The Dirtiest Word

For the most part, I really like the medical system here in Switzerland. See my previous postabout delivering a baby here. And when I had my gallbladder out five weeks after that, I thoroughly enjoyed my stay. My hospital even sent me a Christmas card. Josh says he thinks they are trying to drum up business. “Remember us if you have other extraneous organs to remove. And Merry Christmas too.” I think it’s more like the time we spent so much at Cabela’s that we qualified as a corporate client and were sent a ham. I am probably in the top ten percent of guests for the hospital- not the best but certainly a frequent visitor.

The one part of Swiss health care that I do not like? The pharmacy. Ahh, the Swiss pharmacy. It sounds amazing. Many people love it because they can get all sorts of cosmetics there that you cannot get in the States. I’ll admit it. I love some of their products. If it were simply a cosmetic store, I would give it an A+. But as a pharmacy, it is somewhere in the D range. What makes a good pharmacy? Well, the first qualification is a drive through but alas, that will not happen in Switzerland so I will forget about that. No, I like my pharmacy to be efficient, organized and helpful. Our neighborhood pharmacy is none of these things.

I have a prescription I need to get filled every month for a year. I went into the pharmacy to get a refill in July. The pharmacist asked for the paper prescription that my doctor had written. I gave her the benefit of the doubt. It was a little confusing because my mom had filled it for me in June while I was in the hospital. So maybe this lady needed to see the paper copy to verify the prescription. Sure. Then August came. I went back in to get my refill, presented my insurance card and ID to a different pharmacist and was told that she needed to see the paper copy. I said, “No, it’s in the system.”

She said, “No, our system does not keep track of prescriptions and refills.”

So I said, “But they typed it in the computer last time.”

She replied, “Yes, I see that you have gotten this filled twice here but I cannot give you a refill without the paper copy of the prescription”

To which I said, “In America, they keep that information in the computer.”

At which point she informed me that the Swiss system was completely different than the American one. I almost said, “Yes, obviously since you cannot even keep an Excel sheet of my refills.” But I bit my tongue and unfortunately I got a little teary. The nice pharmacist then informed me she would be happy to sell me these other medicines I had brought to the counter but could not refill my prescription. Please note, these other medicines? Baby shampoo.

Prescriptions in general are different here. I asked my doctor to write me a refill for my medication a week before I was leaving on a trip. She called me and said she had written it and would mail it to me. I offered to pick it up but she had already put it in the mail. Doctors do not call prescriptions into the pharmacy here. They write them on paper, then you take them to the pharmacy who may or may not keep the medicine in stock and then you can get it filled. And then you keep a tiny piece of paper somewhere safe so you remember where it is next month. As a doctor friend of mine said, American patients would never get their medications refilled if it required all this work.

The Swiss, ironically, seem to hate efficiency. It is a dirty word here. I know. I know. They basically invented clocks and their train systems are second to none in terms of timing. But everything here seems to require extra steps. For instance, there is no such thing as auto billing here. We get bills in the mail and have to pay them ourselves. Simple enough, right? But each bill has a twenty digit reference code and account number and we have to key in all of it in order for our bank to pay the bill. Like I’ve mentioned, there are no drive-throughs. Dry cleaning takes a week. To be fair, they do have grocery delivery. But refrigerators are small and thus, you have to do your shopping every day or every other day. Stores are closed on Sundays and from 12-2 every day for lunch. Even my Internet slows down between 12 and 2.

I’m torn about this. On one hand, I’d like someone to usher in the twenty-first century with our super fast cell phone banking and drive through everythings and double-wide refrigerators. But it is probably good for me to move a little slower. Don’t get me wrong. I love convenience. But I also appreciate quality– of food, of life. Yes, things are slow but they are also prettier. We might have to shop multiple times a week but our markets are gorgeous and the food is delicious. And while we tend to want to export all of our good ideas, the Genevois (and I) might not think all our ideas are good. I’ll admit, when I go back to the States, I question our noise level, our willingness to have phone conversations anywhere (anywhere!), our obsession with being connected, anything other than silence. I understand that each culture has its strengths and weaknesses. I go back and forth about efficiency but I do know that if I move back to the States, I will never take it for granted again.

My friend Cheryl, another Geneva resident, sent me this article when I was describing it to her. It’s by a man who lived in France. He describes better than anyone what I have experienced:

“Efficiency for the French is a poor measure of the good life, just as making a buck from the sale of a house pales before the expression of feeling about what a house may represent. Whether this is good or bad hardly matters. It is often bad for the French economy. It is also a fact of life.”

It is a fact of life and I’m almost used to it. Sundays used to stress me out because I would worry I wouldn’t have food for dinner. We discovered our local Thai food restaurant is open on Sundays and that gave me enough peace to actually enjoy Sundays. I still try to do my grocery shopping in advance but I know that if I can’t get to it or burn everything, we can always eat delicious Pad Thai.

To finish my story, I went home, found the paper prescription and filled it elsewhere. I still have to keep the paper copy. It was a small victory. It might be a minor amount and I may be more tolerant of the French/Swiss lifestyle now but I am not giving it to the pharmacy from the fifties. Maybe if they get Windows 4.

Bill Clinton and Madonna Walk into a Bar

I got my hair cut last weekend. It’s not very exciting. It’s a lob (a long bob) and I like it. But like every experience here in Geneva, it was fraught with cultural and language differences. I had wanted to get my hair cut for awhile but was a little nervous about having it done here. To my credit, all of the pictures in the windows of the many coiffure shops around town look VERY European. And not classy European. More like punk rock meets Sprockets European. I just couldn’t trust a salon that advertised asymmetrical purple hair. So, I looked for a recommendation online. Apparently I am not alone. Many women (and some men) on the ex-pat websites expressed concern. We are very worried about our hair. But I found one that declared her undying love for an English speaking hair stylist. So I called the salon. I got through the first sentence “I would like to make an appointment” but then got lost. As the receptionist went to find an English speaker, I realized she was asking “with whom?” I feel like that is progress. I did not know what she was saying in the moment but it took me less time to translate than usual. I credit Duolingo, a great free app on my phone that is teaching me French. Anyway, I made an appointment with an English speaking stylist and waited until Saturday.

Armed with a picture from Pinterest, I showed up at the salon Saturday afternoon. Everyone looked pretty normal. They washed my hair like a normal salon and we spoke in French about what I wanted my hair to look like. I was even able to share that I would like it not quite as short as the picture. Thank you Duolingo. Then the stylist pulled out the clippers. Not scissors. The thing I saw my mother use to cut my brothers hair. I must have looked panicked because the stylist reassured me (at least I think that is what she was saying) and began to cut. For some reason, she used the clippers for the entire cut. And none of it is that short. Maybe she’s more comfortable with them. But I was terrified. I thought for sure I’d end up with my head shaved in parts. But I did not. 

I generally don’t like talking to my hair stylist. Usually I dread the questions about children or jobs or travel. But I was eager to use my French so I happily answered questions and even asked a few of my own. I’m sure I sounded terrible but we understood one another. I am grateful that early French lessons cover vocabulary like “I have a son. He is two.” I can also say “The man eats an apple” but that was not relevant to our conversation.

