This One Goes Out to My Girls

Today was my last au pair meeting. All my friends were there, including bottles Champagne and Orange Juice. It’s so sad to think about these meetings not being a part of my weekly life. This is where I’ve made most of my closest friends in der Schweiz. I come to these meetings to vent about the frustrations of this “job,” the annoyances of the kids and parents, to socialize with people older than 6 and less than 40. They were something to look forward to every week and I will miss them. But more importantly, I will miss the people who are there.

Dear Au Pairs,

You are amazing. You do the work of three people: yourself, the Mom, and the Dad. You raise children who are not your own, and adjust to a lifestyle that is completely different from the one in which you grew up. Battling tantrums, ironing underwear, playing imaginary games, and grinning and bearing it are a part of your daily life. If it wasn’t for you, well, their life would still be fine. Because you are a luxury. Unfortunately, you are not treated as so. The pay is that of a pauper, the respect is non-existent; you are actually looked down upon by many Swiss people, who cannot believe you would do the job of a servant. And for the most part, you are one in a long line of au pairs for the family. That is, you are disposable.

That being said, you have taken on the role of live-in help to help fuel your quest for world domination! Well, perhaps not domination, but certainly conquest. Because of this job can live in a centrally located, efficiently run country, giving you access to numerous countries in the continent. Some days your hardest task is wrestling a child into sports gear. This is not a brain-busting job. No deadlines, homework, exams, or progress reports. Your friends at home are envious of your carefree lifestyle, as they should be. You have the life. I salute you, child-rearing domestic worker. Your job is hard and trying and can sometimes make you want to set your hair on fire and run, screaming out of the house. But, this job comes with the ability to explore the world at your every whim. Take hold of the opportunity, and seize all those free hours you have. The time to leave comes all too quickly.

Because you might not get it from the family: I appreciate you.

All the best,

Swisstina

In my mission to check off any remaining “must-dos” on my list, today I went to Viadukt with my friend Nicole. Despite the brrrrrrone-chilling cold, we strolled down the sidewalk peeking in and stepping inside some of the stores. The Viadukts were created many a year ago to help expansion of the city. Now,  SBB rails sit on top of the shopping center, continuing to shuttle patrons in and out of the city. Located in the Hardbrüke district, the area has a cool vibe and is a great place to spend the afternoon. Nicole and I popped in the shop on the very end of the line, Restaurant Markthalle. I had a delicious meal of wild boar in a ragout sauce over the creamiest, cheesiest polenta I’ve ever had. I’m not usually a big polenta fan, but this one will make anyone change their mind.

Viadukt

Plus, I had great company. Nicole is so much fun to be around. She ranks pretty high as someone who willingly spends her weekends with another au pair’s family, in order to help with a Scottish-themed party. Sounds pretty specific, and it is. I will be forever grateful for her help that weekend in Laax. I always have side cramps after being with her from all the laughter. Like I said, I’m really going to miss my friends. Such a great afternoon!

Nicole dazzling everyone with her amazing artistic skills. Immediately, she was the children's favorite.

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The Time is Drawing Nigh

Today is my ten month anniversary of living in der Schweiz. I cannot believe it has been that long. Honestly, it is not to be believed.

When I think back to where this year has gone and the places I’ve gone with it, I am shocked at all I have accomplished. It simultaneously feels like it’s flown by and yet moved with the rapidity of snow melting in January. How did I squeeze so much adventure into such a small amount of time? Or, how have I managed to go this long without seeing my friends and family on a regular basis? I view these opposing evaluations of the past ten months almost equally, though I tend to favor the zoomed-past-me-and-was-over-before-you-know viewpoint. It looks a little like:

  • Before coming: Romanticized view of what it’s like to be an au pair. The children won’t cry, because when did they do that when I babysat? Rarely. (Psych!) The kids and I will sit around playing intelligent games and enjoying witty repartee and quips… in German. (Bahahahahah) The family and I will become fast friends and I will enjoy lounging around the house, chatting about mutual interests. (Mmm…no) I will attack the continent of Europe and explore every city imaginable. (yes, Yes, YES!)
  • First month: Excitment! Wowza, I live in a foreign country! The mountains are everywhere! The snow is waaaaay more gorgeous in Switzerland! If I thought I liked cheese before… The beautiful picture the family painted of their life, and then discovering the one that actually exists. Wait, I just sit and play for five hours a day? That’s it?
  • Next two months: Homesickness, especially missing my friends. Relearning how to make friends at the au pair meetings in town. Uncertainty pertaining to my sanity when choosing this job and all that it in entails. Overwhelming frustration with Little Bean as she screams bloody-murder any time I come near her. An exciting, new appreciation for skiing. Planning and participating in a trip to Spain (ya Jillatinous!) and realizing that I can easily make a life for myself here that doesn’t have to involve children.
  • Next several months: Reached a “comfort level” with the family. The job has lost all appeal and I completely comprehend the difficulty of living with and caring for other people’s children. Establishing said “personal life” and truly appreciating how amazing it is to live in this city, in this country, on this side of the world, as an expat.
  • Last two/half months: Sadness at the departure of several important friends. This loss exacerbated my irritation with the job as I felt I was losing some of the things that were keeping me above water. Pervasive sense of “how the h-e-double hockey stick am I going to do this gig for x more months.” Gratefulness that new au pairs started coming, and happiness that I really enjoy them and have such a great time hanging out with them. Continue to establish meaning here in the city, as well as explore and get to know more of Europe.
  • Now (Beware, things get HONEST): Extreme excitement when thinking about seeing friends, holding and embracing them like the sweet, integral parts of my life that they are. A rumbly stomach just imagining all the food establishments I am going assail upon arrival (Blue Bird Bistro, Lulu’s Noodles, Okie Joe’s, Jack Stack, Foo’s Frozen Custard, Latte Land, Blanc…). Ecstatic joy imagining never having to take orders from the Mom. Ever. Again. Heartbreak at leaving this beautiful, centrally located country. A feeling of trepidation returning to a country that even my dad says, “is in really bad shape. Things are not good here, especially in the job market.” Reluctance at having to put a halt to traveling at a moment’s notice: no more zipping to Paris for the weekend, no trips to any city in Switzerland in less than 4 hours, no skiing in the Alps, forget about laying on the beaches in Portugal, wine tastings? not likely. A small amount of worry when thinking about transitioning to life in America–whatever that means. Sadness at having to leave behind this life I have created for myself and the people who are incredibly important to me.

Everyone has asked me recently, “Are you SO excited to go home?” Of course, I am looking forward to going home. Please don’t get me wrong. As I said, I want to see my friends so badly it makes my heart ache a wee bit every time I think of it. On my birthday, Monday, I was choking up reading the emails and messages I received from friends and family back home. I know it’s only been ten months, but it’s difficult. Sometimes I want to send Elizabeth a BBM telling her how awesome the risotto I just made was. I want to call Madeline and tell her how out-of-control, road-rage-mad I am at some people on the road who clearly haven’t learned to drive in the snow. I want Stephanie to text me and tell me where she’s going out tonight because I know, no matter what, it will more than likely be a good time. The reunions will be tremendous. I know this. But, still, in the end, I have loved so much of these last ten months and will be sad to see this world-wise, travel-saturated year go.

 

Oh yes, and HAPPY BIRTHDAY ADAM!!

I really like this picture.

Dynamite Duo (plus a little nugget of excitement)

No, no, I’m not talking about the comedic brilliance that is Jill and I zusammen. What I’m referring to is the smashing combination of two Brooklyn natives combining forces to create Ratatat. Last night I was fortunate enough to see them at a local klub, Plaza. The fusing of Mike Stroud and Evan Mast has created a “psychedelic rock band.” These two masters rely on electronics, beats, and their obvious competency in running around the stage, vacillating between guitar, bass, keyboards, drums, etc. Accompanying their hip-swaying, head-bobbing tunes are streaming videos with a variety of visually stimulating images. Some videos were movie clips strung together, another one was of different body parts (eyes, hands, mouths) pulsating to beats from the song, but my favorites were of the birds. These videos were composed of multiple images of jerky, natural bird movements combined to make one fluid motion. It’s hard to describe, but the compilation was an excellent addition to the beats.

