GPA, four languages, and a law degree?

These are the annoying questions that nag at me.  And I really don't have the answers.

I will continue to network in Switzerland, learn German, and apply to as many jobs as I can. 

Hodge keeps telling me that I'm doing great, which helps.  It has, after all, not even been a year since I moved to Europe.  But I want a foothold.  I want to dig my heals into something and be great at it.  I will continue to be as positive as possible about it all, but it is tough sometimes.

Thanks for reading.  Again, this is not meant to be whiny.  I just felt compelled to share. :-)

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Trust me, 2013 is going to be great.


2013.   My mom is math teacher and never fails to point out what is special about the number of any given year.  This year she predicted that 2013 is going to be an excellent year because it is the first year since 1987 to have all different numbers.  Seriously, think about it.  It's true.

I, however, have a different reason for believing 2013 is going to be a special year.  Ready?

On the morning of January 1st, I woke up both severely jet-lagged and hungover.  This is a brutal combination and must be avoided, (really, who would do that to themselves?!), however I had just arrived back in London on the 30th and was excited to celebrate both the New Year and seeing my husband after a two-week absence caused by a Christmas tour.  In any case, I was not the best version of myself that morning on January 1st, to say the least.  I was grumpy, quiet, and a little withdrawn.

My husband, however, (just as hungover as I was I might add), did something unforgettable.  I went downstairs that morning, and what did I find?

I walked  into our kitchen and discovered he was nearly done preparing a beautiful gourmet breakfast.  Tea, eggs, smoked salmon, cheese, toast, and oatmeal. And...

he was going about this stark naked.

I walked in and he turned and gave me a big cheeky grin and continued his work next to the stove.

In spite of my pounding headache, I smiled and recognized this good omen.  I'm no oracle, but I'm pretty sure if the first thing that happens to you in a year involves both nudity and good food, you're going to have a stellar year. So Happy 2013 everyone!  It's going to be a good one!


We are in London for another week before we return to Luzern, and I have to say, I think I really love London in the Winter.  Lord knows I did enough complaining when I spent those first two months here last Spring. I was freezing cold and wasn't quiet about it.  To my great horror and distress, I had to wear my Winter coat out on my June Birthday.  In the first month I spent here it rained for nearly three weeks straight and the sun made not a single appearance.  Heat was a rarity and I wore three or four layers every day just to survive.  However, being in London in Winter is a different animal.

The great thing about London in the Winter is that...get this...people actually admit it is cold and turn the heat on!!!  I have been a warm bunny in this house since I got here on Sunday.  It's great.  The temperature is only slightly lower outside than it was for much of the time I was here in May and June...but because it is Winter, the cold is acknowledged and dealt with appropriately.


When Hodge and I were in Los Angeles together in early December, we walked the streets lamenting the fact that we wouldn't have this Christmas together, and also discussing why it has for many years now been a difficult time of year for both of us.  We each are reminded of all the family members that we have lost over the years who we grew up celebrating the holiday with, and it can be a bit depressing.  However, now that we are married, I have decided it is time for us to start some new traditions of our own.  For next year, I think we need to reinvent Christmas and make it an occasion that we celebrate exactly the way we want to, adding anything we desire and subtracting any parts that we don't like.

Here is a Christmas tree that we saw in an LA shop:  Maybe a good place to start?

Tasteless, chintzy, and sort of post-modern gay, yes...but it might be just what we need.


I went sledding as a little girl down my old driveway in Connecticut.  I went sledding down a hill in Utah when I'd go visit my dad around Christmas.  Therefore, when Hodge suggested we go sledding down Mt. Pilatus, I thought I was someone with at least intermediate sledding skills.  How hard can it be?  You slide down some snow.  Easy.

Well, as it turns out, sledding in Switzerland is a whole different (but WONDERFUL!) cup of tea.  We each rented a wooden sled and flew down a sledding trail of several kilometers that ran almost all the way down Mt. Pilatus.  You can really get going on those sleds, and you occasionally hit a bump that makes you go flying.  

At one point later that day as I meandered on my sled through the quiet, snowy dusk, I noticed that I was slowly approaching an adult and small child on sleds ahead of me.  I got closer and closer, and soon I was right beside them.  A cute little 2 year old boy sat on a little sled next to his mother.  His mother guided him around the turns, and even though sometimes we went very fast he didn't seem afraid at all.  I suddenly noticed that he had come lose from her grasp and was on his own.  I instinctively gently put an arm on his sled, which was very close to mine, and tried to guide him back to his mother.  She smiled at me and said in Swiss German, "No, it's fine.  Don't worry.  He'll be fine."

