Showing posts from August, 2010

Coming home to a hot lunch

Last week's spontaneous lunch at my neighbor's house prompted this post. Here in the German part of Switzerland, it's as if time stood still. School children and husbands come home to a hot lunch. This tradition is a wonderful one, as it brings families together around a table, and parents can provide a balanced meal in the middle of the day.
There is something comforting about walking by an open window around 11 a.m. and detecting the evidence of a stew cooking. The downside is that someone has to stay home and cook that meal--every single day. And if that person has a job other than being a housewife, this duty can become a burden.
So lunch at at my neighbor's went something like this. We were seated around the table, the wife, her husband and their two foster children. My two children were there as well, as they eat there twice a week, allowing me extra time to write.
It all started out with a simple green salad with tomatoes and a yogurt dressing, followed by a mai…

Why isn't there a cat tax?

"Go to the Commune and pay SFr 90 annual dog tax" is one of the annoying items on my "to do" list. I find the tax unfair, considering cat owners get off scot-free. It reminds me of the US tax on wine but not beer. Americans don't tax beer as much as wine, because beer is, supposedly, a working man's drink. Isn't wine better for you and has anyone talked to a construction worker in Montpellier about this? Don't get me going on this subject...

I feel slightly better paying my dog tax knowing that the Commune actually uses the money to supply us, dog owners, with green "robidog" boxes or dispensers of little plastic bags for picking up after one's pet. So, at least the money isn't wasted on new highways.

This brings me to another topic: dog ownership laws.

Did you know that if you are a dog owner, you are required to have your dog implanted with a microchip and registered with the Animal Identity Service (ANIS) database in Bern?


Swiss table manners matter

The Swiss are very manners conscious. Even in schools, children are required to greet their teachers with a handshake and eye contact. When my children's friends come over, I am always pleasantly surprised by their good table manners and their use of please (bitte) and thank you (danke). Shortly before leaving, a Swiss child will come over to me, stick out a hand and thank me for the visit.

Here are some Swiss table manners:

Be on time.
Always wait for everybody to be served before beginning to eat.
All meals are usually started with the words "bon appetit" or "guten Appetit."
If wine is served, wait until the host begins the toast.
When toasting, chink your glass with everybody at the table and look each person in the eyes before drinking.
Keep your wrists on the table, but never your elbows. Do not place your hands in your lap.
Remember to always say please and thank you.
French bread is always torn rather than cut with a knife.
Lift your forearm from the table while…

Let's talk rubbish!

Having just returned to Switzerland from our summer vacation in the USA, I am relieved to be sorting my trash again. I know this sounds strange. It just feels good knowing that I am doing my part in a system that actually works.
Look at the numbers: The USA recycles 32.5% of total waste, compared to 60% in Austria (the highest score in the EU), and 10% in Greece. Switzerland comes out ahead with 76% of waste recycled (source:

One reason for the USA's bad score could be that it is a land of consumers, when one considers that the average American generates 4.6 pounds of trash per day! The primary reason for the USA's mediocre score isa lack of incentive to recycle, and a lack of trust in inconvenient recycling systems.


Switzerland creates an incentive to recycle by taxing garbage bags. This is where I think the USA can learn from Switzerland. In Switzerland, trash bags cost A LOT. For example, a roll of ten gray 35-liter trash bags cost SFr. 19 or $…

Helping the honey bees

The other day, my neighbor's husband gave me two jars of his bees' honey. An electrician-by-day and a beekeeper-by-night, my neighbor's husband maintains a beehive. It's located on land behind my house. The jars were a thank you for allowing him to park on my land and to walk through my garden in order to more easily tend to his bees. Beekeeping is physically demanding and requires lifting items that may weigh over 20 kilograms.
Further steps I have taken to ensure healthy bees:
Keep certain parts of my garden un-mowed to provide wild flowers for the bees;
Never spray insecticide;
Plant lavender and other flowering trees, bushes, and plants. I care about bees. Without them, there would be no pollination. And without pollination, we would no longer have food. It is said that consuming honey from local bees improves hay fever.

Something very un-Swiss just happened

To be fair, I would like to mention an American quality I like: spontaneity. While typing this sentence, Murphy's Law hit, and something very un-Swiss just happened. Elsbeth, my neighbor across the street, called and invited me for lunch--and it's 12:08 (the Swiss sit down to eat at 12:00)! Crazy! I'm accepting, as this kind of invitation may never come again.

In shock! I will return later.

(2 hours later) 

As I sit down to write about the lunch, my friend Vreni stopped by without calling first. Then, her sister and mother came, and we shared a coffee together. I think I will stop generalizing!

On-the-dot punctuality

Holding both American and Swiss passports has become more of a hindrance than a priviledge. Besides having to file and pay taxes in two countries, I can only think of four possible advantages: You can breeze through airport immigration lines at both ends;
you can buy real estate in either country without too much trouble; and
you can work in both countries as well as throughout the EU. Another privilege of dual citizenship--and a more subtle one at that-- is getting to know and cherry pick lifestyle traditions and habits from each country. One personal favorite is punctuality. Although, I had to learn it the hard way.

When my daughter was in the first grade, she was expected to show up at a sports day competition at her school scheduled to begin at 8:30 a.m. I got her there at 8:30 a.m., only to realize that the other children had already been divided into groups and had already begun their warm-up exercises. For the next 10-15 minutes, my visibly upset daughter and I watched her classm…