Thursday, December 20, 2012

Dancing while wearing a helmet

I started 2012 celebrating New Year’s eve in Berlin. I don’t know what celebrating New Year’s is like everywhere in the world, but in Germany, it involved a lot of public drinking and a lot of fireworks. So far, normal, right? Well, I learned that though Germans are extremely careful and safety oriented (I got chastised more than once for J walking) on New Year’s eve, that all goes out the window.

There are few times in my life where I’ve felt physically unsafe and New Year’s eve in Berlin was one of those times (and I’ve gone skydiving!) Originally, we tried to get into the main area by Brandenburg gate, but by 8pm there were already more than 600,000 there and they stopped letting people in. Instead, we were relegated to the outskirts of Brandenburg gate. We had a great time of dancing and drinking at the little cafes while still being able to see the Brandenburg gate for midnight. However, I now know why 600,000 people crushed into the main area. No fireworks were allowed there. You see, on the outskirts, extremely drunk people were launching fireworks from glass bottles on the streets. It was unlike anything else I’d seen in my life. Random explosive devices going off inches away from where people were standing and cars still driving down the streets (and in some cases, driving over fireworks) I was honestly worried for my personal safety and thought it was just a matter of time until someone got glass debris in their eye or their hair went up in flames a la Michael Jackson 80’s pepsi commercial style. So I did what anyone in their right (sober-ish) mind would do: I bought an army helmet!

2 blocks from the Brandenburg gate there was a store selling random kitsch. In this random kitsch, they had a selection of headware. And in that random selection , I found an army helmet. The irony was not lost on me that there I was steps from the Brandenburg gate in Berlin buying an army helmet to protect myself from explosive devices. Completely different circumstances, I know. But the irony was there.

I had no idea that an army helmet would cause such a scene. People would see me, laugh and knock on my helmet. I should mention that the helmet was metal so this knocking was extremely loud. At one point, a guy ran up to me, manoevered around the metal edge and kissed me on the cheek. He claimed to be a Syrian freedom fighter that had just escaped Syria and he thought it was adorable that I was wearing an army helmet. It was also a hit with a group of American soldiers. If you have a thing for military men, I highly recommend wearing an army helmet next time you go out.

By 3am, fireworks were still going off, but I felt well protected in my army helmet. By that time, I also found myself proper drunk as you do at 3am on New Years eve. So there I was dancing in the shadow of the Brandenburg gate to Beyonce wearing an army helmet and down jacket (it was cold out)

Flash forward to December 15th…. I find myself in Southern Switzerland at a work Christmas party. I also find myself well and proper drunk as you do at a work Christmas party. Our hosts had a climbing wall on their patio and some of us found it appropriate to climb it. At some point, someone had the foresight to equip us with a climbing helmet. After our climbing adventure, we find ourselves dancing again, to Beyonce. So I did what anyone wearing a helmet would do and start dancing along.

I started the year wearing a helmet worried for my physical safety in what looked like (for lack of better words) a warzone. I’m now finishing that same year while wearing a helmet because someone else cared enough (or more likely found it funny) for my physical safety. To say that 2012 has been a crazy year is an understatement: I’ve had 2 surgeries in 2 countries within 6 months, moved countries, switched jobs and escaped Germany with the threat of a lawsuit from my former employer, so I’m taking the fact that I ended my year the same way it started but for much different reasons as a good sign. You better be good 2013, I have high hopes for you.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Canada is not a great white tundra

NOT a typical Canadian house

Whenever people hear that I’m from Canada, they automatically assume I’m used to cold and snow.  God forbid I complain that it’s a little cold, I inevitably get “But you’re from Canada!”  and my response is usually “yes, I’m from the part of Canada that had to ship snow in for the Olympics”    Yes, the majority of land mass in Canada is freezing cold in Winter, but not many people live there.  It’s called the arctic and a good reason why 90% of us Canadians live as close to the US border as possible.  It’s less cold (also our neighbors have cheaper gas and booze)

