Friday, January 19, 2018

Honestly!

According to the American poet, John Ciardi, honesty is "The ability to resist small temptations". From a few recent experiences I have had here in Zug, I think he must have been referring to the Swiss.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, we live very close to the Siemens corporation. As a shortcut to get to the train station or a walking path, we've been known to cut through their campus. We usually go through a parking area for Velos (bikes) and Motos (motorcycles and mopeds). Over the Christmas holiday break, this parking area was pretty empty except for a really nice helmet just hanging on a hook. Day after day we walked past this helmet with shock and wonder on who would have left it and why no one else has taken it. The reason I suppose is because we are in Switzerland - plain and simple. Now that the workforce is back at Siemens, the helmet sits next to a nice moped, ready to be worn again.

















Then bright and early on New Year's morning, Smidgey was in need of a walk. (She didn't really care about the troubles we endured the night before.) As we stepped out in the early morning frosty air I spotted a very nice bike laying on its side next to the bus stop outside our apartment building. Smidge and I righted the bike and parked it against the wall at the base of the steps to our building. I chalked it up to NYE revelers finding an unlocked bike and going for a joyride then leaving it for the owner to find. Only the owner hasn't found it. As of this writing, the bike, in pristine condition, continues to be parked in a very public area with no lock.
The bus stop is just up the sidewalk a few feet to the right of this picture.












And then last week I trip-linked my grocery shopping with my morning jog. Since I didn't want to be weighed down with my entire wallet during my run I just took some cash in my jacket pocket. As I was walking home from the store (I was no longer jogging because I was weighed down with my huge shopping bag) I pulled out my phone to check the time. A little while later, as I continued down the path, my hands started to get really cold so I stuck them in my pockets. My stomach dropped. Where there had been two pieces of paper (CHF), there was only one. I pulled the single bill out of my pocket and realized I had dropped a 50CHF note somewhere between where I was standing and the store exit - a distance that had taken me at least 15+ minutes to walk. Mumbling a 'colorful' word under my breath with every footfall, I ran back toward the store retracing my route (my huge shopping bag now thumping against my hip and back).
I passed an elderly lady, "Grüezi" she said to my blur.
Then I passed two joggers. (Neither running with a huge shopping bag banging against their body - go figure.)
Finally, I saw it. The bright green bank note laying in the middle of the path. Hallelujah!
Photo reenactment for effect. : )



















At a minimum three people passed my money and didn't pick it up. I have no idea how many other people passed that way that I didn't see, but not one person picked up my money. Honestly, the Swiss know how to "resist small temptations". (Or big - 50CHF is nothing to sneeze at!)

My poem today is dedicated to the honesty of the Swiss:
 see it
walk past
walk past
walk past
Swiss integrity
will outlast
©2018, Bridget Magee. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Time Was Almost Up

The Swiss are known for doing many things well: chocolate, cheese, public transportation, knives, etc. But there is one Swiss industry that almost disappeared, but I had a hand in helping resurrect it...or should I say wrist? Let me explain.

The Swiss have been known for their precision watchmaking ability for centuries. High end brands like Rolex, Tag Heuer, Rado, Omega, etc. are all from Switzerland.
Omega store display in Luzern.



















Watch stores are EVERYwhere.












But during the Swiss economic crisis in the mid-1970's when the Asian-made Quartz watches began gaining popularity on the world market, the Swiss watch industry almost died. Then along came Nicolas Hayek, a Lebanese immigrant. In 1980 Mr. Hayek designed a light-weight, cheap, and colorful watch. He brought the Swatch (shortened form of Swiss watch) to market in 1983 - transforming the Swiss watch industry.
I now own the blue striped one...
...but I want them all!

How did I help the Swiss watch industry's rebound? Well, I was one of the many, many American teenagers who bought a Swatch watch in the mid 80's! (Don't do the math ; )
Me, circa 1984...I'm pretty sure my cute white Swatch watch was on my wrist in this picture.



