The male stylist next to us was cutting the hair of a Spanish woman. They spoke in English about her son and her husband. This was helpful when my stylist asked me a question I did not understand. He could translate. Then another man left the salon and he must have been the owner because the stylists changed the music after he left. “Now,” said the male stylist, “I turn on the best musical artist of all time.” Then he added “American!” for my benefit. I assumed Michael Jackson. I was wrong. “Like a Virgin” began playing over the speakers. “She is American, yes?” he asked. I assured him Madonna is American though I had to think about it. She does that fake British accent thing which made me second guess myself. Then he told me a Bill Clinton joke. I had heard it before but it was funnier coming from a Swiss man. It was almost like I was in America. Then he referenced the disco.

At least I like my haircut.

Reading 2014 Update #1

Last year, I met my (revised) New Year’s resolution to read 52 books in a year. I decided not to attempt such a goal again this year. I loved many of the books I ended up reading but also found myself reading quickly just to get through a book and not choosing books based on their value but just to read them. So, this year, I changed my goal to read a classic every month. How do you determine a classic? If it’s been on reading lists or is frequently cited by other authors or professors, if it’s old? I just decided to choose books that would make me a more well-read, well-rounded person. And books that I wish I read so I could contribute more to conversations, recommendations, my children’s lives, etc. Or if it had the words “Classic” or “Literature” on the cover.

Since it is May, I have completed four. In January, I read The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway. February was The Complete Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. March was Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf and April’s pick was The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. I was determined to read Bleak House in May but that might not be a good book to read when you’re waiting for a baby to arrive. What have I learned so far? That I somehow missed a lot of great books growing up. I never expected to enjoy Sherlock Holmes or Huck Finn as much as I did. I also learned I am not a Woolf fan. Several times I wanted to throw the book against the wall but kept reading because I wanted to tell people I finished it.

I’ve read a number of other books so far this year and won’t list all of them but here are a few favorites:

1. The Garden of Burning Sand by Corban Addison- Much like his first book, this one tackles a major global issue, namely violence against the poor. Set in Zambia, the story was very compelling and the topic broke my heart. Read it and see recommendation 3.

2. Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver- Beautiful picture of Southwest Virginia and incredible questions about the meaning of faith, science and the relationship between them.

3. The Locust Effect by Gary Haugen- The title of this book comes from the American Midwest. Haugen describes how no matter how much work people put into their farms, how well they managed their assets and used their knowledge, a single swarm of locusts could randomly appear and wipe out an entire year’s crop, causing the family to lose their income for the year and often spiral into debt. Haugen argues this is the same effect that violence has on the poor. Until we figure out how to address the incredibly unequal rates of violent incidents against the poor, all aid and charity work will be hampered. My only frustration with the book was that I walked away feeling helpless to do anything about it since I am neither a lawyer nor enforcement officer.

4. Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson- Several people recommended this to me after I shared my love of The Hotel Between Bitter and Sweet. I loved the story, the imagery of the Northwest, the history and the characters. I was very sad to finish this book.

5. The Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett- The story of a woman who goes to a home run by nuns to assist women who are pregnant and unmarried. Each character was a richly developed individual with their own motives. I found the story compelling though the ending was not my favorite.

Currently I am reading: Bleak House, Strange Glory (Charles Marsh’s in-depth, extensive biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer) and Dancing in the Glory of Monsters (about the wars in the Congo since 1996). The last one is on pause though because I am having enough trouble sleeping.

Down to the Wire

I am 37 weeks pregnant and am really hoping to not have to be pregnant too much longer. I am just not a good pregnant person. Our friend recently shared how nice his wife was while she was with child. Josh and I laughed out loud. I’ll admit, I’m a little scared to give birth in a hospital here. Mostly I’m worried I’ll end up in an operating room with people yelling things in French and German and I will not know what is going on and they will amputate a leg or something. The hospitals are really not bad. In fact they are so nice that people want to stay in them for as long as possible. They are like hotels. I know this because their websites have sections about room service and pictures of the gardens you can stroll through while recovering from childbirth. A friend’s son had his adenoids removed at our hospital and she swears that the dinner was the best meal she’s ever had in Geneva.

My doctor has been nothing but wonderful. She was very excited when I came in to see her the first time. When I saw our little one on the ultrasound screen, I said, “Wow. There’s the heart. That is amazing.” And she, in her Swiss German/French/English accent said, “Yes, it is amazing” and paused for a moment to enjoy the miracle with me. She has been very low key about everything. In the States, I think I saw my obstetrician every 2-4 weeks depending on how far along I was. Here I have seen her roughly every 6 weeks and even in the last two months of my pregnancy, I will see her once or twice. The only supplement I have been given is Iron and Folic Acid, a change from the US prenatal horse pills (that I still take) that cover every vitamin and mineral ever deemed to have a positive effect on a human.

Support from others has been positive as well. I was relieved to find that women in France (and therefore Switzerland) don’t discuss their deliveries. This is dramatically different from the U.S. where every woman (or many women) shares her story. I’ve also found that my other European/British friends don’t feel a need to share how their children arrived in the world, simply that they did. I’m not sure if it is discretion on the part of the Brits and Europeans or more of a disclosure problem in the U.S. As someone who had a caesarean, I found myself regularly wanting to jump into conversations about births and explain why I required a c-section. I became defensive and frustrated with myself for somehow not having the perfect birth. But here, no one ever asks me how Forest was born. They just know he’s here and that is that.

And the larger medical system has been nothing but good to us here. After Christmas, I had a scare with this pregnancy. Being a discrete person, I will just say I needed to go to the emergency room to be checked out. I thought to myself, “This will be the worst experience ever. This will be another reason to hate this place.” But everyone was wonderful. I called my doctor who answered her phone on the night after Christmas. She told me to go to the large University hospital and gave me her personal cell phone number to keep her informed. We went and they directed us to their special very nice maternity emergency room. There we were met by nurses who could speak some English and between that and my French, we filled out the necessary forms. Within ten minutes, they had the ultrasound out and found the heartbeat. Josh texted my dad to tell him the relieving news and my dad, a physician in the states, reminded us, “In the U.S. you’d still be filling out paperwork.” Twenty minutes later, we walked out the door having seen a doctor and been issued a clear bill of health and not paying anything. In fairness, they did send us a bill later but it was much lower than what I expected. When I woke up at 8 am the next morning, I saw I had missed two calls from my doctor. She had called to check on me twice, two days after Christmas. I ended up putting “Medical System” in the pro column for Geneva.

So I probably have no reason to be afraid of delivering this little one here. It is different to not feel so monitored but there’s also an empowering side to that. I will be able to say I gave birth on two continents and in two very different systems. That’s a pretty cool thing. And I’m confident there will be some cultural miscommunication which will give me something else to blog about. Looking forward to it for so many reasons.

