At top of stairs on way to the bus after a hike.
Stairs on the hiking trail.

Stairs, stairs, stairs...we encounter countless stairs through out our day. To get to the train platform. To get to the front door. To get to the top of the mountain. Everywhere we turn there are stairs. And frankly, we have mixed feelings about all these stairs. On the one hand, it is a cardio workout sprinkled throughout the day. On the other hand, it is a cardio workout sprinkled throughout the day.

Elevators are an option sometimes, but usually they take longer than running up the stairs, which if you happen to be a teenager, doesn't matter. Maureen is happy to use any and all elevators when given the option - and when she comes home from school, she has the option. In our apartment building, Maureen is a diehard elevator enthusiast even though we only live on the second floor.
Looking down our staircase from outside our front door.
I can understand why she is sick of stairs as the poor girl has to go up three flights of stairs to get to the 8th grade floor of her middle school every day - that's a lot of stairs! Just ask her...
Today's  poem is dedicated to my Maureen who gets a bit hySTAIRical about stairs:

if it's a step down
it's a good thing
©2017, Bridget Magee. All Rights Reserved.

Smile and Nod

I would have to say that not speaking German has probably been the biggest challenge of our transition to Switzerland thus far. (Having to move three times is a close second!) In this part of Switzerland,  Swiss German is the official language. French, Italian, and Romansh are the other official languages of Switzerland and are spoken in other parts of Switzerland. (Note that English is not an official language of Switzerland.)

Swiss German is a nuanced dialect of German, but it is not a written language. In written form, the Swiss use High German, but spoken, there are specific words, phrases, and pronunciations that are uniquely Swiss German.

Joe, Mo, and I are trying to assimilate to our new home by taking German classes. Mo is doing well in her German class at the International School, plus she is taking French for the first time. Joe is lucky to be immersed in German at work, hearing the language spoken all around him day in and day out, plus he takes one-on-one classes two days a week. And I am enrolled in two classes - one small group class (three of us) and a one-on-one class for a total of four 90/minute sessions of German instruction per week. You'd think with that much instruction I'd be getting the hang of German. At least a little, right?

Me working on my homework.
 Well, I don't know if it is my age, my brain, my mouth or a combination of the three, but I am having the darnedest time trying to learn German. OK, granted I've only had a few weeks instruction, but I get brain-freeze when someone speaks Swiss German directly to me - whether it is a stressful situation or not. Part of it is I am honestly not sure my throat/mouth is capable of making some of the sounds necessary to speak Swiss German and part of it is I don't have the confidence to butcher the language to try...YET.

For now, I've been using the coping method of "Smile and Nod". It is amazing how much you can figure out from context and body language. I begin whatever interaction with the customary Swiss German greeting, "Grütze", then I pause and smile. The other person returns the greeting and usually adds something more to it while taking care of whatever transaction we are engaged in. If they continue speaking, I simply nod, wide eyed and attentive. When done, I say, "Danke". I'd say 80% of the time I get away with them not knowing I don't totally understand what they are saying. If they ask me a question I don't recognize, I simply say, "Ich verstehe dich nicht." (I don't understand you.) From my extremely bad pronunciation/American accent they recognize immediately that I am a non-native speaker and switch to English if they are able. If they are not able, we gesticulate until the point gets across. I feel like this is a good way to learn the nuance and cadence of the language while building my vocabulary and confidence, but not forcing people to speak English right off the bat just to accommodate me.

Slowly my German skills are improving, and slowly my confidence is growing. Heck, before long I will be having conversations longer than two to six words...hopefully. My poem below demonstrates my rudimentary German skills:

rosen sind rot
veilchen sind blau
beim lernen Deutsche,
ich bin eine langsam Frau 
©2017, Bridget Magee. All Rights Reserved.


Living here in Switzerland is SO different from living in Tucson. (Did I mention the German?) Besides the language, the biggest difference for me has been the weather. Maybe it is my (ahem) age, but I am glad to be out of the desert heat. People always say, "Arizona is a dry heat", but when you're dripping with sweat, I'm not sure you can still call it 'dry'. Besides, hot is hot. I don't miss the heat in Tucson, but I do miss the people (especially one in particular).

When we arrived in Switzerland, the days were warm and the nights were cool - albeit more humid than I was used to. (Interesting tidbit: there is generally no AC in homes or apartments and there are no screens on windows anywhere we've seen.) As we've progressed through the month of September, the temperatures have gradually cooled and the need for closed-toed shoes and a fleece jacket have become the norm (and thanks to our air shipment I now have both!)

And it has rained every few days - glorious rain! Yes, we had monsoons in Tucson, but they were intermittent, scattered, and often violent short-lived storms. In Switzerland, steady rain falls for a day or two, then it is back to partly cloudy/partly sunny skies until it rains a few days later. Is it any wonder why the hills are lush and green? (In full disclosure we did experience, Joe first hand, one violent thunderstorm since living in Zug, but we'll have to wait until next summer for more of those.)

