Tag Archives: expat

Things I’ve learnt in October

1 Nov

I have been a bit quiet of late but that’s because I’m studying like a woman possessed for my German exam that is fast approaching. Therefore, most of the things that I have learnt this month do have a strong connection to German grammar but there have also been a few things not language related.

1. Reading books in German can be fun. I love reading. If I could get paid for each book I read I would be laughing all the ways to the bank. However, reading in another language takes longer and requires looking up words to make sure you have got the meaning. Up until recently I’ve come up with so many reasons NOT to read books in German. With the exam approaching, I broke off from reading English books to try reading German ones instead. It seems I must have been choosing the wrong ones to read. The last two books I’ve read have been really funny and I’ve enjoyed them. I know what you thinking: German literature that’s funny? I am as surprised as you are!

2. I can talk in a professional setting in German. Talking about what the weather is like and what you want to eat are relatively easy but talking with potential employers is something that I have avoided thus far. I was recently thrust out of my comfort zone and had to introduce myself in professional surroundings. I don’t know how I managed it but I did. And it wasn’t half as scary as I thought it would be!

3. There is not a lot about wine from the Bordeaux wine region that I don’t know. As we spent a week in the south of France, we ending up learning a lot about wine. Not just about if it tastes good or bad but the history, the production and the varieties of wine. It was great to learn more. Did you know, for instance, that the first wine bottle was opened in Bordeaux in the 1800s by an Irishman called Mitchell? Well, now you do!

4. Convincing yourself to do exercise is harder than actually doing it. As my knee is now better, I have been trying to make up for lost time. Last week I did some form of sport (either running or cycling) for six out of seven days. The first few days I did it was I dreading it and putting it off for as long as possible but a few days in and I was looking forward to getting outside in the fresh air.

5. Filing a Swiss tax return isn’t as difficult as I thought. The deadline for tax returns is the end of March but as we were travelling, we extended our deadline until the end of October. It seems like there is a lot of paperwork and things that you need to fill in and send off but all in all it’s not too complicated. I’m still glad that I only have to do it once a year.

So, that was October… and November has already started. I hope you learnt some interesting things in October too

Tour de France

21 Oct

I’ve just got back from a week’s holiday in France. I don’t think I have ever been on holiday to another country by car so this was a bit different because we drove 1’000 kilometers to Bordeaux. The main reason was because we wanted to bring back some wine and that isn’t possible when you fly. It also gave us the opportunity to stop off in a few places on the way back.

Here is a bit of what we did while we were away:

Bordeaux

I went to Bordeaux last year and one of the conditions of going back there was that I could go back to eat crab at Le Crab Marteau. Dinner is basically a huge crab served with potatoes and sauces. Delicious! The couple on the table next to us were also British but she obviously hadn’t come face-to-face with a crab before eating it and actually hid the crab under a napkin so that she didn’t have to look at it!

We went to the Dune du Pilat, the biggest sand dunes in Europe. This was an incredible place to go to. The sand dunes are huge and great fun to climb up. It did start to rain a bit while we were up at the top and I can imagine getting caught up there in the rain wouldn’t be a great idea.

We visited Le Cité du Vin which I hadn’t been to before. It’s a museum about the history of wine and has lots of interactive exhibits and information about the importance of wine in French culture. A free wine tasting was also included in the price.

We also visited Musée du Vin which had exhibits about the history of wine in Bordeaux and information about how bottles are corked and how wine barrels are made. There was also a tasting at the end and we were able to learn more about how the wines in the Bordeaux area differ in taste.

St Emillion

We stopped at this small village for a day. I found the whole place fascinating. We took a tour of the underground church and learn so much about the origin of the place and who Saint Emillion was. Of course, the village only really exists today because of the wine industry and it isn’t uncommon to see buses full of tourists arriving each hour before rushing onto the next place. I might write another blog about St Emillion in the near future because I enjoyed it so much.

Lyon

We only had a bit of time in Lyon. It was a shame because there are lots of things to see here. Our time in Lyon was mainly to break up the journey on the way back. However, we did get to see the Roman ruins and to the Basilica at Fourviére which is spectacular. You never need to worry about going hungry in Lyon as there are restaurants on literally every corner. Once again the weather was kind to us and we could enjoy a long walk along the side of the river.