I was born in Montreal and yes, it was cold.  Really bloody cold.  3 feet of snow and -15C cold.  But for 17 years I lived in Vancouver.  Glorius temperate Vancouver.  Yes, Vancouver is still Canada but it rarely snows in Vancouver (I swear!)  and when the odd time it does snow, it’s great because there is usually mass panic and the city shuts down.   In my 17 years in Vancouver, I can count the amount of times there was more than 5 cm of snow on the ground on my hands.  But when it’s happened, it’s been memorable!  Like the time in 2000 when my family and I wanted a white Christmas and rented a cabin a few hours away where there was sure to be snow: it snowed 20cm in Vancouver and we could barely leave the city!  Or the time in 2008 when it snowed and we could actually toboggan down some of the hills.  In Vancouver, when more than 5cm of snow is forecasted, there is a snowfall warning and people cancel plans, stay off the roads and get ready to hunker down for days at home.  In the winter of 1998 we had 30cm of snow and pretty much all grocery stores, businesses and transit were shutdown for 3 days.  I swear.  YES, this is in Canada.   Of course some of us from the rest of Canada laugh at Vancouver’s snow antics, but after 17 years, I got used to it.  If there was more than 5cm of snow on the ground, you could count on getting sent home early from work.   Yes, Vancouver is an hour and a half drive from some of the best skiing in North America and there is lots of snow in the mountains, just none in the city.  Just the way it should be!  Most weekends in the winter, I would head for a 20 minute drive to the local mountains, snowshoe or ski in a winter wonderland and drive back down to a snowfree city.   Perfect really.

Flash forward to my first winter in Europe. I thought I was going to die.  Not only was  it-20C and there was not a drop of moisture in the air (instead of snow, we usually get 5 months of rain you don’t have to shovel it and it keeps your skin moist year round) .  My skin felt like a lizard and no amount of clothes could keep me warm.  My colleagues couldn’t grasp the concept of the Canadian complaining about the cold.  

This winter I live in Lugano, Switzerland.  When you think of Switzerland, you think of snow and the Alps.  And there is plenty of snow in the Alps, but drive south of the Alps, and you leave the snow behind.  Again, the way it should be: mountains, snow! City, no snow!  (Until today when we got a few centimeters but that looks like it’s going to melt away any minute)

So when you think about Canada and Canadian, understand that not only do we NOT live in igloos, chase wild buffalo, ride a snowmobile to work and ice fish, some of us also aren’t used to the cold and snow!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Disneyland or Switzerland?

One of the things I've noticed about living in Switzerland is that sometimes, things seem a little... too artifical.  As in artifically perfect.  A little bit like Disneyland. Calling Switzerland the the happiest place on earth might be going a bit far especially for a cynic (aka realist) like me.   However, it seems like daily, I'm blown away by something or other which reminds me of the happiest place on earth.

Like for instance, Lugano has these really unique trees.  I'm no botanist, so I can't tell you what trees they are.  And they're probably the most generic trees around, but what makes them different is that they are pruned just so.  They have thick trunks and thick branches and in the spring, little branches grow off of them and they are these cute bushy things.  Now in a "normal" world, they would just grow and become normal trees.  But in Switzerland, they're pruned so that the new regrowth is trimmed each year to keep their unique shape.

And then there's the garbage. Yep, who knew that garbage would be something to write home about, but it is. Literally. I lived in Vancouver for 17 years and I know garbage. In the time I lived there, the garbage workers were on strike at least 3 times. The garbage in Vancouver is worth fighting about. Again, literally. Most apartment buildings in Vancouver have to deal with communal dumpsters. And our garbage must be pretty valuable because there are constantly people pilfering thru it. Alley pirates, Dumpster divers, whatever you want to call them. Beyond the fact that it's heartbreaking that Canada, a first world country can't support it's addicted and mentally ill, it's annoying. There have been many sleepless nights due to them rolling their (illicitly taken) shopping carts down the alleys and the pirates getting in fights with each other or god forbid, they fall asleep in the dumpster and get scooped up by the truck (it happens, I swear!) Here, in Switzerland, garbage is a clean, organized event. You go to the corner, drop your bag in the required slot and it goes underground into a nicely contained pit. No fuss, no muss and amazingly, no smell!

Of course, there's a lot more than garbage and pruned trees.  Such as that there are still paid crossing guards at school crossings (I haven't seen a crossing guard since Cyndi Lauper was on the charts...)  All the local parks have free public washrooms and they are shockingly not graffitied or smell like urine.  What's shocking is that all of this, and I pay half the taxes I did in Canada and less than half what I did in Germany.   