Bad Boys, Bad Boys

Ahh the intro to Cops. Who can forget it? I had my first non-canine-related encounter with the police today. While it was a nice study in cultural differences, I could have done without it. Today was my blood glucose screening test. For those of you who have never endured such a test, let me describe it. The doctor takes some blood, makes you drink a bottle of the most sugary substance you can think of excluding actual maple syrup. It’s sort of like drinking orange Kool Aid mixed with two extra cups of sugar. (Side note- the Kool Aid man has received multiple mentions on popular television lately. I smell a comeback).

But, back to the test. After you drink this substance, you stumble down the hallway to the waiting room and try not to vomit or pass out while the baby kicks you like crazy because he or she has just received the most sugar he or she has ever had in his or her life. I tried to read news on my phone but had trouble focusing on longer stories. I got that Russia is annexing Crimea, the plane is still missing and more people have signed up for health insurance. Pretty good for a blood sugar high reading of the news. Then after an hour, they draw your blood again. At this point, I was also give an iron profusion (that’s what the doctor called it but I think something may have been lost in translation). Then I was escorted back to the waiting room where I read my Real Simple (which I have to bring with me because the French magazines are tough to read and are all about parties or what to wear to work if you are a female politician). After two hours and another blood draw, I was permitted to leave. I love my doctor but I left with multiple bandaids on each arm because of all the various treatments and tests. I was also late to get home to let the babysitter leave. 

All of this meant I was ready to go. I got in my car, paid for my two hours of parking and left the garage. Now, the lanes are confusing coming out of this particular garage and I thought I had my own lane. Apparently I did not. I cut off an unmarked van, resulting in loud honking and angry gestures from a man wearing what I thought was a security guard uniform. I am getting used to the angry drivers here so I kept driving. He pulled up next to me and yelled but I was focused on driving and thought he was just trying to get my attention so he could tell me what a terrible female driver I am. At the next intersection, he was next to me and I finally looked over, ready to hit the gas if this guy was actually dangerous. Then I saw the police patch on his shoulder. So I pulled over.

At this point, he had called back up to help with this crazy driver. So four or five cops got out of their marked cars to back up their colleague. Even as he walked up, I thought, certainly cutting someone off is not a crime. I apologized as I handed over my Swiss drivers license (glad I got that thing in time). Now, maybe this is a ridiculous idea but I figured a very nice, friendly, apologetic six-month-pregnant woman would get a little bit of compassion or understanding. No. He gave instructions to the other officers who then stood around my car and watched me while he radioed something on his shoulder walkie talkie. All I could think was “I have a babysitter at home who I need to call but if I reach for my phone, I’m pretty sure one of you will shoot me (yes, police officers are armed here too).” Ten minutes later, after several people had walked by and shaken their heads at me (what did you do!?! shame! and you’re pregnant! One mother even sort of turned her child away), I was allowed to leave. When I asked what I had done, the English-speaking officer told me that I had been a very, very dangerous driver and almost collided with the police officer’s van. And I did not stop. “There will be a report. You will pay.” I was sort of hoping it would be automatic deportation just because that would make for a great story. But instead I’m left with some sort of report being filed about my very very dangerous driving and some unnamed amount of money due to Switzerland. As we like to semi-joke, it could be ten francs, could be one thousand. I’ll keep you posted. Note: I did have a small amount of blood on my face, I assume from one of my many bandaid applications. I might have called back up after seeing that. But he called it before. Ridiculous.


This post may veer slightly from my generally irreverent observational accounts of life in Geneva. But yesterday, I found a Bible verse that meant so much to me. It’s from the story of Hagar, the servant Sarai sent to Abram to bear his child (that’s probably the simplest version of her biography). Hagar got pregnant and began to despise Sarai and then got sent away by Sarai. An angel found her in the desert and told her to return to Sarai. Then he gave her a great blessing for her soon to be born son Ishmael. Hagar said, You are the God who sees me. 

I have been very moved by the idea of hiddenness. As a mom of a toddler in a country that is not my own, I feel hidden. In Houston, I had a number of friends who I could call up and meet for lunch on a regular basis. Now lunchtime is spent with Forest. In the States, I could go to the grocery store and ask questions or just talk to the cashier. Here I speak much less in public, self-conscious of my French accent (or serious lack thereof). I have made friends but we are all on kid schedules. Nap from 11-1 means meeting for lunch is out. School and activities fight for space on a calendar and coordinating even two toddler schedules can be difficult. And calling my friends in the States must wait until at least 2 pm because of the time change. All this means I spend more time alone or with someone who speaks one word expecting me to understand all that “bird” implies: “A bird flew to the bird feeder and ate and flew away.” Duh. Of course that’s what “bird” means.

But I’m not as bitter about this as I used to be. First of all, Forest is developing more vocabulary every day and it is exciting to hear him try to form sentences. “Nyo (pronoun he uses for himself) fly house Mimi.” But more than that, I have really come to believe that hiddenness is a phase that I am in right now. I used to want to be the Press Secretary of the United States (nerd alert). But many days, I actually learn and do more in silence than in front of others. And because I am in silence as I work and live, it makes me remember why I chose to stay home with Forest and build our little life. And I think that is a gift that is unique to moving to Geneva. I did not spend nearly as much time in silence or solitude in Houston. There was always something to do or someone to spend time with. I can’t explain it and I do not feel this benevolent towards silence most days. But to read that He is the God who sees me, on days when I feel somewhat invisible to the adult world around me, settled my heart. 

I know this post is different than my usual babbling about life in Switzerland. But when I discovered Genesis 16:13, I could not stop thinking about it. And it ties in with one of my favorite Henri Nouwen quotes: “One of the reasons that hiddenness is such an important aspect of spiritual life is that it keeps us focused on God. In hiddenness we must go to God with our sorrows and joy and trust that God will give us what we need… we are inclined to avoid hiddenness. We want to be useful to others and influence the course of events. But as we become visible and popular, we grow dependent on people and their responses and easily lose touch with God, the true source of our being.”

And Ode to the Drive Through

Awhile ago, I decided to change the title of my list. Rather than “Things I Miss about the US,” I have started calling it, “Things I Will Never Take for Granted Again.” It’s a subtle difference but slightly less mournful. Today’s addition to the list? The Drive Through. In Geneva, there are no drive-throughs. There is one in Annemasse which is just across the border in France. It opens at 10:30 and closes at 6 or something. And it is a McDonald’s, not my favorite. I drove through once or twice when I got really homesick but for the most part, I park and go in to every store.

Houston was the opposite. When we lived in Houston, I drove through at least one every day and not just for food- Starbucks, the pharmacy, dry cleaning, the bank, etc. I could basically do everything from the air-conditioned comfort of my car. Once, when we had first moved down from New York, I noticed the line for the drive up ATM was really long so I parked and went into the bank. They did not even have an ATM inside. That is how many people chose to walk in- zero. In New York, no one drives but everything is so dense, you can walk to all these places leaving your toddler in the stroller. I guess parts of Geneva are like New York but it’s a smaller city and things are farther apart. And you have to go to lots of places to get everything you’re looking for- peppers at one, corn chips at another, etc. They just don’t seem to prioritize convenience.

