Showing posts from 2016

Health benefits and disadvantages of Swiss alpine living

About a year ago, a reader emailed me asking about the health benefits of living in the Swiss Alps as well as its disadvantages. I’m no doctor, but I do have opinions on the matter that some of you might find helpful. So here we go. (People love lists anyway.)

Health benefits:

fresh air - Good for the lungs; great for asthmatics
dryness - Good for people with dust mite and mold allergies
clean water out of the tap - I end up drinking more water
beautiful views promote physical activity and gratitude - Looking out the window at a clear blue sky and mountain peaks entices me out of the house; the beauty of nature reminds me of life's beauty; easier to feel grateful when surrounded by beauty
lots of sport opportunities - Hiking, mountain biking, mountain climbing, river rafting, downhill skiing, ski touring on skins, cross country skiing, swimming if near a good pool, etc...
silence - I sleep better without the sound of traffic; it's soothing to the nerves and conducive to meditation an…

Self-responsibility increases freedom

The USA is known as the "land of the free," but I believe Switzerland wins here. Yes, it has its laws, and everyone is insured to the max. Yet despite this, the Swiss have a lot of personal freedom. They have the liberty to judge if what they are doing is safe and to do so at their own risk.

Much is left to their personal judgment and responsibility. I believe this is what makes Switzerland more fun--and less expensive--than the USA.

Regarding fun: for one, Switzerland still has diving boards. The powers-that-be at our beach club in Newport, Rhode Island, removed the diving board, a source of amusement during our childhood summers. Perhaps, they did so due to its proximity to the bar. Wait! We were children and certainly not allowed at the bar. Secondly, you can walk a dog off the leash as long as it's voice controlled. This would be unheard of in the USA, where dog owners are treated like second-class citizens. Thirdly, you can ski down a mountain at night after consumi…

When cities control the countryside

We will most likely lose our hospital due to a recent referendum that resulted in 66% of voters in our canton rejecting an initiative to keep regional hospitals open. And this is despite 80% of voters in our area voting otherwise.

The cities just don't want to subsidize the countrysides. Sadly, these urbanites don't realize what this means. Such a closure will bring us back to the days when people died of minor health complications.

Take my grandfather's brother, for example. He died of a ruptured appendix while attempting to walk the 45 minutes from Lauenen to the Saanen Hospital. It was the 1930's and his parents had both died of the Spanish Flu. His older half-brother--who was now head of household--had refused to give him taxi fare (the only car in the village belonged to the postman).

This means that if you are in our village and break your leg, suffer a rupturing appendix or a stroke, you will have to get yourself to the closest city hospital, which could take yo…

Collecting tax the Swiss way

Last Saturday, the call came in from a cell phone. I didn't quite make out his name, as he said it so fast, but I managed to catch that he was calling from the "Gemeinde" or city government. It seemed like a hoax until he asked: "Do you still have your dog?"

Oops, I thought. "Yes, yes, yes," I said. "Yes, Bizzi is still with us. I am so sorry. I keep forgetting to come down to pay my dog tax."

"Are you at home tomorrow?" he asked.

"You, you... work on Sundays?" I asked.

"Yes," he said. "The whole day."

"Well... let's see. Yes.. It's Sunday... we plan to go skiing at 9:30am. Can you come at 9am?

"In Ordnung," he said. "I will come at 9am. Have CHF 120 ready." He didn't mention that CHF 30 of the amount was a fine for failing to pay the tax before the August deadline. As we are in the USA in the summer, I don't see the small reminder notice in the legals. And that…

Shame, humility, confidence, arrogance

"Americans are arrogant," a Swiss friend told me one day.

"You mean confident," I said, feeling defensive and very American in that moment. "The Swiss are so ashamed, they get in their own way." (By the way, being both American and Swiss, I usually defend whichever country I am not in physically.)

Since that conversation, I began reading books on shame and self-esteem and discovered that shame is the basis of addiction and leads to unhealthy behaviors and relationships.

One such book, written by shame and vulnerability researcher Dr. BrenĂ© Brown says: "Shame is the intensely painful feeling that we are unworthy of love and belonging. It’s the most primitive human emotion we all feel—and the one no one wants to talk about. If left to its own devices, shame can destroy lives."

So if shame is bad, what is humility?

The Oxford American Dictionary defines humility as "the quality of having a modest or low view of one's importance." With …

The handshake sucks but not for religious reasons

A recent Facebook post on kisses and hugs led to a discussion on shaking hands in Switzerland. The handshake in Swiss public schools is a requirement that could land you a CHF 5,000-fine if you refuse to do it.

It all started with the image of a young girl and the words:
“I am five. My body is my body. Don’t force me to kiss or hug. I am learning about consent and your support on this will help me keep myself safe for the rest of my life."
One person wrote that she agreed with the above words but that the same should apply to shaking hands.

"Don’t come to Switzerland then," I replied.

"Woah," she replied.

To illustrate my point, I shared recent news articles regarding two Muslim schoolboys who refused to shake their female teacher's hand. They said that Islam prohibits physical contact with the opposite sex unless with immediate family. At first, the school exempted the students, which caused an uproar, as this exemption was deemed discriminatory against w…

Switzerland is dog friendly

It's dog heaven here. You can take your furry friend nearly everywhere: in most restaurants, trains, buses, some shops, etc... And if they don't allow your dog inside, most shops provide leash hooks outside, allowing you to shop while Rover waits. You can even take your dog to work if your employer has pooch-friendly company regulations like NestlĂ©.