There's a song that says "live in New York once but leave before you get hard.  live in California once, but leave before you get soft"  I think this might be my California.  With a little Disneyland thrown in!

These are the trees in summer- perfect bushiness!

These are the trees in Winter- new growth is cut back by workers in the fall

Garbage in Vancouver.

Swiss garbage.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Learning to ignore the ticking of the clock

Recently, my life seems to have been overtaken by babies.  Everyone in my life seems to either be having one, just had one, or trying to have one.  My facebook feed is peppered with babies that all look the same to me (sorry, babies!)  And considering I’m knocking on 40’s door, my biological  clock is going “5,4,3….”

Until 4 years ago, my motto was “I’m not having kids”.  All that changed drastically and dramatically after I came back from an unintentionally soul searching business trip to Israel.  It wasn’t meant to be soul searching but after being interrogated and searched by Israeli customs officials for 3 hours straight, I reassessed my life.  At the time, I was in a stable relationship and had been in love for a couple of years.   At this point my boyfriend (at the time) and I had both said we weren’t sure if we wanted kids.  So after I came back from Israel, I blurted out “We have to talk.  I know before I said I didn’t want to have kids, but now I do.  I’ve been cool places, I’ve done cool things but I’m finally at a place where I’m ready for a family.  So if you’re not on the same page, we have to figure things out”.   What can I say? I’m nothing if not blunt!

Anyway, long story short, that conversation ended in marriage a year later and the marriage ended less than a year after that.  And since then I’ve found myself in a place where I “think” I’d like to have a family but my time is ticking and last I checked my messages, George Clooney didn’t call.  My best friend is currently going thru IUI and has made the conscious decision of doing it alone.  I have mad respect for her because I can barely wrap my brain around it with someone, let alone alone.

What contradicts my decision to want a family is I’ve never been one of those baby people that randomly runs up to babies and oogles over them.  When someone shows up with a baby, I step back rather than run to pick them up.   I’m the girl in the back staring at the baby thinking to myself “Holy Shit!  How did that get out?!?”  I’ve held a baby exactly once and that’s cause my friend made me hold hers.  He didn’t break, and for that I’m happy.  I’ve never even changed a diaper and I’ve never babysat.  Well, actually, I did HELP babysit with a friend a couple of times in high school, but the kids sprayed me with the sprinkler and locked me out of the house laughing all the while.  So I wouldn’t exactly call myself a natural when it comes to mini humans.  Yet when I see kids once they’re walking and talking, I can relate to them!  I love their interest and curiosity in life.  I spent a year as a Brownie leader and those kids were a riot.  I’d love to experience that and share all I’ve learned and become with them.   I’d just maybe have to lend them to someone else for the first 3 years!

So maybe my decision 4 years ago to have a family was really my biological clock starting as opposed to a true desire to have children.  Maybe the decision I went with for most of the past 35 years was the one I was meant to go with and this whole biological clock ticking during a stage I was in a long term relationship is to blame.

I’d like to think that I’d like it to happen “someday” but the fact is, even if I met Mr.Right today, it’s gonna take a while to be stable enough in a relationship to broach the subject of kids, and well, by the time that happens, my biological clock will have stopped ticking.  A year ago, heck even 6 months ago, this scared the shit out of me.  But it doesn’t scare me so much that I want to tackle it on my own.  I’m now accepting that this isn’t something within my control and I’m sitting back.  Besides, I get to be “the cool auntie” to a whole lot of kids!

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Nurnberg- 6 months later

6 months ago, I moved out of nurnberg Germany in what can only be described as an epic fail. I won't get into it, but despite the fail, I left Germany with a heavy heart. Sure, my job killed my soul and nurnberg chewed me out and spit me out, but I genuinely liked the social life I made, the lifestyle (6 weeks vacation!!) and my apartment. However, in order to hold on to the hope of regaining sanity, I had to leave. The weeks leading up to my departure were some of the worst in my life: I just had had an appendectomy, which infected other organs, work wouldn't let me go without the help of lawyers and the guy I was starting to fall for wasnt as "separated" as he led me to believe. I returned to the scene of the trauma for a long weekend, to visit friends and to tackle errands (Germany is a lot cheaper than Switzerland!)