And while I know this driving has led to rises in unhealthy lifestyles and pollution, it is just so easy. I could put Forest in his car seat and get everything done. Each store seems to be separated from one another here and I have to drive to, park, get out, retrieve a cart, get Forest from his car seat, corral him into said cart, go in, run the actual errand, return the shopping cart (because you get your two franc deposit back), put Forest in the car and then leave. I have to allot double or triple the amount of time for errands now. I’ve started ordering groceries online which is helpful because it’s one less store to go to and go through the procedure. And I know this makes me sound like a lazy American (I wish I were not so typical) and I promise that if I get to live in the land of drive throughs again, I will not use this luxury every time. But, maybe like half the time. It would be a lifesaver to just have a drive through ATM. There are many times I’m grateful for the way Geneva has made us slow down and enjoy life at a proper speed- live in the moment, if you will. Unfortunately, I do not really want to live in the moment of getting cash from a machine. Add one to my list of things we should all be grateful for.

School Days

Forest was recently accepted at our neighborhood “jardin d’enfants” which is basically a preschool. I was informed of this via a message in French on my voicemail. My voicemail is funny though and I didn’t realize I even had a message until thirteen days later. I recognized the name and days of the week and was thrilled that they had an opening for Forest. Unfortunately, I got the message over Christmas break which meant an agonizing two weeks of waiting to make sure they had held the spot for him. They had. The director of the school called me back and mercifully spoke to me in English.

“You will bring a deposit of fifty francs, slippers for the feet, pampers and clothes. You will come for a visit on Tuesday and then he can stay by himself for fifteen minutes on Thursday. Then thirty, then forty-five and so on,” the teacher said. I was unsure about the slippers but had heard the Swiss were particular about cleanliness. The deal with the slippers is this: every child must keep a pair of soft soled slippers at the school. They enter the building and immediately change from their outdoor shoes to the slippers. Outdoor shoes do not come in contact with the indoor spaces. This continues into elementary school. Our friends’ ten-year-old son has three pairs of shoes at school on any given day- the shoes he wore to school, slippers for the classroom and sneakers for gym. I have even heard of adult gyms that require different shoes be worn after entering the gym. This is remarkably different from America. I just read a post from Nole on Oh So Beautiful Paper about how her daughter has to wear hard-soled shoes for day care. I think Americans are more concerned about the safety of the children’s feet (and liability for an injury) than the cleanliness of the floors. The Swiss appear to be the opposite. I thought it was another fascinating cultural difference.

Also in contrast to some American preschools, Forest’s preschool requires a gradual entry. The director told me that several parents have complained because they want their children to do the full three hours right away. I was relieved when she told me everyone had to do this gradual entry program- fifteen minutes alone the first time building up to the full three hours. Every child does this schedule and it can be tailored to each child. If separation is an issue, the entry is even more gradual. It’s much more focused on the child’s comfort at the school than the parent’s three hour break. I can’t lie, the first few days I was disappointed that I had to sit in the car and read a book. What else would I do for fifteen or thirty minutes? It was a nice quiet reading break but I was hoping for a little longer. Even as I write this I am watching the clock because Forest is staying an hour and forty-five minutes today and I can’t be late getting him.

The first day (thirty minute visit while I stayed), we went inside and Forest ignored the very nice teacher who was kneeling down to greet him, walked directly into the classroom and began to play with a car. It took some effort to get him to take his shoes and jacket off and say hello to the teachers. As we left our visit, the children were headed outside to play which only made Forest sadder to leave. I had to carry my crying boy back to the car. The next day (fifteen minutes while I waited outside) was worse… for me. I said goodbye three times, kept hoping for at least a little sadness to mark my departure and even went in to give him a kiss. Nothing. He was off doing puzzles with his friends already. I’m pretty sure I was sadder to leave him than he was to be left. I came back in fifteen minutes only to be told no, he was not leaving until his puzzle was done. Fair enough.

Forest going to school has actually really changed my outlook on Geneva. Prior to this, everything I did could be done anywhere in the world- cook, play with Forest, laundry, etc. I was frustrated by how inconvenient things are (have I mentioned there are no drive-throughs in this town?) and felt like my life was made much more difficult by our location. But now that Forest is in preschool and is exposed to French on a regular basis, it has given me something to really appreciate about Geneva. We probably couldn’t find a French preschool in Houston- though we could find a drive-through ATM. But Forest’s exposure to French makes living here more valuable to me. And that is worth a lot more than convenience. Seriously though- no drive up ATMs? You could do everything in a drive through in Houston- banking, dry cleaning, pharmacy, etc. I’m sure I’ll rant more on that later.

Reading Update #3

When I was in eighth grade, my brothers got to participate in Book It. If they each read five books, they would receive a coupon for a personal pan pizza from Pizza Hut. This was a reading incentive program not something my parents dreamed up though it would have been amazing if they had. I was too old to participate, a great disappointment to both the competitor and reader in me. So this year, I made my own. After adjusting for life with a toddler, I decided to set a goal of reading 52 books in 2013. And while there was no personal pan pizza waiting for me, I am proud to say I did it anyway. Here are the last books I read in 2013, ranked by my personal preferences. I have some thoughts about my reading project that I will try to share next week or the following. But here are the books and my thoughts on them.

  1. Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jaime Ford- What I originally thought was a romance turned out to be a coming of age story of a Chinese boy living in Seattle during World War II. His best friend is Japanese and is sent to an internment camp. Alternating between his life during the war and present day, we get to see and imagine what might have been.

  2. Mrs. Buncle’s Book and Mrs. Buncle Married by D.E. Stevenson- These charming books were originally published in 1936 and tell the story of Barbara Buncle, a secret author who must remain secret because she has written about the people of her town, Silverstream, and they are furious. A terrific look at life in small English villages with excellent social commentary.

  3. When You are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris- in case it is not obvious to anyone else, Sedaris is far and away the treasure I discovered in 2013. His stories are laugh-out-loud funny and his wit and sarcasm make me love him. This book is mostly about quitting smoking and living in Japan but was still incredible relatable and readable.

  4. State of Wonder by Ann Patchett- I confess to not knowing much (read: anything) about pharmaceutical research protocols but I loved this story of a woman trapped between two worlds, her lab in Boston and the research of her mentor in the Amazon rainforest. Compelling from beginning to end.

  5. The Paris Wife by Paula Mclain- Historical fiction about Ernest Hemingway and his first wife Katie. Great details about his writing process and their life in Paris. As you can imagine, not the most uplifting book I read this year but really well written.

  6. Monuments Men by Robert Edsel- I had higher hopes for this book which got a little slow in places. The story was fascinating- a group of men sent to Europe to find stolen and hidden artwork as the Third Reich fell.

