Wednesday, May 30, 2012

I feel the earth move

Even though I lived for 17 years along one of the biggest fault lines of the world, I only felt one small earthquake. Once in a while, there would be media panic on whether we were prepared for "the big one". My old office had an earthquake preparedness kit in my desk drawer (thankfully the emergency food supply looked so disgusting I was never tempted to eat it during an afternoon snack attack!)

Yet even though I've only lived in this part of the world 3 weeks, there have been 2 earth quakes. The first one I didn't feel because it was at 4am. The only reason I even know it happened was because my Facebook friends asked me and a neighbor told me she felt it.

The second one happened yesterday and the epicenter was a lot closer. I was in Milan for work meetings and the lady serving up breakfast panicked. I couldn't figure out what her issue was until she started saying "look at the chandeliers shaking and listen to the dishes rattling" I clearly must have been so concentrated on eating, I didn't feel it under my feet. I did however, see the chandeliers and hear the dishes. Luckily for us around here, all is good. The same can't be said for some of those near the epicenter :(

Monday, May 28, 2012

I live on vacation

For the first time today, the magnitude of where I live hit me: I live on vacation.  Well, at least I live in an idyllic vacation land.  You see, I don't actually get to BE on vacation, but I get to LIVE in a vacation spot.  The reality of it is that I have to actually work (and work a fair bit, the Swiss work week is 42 hours a week)

The amazing thing is, before the prospect of this job came up, I didn't know much (or anything) about Lugano and as it turns out, it's a pretty well kept secret.

Lugano is a town of only 75,000 people.  But at this time of year at least, it doesn't feel small.  Probably because only about 10% of the land is livable.  About 75% of the land is hilly/mountainous and 15% of it water.  Driving around here is a challenge.  I've gotten lost countless times and getting lost here means finding yourself on top of a mountain or on the edge of a lake.  The town next to me is called Paradiso.  I get lost in Paradiso constantly.  There are worse things than getting lost in paradise.

I can go on about how beautiful it is here, but I'll let the pics speak for themselves.

This is the view on my commute to work
I got lost.  Took a wrong turn in Paradiso and this was the view I had.

A little village, minutes from where I live.

6km from my house.  In Valsolda, Italy.

Another pretty village with no shortage of overlake patios.

It's a dog's life...

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The kissing culture

Though I technically live in Switzerland, for all intents and purposes, I live in Italy. I could literally walk to Italy. And it wouldn't be a long walk. Italy is less than 6km from my door step. For now, I'm pretty happy to experience the warmth of the culture and people and the deliciousness of the food, all the while being in the safe confines of Swiss efficiency.

Growing up half Portuguese, half German, I've been exposed to both a warm touchy feely culture and one where saying "I love you" was reserved for special occasions". My portuguese family was part of the kissing culture and my mom did a great job of breaking the tradition of "I love you" only for special occasions.

So, I'm familiar with the kissing culture. The thing with the kissing culture though, is that each country/region/family have their own kissing ritual. If you've ever been to any Latin country, you know what I mean. You meet someone, you kiss them. Not tongue slipping action, but the polite cheek kisses. The thing is, if you get the ritual wrong, you look ridiculous. I remember being in Bolivia and assuming I was in a 2 kiss society. It turned out it was a 3 kisser and when I thought it was over, I was face to face with a 19 year old about to smack me on the lips. Awkward.

Living in Germany for the past year and a half, it's safe to say there wasn't a lot of kissing going on. Not that it was cold (in that regard) there just wasn't kiss greetings. Or hugs really. But I'm good with that. I'm not a hugger. It was odd though, because on your birthday, people would rush across a room and hug you. I felt awkward about the hugging ritual. there would be someone who barely said 2 words to you 364 days a year and then would rush you in an embrace one day a year.

So here I am. Living in kissing culture. And I have no idea if I'm meant to 2 kiss or 3 kiss. One of these days after carefully watching for the umpteenth time, I'll get it straight. Maybe I'll just tattoo the number 2 or 3 on my hand so I get it straight!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

What a difference 400km makes!