Since there are few things I despise more than failures, I take this weekend as a bit of introspection as well. Was it REALLY as bad as I remembered it? Did I possibly over exaggerate how bad it was? I didn't think so, but I want to consciously re-experience nurnberg- if only for a weekend.

Herewith, a running diary of my weekend.

Day 1

Old lady with small dog wearing a coat- the dog. And well the lady too, it's freaking cold! She's talking to her dog all childlike. I try a "guten morgen" no response. Well, maybe she didn't hear me.

Exhibit 2- lady in the park feeding the birds. Right past a "do not feed the birds sign. Lucy runs up and chases the birds away. I brace myself to get yelled at. Nothing. Well, technically she wasn't following the rules either- I call it a wash.

Lucy walking back home. All happy like, a lady smiles, talks to Lucy, I attempt another "guten morgen" I get one back. Success!

Notice that the elevator in my friend's building says "aufzug". I notice for the first time that that literally translate to "up train". I forgot the German language can have a sense of humor.

Driving to get my car fixed. You know, I forget how pretty this place is in the fall.

Get to the car place, attempt to find where I have to tell the guy my car is here. 3 seperate counters. Attempt to line up, oh right, the Germans don't believe in queuing. Stick myself where it will be obvious I'm waiting and prepare to bulldoze anyone who dares try to go in front of me.

The guy takes my info for the car. I consciously try to keep Italian out of my brain. I'm able to get thru it until I ask "how does this work" and I get a 5 mi nute explanation of which I understand "11am". I'll just come back then.

Since I'm careless for the day, I take public transit. Oh public transit system named VAG, how I miss you! You were the source of some of the best jokes (the vag is hard to figure out, but once you get the hang of it...) Buy a ticket to ride the VAG.

Ride the VAG, thru the old hood. Ah, the memories! That's where I got called a cow for stopping my car while waiting for a friend, there's park I tore my tendons in and I see the broken down park is still broken!

I go downtown and the first stop is Starbucks! Ahhhhhh you can take the girl out of Vancouver, but you can't take Vancouver out of the girl!

The girl in front of me orders a Cafe latte. She's confused when the cashier tells her the price. The price is different than normal. I cringe. You can't go off script! If there's one thing I've learned from my time in Germany things have to stay the way they are. Girl realizes that cost is in her favor and relaxes. All coffees are on special for €1.50. I think I found my new home for the weekend.

Shit. Jus saw I missed a call from the mechanic. Pick up the voice message. Can't figure out if my car needs anything. Between the fast talking and shop background noise, I don't get the gist whether my car needs work or not. Call the mechanic back. Busy. Busy for the next 10 minutes. Oh ya, I forgot how hard they are to get a hold off. Just to make the appointment you have to call a central number which then routes you thru to the shop. Finally get a ring, no answer for the next 5 minutes. Get back on the vag and go back to the shop. Some things are just easier on person.

Get to the car place. Hear the phone ringing off the hook, that explains my previous predicament! Start explaining my situation. The little Italian I know starts coming to the surface. I go from talking like a 6 year old to a 3 year old. Clearly I'm struggling. We get thru figuring out that my car is fine. They just called to tell me they filled up the washer and cooling fluid. Then they take it for the inspection and I'm to come back at noon. Get back on the VAG to go back downtown.

VAG narrowly misses t-boning a small car at the intersection. People on the vag go flying. Drama on the vag. A lady banged her head. Vag stops, everyone gets out. Not too minimize the situation, but no one really went flying. But if I know nurnberg, this incident will be epic and should involve police, fire trucks, vag interruptions and at least a month of work off for the woman and hopefully a health insurance paid visit to the spa to help her get over the stress she just experienced.

Switch to the subway. See a woman in her 60's with bright green spiked hair.

Walk around downtown. It's partly cloudy, but I wear sunglasses anyway. Suddenly fear that I'll run into someone I used to work with. When I left, my hr manager told me a German cliche "you meet two times in life and the second time is never pretty". For how they treated me, I can hold my head up high. But I dare not tempt German fate and hope I don't run into anyone.

Trip on a cobblestone. Hold my breath. Oh ya, tripping on cobblestones doesn't hurt anymore. Sprained my ankle twice on cobblestones. After I tore my tendon in the park, the ankle's been stable. I don't fear eye watering pain anymore when I trip.