The best part is that you can walk your dog off the leash, as long as you can "voice control" it. Warning: this is tricky. Your dog must be really good at this. One policewoman nearly ticketed me for having my dog off the leash, but when she saw that my dog came when I called, she complimented me.

I believe strongly that keeping dogs with their owners most of the day socializes them, making them less shy, bored and aggressive than those dogs that are locked up at home all day.

Where my mother lives in the USA, local ordinances require people to keep their dogs on leashes in parks and on beaches. These ordinances are creat…

The customer is always wrong

There are times when I miss the US. And one of those times is when I'm shopping.

Yesterday, my daughter and I went to a Swisscom shop in the French speaking part of Switzerland to pick up her repaired cell phone. When we entered the shop, we passed three sales people who failed to look at us or even say hello, despite the fact that they were not working with customers.

Finally, after spending twenty minutes in queue, we were told to sit down and wait for the repair girl. We waited and waited. Then, the repair girl told us that the phone remained broken and that the extra insurance I had purchased was no longer valid. I explained that when we had brought the phone in September, it had been 10 days before the coverage period had expired. The repair girl questioned my integrity when I told her that the broken phone had been with them for nearly two months.

"How do I know you're telling the truth," she said, crossing her arms across her chest. " I have no paperwork …

Gender issues in the Alps

Recent talk of gender issues reminds me of the time I told my Swiss grandfather I was applying to college and he asked: "Why the hell would you want to do that? What do you want to be... a professor? Better marry a man with 20 cows." He clearly did not see the value in a woman being educated.

Fifteen years later, after our move to the Swiss Alps in 2002, I noticed that nearly all our female neighbors stayed home and did not have jobs. Then one day, I overheard a female neighbor criticize another who had just gotten a part-time job.

"Who does she think she is? She thinks she's better than all of us," she said. "Her husband works hard and brings home a good wage, and this is how she thanks him! She doesn't even have time to cook a proper lunch for her family. She's just greedy."

Being a "Hausfrau" in the Alps, I learned, is definitely a job and a highly-regarded one at that. But when a friend from university once asked me: "what d…

Sunshine, vitamins and clouds in the mountains

Last week, an email from a Belgian reader arrived. He wanted to know how much sun we get here in the Swiss Alps, and whether or not the mountains keep the clouds away. I wasn't sure, but I did understand the importance of sunshine, as I had started taking vitamin D-3 after listening to a James Altucher podcast with Dr. Sanjiv Chopra, who warned of vitamin D-3 deficiency.

You might already know this, but in case you don't: Vitamin D-3 is the stuff your body makes when it is exposed to sunshine, and it's been touted to ward off diseases like cancer, diabetes, multiple sclerosis,  and depression.

So, after googling around, I learned that certain places in the Swiss Alps are sunnier than others. Zermatt, for example, sees the most amount of sunshine in Switzerland, with 62% of its days being sunny (according the The Valais town of Sion comes in second at 58%. Then I noticed that Junfraujoch, which is really high in altitude, only scores a 46% or just a…

Peeing standing up, flushing and showering after 10PM

In Switzerland, more people live in apartments than houses. According to a Eurostat report, approximately 52% of people live in flats, 25% in detached and semi-detached houses and 2% in "other". I wonder that that other is... tree houses? tents? on the street? I wonder if that 2% has to be considerate of its neighbors.

So for fun, I looked up silly Swiss laws on line. I learned that the ban on flushing the toilet or peeing standing up after 10PM is an urban myth. I also learned that the restriction on bathing after 10PM has loosened and that no one can actually forbid you from taking a shower after that time, but it is recommended that bathing be kept to less than 20 minutes.

Apartments have gotten better insulated which explains the relaxation of this law. A friend, who lives in an old apartment in Lausanne, told me that he can hear his upstairs neighbor's every step. He has asked her to refrain from using her clogs or heels in the night but she refuses to do so.

So, if…

Focusing on things that really matter in politics

One of the reasons I love living in Switzerland is that politics here focus on things that really matter. You rarely hear about the sex life of politicians, their emails, or their emotionally disturbed and racist views. Here, the attention is placed on practical and constructive issues, and citizens get to vote on them.

Take one of the 2012 referendums, for example. It focused on music and youth. How cool is it that 73% of the Swiss voters chose to amend their constitution by including an article to promote music education?

This article encourages the cantonal and federal governments to provide music education, of high quality, at all levels in public schools, to ensure access to music education in specialized music schools for all children, regardless of their social or financial background. The article also ensures the financial and educational support of young talented musicians.

The Swiss get it. They focus on what's good for their country. And an educated youth is good for th…

Is friendliness such a good thing?

The first thing my kids and I noticed being back in the USA for the summer vacation is that people here are so friendly. People on the street actually say hello and smile. They are courteous at four-way stop signs (something you would never see in Switzerland).

One day, while I was driving around a full parking lot, I was shocked when a woman going in the opposite direction pointed to her left and said: "There's a spot available over there."

And then, the checkout guy at Stop & Shop asked my Swiss friend and I what language we were speaking (German). "Cool! I've always wanted to go to Switzerland," he said. My Swiss friend looked at me with amazement.

I think there are advantages to friendliness. It makes people feel good. It creates a pleasant atmosphere. It affirms others. People are attracted to smiling and kind people.

There's a downside, however, and I am beginning to understand why the Swiss are considered to be so aloof and--hence--unfriendly…