Maybe one of the most ironic parts of this story is that a non-Swiss person was responsible for the watch industry's turnaround. The Swiss have a complicated relationship with foreigners as is illustrated in this joke from Diccon Bewes: How to be Swiss, © Bergli Books, Basel:
An Austrian family is standing on the Austrian riverbank of the Rhine and want to become Swiss citizens. The border police tell them that all they have to do is swim over to the Swiss side and they'll get the red passport.
The father jumps into the river, swims across while battling the current, climbs out on the other side and proudly receives his Swiss passport.
The mother jumps in next, swallows lots of water, almost goes under but manages to get across. The border police hand her the red booklet. 
She shouts to her son to jump into the water and swim as hard as he can. He does but to no avail; he doesn't make it, and drowns.
The father looks at his tearful wife, shrugs, and says, "Never mind, it was just a bloody foreigner!" 

I have not seen or experienced anything that would support this joke's portrayal of an anti-foreigner sentiment, but I do know it is 'timely' given the immigration issues around the world.


My poem today is about the Swatch watch and my sense of self wearing it in the 80's AND now:
hidden under the
downy fibers of my 
fuchsia sweater
the white plastic band
encircling my moist wrist
tells not only the time
but also tells the world
I'm. So. Cool.
©2018, Bridget Magee. All Rights Reserved.
  

Friday, January 12, 2018

Bowl Full of Home

Food provides sustenance to both our bodies and souls. And when living abroad, finding your favorite foods can be challenging at times. (Understatement when referring to Mexican food!)

One food that has been both a heart warming and belly warming staple in our family is pea soup. More specifically, my Mom's pea soup recipe.
My Mom, AKA Grandma or Patzy.

And this particular pea soup is Maureen's favorite food. Now seeing that she is a teen who has been forced to move half way around the world, I have been on a mission to make this soup for her so Switzerland will feel a little more like home. But it has been no easy task.

Apparently the Swiss are not big on selling dried split peas. We found peas (Erbsen in Deutsch) in cans, but none dried. We searched the grocery store aisles ourselves. We used our broken Deutsch to ask store employees. But to no avail. We were able to find dried lentils, both red and brown, so I am able to make Mo her second favorite soup, but my girl needs her Grandma's recipe pea soup!

We searched at not one...not two...not three...but SIX stores looking for dried split peas. At the 6th store, our lucky day!
Halbe = half (split)



















And we made Maureen Grandma's split pea soup.
Mmmmm...a little taste of home. : )












My poem is an Ode to my Mom and the affect her pea soup recipe has on Maureen:

my bowl of pea soup 
is warm
smells good
and is squishy
just like my Grandma's 
hugs 
©2018, Bridget Magee. All Rights Reserved. 

Today is YOUR lucky day! Below is this week's 
Online Storytime video: My Lucky Day by Keiko Kasza. 
You might want to give it a watch...just a thought, Mr. Fox.  
 

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Prepared or Paranoid

With two world leaders boasting publicly about the size of their 'buttons', the notion of nuclear contamination has come to the forefront of many people's minds, and not just in the US or Asia.

The Swiss have been thinking about nuclear contamination and how to protect their population for a LONG time. They pride themselves on their "defensive neutrality" - protecting themselves against everything and everyone.

One way in which they ensure their population is protected against nuclear fallout is the law (inspired by the Cold War) that require every building built after 1963 "be equipped with a shelter against atomic attack". That means they must be equipped with "a thick armored door and a ventilation system with an anti-gas filter."

The Swiss Federal Law on Civil Protection states: "Every inhabitant must have a protected place that can be reached quickly from his place of residence" and "apartment block owners are required to construct and fit out shelters in all new dwellings".

There is actually a way around this law because it can be prohibitively expensive to private builders. If a home builder decides against building one, "they must instead pay their commune CHF1,500+ for each place in a shelter, calculated at two places for every three rooms."

Of course, people are allowed to use shelters "for other purposes, such as storage space, but are obliged to keep them in good order. In recent years some public shelters have been used as temporary accommodation for asylum seekers."

No matter what, there are enough underground shelters to protect the entire Swiss population (including us foreigners!). Phew!


Here is the bunker in our apartment building:
Down a long hallway...



















...is a big heavy door...



















...that when opened...




















...reveals an area that has been sectioned off for each resident...




















...to do with whatever they choose. We obviously choose to store our 'stuff'.




