Back to the car place. Walk past the most random vending machines that sells condoms. And a "travel pussy" an artificial vagina. You just can't make this stuff up. Phone is still ringing at the car place. I show up at noon and grateful that Germany doesn't have small time switaly hours where everything is shut between the hours of noon and 1:30. I get away with a bill of €120. I don't dare think of what that bill would be in Switzerland. I love you Switzerland, but sometimes I think you're expensive, just to be expensive!

Drive to the hairdressers. Take a wrong turn, turn around. Shit. It's a 1 way street. I'm already committed to my 3 point turn around. I see another car coming. I cringe. Now There's no sign telling me that it's a one way. The only way I know is because I've done this exact same move before and gotten yelled at in this same spot before. The driver of the other car firmly, but politely tells me it's a one way street. I definately did NOT get polite but firm last time!

See Laura the hairdresser. I love her. She cuts good hair. Hair cut is 40€. Just over half what I would pay in Switzerland and Como. No wonder every place I've ever travelled to has a lot of German tourists, 6 weeks vacation plus disposable income is a winning combination. Why then is everyone around here so miserable? I conclude it's vitamin D deficiency. I may be from the land of rain but bavaria Spends a lot of time being grey.

I've exhausted myself. Go home, take a nap. all in all, not a bad day. A few quirks but if every day were like this, I'd have been able to tolerate it.

Day 2-

Take Lucy out to the park. An old lady starts up a conversation. Turns out she's telling me that the thing Lucy is sniffing (which I thought was a cleaning brush) is a hedgehog. She's mesmerized by this and goes on. I get none of what she's saying but she's friendly and I smile and say "ja, ja" a lot.

Do some more errands, buy fabric and toiletries which save me the equivalent of what I paid to get here in gas.

Walk around town again (still in sunglasses) get another Starbucks and almost get bowled off the staircase. When I live here, I coined the term sidewalk mafia. Of all the places I've ever been I've never been forced off a sidewalk so many times! When people here walk in groups, they tend to take up the whole sidewalk and don't make allowances for you to pass. 

Spend time visiting a guy friend and briefly wonder what we would have been like together. Quickly conclude that we'd be a real life Phil and Claire Dunphy from modern family. Giggle at the visual.

Get back to my friend's place. Slide into a parking spot. About to get out of my car when irate not laid in a while guy comes up to me ranting and raving that I took his parking spot. Rrrreright, I was "supposed" to know that you being parked in the driveway a couple of car lengths away was actually you wanting the parking spot I was aiming for. It takes me right back to how I remember nurnberg to be. Really wish I could retort "I'm sorry dickwad, my physic powers were off today so I couldn't have possibly known where you were headed. I curse myself for not having learned this sentence in German. Lucy gets out of the car and barks furiously at him. Good dog!
Go to dinner with my friend in my old neigborhood, it seems weird.  I really wish that Nurnberg would have been a different experience for me.  I'll never regret my Nurnberg experience as it put some fight in me and was great perspective.

When I moved to nurnberg, I did so with an open mind and embraced the experience. I vowed to learn the language and not become a bitter ex-pat because things weren't the way I was used to. Unfortunately, day by day, the bitterness seeped into my soul by osmosis. Not because things weren't the way I was used to, but because everything everyday just seemed to be so overwhelmingly difficult.

When someone asks me why nurnberg didn't work out for me, I can't pinpoint just one reason. Other than the job (a big one granted), there was no ONE thing that drove me over the edge. But the culmination of a difficult to manoever bureacracy, the verging on hostile attitude of many of the people, the focus on following unwritten rules and following them because "thats the way things have always been" and just the unnecessary complication of every day made it unbearable.

Sure, it had a lot of great points and those will always be near and dear to my heart. But I feel secure knowing I made the right decision. For me.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The day I came home with stickers on my face

The other day, I was reading on BBC news, a reporter's story of how his face went on strike  and it reminded me of my own experience with Bell's Pallsy

Sometime in 1979, at the ripe old age of 6, I came home from kindergarten with stickers on my face.  You know, the kind that kindergarten teaches give students on their assignments: gold stars, blue squares etc…   When I came home from school, my mom giggled and asked what we did at school to involve putting stickers on my face.   I told her that we didn’t play with stickers, but that mid way thru the day, the teacher looked at my face, panicked, and covered me in stickers.  So off my mom went and peeled them off.  After she peeled them, she told me I could “stop making that face now”  “what face?” I replied?  Well, it turns out, partway thru Kindergarten class that day, half of my face decided to go on strike.