With their long, stringy, curly, hair the two men were quite a presence on stage. For as much as one dude remained still, the other moved. Bobbing, heaving, pulsing, slamming, and swaying; the guy just kept moving. If he wasn’t swinging his guitar around like a madman, he was taking swills from his bottle of Jägermeister, or doing back-bends that would impress any yogi.

I can’t help but wonder how so many people in Switzerland have heard of this duo from Brooklyn. They certainly aren’t mainstream and not necessarily an appeal-to-the-masses type of band, yet they are highly entertaining. The lights, the incredible volume of sound, the videos, and the ever-moving man–it was a show of constant stimulation.

Notice anything new on the blog? Maybe a little image on the side, perhaps? I’ll give you some time to look for it…

You found it! The website Go!Overseas compiles lists of the best blogs in countries from around the world. My comrade and overseas partner in crime, Jill, is featured as a top blog writer in Turkey. She absolutely deserves it. Her creative writing and hilarious stories always keep me entertained. Plus, she just has great things to say.

If you may allow me the indulgence of boasting for just a moment, I am excited to share that I have made this list for blogs in Switzerland (you can check out the list here). According to the staff on the site, Swisstina is full of “outstanding and high quality content.” Well, if you say so! But, honestly, I’m excited about it. I think this is the Interweb’s way of telling me to make a job out of writing. I mean, seriously. What could be better than getting myself in silly situations and telling other people about it? Where do I sign up?

On the Road Again

I’m on my way back to Italy with the family, we leave in T-minus 1.5 hours. We are once again headed to the Dad’s parent’s home in the northern part of the country. The house is cozily situated on a vineyard, surrounded by hundreds of others–literally. When I walked up to the neighboring town last time I was afforded a spectacular view and all I could see in the near vicinity were grapes. Far, far off in the distance you can see the Italian Alps. It truly is other-worldly.

Now that I know what to expect while we’re there I think I will be able to enjoy myself. The weather should be warmer than here and we will have plenty of outdoor time. It feels a bit like falling off the face of the earth as my contact with others sharply diminishes. Everything slows down considerably and there’s a significant amount of “downtime.” The family will stay there for the next two weeks, while I will leave after 9 days. It’s a long time with them. They’re nice people, of course. But being on a family holiday when you’re not actually a member of the family is an awkward experience (image: me sitting and watching the kids play with their grandparents and generally feeling uncomfortable for intruding). A case of cabin fever is imminent.

Why am I leaving before the rest of the crew? Well, well, well, perhaps because a little visitor will be making her way over. And maybe I’m so crazy psyched out of my mind to see her I can hardly contain myself. You guessed it, COURTNEY IS COMING!!! It’s impossible to put into words what it’s like when we are together under normal circumstances. Compound this extreme insanity/social awkwardness/constantly running inside joke into 8 months and that’s what the week of October 11-17th is going to look like. I’ve mapped out an itinerary, one that includes a quick jaunt to Istanbul, Turkey to visit Jill and many other hot must-dos whilst in der Schweiz–many food-related. I can’t emphasize this enough: I’m so excited. Man, I’ve missed her.

So, I’ll be gone for a while. Never one to leave you down and out I have provided some entertainment. Pei Wen gave me The Encyclopedia of Useless Information by William Hartston before she left last week and I have been scanning it this past week. Below are a few tidbits I thought intriguing (by randomly opening the book). Feel free to use them at your next dinner party, water-cooler exchange, or random interjection in conversation. Tschüss! Bis Später!

DANCING: On August 21, 1923, the city of Kalamazoo, Michigan, passed a law forbidding dancers to stare into each other’s eyes.