  7. Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson- Somehow I missed this on the eighth grade reading list but I think I appreciated it more now than I would have back then. As someone who regularly struggled with self-comparison to anyone but especially a talented sibling (or three), this book was almost haunting. It brought up emotions and memories I had not experience in years. Great Young Adult novel that is profound at any age.

  8. The Happiest Toddler on the Block by Harvey Karp- I enjoyed his book about babies so I thought I would read the one about toddlers. His main piece of advice is to remember toddlers brains are not developed like ours. We need to treat them like little cave men- speak slowly, use small words, etc. I felt like that was obvious but as I see more and more parents attempting to rationalize their actions to their two year olds, it might not be as obvious as I think.

  9. Lady Windemere’s Fan by Oscar Wilde- A play about upper class Londoners in the 1890s, I found myself really enjoying the characters and the case of mistaken or hidden identity at the center of the play. Many of Wilde’s famous quotes come from this play. “I can resist anything except tempation.”

  10. Sycamore Row by John Grisham- As gripping as a typical John Grisham, it was not his best. That I would save for Pelican Brief or The Chamber but Sycamore Row was easy enough to get into and interesting enough to read in a day.

  11. King and Maxwell by David Baldacci- Not going to lie, I read this one mostly because I love the “Will they or won’t they fall in love” aspect of these stories. The actual case was pretty interesting though the writing is campy per usual.

The last four books I read in 2013 were the first four Narnia novels by C.S. Lewis. I try to read them every year between Thanksgiving and Christmas. They are heartwarming, wise and profound while still remaining easy for anyone over ten to read. I find a new gem each time I read them and this year was no exception. “Take courage dear heart.”

First Year Victories

We are one year in. It’s been exactly a year since we landed in Geneva with eight suitcases only to be greeted by a Prius- only the first of many cultural differences to be discovered. We landed in January, deep in the middle of winter– full of gray clouds and fog so thick you couldn’t see the giant mountains all around. For ten days, I thought, “This city is supposed to have beautiful landscape all around and I can only see to the end of the street.” It was both literally and figuratively a dark time. Three days into our life here in Geneva, I got a phone call from my only friend here. “We’re getting moved back to Houston in a month,” she told me. I held it together, shared excitement with her and then promptly sobbed for an hour. This was the first of “one step forward, two steps back” events. But with each setback came a victory and rather than complain about the difficulties (namely the language difference and a variety of changes in help with Forest), I thought I’d focus on a few wins. And yes, I consider them victories (meaning we defeated something) because I am a competitive person by nature.

  1. I figured out how to buy a hair dryer and a temporary phone. This seems minor but was my greatest victory.

  2. I learned to communicate at markets and sometimes at restaurants. My French is passable when it comes to making doctor’s appointments and reservations.

  3. We found a house that is as charming as a ski chalet and moved in ten days after our arrival which was also the first day I saw the mountains.

  4. I signed up online for a grocery store points card. It arrived in the mail with my name on it and that made me feel at home here. At least the grocery store knows my name.

  5. I also ordered a box that goes on our car and automatically pays tolls in France and Switzerland, saving us time and cash. Every time we fly through a toll I give myself one point against inefficiency.

  6. We started a home group at our church and love the members of it.

  7. Forest learned to walk and talk.

  8. I found a doctor I like a lot who will deliver our next baby (due in June- that’s exciting too). We also found doctors for Forest and Josh. And we learned where both the public and private ERs are.

  9. We found a few restaurants that we love and order from regularly. One even gave us a Christmas present because we go there so often. It was a beautiful candle. We are still trying to figure out what to give them.

  10. I both earned and paid a speeding ticket in France.

  11. I figured out online grocery delivery. And because this is Switzerland, the delivery is super fast and always on time. 

  12. Forest got into a public preschool here (more on that soon).

  13. I read 52 books and met my goal (again more to come).

  14. I can find my way around Geneva pretty well, especially the way to IKEA, the French mega grocery store and the garden center.

  15. We figured out how to watch American football and sitcoms.

These are obviously small victories. But each one makes me feel more accomplished and settled. We’ve also explored the region, made friends and found a church we love. There are many difficult days- living far from family and friends is hard on us and the language and cultural differences can seem insurmountable. Especially in January. Though this morning, I was greeted by warm sun and 11 degree temperatures- that’s Celsius, not 11 F like my friends on the East Coast. But writing out my list of seemingly small victories helps to remind me we’re farther than we were on January 7 last year. And on a sunny day, I can be very grateful. I’m still working on being grateful on gray days.

Reading Update #2

As of my last update, I had completed 22 books on my quest to read 52 this year. Since then, I have read thirteen more. I have seventeen more to go- seven of which I plan to read between Thanksgiving and Christmas when I complete my yearly tradition of reading The Chronicles of Narnia. So for those of you who are not former mathletes (don’t worry- I was in fact both a mathlete and an Academic Decathlete), I still need to read ten books.

1, 2 and 3. Let’s Explore Diabetes with OwlsDress Your Family in CorduroyMe Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

I have fallen head over heels for David Sedaris and his wit, his charm and his spot on descriptions of living among the French. I read these at night and several times woke Josh up by laughing out loud at a short story.

4. Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

I listened to this one over the past month and found it absolutely charming. The story of a young man who takes a job in a bookstore only to discover it is the front for something far more exciting. I don’t want to give away the plot but I will say I loved this book for its quirky characters much like I loved Where’d You Go Bernadette and The Pilgirmage of Harold Fry.

5. The Cuckoo Calling by Robert Galbraith

I’ll admit it- I did pick this up because the media revealed that Robert Galbraith is the pen name of J.K. Rowling, of Harry Potter fame. The premise, the murder of a successful and famous model, was intriguing and I was not disappointed. Much like Harry Potter, the characters are lovable, well developed and the story keeps you guessing until the end. Well worth a read, especially good for vacations.

6. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

This novel was heartbreaking. About a young man paralyzed after an accident and his young caretaker, a woman who can’t seem to get a lot of things right, this was a page-turner. I was particularly touched by the ways people either kept or lost hope and the ways that hope was not tied to current circumstance. How do we maintain hoping for someone who has given up hope on improving? How do we remain faithful to loving them well when he or she has no desire to be loved? Lots of questions, lots of humor- this book was wonderful.

7. Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

This book kept showing up on my recommendation list from Amazon. Living in a French speaking country, I rely on my Kindle almost exclusively for new books (except for the amazing selection sent by Courtney Kampa). They are not so bad at guessing what I would like. This book was beautiful and the stories woven together in a compelling narrative. This was also a favorite because we were planning a trip to Cinque Terre shortly after I finished it.

8. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

Somehow I missed this Pulitzer Prize winner in English class and happily read a real copy of it (i.e. not my Kindle) last month. Set in a New York before anyone lived above 40th and more specifically in Gramercy Park (my favorite neighborhood in the city), The Age of Innocencewas interesting in the same way a Jane Austen novel is interesting. It introduced me to a society, a set of rules and a life that I will never experience. Even though she wrote it almost a century ago, I felt it was relevant and still amusing to this 21st century woman.