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Burgundy

We spent two nights staying at a chateaux in Burgundy. It was a great location to be based to visit some other towns. The village of Beaune was only a 20 minute drive and we visited Hotel-Dieu, a Medieval hosptial that was sent up help the sick and dying by a wealthy couple and was in use until the 1980s to look after the elderly. The ticket for this museum was also valid for entry into the Musée du Vin, which was another museum about wine.

We also had some time to visit a mustard factory. The Edmund Fallot museum still uses traditional methods to make their mustard and the tour was interesting. We could also taste some of the various mustards (curry mustard anyone?) that they produce and we got a few free samples to take home with us.

Staying with the mustard theme, we drove the next day to Dijon. By this time, we had seen enough wine degustations and mustard shops! They have a owl trail that you can follow around the city and see the main sights. So, we did that before heading to a wine expo that we had been invited to by the owner of the chateaux that we had been staying. All of the sellers at the wine fair were small, independent people and it was interesting to see how many different wines were produced in the region that we had been staying in.

All in all, a very successful trip. I personally learnt a lot about wine and mustard. It was nice to have a small break from reality and to be able to try some new wines and foods along the way.

The Problem with My Accent

22 Aug

I have never thought that my lovely Northern English accent was much cause for concern. But lately, living in Switzerland has made me more aware about accents and how I speak.

I have recently upped my German learning intensity and I have been taking classes online with native German speakers, who live in Germany. I have been more than a bit surprised that all of them (without exception) have commented on my German accent. All of them describe me as having a Swiss-German accent. This is strange because as soon as I talk to a Swiss person they will say that I have an English accent when I speak in German.

I’m not so naive to think that I have been speaking the equivalent of The Chancellor’s German but I have still be shocked about how noticeable it is that I haven’t learnt my German in Germany.

One of the teachers that I had a lesson with this week gave me the feedback that she “enjoyed my unique British-Swiss-German accent”. I’m speechless. Is British-Swiss-German even an actual thing? Or have I mistakenly started a whole new dialect all by myself?

I think I have picked up some of the vowel sounds from Swiss-German, which are quite different to standard German, because I hear these sounds all the time when I speak to people in Switzerland.

I also have problems with my vowels in English when I speak to non-native speakers. The vowel sounds that I use tend to be longer in words like ‘lunch’ and I have made a few people confused when I have said things because my accent isn’t 100% like The Queen’s. Some have even asked me how is a certain word meant to be said. To which I have replied that how I have said it IS the correct way to say it. I refuse to modify my accent – I have been working on refining it to its current state for the best part of 35 years.

Sometimes I think that a lot of the stigma related to accents is down to snobbery and nothing more. And while I have been teased about the way I say certain words in English and now in German, perhaps it’s not my accent that is the problem. Perhaps having a unique and distinct accent is something that people should be proud of instead of thinking it as a negative thing.

However, I would like to make it clear that I am officially the founder of the British-Swiss-German accent and you heard it in all of its uniqueness here first.

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Hiking in Lausanne

4 Jul

As the weather has been hot, hot, hot recently, I have been trying to make the most of it. A couple of weekends ago (bit late with the write-up, I know) I went to spend the weekend with my friend, Melina. We used to work in the same company and met in the company-sponsored German lessons. When she moved to Lausanne, I was really sad to be losing regular contact with a close friend but it has meant being able to spend a few weekends in the French-speaking part of Switzerland.

Whenever I have been to visit Lausanne the weather has been nothing short of amazing. (Apart from the time when I took my mum there when she came to visit but I have noticed that whenever she comes to see me that the rain comes in bucketfuls.)

Melina was very keen to go hiking so I agreed because I haven’t been hiking this year and it is always good to get outside and into nature after being cooped up inside an office for the whole week. I was a bit skeptical when we started the hike because it looked like it was going to be more difficult than I had imagined and I was a bit wary about my knee, which I am currently receiving treatment on. After a few minutes, I had forgot about this and was more than happy to catch up with my friend and get some exercise.