I was half shocked.  What parent would allow their 2 year old to careen down a mountain on their own?!  I was also, however, impressed.  This incident reflects a greater truth about how children are raised in Switzerland.  There isn't this panicky feeling that often arises in the US about children being in danger at every turn.  They are trusted with caring for themselves on many levels from a very young age.  Kindergartners walk themselves to school every day.  They are given special yellow reflective vests that clearly identify them, and people in the community keep an eye on them, but they go on their own to school and back.  It creates of feeling of independence, maturity, and self-sufficiency that is truly remarkable.

Living on the Moon

At first when I moved to Europe, I felt almost as if I was living on the moon.  Everything seemed different, foreign, and challenging.  What had been simple tasks in the US turned into little cracks into the unknown here, full of awkward misunderstandings and unexpected moments of intense stress.  This cumulatively had an exhausting effect on me.  But now I truly feel that I have a new home, and that actually, it isn't nearly as far away as I imagined when Hodge first carried me over the threshold of our London house. I can call my loved ones in the US with total ease.  I now know where to buy things in Switzerland and how to get things done.  I have learned the new set of social rules and expectations.  When greeting people now, (even though it at first felt really strange to be kissing so many cheeks all the time!), the three kisses given in Switzerland have become habit and I had to consciously remind myself NOT to do it when I was visiting Arizona for Christmas.  So now, instead of writing a blog that is entirely about setting up camp in a new country, I'm going to start mixing in other topics as well.

Much love to everyone reading this, and may your 2013 be full of joy! (and possibly some naked cooking too).

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Autumn Notes

Time has absolutely flown by since my last post.  Fall has come, and last week we received our first taste of Winter with an unexpected October snow storm that dropped a very wet 4" of snow outside our apartment.  Since my last blog post, I have had a wide variety of interesting, fun, and poignant experiences.  Here are some highlights.


My father-in-law turned 70 this year and decided to throw a big birthday celebration and invite all his family and close friends.  He is a director at a 5-star resort just a few miles away from Dubrovnik, Croatia, and this is where he had his party.  I have wanted to travel to Croatia for a long time. Unfortunately, Hodge had to work a tour and was unable to attend the big party, so I was attended alone.  My new family certainly made me feel at home immediately.  My in-laws had put together an  three-day itinerary for everyone.  We went on a wine-tasting trip up the coast, we had a fresh oyster lunch, and we were treated to a day-trip into the beautiful medieval city of Dubrovnik.  And I also learned that my my in-laws sometimes like to stay up dancing until 4am.  I was, and am still, very impressed.  :-)

View from Dubrovnik

Poolside at the resort

For one day of the trip it was pouring with rain and we all had to stay inside at the resort.  I was annoyed that this prevented me from getting out to the beach, but the rain gave me a chance to hang out with my wonderful nieces.  We played games inside, and as the rain let up we blew bubbles into the wind from our balcony.  I find myself growing more and more attached to my nieces.  I am still of course getting to know them...I've only in total spent about a week with them since I moved to Europe...but I take my role of aunt seriously.  I have had unbelievably supportive aunts and uncles growing up.  I would be honored if I could do the same for my nieces.

I was actually quite moved by what the eldest (6 years), told me while we were playing.  She looked up at me and said very seriously, "Daisy, do you remember the spider webs we cleaned out of my playhouse? Well, they come back, but I used a stick like you showed me and I got rid of them again."  I was a bit stunned by this comment.  I remembered us doing this together in England last Spring, but I was amazed that she remembered this...and that I had apparently taught her something that she cared about enough to use on her own.  My heart was warmed in that moment as it struck me that my nieces were slowly growing attached to me too.  I was their aunt.  And apparently they remember the things we do together.  Pretty cool.


It takes an incredible amount of energy to adjust to a new culture.  I'm not sure exactly why, but some days I just feel absolutely exhausted.  I have also learned that there is something distinct about being American that makes me particularly twitchy when I feel my property or privacy is being messed with.  One little voice pops into my head that says "Don't touch my stuff!"and another little voice says "It's none of your damn business!" with equal ardor.  This seems to happen regardless of the other party's intention.  Last week was a prime example of this.  Fed up with our cold and snow-crusted boots, Hodge and I left them just outside our front door on our doorstep.  They were not near anyone else's door.  They were not in anyone's way.  We live on the top floor, so no one has to even pass by our doorstep to get up any stairs.  In any case, the next morning as I opened the door to leave, I nearly trampled the boots, set just against the door, in neat and orderly pairs.  To be sure, it was a harmless act, but it still really annoyed me.  Don't touch my stuff.