9. The Engagements  by J. Courtney Sullivan

An entertaining look at the diamond engagement ring tradition, how it was created and marketed. While the book is fictional, weaving the stories of various owners of the same ring, it was also enlightening to read about the real marketing campaigns, the strategies used to drive up the cost of diamonds and the way our “traditions” were shaped by a few ad executives. Somewhat Mad Men like with romantic and tragic stories of proposal and marriage throughout.

10. Threat Vector by Tom Clancy

I was so sad to learn Tom Clancy passed away recently. I have loved everything I have ever read by him. I’ve started to listen to his books because the stories and plot twists are so captivating, I find myself wanting to drive to the store or the kennel or anywhere just to hear more. One of Clancy’s most unique gifts was his sometimes prophetic almost-warnings about future dangers. Threat Vector is about the internet, privacy and surveillance, situations of which we should now all be wary.

11. The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart

I will not lie- the hand lettered cover and illustrations first drew my attention to this book. My former roommate Kristen is an eighth-grade English teacher and one of the things I learned from her is the beauty and value of Young Adult fiction. She taught me that the YA genre is not one to be ignored as it frequently holds the most relatable and poignant stories. This one was about a group of misfits who are called upon to save humanity. One part The Justice League, one part Pippi Longstocking and one part Wendell Berry, I loved this book and its fable about technology.

12. The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty

Another Amazon suggestion, I liked The Chaperone though it did get a little soap opera-esque at times. While I promise I do not only read books set in New York, this one is about the trip Louise Brooks and her chaperone (hence the title) took to the city in 1922. I love reading about the city (much like I’ve mentioned before) but the personal dramas became a little much at times. I finished it because I started it but it was not my favorite.

13. No Other Gods by Kelly Minter

This book, a Bible study, was handed to me by a wise mentor who heard I was interested in modern day idolatry. The book was a God send, especially at at time when I found myself idolizing easy living, America and being known. I know not everyone is looking for a Bible study but if you are, you should pick this one up.

Beating Your Own Drum

As an introverted mother, I am determined to expose Forest to social experiences. If given the choice, I would stay inside and read or craft or something other than be social. Because of that, I worry that Forest will lead a severely diminished social life simply by virtue of being my child. So I signed us up for a French class and a music class. I figured it would be good for Forest to spend time with a group of children, not just one friend at a time and I surmised I would meet a few moms in the process. In truth, I have met a few moms and they are all very nice. I think I’m the only American which is great. The others are Italian, Venezuelan, British, Australian and Spanish. Their children have romantic names like “Mateo” and “Adriano” and “Felipe.” Forest is a lovely name but sounds a little out of place.

A few weeks ago, we went to the music class for the first time. A young French man greeted us warmly and we went past the curtains into the class space. As we were the first to arrive, Forest was very excited to have all of the egg shaped shakers to himself. He took them out of the box and put them back in, took them out and put them back in. Cleaning things up is very exciting for Forest. I am told this is normal. He was proud and may have even clapped for himself. Then class started.

The first thing the teacher, the young French man, did was to dump out the box of shakers which was upsetting enough to Forest. All that work! Then all of the children and parents shook the eggs. At that point Forest stood up, signed all done and tried to walk out. I let him go out for a minute and talked to him quietly. Then he was fine to go back in but remained skeptical. To be fair the teacher was acting like a frog and a crow and a sandpiper. Skepticism was probably appropriate. We made it through that first class without additional tears and when I asked him if he wanted to go again, he only shook his head once. Victory.

The next week he made it thirty minutes before walking toward the door in tears. The teacher was kind enough to tell me that I could continue participating and just let Forest wander where he wanted to. I’m not sure why the other parents are there but if my child is crying, I’m probably not going to focus on pretending to be a sandpiper (they are really into that one). I smiled and immediately left the circle.

This past week, Forest sat in my lap happily and even willingly hit two sticks together when offered. At the end of the class, when the teachers hand out a variety of percussion instruments, Forest picked up a small drum, walked to the sofa in the corner, climbed up and sat all alone, beating his own drum. I’m trying to tell myself he is very independent and self-confident. He may just be an introvert.

Tomorrow, we will miss music class, sadly. We have to wait for the delivery of our giant American freezer. Side note: someday I will explain the size of appliances here or rather share the sizes. I cannot possibly explain why you would want such a small refrigerator or dishwasher. But regarding music class, I don’t think Forest (or I) will be too sad to miss it. We can act like sandpipers on our own time. More in a few weeks.

On spices, vacuums and customer service

Grocery shopping here was a challenge at first. I figured a grocery store is a grocery store. This is not true. We tend to eat fairly simply and seasonally- lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, meat and dairy products. I don’t really miss a lot of American foods because we did not eat a lot of them. I do miss bagels. They do not make bagels here. But, otherwise, we can find most things. The major differences are the size of products and various sections of the store. For example, the Swiss store’s cheese section would put Central Market’s to shame. They have more varieties of yogurt here than I ever dreamed could exist. They love vinegar and oils of all kind: sunflower, grapeseed, olive, etc. Thus the condiment aisle is a long one but lacks very important items like ketchup or plain white vinegar. They love their mayonnaise here, stocking easily as many containers of mayo as an American Walmart but the size and shape differs dramatically. In Geneva, you buy civilized tubes of mayo, maybe four to five inches long, like a toothpaste tube. In America, you cannot buy mayonnaise in anything smaller than a two gallon jar. The Swiss must trust their grocery stores implicitly because on the spice aisle, there are loads of jars labeled “poisson (fish)” or “poulet (chicken)” but you cannot find specific spices like cumin or bay leaves. I for one like to do my own spice mixing. The Swiss seem to prefer it done by their grocers.

The bakery is to die for- chocolate croissants for everyone! It’s always best to go in the morning when the bread is fresh so you leave with several baguettes that eventually go stale but at least they smelled SO good that morning. The wine section is also fantastic. It took me awhile but I now know most of the vocabulary for wine tasting because I read all the labels and suggestions using google translate. Viandes? Meats. Poisson blanc? White fish. I am grateful that they know we are not all natural wine connoisseurs so we need a little guidance on our wine selection, even if said guidance is in French.

A few weeks ago we went to my favorite grocery store, Manor, which is really more of a Macy’s but with a grocery store attached. This was my third visit for the same issue. I purchased a dust buster there six months ago and last week, it stopped working. With a dog that sheds more fur than a Yeti and a toddler who likes to pour his Cheerios himself, I need a working dust buster. In the course of moving into our house, moving stuff around, cleaning up and general organization, I misplaced my receipt. This error was incredibly ignorant of me because dust busters have a FIVE year warranty, at least that is what I was told upon explaining my predicament. I tried to explain to the clerk that I had registered on the manufacturer’s website. They did not understand why this would matter. Neither did I but I felt it was important.