Another difference from Tucson is the appearance of slugs after the rains. I haven't lived anywhere that has as many slugs as here. Good thing they are so prolific, because their propensity for post-rain gatherings, "Slugfests", can't be helping their numbers. I was so unfamiliar with slugs, the first time I saw one on the wet sidewalk I thought it was an actual cigar! (See my post about the prevalence of smoking.) 

Doesn't the fella below look like a cigar with antenna?
Zug slug.

He (or she - I didn't check) and his friends are the inspiration for the following poem:

For Whom the Bells Toll...

The steady rhythmic BONG echoing across the fields means different things to different people in this area of Switzerland...

From just about anywhere in the city of Zug you can hear the peal of church bells...every hour and half hour starting at 6:50 am until 10 pm -every day of the week. And if there are services at any given hour, the bells will chime incessantly for the 10 minutes before the start of Mass (note 6:50 am).

62% of people in the canton of Zug identify as Catholic and there are 19 parishes dotting the city and countryside alike- each more historic and beautiful than the last. Being a recovering Catholic I can appreciate the splendor and comfort these buildings can provide. Here are few pictures of some churches we thought were especially pretty:

I think the balloons were for a wedding later in the day.

The caged alter was new to us.
It's a long ways up.

Not only do the Catholics add music to the air and beautiful buildings to the area, they also provide those living in the canton, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, with several public holidays:

Good Friday (Friday before Easter)
Easter Monday (Monday after Easter)
Ascension Day (40 days after Easter)
Pentecost (also called Whit Monday)
Corpus Christi (second Thursday after Whit Monday)
Assumption Day (August 15)
Immaculate Conception Day (December 8)
St. Stephen's Day (December 26)

This list only includes the holidays that land on weekdays - there are several that also land on Sundays. The Catholics definitely enhance vacation options.

Here is my poem about what the church bells mean to me:

Third Time's a Charm?

My apologies for posting late...we've been on the move this week!

We just completed our third (and final?) move for this across the world transition. Woot-woot!
Our progressive relocation began at the end of July when we moved from Tucson to Switzerland. Our first "home" was two hotel rooms across the hall from each other in a small country village called Sins. As Maureen likes to say, "We lived in Sins city without living in Vegas!" We 'lived' there for about two weeks...

..then we moved into a tiny flat AT the train station. Think extended stay hotel...with a dog. We lived there for 6ish weeks until this week...

...when we move to our mostly permanent (for at least a year), slightly bigger flat. Yippee! AND we finally received our air shipment! I finally have a jacket and proper shoes to wear in the increasingly crisp fall weather...yay!

Apartment living in Switzerland is the norm for most of the population, yet there is NOTHING normal about it. There are some very strict rules:
  • no noise after 10pm any night of the week
  • no flushing the toilet after 10pm any night of the week
  • no noise/laundry/vacuuming on Sunday or holiday - ever!
You might be asking, what happens if you violate any of these rules? Well, your neighbor has the right to call the police and report you. If the police come to your front door, they can fine you - on the spot. It really happens. We're happy to say that we haven't had the cops called on us (it is touch and go with Smidgey's vocal range though), but at our first flat our upstairs neighbor did knock on our ceiling when we were talking/laughing on the phone with Colleen and once when I had a coughing attack in the middle of the night! Sheesh...like I was coughing on purpose. The Swiss really like their quiet time.

I don't have any pictures of our "Sins"-ful life, but here are some pictures from our first flat:
Out our front window at first flat.
Weird wall decorations...not sure what someone was thinking.

Here are some pictures of our new-to-us flat with lots of boxes to unpack:
Two of the many boxes waiting to be unpacked.
We vacuum packed much of our life.

Excited to have our kitchen stuff...we just need to put it away.
And lil' Smidgey FINALLY has her pillow! All is right with the world.

Here is a poem about our progressive move:

My American-centric Bull(s)

So a couple of weeks ago I wrote a post about the public art we've come to enjoy since moving to Zug. One particular type of art I highlighted was the brightly painted bulls that are displayed all over town. Being the American-centric person that I am, I just figured the Swiss were following the lead of US cities like Chicago, St. Louis, and Denver with their Cow Parades. But I got it backwards.

The Swiss city of Zürich had the first public art display of cows in 1998, but they called it "Land in Sicht" (roughly translated as countryside in view). The public art cow concept was brought to the US by a Chicago businessman who teamed up with the Chicago Cultural Affairs Commission to create the Cows On Parade show in Chicago in 1999. Since then many US, European, and even Australian cities have had similar displays.