In the weeks leading up to me coming home with stickers on my face, I felt sick, my parents had taken me to the doctor and the doctor reported that all was fine.   My mom thought my whining about not feeling well was a bid to get out of school but when she peeled the stickers off and realized I wasn’t faking it, she rushed me to the hospital.  

It turns out I had strepthroat, which led to an ear infection, which led to pinching my facial nerve which led to paralyzing my face.  And add to the mix, I also had scarlet fever.  The first few nights in the hospital were hell.   To this day, I clearly remember the nurses waking me up and putting me into a bath of ice water because my fever was dangerously high.

Though I was young, I remember a lot about my hospital time.  Well, scarred for life is probably a better word.  You see, of all the units they put me in, somehow I ended up in the burn unit (I’m assuming due to the neverending Canadian hospital bed shortage)   The girl I shared a room with was a French Canadian girl whose flannel nightgown had burned to her body (fire retardant textile legislation was still a few years away).   And even though I was only 6, the image of Michael, the boy whose house caught fire while he was trapped in the basement, would roll his head to toe bandaged body down the hospital hallway screaming in agony.   That’s just something that stays with you forever.

I remember little about my actual Bell’s palsy treatment, but I do remember going into the room with the doctor while he hooked me up to something I only remember as being Frankenstein like.   It was a device that had wires connecting to my face and sent electrical shocks to my face to stimulate the nerve.  I guess it was painful, because my stoic German grandmother was the only one who could be in the room with me and even she was crying.

After my hospital stay, I had to go see Dr.Cohen to monitor my progress.   Part of how he monitored my progress was to say to me “Ok now Kathy, what noise does the horse make”  While my face was paralyzed, I guess I could make a pretty good “neigh” sound.  I would make the sound, Dr.Cohen would give me a lollipop and I’d come back the following week.  Once I couldn’t make the noises anymore, my face was back to normal and the lollipops stopped.
Today, when you look at my face, you’d never guess that my face was paralyzed and I count myself as extremely lucky because the only residual effect I seem to have from either the Bell’s palsy or scarlet fever is a dire fear of anything that has the potential to give me an electric shock!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Learning Italian the Lazy way

This isn't a post on a revolutionary way to learn a language.  No, it's about being lazy and complacent.   I've been in Switaly 6 months now and I speak pathetically little Italian.  It's not something I'm proud of.  But you see, Italy will be the 3rd language I've taken on learning as an adult and the 5th in my language "repertoire" so I feel my laziness is justified.

To be fair, one of the reasons I speak so pathetically little is because I can otherwise get by.   Understanding Italian isn't all that hard since I have French and Spanish as a reference.   So most of the time, I get the jist of what's going on.   There are times when these references can be false friends.  Like the time I saw "tortellini con burro" on the menu.  In Spanish, "burro" is donkey.  Though I've seen horse on the menu before, I've never seen donkey!   In fact, burro is butter and more like the french word "beurre".   Nevertheless, I didn't order the tortellini!

It is a little weird to understand what's going on, but to not be able to contribute to the conversation at all I have to admit.   But again, because I live in a country with 3 official languages, I get by.   A conversation will usually go like this:  stranger strikes up a conversation, I try to babble out a few words, they ask me what language I speak.  I list them out in order of preference (English, French, German)  the rest of the conversation continues in one of the 3, or sometimes all 3 at a time like during my recent surgery.   The surgical nurse spoke German, the anasthetist spoke French and my doctor spoke English.  Trying to speak 3 languages when you're about to undergo surgery is a challenge I wouldn't recommend!

I feel a bit bad that I'm not able to speak to most of my neighbors other than to ask them how they are and to smile a lot.  But I figure I can get away with a lot as long as I'm smiling!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Random facts about where I live..

As I celebrate my six month anniversary this week, I thought I’d take the time to learn a little bit more about my adopted country (also since I have time on my hands recovering from surgery and all)  Herewith are some of the more interesting (and unusual) things I’ve found about the land I now call my home…

Though I’d consider Switzerland a progressive country, women didn’t earn the right to vote until 1971.  Though they quickly made progress after that because the first female president was elected in 1999.

