Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Scoot This

Maybe I'm just cranky. 

If you didn't like this post, then bad news for you, you're not going to like this one as it's a continuation of the same rant. I think I've discovered something more annoying and disruptive than bounce houses. There is a scooter epidemic in Geneva. These two wheeled contraptions are choking the streets, sidewalks and parks and let's just say I'm not a fan.

In Joburg everyone likes to complain endlessly about the mini bus taxis. Taxi drivers wreak havoc on the streets breaking every traffic law within a five minute time period. If you are driving and you see a taxi you must assume the driver is going to cut across three lanes of traffic and then stop without warning. The difference between the taxis and these scooters is that at least taxis serve an important purpose. Without the taxis, millions of people would have no transportation and the South African economy would collapse. Scooters however serve absolutely no purpose, they are simply a toy and a most annoying one at that.

Since I'm not sure if the scooter scourge is a worldwide issue or not, let me show you a photo of the type of scooter I'm referring to. 

I haven't taken a formal survey, but my informal research tells me that every child in Geneva owns one of these. 

When faced with a puzzling mystery, one first must ask why. So I have asked myself why do kids (I won't even get started on adults) need scooters? Some quick research on Google indicates that humans have been walking upright for 1.9 million years. Why the sudden need to scoot? Is it that parents think their kids don't walk fast enough? Is it just a phase or a craze? I can't come up with an answer that satisfies. 

Don't think that these scooters are just for older kids either. Yesterday in the park I saw a kid with a pacifier in his mouth riding a scooter. Surely if you are still using a pacifier you don't need your own set of wheels. Your first order of business should be weaning yourself off sucking a plastic nipple when you go out in public. I also saw a parent pushing an empty stroller while the kid scooted up ahead. This situation says just one thing, this parent doesn't want his kid to have to walk, he can either be pushed or he can scoot but walking is frowned upon. 

There is a reason that kids don't drive cars and can't get licenses until they are older. It's because they can't steer. I can't tell you how many times I've been running in the park only to have a near miss collision with a four year old scooting uncontrollably. The parents don't even seem to notice that I've had to jump off the path and into a shrub to save myself from being taken out by their kid. The parents are too busy smoking and chatting away on their cell phones to concern themselves with my safety.

I sometimes like to play a little game of chicken with these scooting kids as I run. I will run toward them and not get out of the way until the last possible minute. While it may seem mean I am trying to teach them an important life lesson which is sometimes you need to %$&!%^ing move. 

But I know the real reason these scooters bother me so much and it's not because I am almost maimed daily or am simply mean. It's because I'm still dealing with culture shock having moved to fancy pants Geneva from South Africa. While there are plenty of wealthy kids living a plush (and bouncing castle filled) life in South Africa there were also a lot of kids who didn't own any toys. Anyone who has visited a township like Diepsloot or Soweto has seen kids playing outside using rocks, string and trash as makeshift toys. Once you've seen that, you don't forget that image easily.

One day Mr. Deep and I witnessed a temper tantrum which took place outside our apartment. A child and his mother were standing on the street corner and clearly the kid was having a meltdown. He threw his scooter into the street while screaming. The mother, calmly bent down and retrieved it. 

Had I been that parent, that moment would have been the last time that child ever touched that scooter. That scooter would have been boxed up and on it's way to Africa before that kid could ask "has anyone seen my scooter?" It would have been on its way to a needy and appreciative child who could ride it the 5km each way that he has to walk to and from school each day. 

Maybe I'm just cranky. 

Sunday, October 8, 2017

English Only

Before I arrived in Geneva, I had a grand plan. I would use my short time here to learn to speak French. I imagined a time in the very near future where I would dazzle Mr. Deep and visiting friends and family with my ability to exchange witty banter en Francais with the locals. Because I would be the only French speaker in the group, when visitors came, I would be responsible for ordering on behalf of everyone when we went out to dinner. "Poisson means fish you know," I would confidently tell our guests. 

Within a week of my arrival I had hired a private tutor and had paid for ten French lessons. Unfortunately the act of signing up for French lessons and having a teacher come to your house once a week doesn't automatically lead to French fluency. It seems that in order to learn to converse in French one has to study, practice and spend time talking with French speakers. Shortly after I began my lessons I remembered that I don't like studying and I don't like trying too hard to learn new skills. Too bad I didn't remember this before we spent significant money on the lessons. 

For ten years, Mr. Deep and I lived in a house that had a pool table. Pool tables are difficult to move and so the previous owners of the home left it for us in the basement. In similar fashion I had grand plans. I would learn to play pool over the long, cold winter. My thought was that in the spring I would emerge as somewhat of a pool shark. I would then go to bars, pretend I didn't really know how to play, and school my opponent as I ran the table and defeated him while an astonished crowd looked on and cheered for me. 