Well.  I’ve completed my first two weeks of Swiss life.  And I have to say, I’m stunned.  Stunned as in the difference it is from where I just moved from.  I moved 400km due south to Lugano, Switzerland and I can’t believe the difference in culture.  Sure, every city, heck, even every country has it’s own intricacies, but the difference is amazing.  

The biggest thing I noticed off the bat, is that people make eye contact and greet you.  Something I really took for granted before moving to the depths of Franconia Germany!  To be fair, a lot of Germans find Franconians to be chilly (a mass generalizing I know, but one I found to be reasonably accurate)  In my old building, if I made eye contact with someone and greeted them, 90% of the time my greeting was met with a bowed head and a quick scurrying away like a mouse.  Once in a while I got a grunt.  Today, one of my neighbors left me out a chocolate cake and Lucy a rawhide bone.  It almost brought a tear to my eye: my old neighbors used to gripe about Lucy peeing on the patch of grass (despite the 6 cats that roamed free) and one even insinuated I had something to do with the theft of his bike!

Other things that I previously took for granted and am happy to have back are shops that take credit cards, no insane 2 month realtor fees when renting a place and apartments that come with kitchens (yes, in Germany “most” places come without kitchens making moving not only ridiculously expensive but awkard when you have to move all your cupboards, stove and the kitchen sink!)

I thought communicating would be a challenge since I live in the only area of Switzerland where Italian is the most widely spoken language.  One of the good things about living in Switzerland is that there are 3 official languages, so most people speak on or more of German, French and Switzerland.  Though my French is rusty, most of my schooling was in French so getting by is a breeze.

The biggest amazement though is the fact that I live in a place I (and most of the rest of the world) would happily vacation.  I’m stunned by the beauty of where I live.  My apartment is 200 meters from the lake which is surrounded by small mountains or large hills depending on your perspective.  The architecture and feel are Italian.  Whenever I discover something new, I’m amazed that I get to live here. 

Of course, nowhere is perfect and here, nothing is still open on Sundays and before I griped about grocery stores closing at 8pm, here they close at 6:30 pm making grocery shopping a logistical challenge.  Also, the cost of some things is beyond ridiculous.  I saw a houseplant at my local grocery store that would be $20 in Canada or 20 euro in Germany for 50CHF! (the equivalent of about $50us)  Since I pride myself on being resourceful, I have found a work around though.   Not only will I stock up on visits back to Germany (also a good excuse to see the friends I’ve made) but Italy is but a 20 minute drive away.  And, in Italy, I’ve happily discovered, things are not only cheaper but they’re open until 10pm and on Sundays and holidays.  Pretty much nirvana!

I’m sure it won’t be perfect and I’ve heard people complain about the sleepiness of Lugano.  It’s no rocking metropolis, that’s for sure.  It has a population of only 75,000: though you’d never guess it by the amount of traffic in town (because of it’s proximity to Italy, 50,000 Italian travel daily to work in Ticino (the canton where Lugano is located) )   I don’t know that I’ll miss a “big city” life since Milan is a quick hour drive away it’s easy to just drive or hop on a train to go shopping or catch a concert.  Where I am at my life right now, I’m happy for a bit of quiet and beautiful surroundings.

In the past two weeks, I’ve really pondered my German experience and though it can be summed up as nothing short of challenging, I’m happy I experienced it.  Had I moved straight from Vancouver to Lugano, it would have been too easy- I’d have been spoiled.  Though painful, I’m glad I had my German interlude to give me perspective.  Of course, I could have down without the lawsuits and grumpy neighbors, but that’s just part of life I guess.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

We'lll always have the vag...

Well, Deutschland, our turbulent relationship is quickly coming to an end.  And like all turbulent relationships (not that I've had a lot, thankfully!) I'm left scratching my head wondering where it all went wrong.  16 months ago, I stepped off the plane full of hope and excitement at the challenge and prospect of living here.  Flash forward 16 months later, and I'll be leaving you after consulting a lawyer and without an organ.  Oh, how different things could have been.... *sigh* 

But, it's not all in vain and there will be some things that I'll miss about you.  There are more things I won't (which is why I'm leaving in the first place) So, here are some of the highlights and lowlights of the things I've loved about Deutschland and the things that have slowly made me crawl up the wall.