The Swiss government doesn't only want to protect its population from nuclear fallout in the event of a nuclear conflict, but also in the event of a nuclear accident at one of their nuclear power plants.

Within days of arriving in Zug we received a postcard in the mail telling us (in German!) where we can pick up our potassium iodide tablets.














After translating the postcard, I was flabbergasted to find out why the government sent this to us. Apparently Zug is within 50km of a nuclear plant and all residents in this radius are offered the potassium iodide tablets. "If taken in time and at the appropriate dosage, it blocks the thyroid gland's uptake of radioactive iodine."

During college and after, I lived MUCH closer to a nuclear power plant and I never received potassium iodide pills. Huh, why is that?

Well, no matter what, you can say that the Swiss take care of their citizens.  But maybe that is why living in Switzerland is so expensive?

bunkers and pills
for bombs and spills
Swiss defense
at what expense?

©2018, Bridget Magee. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Ssswwweeet! Part 2

Several weeks ago I wrote a post about our visit to the Swiss chocolate factory, Maestrani's Chocolarium located just outside Zurich. Since then we've actually visited there a second time. Hey! Colleen and her friend were visiting Switzerland for the first time and they HAD to experience the chocolate magic. In good conscience we couldn't let them go by themselves! ;)

In between those two Chocolarium visits, we went to another chocolate factory...well, not a factory so much as a chocolate attraction. Do you see a trend?

Perhaps you've heard of or tasted Lindt chocolate? Oh, yeah, my mouth is watering at the memory as well. Well, there is an attraction called the Swiss Chocolate Adventure at the Verkehrshaus (The Swiss Museum of Transportation) in Luzern that chronicles the origins, production, and transport of Swiss chocolate through the lens of the Lindt Company.
This big fella is outside the museum.



















The tour starts out with us being 'transported' to another time and place...actually, we went down to the basement of the building in a shipping container elevator. Weird.










Then we got into individual 'carts' to start the tour. (They are like the kind they have in the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland, but without the ghost hitchhikers.)
Here is an empty cart that was next to us.












Cart selfie taken in the dark! (Mo is listening to the translator.)












We learned about the cocoa plant:










and Swiss cows:











We learned about chocolate history:
All about Lindt!

And we saw chocolate wall sculptures...










...with a spout in the middle that dropped out a single chocolate for each person in the cart. Whoopee?
Overall, it was an OK attraction, but there was a Disney-esque feel to it that bordered on cheesy - not Swiss quality. Lindt makes an amazing product, but with this attraction it seemed like the company was leveraging its reputation just to attract tourists in this very popular museum. Don't get me wrong, the Verkehrshaus is an AMAZING museum and we highly recommend it, but maybe save your money by not going to the Chocolate Experience and just buy the Lindt chocolate in the gift shop. THAT is an experience.

Aside from the gift shop, there are many other amazing things to see in the museum:

Planes










Trains










And automobiles.










With a bonus motorcycle:
I had to talk Joe out of trying to recreate the Kim/Kayne motorcycle pose. ;)












The only connection I've seen between Lindt chocolates and transportation is this car that was parked outside a grocery store in ZUG! Go figure.
My poem was inspired by this 'beary' cute car.










head and shoulders
above the rest
a sweet ride 
©2018, Bridget Magee. All Rights Reserved.

BONUS: For the Wee Ones in your life who like Wee Words,
 I have launched a new feature on my YouTube channel called 
Online Storytime. In addition to my How-To-Write-Poetry videos, 
I will release an Online Storytime video once a week. 
This week's book is BARK GEORGE by Jules Feiffer.
If you've never read/listened to this story, why not give it a go now? 
  

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

The New Year Came in with a BANG

From our observations and limited experience, it seems that the Swiss pride themselves on being an orderly, quiet society...until they are not.

On New Year's Eve they were not.

From sundown at about 5pm until WAY past midnight (I have the bags under my eyes to prove this) our Swiss neighbors ushered in the New Year with a BANG. BOOM. And SNAP, CRACKLE, POP!

Fireworks are readily available at every grocery store in town. Not just the light 'em and watch them explode on the ground kind, but the launch 'em into the sky and see them from miles around kind.