But what about the bulls? Here in Zug there are bulls, not cows. Why bulls? This weekend we figured out the answer to that when we stumbled upon a display of all the bulls that have been around the city and surrounding area in front of the professional ice hockey arena. Apparently the bulls have been a part of a fundraising effort for youth sports and cultural projects partially sponsored by the local professional ice hockey team, EVZ, whose mascot is...wait for it...a bull! Go figure!

Here's a highlight reel of some of the most clever bulls on display:
The EVZ hockey team pair.

Disco-ball bull.
Cleaning bull with washing machine drum in the center.
Another EVZ tribute bull.
What goes best with ice hockey action? A beer bull!

My American-centric thinking didn't end with the bulls, unfortunately. Joe and I recently participated in a company sponsored "Cultural Training". Before we met with the trainer we were asked to fill out an extensive questionnaire. Every time there was a question that mentioned "foreigner" my mind immediately went to someone other than myself - someone who came from another country, someone who didn't speak English, etc. It wasn't until later, upon reflection (but before we met with the trainer) did I realize that the foreigner they were referring to in the questionnaire was ME! I was from another country. I didn't speak the national language which is NOT English. Boy, how egocentric/American-centric could I get? This self realization made for an interesting conversation with our trainer. And it has given me a more visceral empathetic view of anyone who is considered a "foreigner" in ANY country.

My poem below reflects the 'new' me...(see what I did there?)

Alarming Smell

Switzerland is known for its cheese, among other fine foods (did someone say chocolate?). Directly related to high quality cheese is the high quality milk produced by Swiss cows. Dairy farming is unique in Switzerland because most Swiss dairy farms are quite small - most averaging just 24 cows. And almost half of the grassland is alpine pastures therefore you see small herds of cows wandering the hills around town and through the various train routes.

And you hear them. Every cow I've seen since moving here has a large cow bell around its neck. Local farmers still use cowbells to track the movement of their herds.

And you smell them, too. I've lived in an area where cows dot the hillsides (shout out to SLO!) and the aroma from the local bovine population was aromatic. But here in Switzerland, some days are down right pungent. A combination of humidity, precipitation, and proximity must be a recipe for especially fragrant cow pies. It is that fragrance that inspired the poem below.

And below the poem is a video of a herd (heard ;) of Swiss cows taken by Joe as we traveled up to the top of Mount Pilatus in a gondola - too bad there isn't smell-o-vision. Hee-hee.

Photo credit: Maureen taken through the window of the gondola.

Everything Butt

The Swiss are a very healthy people...except in one area: Smoking.With the abundance of healthy, organic foods available and the amount of activity built into daily life, it is surprising to see SO many Swiss people smoking and how socially acceptable it is. 

Swiss people walk, bike, use public transportation regularly- young and old, male and female. They are very active in sports and outdoor leisure activities - young and old, male and female. But pretty much every where you go, people smoke - young and old, male and female. At the train station, at corporate offices, on every street corner - people are smoking. I've seen smokers who look as young as Maureen all the way up to those in their 70's/80's - and every age in between. Granted, smoking is not allowed inside buses, trains, restaurants, schools, stores or offices, but they literally light up just outside the doors. Compared to what we have experienced in the US, I'd say that smoking seems to be on the rise here.

On a personal level, before moving here, all three of us would get an instant headache when we came in contact with cigarette smoke, which was pretty infrequently. But now, after living here just a little over a month, we encounter cigarette smoke multiple times a day and no longer react quite so strongly to it. That's not a good thing, but it is a fact of life.

Below is my poem about smoking.
Picture taken just outside the doors to local Johnson & Johnson office building.

a life sentence
is a drag
nails in a coffin
©2017, Bridget Magee. All Rights Reserved.

Street Appeal

Canton Zug is very wealthy. It has the lowest tax rate in all of Switzerland. As such, it attracts many international corporations, such as:
Roche (where Joe works)
Johnson & Johnson
plus many, many more.

Along with corporations, Zug attracts wealthy individuals who can benefit from the low tax rate as well. For the most part, individual wealth is subtle except when it comes to their choice in cars (and real estate, but that is another post). We've only been here a month and we have seen some of the most expensive cars available driving down the street. We've seen:
Aston Martin
Rolls Royce
Alfa Romeo
BMW and Mercedes (models that Joe's never seen in the US)
*PGO = Joe's next car.

With all that horsepower (wow, some of those engines are loud!) and precision handling, you might not think that people would drive their luxury vehicles to bip around town, but they do. And it must be frustrating for them because just when they get their speed up, they may have to stop on a dime for a pedestrian.
Swiss crosswalks are sacred. If there is a person crossing the street, the cars MUST stop. And they actually do! Thank goodness for high performance brakes.

Today's poem looks at the bright side of stopping for pedestrians and traffic. Enjoy! Oh, and if you feel so inclined, share your 'dream' car in the comments then I'll be on the look out for it on the streets of Zug.