It was hard work to get to the top but the views were stunning. The weather was beautiful and hot and we were the only people out on this part of the mountain. I tend to forget how beautiful Switzerland is and how incredible the scenery is.

We stop for lunch at the very top and enjoyed the views. The lake that you can see in the picture is Lac Leman, and somewhere a bit further in the distance is Geneva.

As we headed back down to the car, I was already dreaming of a nice cool Gin and Tonic, a refreshing shower and a few pre-dinner nibbles, when I lost my footing and started to fall off the footpath and roll down the side of the ravine. It all happened so quickly that all I could think of was: I have to stop myself from falling before I end up breaking some bones. It fell like I was in the opening scene of Cliffhanger where Sly Stallone is trying to save his friend from falling to her death but I am sure the reality wasn’t so dramatic. I know that Melina was dying to laugh but she is a good friend and only did so when she was sure that I was ok.

I ended up with a few cuts, a stinging sensation on my hands from where I had used so much force to stop myself from falling further and a huge purple bruise on my bad knee. Luckily it was only superficial injuries and a bruised ego that I suffered. I felt that I had, by now, earned my Gin and Tonic.

We had anticipated going out in the evening but after the fresh air, a few drinks and food, we decided to stay at Melina’s place and have a relaxed evening. I used to joke that we were like the cast of Sex and the City (you can decide yourself which one of the cast I am): going out on the town to trendy bars, enjoying getting ready and doing make-up and having a good time with girlfriends while forgetting about how complicated men make our lives. I think after this latest weekend we might be slowly transforming in the cast of the Golden Girls – getting older and grumpier. I don’t mind though – spending time with good friends in a beautiful part of the world is all that matters.

Photo an Hour: 28th April 2018

29 Apr

I have missed the last two Photo An Hour days because I was on holiday in South America. For the February edition, I actually landed in Buenos Aires at 6am and was so excited to be there that I completely forgot. For the March edition, I think we were transferring from one country to another which possibly wouldn’t be so interesting to photograph.

Now back in Switzerland with no distractions and a few helpful reminders on my phone, here is what I got up to on 28th April 2018.

7am: it’s early and it’s quiet so I decide to read some more of my book. I’m reading Crime by Irvine Welsh at the moment.

8am: Making a spot of breakfast: on the left scrambled eggs for him, on the right a vegan “scrambled egg” made from tofu, turmeric, chilli and coriander

9am: It looks like the weather will be nice today

10am: Writing a few posts for my blog

11am: Time for German homework

12pm: Snack time

1pm: Forgot to put the dishwasher on this morning!

2pm: Decided to label all the jars we have in the cupboard so we know what is in what, especially with the different types of flour

3pm: Someone (not me!) has fallen asleep so I will go back to doing some reading

4pm: Time to use the one gadget I have bought this year and go for a run

5pm: Back from run looking like a beetroot but need to do my exercises for my knee

6pm: Homemade dips to have with our grilled vegetables later

7pm: The sun has gone in but the BBQ is ready! All homemade apart from the bread!

8pm: We are watching The Godfather

9pm: We are still watching The Godfather

10pm: Time to write my diary before going to bed

Staying strong

28 Apr

Two weeks into my vegan challenge and I am still going strong. This week has been a bit more difficult because we had a team dinner on Thursday but I managed to enjoy the evening and some food without too much hassle.

I have to say that I generally am feeling pretty good. I am sleeping better but I am not sure if this is because of the diet or just because I am more tired this week and I have slept better. But I have heard that sleeping better is one of the positive side effects of a vegan diet. I don’t think that I have lost weight (which is another health benefit, if you need to lose a few pounds) but we don’t have a pair of scales at home so I can’t be sure.

Anyway, here are some of the highs and lows from this week.

Soups

Soups are one of my favourite things to eat and it is easy to make a homemade vegan soup at home. Last Sunday it felt like I spent most of the day making soup. I made a Gazpacho soup, a Spanish soup that is served cold. Apparently this is one of my boyfriend’s favourites –  who knew? Luckily it got the seal of approval from him but it was fairly time consuming to make. I’m not sure that I would make it again unless I found a simpler recipe. I also made a carrot, ginger and coriander soup using carrots from our garden, which I put in the freeze for a week in the future, and a broccoli soup to eat during the week after work so that I don’t have to spend a lot of time preparing something. I must say that the broccoli soup was delicious. An absolute favourite of mine is Stilton and Broccoli soup which is off-limits but I didn’t miss the cheese at all.