Grocery store fireworks by the numbers:
100 fireworks in the box
50 seconds of explosions
30 meters up in the air
25 meters of human clearance (for safety?)


















The revelers using these fireworks weren't thinking about safety as much as fun:
Nothing says a good time like 2 bottles of Champagne and fireworks!



















Added to the firework festivities, we got to 'enjoy' Church bells in surround sound. Every area church rang their church bells from 11:45pm to 12:15am. The Powers That Be really wanted to alert you to the fact that a New Year was upon us.
Ring-a-ding-dong all night long. OK, middle of the night long.



















As if the fireworks and the church bells weren't enough to keep sleep at bay, add in a party in the apartment below us. Somehow, our neighbors couldn't keep their mouths off their noisemakers LONG after the clock struck midnight. I don't think a knock on the floor would have done much to dissuade them from their partying ways as I doubt anyone would have heard. Alas, eventually (3:15am) they bid their guests adieu.We heard.

But New Year's Eve is not the only time to set off fireworks in Switzerland. They do it on January 1st as well! And at a reasonable hour - 8pm! We attended a public firework display in Luzern with thousands of our 'best friends'.













And holy wow, they know how to do fireworks:
CRACK!
BOOM!


FAM!




















Along with ushering in the New Year, January 1st was also my 7th Blog-aversary! Thank you, dear reader, for reading, commenting, and following my blog journey. Whether you've been with me since 1/1/2011 or have recently discovered my tiny bit of the internet universe, I appreciate YOU. And I toast you with a bit of 'Cold Duck'.
*clink*













Gutes Neues Jahr! May your 2018 bring you much peace, poetry, and pyrotechnics.

blowout 
bash
fireworks
flash

New Year
crowd
rung in
loud
©2018, Bridget Magee. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Die Post

No, I'm not going postal on you and wishing death to the post office. The Swiss Post is actually called Die Post - the 'die' being the feminine article 'the' in German (pronounced dee).

But I do have a story related to the post office that made me want to die at the time. When we had been in the country for about 3 weeks, we received a bill in the mail. Most bills are orange forms written entirely in German. They look like this:










The bill had come from the Gemeinde (local community government). I wanted to pay the bill, but I didn't quite know how. We have an American online bank account, but it doesn't include checks. Actually, checks are not accepted anywhere in Switzerland and checking accounts no longer exist. Because we had been in the country for such a short time, our local Swiss bank account didn't allow online payments due to our initial residency (L) permit. I was befuddled. So I decided to go ask at the Tourism office in the train station...because, well, they are there to answer questions, right?











Wrong...well, sort of.

I went in and showed my bill to a young lady sitting at the counter. I asked (in English, because I knew zero German at this point) how I go about paying this bill. The young lady was kind, but completely befuddled by my question. It seemed incomprehensible to her that I didn't know how to pay my bill. She went to her supervisor and relayed my question. The older woman and the younger woman exchanged some words (heated) in German for a few minutes, then the older woman shouted across the entire office, "You can't pay your bill HERE!" I mumbled, "Yes, I know, but I don't where or how to pay it..." She interrupted me by shouting even louder, "YOU PAY IT AT THE POST OFFICE!" If she had thought to add a DUH, she would have. I said a quick, "Thank you!" and hightailed it out of there, embarrassed beyond belief.

I then went over to the nearest Die Post and tried to pay the bill with my debit card. I was quickly informed that they only take cash or a Die Post debit card. I popped outside to the ATM:

...and got the cash. I paid the bill. Finally.

So yes, the post office in Switzerland is also a bank.

Both free standing:

















And housed in the regular post office where you send packages and buy stamps:










In the US, the post office color is blue. Here in Switzerland it is yellow.
We have yellow mail boxes:

















And the mailpersons wear yellow accented uniforms and drive super nifty three-wheeled electric carts with a trailer attached:











I have been very pleased with the service we've received using Die Post. A letter abroad to the US, though expensive (2CHF), only takes about a week to arrive. Packages, even more expensive (30CHF), take about two weeks. Not bad for traveling half way around the world!

My poem is dedicated to the woman who 'helped' me that day in August:

sent to the post office
I address my ignorance
payment delivered
©2017, Bridget Magee. All Rights Reserved.