Now, not to pull out the Target card again, but this is what I miss. If you buy something at Target and need to return it and you’ve lost your receipt, you can present the credit card you purchased said item with and they will look up your purchase. Their computer system was made in the 21st century and can do things like this. Apparently Swiss systems are not quite as up-to-date as Target. They could not find my purchase with my card. This was not the first time I heard this. I had emailed them earlier about needing to repair this dust buster and they told me to call my bank, get a copy of the credit card statement with the purchase on it and bring that back. When I asked, “What if I can’t get that?” which is a valid question because you rarely even get a person on the phone at a bank let alone one that can print things for you, I was told that I would have to pay fifty francs to get it repaired. “Which would be stupid,” the cashier explained, “since you have a warranty.” Finally, I said I would pay the fee, yes, I know it is stupid, but I was out of options. They began to put my information into the repair system. I was very proud because I had just learned to spell my name in French. It’s very different- it’s “jzhe” instead of “gee” and “air” instead of “arr.” Then she asked if I had registered it on the manufacturer’s website. “Yes,” I said, rather annoyed that they had disregarded this again. “Oh, no money needed then,” she said. And that was that. I should have been frustrated that it took three trips to do what should have been done in one. But I was so excited that I could spell my name that I did not care at all.

Two weeks later, it was fixed. I went to the counter, armed with my new French vocabulary and asked for my aspirateur repare. A few minutes later, I signed a form and was handed an unlabeled cardboard box. No one checked my ID or asked me for a receipt. I spent the afternoon vacuuming up dog hair and crushed cheerios. I am a woman with simple tastes- clean rugs, less dog hair and easy customer service. More on that later.

The Plage (not Plague)

I was so excited for summer in Geneva. Last summer, Forest and I lived in the AC in Houston. And the summer before that, when I was 6 months pregnant, Houston had its hottest August ever- 30 of 31 days had temperatures of over 100F. For the most part, Geneva’s summer has been mild- temperatures in the 70s and 80s and sunny. Occasionally it storms but for the most part, it has been very nice. Until this week. This week it decided to borrow a page from Houston. Every morning, it is cool and comfortable when we take a walk. By eleven am, we are all sweaty and grumpy. And unlike Houston, we do not have air conditioning. 

But, all this heat has driven us to explore all the swimming opportunities in Geneva. My favorite spot is the Geneva Plage (rhymes with garage not plague). Built in 1932, the plage oozes retro European cool. They have one area for lake swimming, a large pool (with space for lap swimmers), a tall water slide and a toddler area with fountains. I love the toddler area. I can stand in the fountains and Forest can play and everyone is cool and happy. The only issue is that to get to the fountain pool, we have to walk by the giant sandbox/play area. Forest likes the sand box much more than the pool. I have become very creative in how I cajole Forest into swimming rather than sitting in the hot sun, driving his cars along in the sand while we all sweat much more than we would at home. 

The other mothers at the Plage seem to be very low key and are for the most part Swiss or at least French speaking. I’m still learning but am able to understand and answer the “How old is he?” question. And when a mother was describing her daughter swimming like a little fish, I completely understood it, while listening in on their conversation. One mother came up to me to remind me to put sunscreen and a tshirt on Forest since he was a “petit rouge” (I understood that too!) But he was not and I had just lathered him up with SPF55 so I said “merci” and ignored her. She came back again to tell me how “rouge” he was and then offered to let me look through her sunglasses since I would see how burned he was. I did not really know what to do and accepted the glasses only to realize they were pink so of course my bright white child looked burned. I smiled, put more sunscreen on him (just to escape the judgmental looks) and laughed as I told Josh’s cousin Laura the story. At least she was trying to help.

Below are some pictures of the Plage. I really wish I could see it in its early days. Though I think I have seen some of the original patrons. They are the 80+ year old women lounging in the sun by the changing rooms, happy as a cactus in the sun (and looking like ads for skin cancer prevention). They’re more than “petite rouge” but they are very happy. It’s a pretty good place to spend the summer.


Reading Update

Posting about my progress on my three goals for the year keeps me somewhat motivated and mostly humble. Probably because I am nowhere close on my reading goal. I’ve had several years where I would guess I came close to reading 100 books. I want to blame Forest but I think I just don’t have as much time to read now. I try to read during the day and at night before bed but it’s not the same as a thirty minute commute on the N train. I look back and think much of my love of the city and its subway was based on the fact that I was trapped under ground with no cell service and only a book. I say I miss New York but it may just be that I miss thirty minutes of solitude twice a day.

Anyway, I digress. I have made a big push in the last few weeks to read more and have made up some ground. I think I had read 13 by the end of May and now I am up to 22. And while I’d love to recap each one or most of them, I thought I’d rank the nine from June for you and share basic plots. Oh, and these are in order- best to not best.

1. The Rules of Civility– This blog is not an ode to New York but this book also made me miss the city tremendously. When I finished, I felt like I had been living in the city again and was rudely ripped from a pre-war apartment into my living room in Switzerland. I think I actually experienced some culture shock reentering my life after this heartbreakingly beautiful novel. A special thanks to Courtney for sending it to me.

2. This is Where I Leave You– Moderately inappropriate but absolutely hilarious. I wanted to read this story of a family of four- three brothers and a sister- who return home for their father’s funeral- before it is made into a movie starring two of my favorite actors, Tina Fey and Jason Bateman. I cannot wait for the movie.

3. The Imperfectionists– Entertaining novel about the staff of a small international newspaper in Rome.

4. Bringing Up Bebe– Non-Fiction book about French parenting. I loved it not only for its tips on parenting but also for the inside look at French culture.

5. Revenge Wears Prada– highly entertaining not very challenging. Excellent follow up to The Devil Wears Prada. Would be perfect for the beach

6. The Likeness– another great Irish mystery from Tana French

7. Peony– novel by Pearl Buck about a Jewish family living in China. Epic and a little long but a beautiful story about cultures I don’t know much about.

8. Wedding Night– by Sophie Kinsella, of the Shopaholic Series fame.

9. One Pink Line– advertised as on sale on Kindle. So I read it.

And there you have it. I have now read (or listened to) 22 books so far this year. I would love to still make it to 100 but have decided that if I read 52 books this year (one per week) and prove to be a semi-effective mother of a toddler, I will feel very accomplished. Can you adjust your New Years Resolutions? If so, consider it done.

Language Help

When we told people we were moving to Geneva, everyone asked about the national language. The easy answer is that there isn’t one. In the French part of Switzerland, they speak French. In the German part, German and in the Italian portion of the country, Italian. There is a fourth national language called Romansch but seeing as about eleven people in the world speak it, it seems unnecessary to mention. Geneva falls in the French section- especially obvious because it’s surrounded by France on most sides. I do not speak French well. I speak English of course and some Spanish. Never in my life could I imagine living in a French speaking country so Spanish seemed the most helpful. And up until now, it was. I am attempting to learn some French. I started using Rosetta Stone infrequently but did pick up some of the accent and the fact that the French drop almost every other syllable from their words. (Seriously- you pronounce “mange” and “mangent” exactly the same way despite the two consonants at the end. Steve Saunders- why do they do that!?!)