The lowlights.  Oh, where to start... but I'll concentrate on the biggies and let bygones be bygones on the little ones!

The lack of multiculturalism-      Coming from a big city in Canada, I'm used to, love and embrace multiculturalism.  It's a white, white world here and multiculturalism is not embraced here.  After WWII, Germany offered Turkish citizens a guest worker program to come and rebuild Germany.  Well, a lot of Turkish people came, helped rebuild the country and when they stayed, settled and started familires and communities, a lot of germans got miffed.  They wanted the help to come and rebuild, but please don't stick around.  It's a really weird attitude to see and I see a lot of Turkish people (and other minorities) being treated as second class citizens.

The franconian attitude-  Though Nurnberg is technically in Bavaria, it's within a not officially recognized area called Franconia.  As best as I gather, Franconia wanted to be it's own state, but it's not.   True Franconians, will call this area Franconia and not part of Bavaria.  The closest I can relate to this is Quebec in Canada.  Quebec likes to think of it as a "distinct" society and a lot of Quebecers recognize themselves as Quebecers first and Canadians second.   Franconia is known to most Germans as having a weird dialect, having particularly cold people and, not as open minded as the rest of Germany.  It might sound terrible, but I'm getting to recognize Franconians easier, they often won't look you in the eye, on the rare occasion that they talk to you, you might get accused of stealing their bike or overhearing a conversation that goes something like "foreigners and english speakers don't belong in our country, bloody cows"

"not my fault, not my problem"-  The single pervasive attitude I've discovered in my time here is the "not my fault, not my problem attitude"  It's no secret that Germany has bureacracy, however, should something not go as scripted, the "not my fault, not my problem" defense instantly comes up.  Whether it's a landlord, travel agent, banker, server in a restaurant, furniture store, government, employer.  You name it.  Some version of "not my fault, not my problem" is the first line of defense.  Instead of working to solve it, putting you in touch with someone that can or suggesting where you can find help, "not my fault, not my problem" is the first reaction and a frustrating one at that.

The highlights.  or more accurately, the things that kept me sane and kept my sense of humor.

- the amazing friends I've made.  I've met such a cool mix of people from all cultures and walks of life.

- fests. There is seriously a festival of some sort going on every weekend within a half hour's drive from where I live.  There seems to always be something to celebrate (which makes me wonder why people in this area are so grumpy, but I digress....).  Whether it's one of the random 12 bank holidays in Bavaria, something to do with beer, wine, asparagus, fish, garlic, you name it, there's a fest for it.

- Thai food.  There is lack of decent ethnic food in Nurnberg, however, there is NO shortage of Thai restaurants.  There are as many thai restaurants here as there are Starbucks in Vancouver!  Now, they've accomodated to the local tastes (read- not spicy) but it's decent and affordable.

- The selection of wine.  As a Canadian living in Bavaria, I should be writing about beer, but since I can't stand beer, I'll concentrate on wine.  The availability and cost of wine here is ridiculous.  From cans of prosecco at my local grocery store for 0.79 cents a can to a bottle of wine at a winery for 6 euros.  The downfall to this (beyond the obvious) is that because I live in Germany, there is a bit of a need to drink more!

- the autobahn.  So what you can't go more than 30 km/h in my neighborhood or if you go 60 km/h in a 50 km/h zone you'll get a ticket, but driving on the speed free part of the autobahn at 180 km/h is an exhilirating feeling!

- the vag.  Anyone that's talked to me or read anything I've written in the past 16 months knows how much I go on about the vag.  The jokes write themselves when the public transit system is called vag and you can't have too much of a good thing.  From the vag service men sitting and smoking a cigarette after they've serviced the vag, to the little display that tells you when the vag is coming.  Yeah, I might sound like a 17 year old boy, but it's one of the small constant comforts I've found in this turbulent sea.   

Well, Nurnberg, I'm sure you'll function with out me and I know I will without you.  It's really a shame we've had to split ways so early, but at the same time, I'm glad we didn't waste any time.   I won't look back on my Nurnberg experience with bitterness, because I've learned a lot, made great friends and am a better person because of it.   And besides, Nurnberg, we'll always have the vag.