I was also told off by a Swiss woman as I walked with my bike in a pedestrian area.   She told me I was "blinding" her with the front light on my bike.  I apologized for the sake of being diplomatic, (and because my German isn't good enough yet to disagree with someone in any meaningful way), but this little encounter also left me feeling annoyed.

I think I've come up with a name for the delicate Swiss sensibility of how things should be done:  SAS.  Swiss Anal Syndrome.  Is it wrong of me to call it this?  Hodge and I were in a Swisscom store the other day and we saw someone dusting an already spotless plant.  Dusting a plant.  For crying out loud.  See the photo below:

The truly upsetting thing about SAS is that it is contagious.    Last month I was in London for a few days, and I found myself utterly horrified by how dirty/stinky/messy the trains and buses were.  I started thinking to myself that I didn't remember it being so bad in London.  And then I realized...nothing had changed.  I had changed.  I now suffer from a very acute form of SAS.  I think the condition grows in proportion to how much time one has spent in Switzerland and become accostomed to everything always being spotless.  Scary, but true.


Resolved to truly begin integrating here, I decided not to get my annual gynocological check up in the States when I visit for the holidays.  Don't worry; I am not about to tell you anything disgusting or too personal.  Just that if this is a place we really intend to stay, I need to try to get all of my needs met here.  I went to the general practice that my health insurance works with to book the appointment.  I walked in and was greeted by a very friendly, slightly goofy female receptionist.  I gave her my very well-practiced line in German of "Can we please speak English?" and she gratiously said yes, although she said her English was very limited.

Here is the coversation we had:

ME:  "I need to make an appointment for my annual gynocological exam."
HER:  "Uhhhh....I do not understand.  I hear the word 'animal' but I don't know what you mean."
(I then realized I needed to cut out the word "annual")
ME:  "I need to make an appointment for my yearly is the exam for women."
HER: "Ah yes, you need to have your (points to her chest) and your (points to her lower abdomin) checked."
ME: "Yes.  And I need birth control pills."
HER:  "Uhhh...I don't know what you mean."

I motion with my hands and pretend to take a pill.

HER:  "Ahh yes.  Your doctor here can help you.  Birth control pill?  This is how you say it in English?
ME:  "Yup.  How do you say it in German?"
HER:  "Anti-baby Pillen."

Now, I am a woman usually able to contain herself in public.  At this response, however, I lost it.  I burst out laughing.  Anti-baby pills!  It makes it sound like a person taking these pills not only doesn't want to give birth to a baby, but also has a problem with them generally.  The receptionist smiled back at me, not quite understanding why it was so funny.  At the very least though, she was kind enough to indulge me and not make me feel bad about my laughter.  She gave me an appointment for this week.  Should be interesting...

On the German language front, things are improving slowly.  I will probably start intensive German classes in January, but for now I am getting along okay.  Every now and then something happens and I see that my German is improving.  I successfully talked to a nice old man on the train to Basel about his train collection.  I understood an argument between two elderly Swiss women in the locker-room of my gym.  They were yelling at each other, but the words were pretty clearly articulated.

"UNBELIEVABLE!  There's water everywhere!"
"It's just water."
"Do you want me to clean it up?"
"Yes.  Clean it up."

My belief that I had in fact understood this conversation was confirmed when one of the women walked out to the mirror and sink area in a huff and grabbed a big bunch of paper towels. Small victories.

A Feline Guest

One night Hodge and I were walking up the hill to our apartment.  We complain about this hill to each other frequently, sometimes when we are walking up it late at night, and even sometimes just in anticipation of it before we leave to come home.  In any case, we were walking up our hill around midnight, and about 20 feet before we got to our front door, a small cat jumped out of the bushes on the other side of the road, made a dash across the street, and ran right up to us.  It is times like these that I become convinced that all cats have a special radar sensor for women like me...women who love cats and are utterly unable to say no when it comes to helping one in need.  It is times like these that also am reminded that I have married one of the kindest people I've ever met.  As this cat nearly threw himself on me purring, Hodge, (who is highly allergic to cats), said with no hesitation at all, "I think we need to help this poor little chap out.  Let's have him stay the night."  There he was, purring and rubbing against my legs, and then he proceeded to follow us home as if it was a daily routine of his.  Yes, hello, nice apartment.  He strolled in, looked around, found the master bedroom, and curled up on our bed.  No questions asked.  We laughed at his audacity, but also knew this wasn't a good idea.  We relocated him to the guest bed, where he immediately curled up and slept for the night.