GOSSIP: Researchers in Michigan in 1995 reported that American children aged nine to twelve gossip on average eighteen times an hour.

NEPAL: The Himalayan Kingdom of Nepal is the only country that does not have a rectangular flag. Its flag is shaped like two slightly overlapping triangles.

BIRTH: Every seventeen seconds, an American is born

SANDWICHES: IF you eat a sandwich for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, it will take 168 days to get through the amount of bread produced from one bushel of wheat.

GOLD: One-third of all gold ever mined on earth comes from the Witwatersand Basin in South Africa.

LETTUCE: On August, 28, 1988 the Yantlee Polyclinic in Bangkok published a claim that you can get rid of hunger by pressing lettuce seeds into your ears ten times before meals.

KANSAS: Kansas has the largest population of wild grouse (or Prairie Chickens as the Americans call it) of any state in America.

Schlaff Gut!

Fridays have always been a good day, and starting this new school year they just got better! Taz is now in kindergarten and he has one of the most erratic schedules. I’ll spare you the details, but Tuesday is now the only morning I have with him. Time with only Little Bean is so easy. She is really good at playing by herself and most of the time just wants me to sit and watch her do her thang. She brings me treats and concoctions she’s fixed up in her kitchen. I mime eating these delicacies and then she’s off to the lab to do more work. She also likes to sit and “read,” which involves her rolling her tongue around in her mouth and making the odd sound.

Today we played a game she often requests: Schlaff. Schlaffen means to sleep in Deutsch. She says to me, “Dina. Schlaff!!” Little Bean proceeds to push me down to the floor on top of the giant yoga mat in the living room. She then begins to cover me with objects she believes I need for slumber. First comes the Barbie Prince, obviously I wouldn’t want to be lonely. Then she brings me two nooshies, small comfort blankets that look like cheesecloth.On top of my side she continues to pile: a folded up blanket, five Euros in coins, two walkie-talkies, a Polly Pocket mirror and comb, a scarf, and a book about Christmas. She waves her hand and wishes me Gut Nacht. As she’s toddling away she suddenly remembers something she’s forgotten. “Oh nay!” she exclaims and throws her hands over her mouth. She runs to the play room and grabs the keystone to my nap. “A gookie!!” This is actually a nookie, which is a pacifier. She brings me two and won’t rest until I put one in my mouth. This is in no way going to happen (if you’ve seen these floors you would know why) and I pretend to put it in my mouth as I turn my head. I then spend the next twenty minutes laying on the ground, “napping.” I would have gotten up sooner but every time I made to move she started screaming and throwing my head back down. I happened to be wearing my nice, i.e., expensive glasses and really didn’t want them warped.

Taz, Rapunzel, Rapunzel’s playdate friend, and the Mom walk in to find me prone on the floor. The Mom is used to this game so for her it was no big deal. Rapunzel’s friend, however, gave me this look that said, “Who is this fool lying on the ground, covered in junk? She’s expected to take care of you children?” Believe it or not, sister, I get paid to do this.

Stumbled across this blog today. I wouldn’t consider myself an active member of the Grammar Police, but I admit I can be a bit of a stickler on some things. The Oatmeal has some great posts about how to use important things like apostrophes, “i.e.,” and “e.g.” as well as funny stories and comics. It’s along the same lines as Hyperbole and a Half. If you’re sitting around, twiddling your thumbs and looking for something to do, send yourself to the site. Certainly worth a gander.

Must. Keep. Going.

Taz hit the mark. The face, the body language say it all.

This is about how I feel right now. Frustrated. If I could draw a little dialogue bubble it would read, “What are you trying to do to me here?”

It’s too lengthy to put it all into words, and frankly, as I’ve stated earlier, it does neither one of us any good for me to sit here and complain (that’s what mom and dad are for!) but to be honest, I’m teetering dangerously close to the edge. I think it’s time for everyone to take a wee bit of a break from each other. The job is taking it’s toll on me and I’m ready for some away time. It’s not that the work is difficult–obviously, I sit around playing games and going on walks every morning– it’s actually the exact opposite. It’s how incredibly mind-numbing it all is. A common sentiment among the elders of the au pair group is, “I earned a college degree and now I’m doing this?!” I know, I know, play your little violin for me. I realize I signed up for this. But, that doesn’t negate the fact that I feel I’ve taken a major step down as someone’s live-in servant.