Switzerland is fiercely protective of their neutrality and fear that another country could attack because of that.  It’s the law that a Swiss citizen never be more than a few minutes away from a nuclear shelter.  Also, there are rumors that the tunnels have stockpiles of weapons, “just in case”.

To drive thru the entirety of Switzerland from North to south would take just over 3 hours and East to West about 4 hours.  But don’t even think of trying to rush it because Swiss speeding fines are some of the steepest in the world. If you have been speeding excessively, Swiss judges have the option to fine you based on your total worth.  In 2010, a driver going 2.5 times the speed limit received a speeding fine of 650,000 euros.

The “CH” on license plates stands for Confederation Helvetica the official name of Switzerland.  Yes, the same Helvetica that’s a font option on documents you type.  That font was also invented in Switzerland.

Switzerland has what’s called a direct democracy.  If a group of citizens can gather 50,000 signatures within 100 days of a new law, that law has to go to a referendum and if rejected, the new law can be overturned.   I, as a non Swiss citizen, am not eligible to vote unless I would get Swiss citizenship (which takes 10 consecutive years and a lot of hoops to jump thru to get)

Sure, Switzerland is famous for chocolate, watches, banking, Ricola candies and Swiss knives but some random things invented in Switzerland: Rayon, Cellophane and Velcro.

Switzerland isn’t officially part of the EU.  Though they are part of the Shenghen agreement (which allows the free movement of people across Europe.  That means if I drive to Italy to go out for dinner or go grocery shopping, I cross a border guard station.  The border guards have the right to ask for documents and search the car, but most of the time they just stand around and chat.  And if it rains or it’s past 8pm, you rarely see anyone!

Monday, October 22, 2012

How to lose an organ in every European country or Katherine’s guide to European surgery

2 surgeries in 6 months, in 2 different countries isn’t exactly my idea of a wild time.  But as fate has it, that’s what in store for me.  And because of all the fun 2012 has handed me, I reserve the right to be angry at fate.

Right before I left Germany, I had appendicitis and my appendix was taken out.  As it happens, when they were taking it out, they discovered some of my other bits were infected.  I was given heavy duty antibiotics so that my ovary wouldn’t “explode” (the doctor’s actual words)  Going thru surgery in German wasn’t as bad as I thought.  It turns out you can get creative with surgery charades.  Signing a bunch of forms in German on painkillers also wasn’t my idea of wild time.  But I coped.  And other than the sexy white thigh thighs and a roommate who snored like a bear, it was tolerable.

Flash forward to 6 months later, I’ve been in pain ever since.  I’ve been too busy getting used to the new job and new country to really do much about until lately.   On Friday, I finally got in to see a specialist and was half expecting him to say that what I had was normal and would go away (since no test so far suggests anything) Instead he told me that once your ovary was infected, it could stay infected for the rest of your life and may never get picked up on.  He wanted to put me in for surgery Monday but thankfully the earliest date available was Wednesday.

Now, I’ve never lived my life conventionally and have tended to do the opposite of what everyone else is doing at the time, so it’s no surprise that while all these babies and pregnant people are in my life, I’m about to get a reproductive organ pulled out.

However, this time since I know what’s coming, I’m a bit scared.  Not scared of the actual surgery: I couldn’t be in better hands, my Swiss doctor is Harvard trained and Swiss medical care makes Canada’s look like 3rd world health care.  Scared because for even a short time, I’m going to be losing my independence and mobility.   Last time I was lucky because I had a few friends stay with me.  Getting laproscopy isn’t so bad because the healing time is much shorter, but because they fill your tummy full of C02, afterwards you feel like you’ve been hit in the gut by Mike Tyson.  You don’t realize the stomach muscles you use every day until you get laproscopy.  Coughing? Ouch!  Sneezing? Criminal!  Getting out of bed? Logistically challenging and Laughing? Well, forget about it.

So here I am, living in a new country for 5 months with my dog and about to undergo surgery.  I’ve accepted that I’ll have to be dependent on new friends for a while.   I’m “actually” going to go out and ask for help, which for me, is a big thing.  So I guess things happen for a reason, my pain will be fixed and I’ll be faced to deal with one of my biggest fears, but like Conan O’Brien once said in a great commencement speech, “there’s nothing more liberating than having your worst fears realized”  well, I’ll let you know how that works out next week!