I didn't sleep well that night.  I kept imagining the cat peeing all over our nice apartment.  I woke up and checked on the cat several times...he was always sleeping peacefully.  When I opened our bedroom door in the morning the cat ran into the room and under the bed.  Hodge and I then lay in bed for a few minutes, we both suddenly felt bites on our feet.  The cat had jumped up under the covers and was playfully attacking us from the foot of the bed.  A few minutes later he jumped up and sat on our couch, perched his head on his front paws, and watched Hodge eat breakfast.  This cat was achingly cute, but we knew that most pets in Switzerland have microchips, and that we should probably take him to the nearest vet to get him scanned.  I wrapped him in a towel and carried him about a quarter-mile to a vet's practice.  They scanned him, and he was indeed chipped.  Within minutes they had his owner on the phone.  It was a happy ending, but I have to say...we miss him a little.

A Few Last Tidbits...

My mom visited Luzern and met Hodge's dad.  :-)

We went on a lake cruise.

And we went up a few mountains.


Hodge and I are headed to Tucson to spend Thanksgiving with my mom.  This will be my first visit to the US since I moved and I am VERY excited.  It will also be the first time I've seen my cats in the last 7 months.  I have missed them horribly.  And I mean HORRIBLY.  Since they were tiny little two-month-old kittens, they have slept every night in my bed.  They were loyal and loving companions during some of my darkest law school hours...and when I think about them being so far away probably forgetting about me, I really do get teary.  I am so curious to see how they react to seeing me...will they remember me?  Will they be angry and ignore me for a few days?  We shall see.  Hodge and I are still trying to make the difficult decision about whether or not to bring them to Switzerland.  Hodge's allergy and asthma are serious...I am utterly unwilling to impose breathing problems on my wonderful husband for the sake of my cats.  (even though, Hodge keeps saying he is willing to try...what a sweetheart)

Will these two remember me?

I really hope so.


Saturday, August 25, 2012

August Highlights

So another beautiful month of the Swiss summer has passed, and here is my latest blog post.  I'm still struggling hard with learning German, and have decided to wait a bit on the job hunt in order to solidify the language a bit more.  It is hard for me to imagine myself living here longterm without the language, so that is my priority at the moment.

I have come to the realization that the true test of one's language ability is not a grammar exam, nor a language school placement test, nor the ability to memorize verb conjugations.  One's skill in a language is only truly visible in the ability to improvise.  In other words, what bubbles up out of your throat when you are randomly and unexpectedly prompted to speak?  I have gone from having no German two months ago to testing into German A2 Level, (which is just below what is described as intermediate level B1).  My true test, however, came last night as I traveled home to Luzern from Sachseln.  Most times I have been on that train it is a nonstop trip.  I've never had to change trains, so when the train stopped for more than a few minutes at one particular town, I took notice.  I looked up at the screen in the car that showed the next stops.  We were headed back to where I had just come from!  And it was late.  Nearly midnight.  I flew off the train and onto the outside platform, with literally only about 10 seconds to spare.  Two women outside giggled at me as I nearly fell out of the train, my proverbial feathers all ruffled and in a bunch.  They had been sitting near me earlier, were heading back to Luzern as well, and obviously noticed my mistake.  One of the women said something to me, and I didn't understand, although given the look on her face and her tone I think it must have been something like, "You barely made it off! "  I smiled and said in grammatically bad German "I'm American and I don't know.  But now, I know."  She gave me a very kind smile and laughed.

I felt really stupid.  I've been studying the past tense, but it hasn't really become part of my skill set yet.  Why hadn't I been able to say "I didn't know"?  Ich habe es nicht gewusst....I think.  I was sad after this little encounter...all these hours of studying and that's the best I could come up with!?  I'M AMERICAN AND I DON'T KNOW!?  What the fuck.  Not only had I failed to say "I didn't know I had to switch trains," but I additionally had just played into the oldest stereotype of Americans in the world.  Why did I even mention my nationality?  I'M AMERICAN AND I DON'T KNOW.  That should be the new slogan for the Romney campaign, not part of my conversation with Swiss people!  Christ.