The au pair who worked for my family last year put it best when we talked on the phone last summer during my interview process. I asked her what the most difficult aspect of the job was and I feel she put it best when she said, “You work in a tiny shop, you live in the tiny shop, and the shop is always open.” Living with your employers is a mighty difficult task. If having a bad day isn’t enough, there’s no genuine reprieve from the situation as you have to sleep there and wake up with them the next morning. You can’t escape it. As I was Skyping with my mom this afternoon she could hear Little Bean screeching in the background. She pulled a face and stopped mid-sentence. “What is it?” I said. “That sound. What is that? One of the kids?” “Oh yeah, that’s just Little Bean. It’s her new favorite sound.” This is a scream that registers so high it’s one notch away from being a sound only dogs can hear. There’s a battle between wanting to be a part of the family and not seem like a recluse, and wanting to have my personal space and own life here. Unfortunately these don’t always seem to gel.

So, yes, things are a little rough right now. I’m not currently singing up in the hills à la the von Trapp family. I have no doubt, however, that I will get over this funk and find my way back to sanity. Especially as I am only 10 days away from seeing mom, dad, Matt, and Courtney!! We will be exploring Ireland and Scotland over 9 days and I could not be more eager to see them.

Thank you for letting me get that out, I promise to not make these rants routine.

When I Grow Up

I KNOW WHAT I WANT TO DO WHEN I GROW UP!!!!! This is exciting. I’ve given it a great amount of consideration, weighed the pros and cons, and am one stop short of declaring myself employed. I want to be a travel writer. Feeling a little let down? Maybe you thought I was going to say something a little more practical or albeit in the realm of education, for which my degree has been issued? Unfortunately, no. Ever since I started this silly blog I have discovered how much I like writing. I have never taken a single creative writing class, dappled in poetry, or even kept up a steady journal. But, I have stumbled upon something that I believe I have a real passion for. Think about it, I know I have. I love to travel and I love to write. I cannot think of a better combination. I owe much of this idea to the fact that I am reading yet another Bill Bryson book. Jill loaned me her copy of The Lost Continent and I have been devouring it ever since. The book is about his journey through small towns in America and discovering little gems along highways, tucked back in the mountains, or perched on seaside cliffs. Jill and I happen to share a of love of Bryson and this book is no exception. It has me laughing out loud all over Zurich. I don’t think  I realize/care how embarrassing this might be, but I just can’t help myself. If I could, I would do a dramatic reading for you, but you will have to settle for just reading it yourself. This particular bit is about people who are fond for RVs:

  • “A whole industry… has grown up to supply this market. You can see these people at campgrounds all over the country, standing around their vehicles comparing gadgets–methane-powered ice-cube makers, portable tennis courts, anti-insect flame-throwers, inflatable lawns. They are strange and dangerous people and on no account should be approached.”

I feel like I could do this. I could discover foreign, or in Bryson’s case familiar, lands and then regale you all with my tales. It is a given that I would find myself in some noteworthy circumstances, therefore it would be an entertaining tale that I would tell. And to be honest, I haven’t committed myself to teaching quite yet. This would be a great distraction/job. I know it’s far-fetched, but it’s what I’ve come up with so far. I still have six months to decide, right?

I will leave you with another excerpt. This is what Bryson says about women in Iowa:

  • “Iowa women are almost always sensationally overweight– you see them at Merle Hay Mall in Des Moines on Saturdays, clammy and meaty in their shorts and halter tops, looking a little like elephants dressed in their children’s clothes, yelling at their kids, calling out names like Dwayne and Shauna.”

I know it’s a cheap laugh, but his writing his ridiculous and thankfully he doesn’t exclude himself in the slaughtering of American culture.