Packed lunches

Taking packed lunches into work has been a life saver because there isn’t a huge variety of vegan-friendly sandwiches and salad available in supermarkets. So long as you plan in advance, a homemade pack lunch is perfect. I made an Italian bread salad to have twice this week at work. It was really easy to make and I even made the croutons for the “bread” art of the salad. It didn’t take any time at all to make and, because the weather has been so warm, I sat outside in the park and enjoyed my lunch there.

Although the choice for sandwiches isn’t huge, I have discovered that there is a vegan range in Coop (one of the supermarkets in Switzerland) which has some really nice vegan wraps. As I ran out of time to make all my packed lunches this week, I tried the hummus wrap and was really impressed by it.

Recipes

The soups and the Italian bread salad have all come from my vegan cookbook which has not only given me some great recipes but also ideas about how I can make substitutions in my own cooking. Some of the recipes are a bit complicated and they require quite a few ingredients but I am slowly building up a good range of ingredients to draw upon in our cupboards. Again with the recipes, as with everything else, you need the time to plan and to make the dishes. I have already realised that I need to find a lot more alternatives or I will find that the diet becomes very boring very quickly.

The first BBQ

Although we can’t grill meat on the grill, we can grill vegetables! We had our first BBQ of 2018 last weekend and we didn’t go hungry. I made a spicy salsa, a guacemole, salad and a huge variety of vegetables. It was delicious! I was keen to try making a lentil burger to go on the grill but Markus wasn’t so keen. It remains on my to-do list and we will definitely be trying it one day soon.

Team event

On Thursday we had a team event at a very nice restaurant in Zürich. Not many of the team know that I have taken up a vegan diet and I’m not sure what they will think when I say that I am doing in voluntarily. There are lots of vegan restaurants in Zürich but this wasn’t one of them. It turned out the only thing I could have was a salad which grilled vegetables. I checked that the house dressing wasn’t made with milk, cream or honey. It was cruel to watch everyone else tucking into a medium rare steak or fish but I genuinely enjoyed what I ordered. I cringed when someone mentioned having a dessert but then I saw that they had a mango sorbet on the menu and it made me smile. The choice available to me was limited but I still enjoyed the evening.

Zurich Sechseläuten

16 Apr

Today the city of Zürich celebrates the special and old tradition of Sechseläuten, and as a result, I am celebrating only having to spend a half day in the office!

The Sechseläuten tradition might seem a little bit odd, especially if you wander down to just outside the Opera House at 6pm today and don’t realise what is happening. A snowman will be sitting proudly on top of a huge wood pile. But the snowman will not be smiling for long. At 6pm sharp – this is Switzerland after all – the wood is lit and the crowds will anxiously wait for the head of the snowman, which is packed full of firecrackers, to explode. It is said that the time it takes between the fire being lit and the head exploding will be an indication of how good the summer will be. The faster the time, the better.

The snowman (which in Swiss German is called the Böögg) represents winter and the ritual burning is a way to “get rid” of the winter and get ready for spring.

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After the actual event, locals make use of the embers of the fire and grill sausages and meat before heading home. But only if the weather is good!

While working in Switzerland, I have only been to see the event live in 2016. My first job in Switzerland was outside of the city, so I had to work the full day. 2016 was a disastrous year. It was the first year for the new Bööggmeister (the man who builds the snowman), after the previous one had retired. It took the head 43 minutes and 34 seconds to explode, which was the longest time it has taken to explode on record. The weather was wet and it had rained the night before. When it became clear that the wood was not catching fire, the organisers began to pour petrol on it; otherwise, I have the feeling that we would still be waiting for the head to explode now.

For this reason, and even though I am free to go and watch the event in person, I will be staying away. I already have the feeling that I am a bit of a jinx because of the long time that was recorded in 2016. I will be watching from the safety of my sofa as the event will be covered live on Swiss TV.

Keep your fingers crossed that head explodes quickly and the summer will be good!