But for the first several weeks, maybe even months, I struggled with daily life because of my lack of French. I could not call and make reservations or appointments and when I did call, I started most of my conversations with “Do you speak English?” I can’t say I’m much better but I have figured out how to use Google Translate to my advantage and I am able to read a lot. Being surrounded by the language helps me. But, I still go to the grocery store and get strange looks when I am studying the packaging to figure out what kind of flour I am about to purchase. Or when I pause while making a reservation because I have to count to seven in my head before I can remember the word for it. In fact, I get enough scowls from others when I speak to Forest in English that I am considering speaking only Spanish to him when we are in public. I think they would be much less worried about a Spanish speaker. 

This whole experience has given me tremendous sympathy for people who move to America and do not speak English. I know that I have been guilty or staring curiously at mothers speaking another language to their child in the grocery store. When I worked in New York, we often had customers who came in asking for someone who spoke Spanish. I thought it was ignorant to move to a country or even visit without a cursory understanding of the language. But, because my Spanish is not perfect, I rarely volunteered to help them or even try to help. But now I realize I am that person who is floundering and feels completely lost even though people all around her are communicating. Actions that were so easy in Texas are much more difficult here simply because of the language barrier.

I hope when we move back, I will be much kinder to people who are speaking another language and will be sure to offer my Spanish speaking abilities to help. I would love it if people here even attempted to speak English to me. My friend Cheryl says people often ask if they can practice their English with her. That hasn’t happened to me yet but you better believe that when I move back, I will be asking people to practice Spanish with me. Especially people who look a little lost in grocery stores.

It's the Little Things

I am learning to count even small accomplishments as major victories when done in Geneva. For instance, I felt like I had won when I learned I could order stamps online from the Swiss post office. I know that’s very small but it saves me time and energy and being able to mail letters to the States will make me feel more connected. 

But the biggest victory of all is that I made doctor’s appointments for all three of us. No, I did not do it entirely in French but I did some of it in French and then the nice administrators had mercy on me and broke out their English. Generally, it went like this:

Me: (reading directly from Google translate) “Je voudrais prendre rendez-vous avec le medecin…”

Them: “Bien sûr. Quand pouvez-vous venir?” (I think this is what they said. I had to check it on the Google).

Me: “Eh… what?” (I know I am supposed to say pardon but I get so flustered while trying to listen and understand another language that all manners go out the window).

Them: “When can yoooo come in to see the doctor? I can give you appointment on the twenty of Jzune at fifteen past ten.”

Me: “Yes, that would be great. Wait- the twentieth of June at 10:15?”

Them: “Oui. Twenty Jzune, fifteen after ten.” 

Then we go through my details- name (which is always interesting to hear pronounced in French. “Grizz-lay?”), birthdate (how do you say 1983?) and insurance info. Which we finally have. So that is easier.

I’m counting this as a major victory and am going to lie down now. Or eat a chocolate croissant. My brain is tired.

I have mixed feelings

Most of my posts and communication have been positive or at least optimistic. There are very funny moments in each day that we live in Geneva. But there are lots of not so funny moments too. I’m really bad at moving. Not logistically though there was the vomiting incident after we flew to Geneva because of low blood sugar so maybe I’m physically bad at moving too. But I am really bad at moving. I always get excited about the new place we are headed to (Geneva has great public transportation! Forest can learn French!) and then start hating on the place we were (Houston was so hot! Their public transportation is terrible!). But then we move. And all the sudden, the new place doesn’t look so hot (It’s cold! They don’t understand me!) and the old place looks like heaven (Mexican food! Rodeo!) and it seems like the wheels come off. You’d think after three places in as many years I would have this down but as I realized recently, I do not have this down at all.

Moving is an isolating experience. All your friends are staying where they are. You are the one leaving. You may not know anyone where you are going. I knew one person and the day we got to Geneva was the day she found out she was being moved back to the States. I figured that more people would offer to speak English but they really only tend to offer English once you’ve offered French. It’s like playing chicken with your linguistics- who will break first? Generally my French breaks down too fast to earn the right to speak to someone in English.

I am rereading “1000 Gifts” and was reminded that so much of our pain and brokenness comes from being ungrateful. We look at blessings and see only curses. So, in an effort to break that cycle in myself, I try to find something I am grateful for- for the ability to live in another country, for a chance to learn a new language, for the sweet new friend who texted me the day she found out I had moved here to invite me over, for our new church that is so diverse and dynamic and for our cute, cozy and well-organized house. There are more- like the occasional spotting of the Alps or the fact that France is less than ten minutes away. But, it’s tough to move. I looked back at old posts and felt like I was lying to only point out the funny or charming aspects of this adventure. So there you have it. This whole thing reminds me of a New Yorker cartoon below. I feel like that’s probably true for most things but I definitely have mixed feelings about moving.


Gardening for Peace

My husband is a gardener. He loves to garden. It borders on obsession but it produces such great fresh fruits and vegetables that I can’t complain. One year, we had so many cucumbers, I made two gallons of pickles. We have gardened with chickens in Virginia, ordered 2000 red wriggling worms to our tiny apartment in Brooklyn, rebuilt a water garden in Texas and now, in Geneva,have attempted our best diplomacy at the garden center. 

We diligently researched garden centers both in Geneva and just across the border in France. I liked one called Botanic (which is in fact in France) simply because their signage was great and they had chosen cool fonts for their website and printed materials. Josh followed up my cursory search and confirmed that Botanic had everything we needed. So, we wandered for at least an hour around a garden center unlike anything I have ever seen- aisles and aisles of planters, pots, trees, shrubs, flowers, water garden plants, animals, organic produce, various home and garden decorations- and all with unbelievably attractive signage.  

I knew Josh would love it and I was right. He wandered and planned and dreamed and purchased two planters, several bags of potting soil, a few flowers, lots of seeds, a seed starting kit, tools, and soy sauce (that last one was for a stir fry recipe I wanted to try). We bought it all, signed up for the loyalty card and got to the car only to realize we had a baby, a dog, two adults, two strollers and all of our purchases to fit. If we had our American car (a giant Sequoia that should qualify for statehood), we probably would have fit. However, with our small European SUV which is in fact one of the larger cars on the road here, we could not fit it.  I made the executive decision to stay behind with one stroller, one planter, three bags of potting soil and the tools. Josh drove Forest and Crockett and the other items home to Geneva and then he and Forest came back across the border to get me. So while I waited, I unfolded the stroller, had a seat and emailed a few people, namely my sister in law. My email started with “Guess where I am. Did you guess in a stroller in France? Because I am.” It was Good Friday, which is a holiday in France and Switzerland so many Swiss and French citizens were at Botanic and walked by me, an adult in a stroller, playing solitaire on her cell phone while wearing her rain boots and bright blue coat (the Swiss do not wear colored coats). I’m confident I did a great deal of good for the image of all Americans abroad.

Since Friday, Forest and I have gone back to Botanic and bought more gardening supplies. And today, I bought Forest a small set of gardening tools. He kept the watering can on his lap the entire way home from the store and immediately went to the planters to “help.”