Harsh Warnings

I know I have mentioned the prevalence of smoking here in Switzerland on my blog before. I apologize for coming back around to this subject, but it is never far from my mind because the smell of cigarettes is never far from my nose when I am out in public.

Smokers account for a lot of litter here in Zug - not only their cigarette butts, but also their cigarette boxes. I see empty cigarette boxes more often than any other form of litter. One reason they catch my eye is the startling graphic pictures on the boxes warning of the dangers of smoking.

Apparently the Swiss government implemented the policy to put health warnings on all cigarette packages in January 2010. The warnings must cover "48% of the front and 63% of the back of all cigarette packages".

On the front of the cigarette packs that I have seen is this warning, written in three languages: German, French, and Italian:
Translated: "Smoking is deadly."

And below is a small sampling of some of the disturbing graphic warnings that grace the back of the packages - again, accompanied by text written in three languages:
Translated: "Protect children - Do not smoke in their presence."

Translation: "Smoking can lead to circulatory disorders and causes impotence."

Translation: "Smoking leads to blockage of the blood vessels and causes heart attacks and strokes."

Translation: "Smoke contains benzene, nitrosamines, formaldehyde, and hydrocyanic acid."

Translation: "Medical professionals help you to quit smoking."

Being in a new country, surrounded by a new culture, has heightened my observational skills. It has also revealed my ignorance about cigarette packaging in the US. The only thing I know about US cigarette packages is that they have to have the Surgeon General's warning. Beyond that, I have no idea if they use graphic pictures.  Either way, no one can claim that they haven't been properly warned of the dangers of smoking.

My poem is about the power of addiction despite knowing the risks:

boxed warnings
don't extinguish
the compulsion
©2018, Bridget Magee. All Rights Reserved.

Sign of the Times

In a previous post I mentioned a perceived baby boom happening here in Zug. I have no hard evidence or statistics to back up my theory except the fact that I see A LOT of little people (and their pregnant mamas) all over town. (...in all kinds of weather, it should be noted.)

Another anecdotal piece of evidence is the many signs stuck to houses, apartment balconies, and barns announcing new babies. And when I say many, I mean 10+ on some apartment buildings!

The signs usually have the child's name and birth date displayed for the world to see. Some are animals, like the one above.

Some are Disney characters:
Pooh announcing the arrival of a lot of poo?

Some are cute kid characters:
View zoomed in...
...and on the building.

My favorite is the one that is a replica of a local brewery sign for Baarer Bier.
Instead of holding steins of beer, the little guy is holding bottles.

Real sign on the side of a restaurant.

Actual brewery in adjacent city of Baar.

From an American parent point of view, I see some safety issues with announcing where you live and the name and age of your child, but things are different in Switzerland. For all their rules and harsh punishments (real and rumored), it feels pretty safe here.

And for those of you who have not heard the song, Sign of the Times by Harry Styles, here it is for your listening pleasure. The world he depicts in his song is nothing like Switzerland, but it is still one of my favorites.

Not that any of my poetry can compete with the likes of Mr. Styles, but here is a tiny poem about the 'sign of the times' happening in Switzerland:

signs seen 
both far and near
animals, Disney, 
and of course, beer

names displayed
for the world to see
announcing the arrival
of a new baby

©2018, Bridget Magee. All Rights Reserved.

After only 2 Hours and 2 Trains...

...we were in Germany!

On Saturday, Joe, Maureen and I did a day trip to Konstanz, Germany. This border city is popular not only as a shopping destination for Swiss looking for bargains, but it is also a beautiful historical city on the banks of the Lake Konstanz, the third largest lake in Central Europe.
City by the lake.
My cuties on the lake shore.
And it is home to a really cool aquarium. We saw fish...

Jellies, no peanut butter.

...and rays...
They fly...
...and glide.

...and sea turtles.

But the best part of the aquarium was the penguins!
Smidgey's spirit animal. Small head + big belly = cuteness.
Practically twins with the penguins!
Joe, Mo, and a cool penguin bro.

After our fishy fun it was time to shop. We checked out the stores in the mall...

...and in Altstadt. (old town)

Fancy fountain.

We didn't buy this:
For obvious reasons, I think.

But we did buy this:
Hand trolley!

I am SO excited about this purchase! Now I can do more shopping at once - no more oversized bag slung over my shoulder threatening my spine alignment! And, it was a fraction of the cost of the ones we've seen here in Switzerland.

Being a 'shopping tourist' does have its down side - customs duty. The  Swiss Federal Customs Administration describes customs duty as “indirect taxes that are levied on goods that are brought into the Swiss customs territory.” Luckily what we bought on Saturday was well below the legal limit: "dutiable amounts kick in above 300 francs per person, per day."

Today's poem is a limerick about our mini adventure:
On Saturday we crossed the border
To see fish and shop, in that order
Bought a two-wheeled cart
In a German city mart
To save my back from disorder
©2018, Bridget Magee. All Rights Reserved.


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.

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.

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 
©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.  

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.