I'll keep writing about about my spontaneous German moments.  It will be the tracking device of my progress in the language, and more than anything else, it's bound to be pretty hilarious. 

Here's the book I just checked out from the goal is read it in the next month.   :-)

I recently joined the International Women's Society of Luzern.  It's a great group and has something for everyone.  There are subgroups centered upon reading books, knitting, hiking, running, clubbing, cooking, babies, business, and more.  There is also a Tuesday morning coffee that I usually attend.  At most of these meetings I am the youngest by about 30 years, but I see this as an advantage.  I like listening to women talk to each other about life.  The perspective of a 60 year old is vastly different from that of a 30 year old, and I enjoy the contrast.  I find it enlightening.

In this club I recently met an English woman who is in her 70's, and has been in Switzerland for 50 years.  You do the math. She moved to Switzerland because she married a Swiss.  I asked her how it all happened, and she simply said, "My husband was in London studying English, and I met him one night at a party.  We danced together, and I just knew."  I have never heard her complain about how difficult this move must have been for her back then...the new language...the new culture...the new life.  Only once I heard her hint at how hard it was.  She shook her head and said smilingly to the whole table of women, "I love hearing all you ladies discussing your new lives here and how to go about things.  We never had that.  There was nothing.  I didn't even know I had learned Swiss-German and not GERMAN until I did some traveling years later."  There was no bitterness in her words, because she clearly had learned to love the life she created here with her husband, but I understood something that hadn't really occurred to me before.  As difficult as I perceive certain aspects of setting up life here in Switzerland, my struggle in no way compares to what she must have gone through.  There was no Skype.  There was very little English in Switzerland.  And there were no International Women's Groups.  She was completely cut off from all that was familiar to her.  As I had this thought I felt a sharp pang of sympathy for her in my heart.  That was have been a brutal adjustment.

So what else have I been up to in the last month?  Honestly, I've been enjoying the Summer.  I've been studying German and swimming in the lake.  I've made a couple of friends along the way, and I hope to make more.

This is a funny little story.  It wasn't a big event or anything, but it's pretty ridiculous.  Hodge left on a tour and the first night he was away a particularly vicious Swiss mosquito mauled me in my sleep.  Yes.  MAULED ME.   It bit me about 20 times, and apparently I only woke up when it bit me on my EYELID.  Feeling that horrible pinch, I slapped my face.  My face was suddenly wet.  The bastard was so drunk with my blood that he couldn't be bothered to move and avoid my hand.  So, let's summarize this situation.  At 3am this motherfucker bit my eyelid, I slapped myself in the face, the drunk mosquito exploded on my forehead, and then I had to rush to the bathroom to remove the blood and his corpse.  Not the best of nights.

On a more serious note, I've been thinking hard about my life and what kind of work I want to do, but I haven't yet really come to a conclusion.  I desperately want to do something with human rights law, but I'm still figuring out how to navigate the system to find the job that I would love.  I feel that I have worked too hard NOT to be picky.  I deserve to pursue jobs that I find inspiring.

It has almost been a whole year since my plane landed in Zurich and I visited Hodge...seeing him for the first time in seven years.  It was one of the best decisions I've made in my life, and I'm very proud of myself for that.  It was brave, don't you think?  I need to remind myself to continue to be brave in life. Yes, I'm now married to my soulmate... but there are still other parts of life that I want to see come together.  I have a debt from law school that hangs on my puts pressure on me to pursue work that I don't care about, (corporate stuff), and forget the dreams I've had since I was a little girl of doing something useful and good for the world.  I want to use my law degree to help people, to improve something, to create a real effect on society.  Even if I can't affect society as a whole, I want to connect to people.  Asylum law is my favorite way of doing this, but I know there must be other avenues as well.  The last time I ever saw my grandmother, I sat next to her on her bed and we had a long talk about all sorts of things.  At one point during the conversation she took my hands, held them tightly in hers, and said, "These hands, Daisy.  These hands are going to do wonderful things."  And so I will.

But in the meantime, I want to celebrate what I already have done...and more specifically the decision I (we...Hodge gets credit for this decision too!) made last August.  The photo below was taken by Hodge, on the train to Zurich last year.  As that English woman from my club said...sometimes you just know.  Here's a picture of me gazing at Hodge on the train, knowing that very same thing.