The mere presence of a pool table in ones home does not a pool shark make. In order to bring my pool domination plan to fruition I would have actually had to practice shooting pool. But the basement was cold and one had to descend a staircase to get there and so my dreams were never realized.

Americans like to kid ourselves into thinking that everyone across the world can and will speak English.  While there are people who do speak English in Geneva, a lot of people either don't or prefer not to as many are not confident in their English skills. Even a doctor that I visited recently, who spoke perfect English, asked me if I spoke French, which I took to mean that she would have preferred to speak to me in French. Sadly I had to disappoint her and let her know that I didn't. 

Sometimes, I pretend that I can speak French. If a salesperson in a shop approaches me and rattles off a few sentences in French, I will stand there pretending I am following what she is saying, I'll even nod and smile, hoping that suddenly something will click and I'll understand perfectly.  Usually, I only understand one or two words. Such as "bon jour madame" followed by a slew of unrecognizable gibberish. Then, after the she is done speaking I'll usually just say "no" or shake my head. Sadly most times the question she has posed is not a yes or no question at which point the French speaker will either begin speaking English or slowly walk away with a confused look on her face. 

Below is a list of what I do know how to say in French. You may notice a theme. 

Bon jour - good day
Bon journee - have a good day
Bon soir - good night
Bon soiree - have a good night
une table pour deux - a table for two
biere - beer
une pint - pint
vin - wine
demi litre - half litre
cartes de vin - wine list
vin rouge - red wine
vin blanc - white wine
plus de vin - more wine
Le compte s'il vous plait - the check please
cappuccino - cappuccino (in fairness I knew this one before I arrived)
croissant - croissant (also knew this one)
merci - thank you

Sunday, October 1, 2017

No Soup

Last week I volunteered at a soup kitchen. While I've participated in many types of volunteer work over the years, I have never been to a soup kitchen before. I first found out about the opportunity when I met a very friendly woman at the American International Women's Club and she encouraged me to sign up to help. The AIWC sends volunteers to the soup kitchen once a month. Only eight volunteers are needed each time, but as I signed up in August I made the cut for September. 

I walked about 25 minutes from home to a place called Jardin de Montbrilliant where the soup kitchen is housed. It's an interesting looking building and one that I had noticed before, but I was never sure what it was. 

We arrived at 8:45 a.m. and were put to work washing vegetables and fruit and making salad. Then, after a break, we helped set up all the food in time for the doors to open at 11:30 a.m. The soup kitchen serves 150-200 people over the course of one hour.  At 11:30 there was already a line of people waiting to come in and eat and people kept arriving until 12:30.

We served spaghetti with a red tuna sauce and optional Parmesan cheese on top, salad, fruit and a yogurt like muesli desert. There was no soup. The volunteers were given the chance to eat the food before people began to arrive, but I didn't try it. It did look very tasty though.

The door where people entered to get in line for food.

We were instructed not to let anyone touch the food and also that if anyone brought his own Tupperware and asked us to fill it (instead of taking a plate) that we could do so but to be careful not to let the serving utensil we were using touch the Tupperware. 

Five of us served the food, two washed dishes and one person was a runner bringing more supplies to us as we served. I was in charge of the Parmesan cheese which is ironic because when I eat pasta I load on the Parmesan like you've never seen. I spent the hour asking each person "fromage?"

Most of the people who came to eat were men. I think there were only five women. A few people looked like drug addicts but most were well dressed and if you saw them on the street you wouldn't think they would eat at a soup kitchen. There was no one who was dirty, smelly or tattered. I kept thinking about some of the homeless people I would see at traffic lights (robots) in South Africa. Sometimes, they were kneeling in the middle of the street, or would point to their mouths to signal hunger. Sometimes, they had no shoes or were missing limbs. In America as well the homeless generally look very rough. But here in Geneva the don't look so poor.  Food is very expensive here so it could be that many of these people do have jobs but just struggle to buy food. 

Friday, September 29, 2017

Sugar and Fat

It's not all bad.
In re-reading my past few posts, I have been a bit critical of Geneva and on a grander scale, the whole of the Northern Hemisphere. Geneva is not a bad place, it just takes some getting used to. 

There are some things about Geneva that I do like. The first, as I've mentioned is being able to walk everywhere and utilize the fantastic and reliable bus system. Second, there is a beautiful park right near where we live and I love going there to run, walk or work out. Granted soon this park will be covered in ice but for now, I love it. Third, Geneva is brimming with stunning bread, pastry and sweet shops. Boulangerie (bakery), patisserie (pastry) and confiserie (confectionery), these are the only French words that I need to know. 

As a person who tries to eat carefully at first I enjoyed these shops only because they are so visually pleasing. I would visit them but would only order coffee and would admire the beautiful displays from afar. But then, on my birthday, I ate a chocolate eclair and since then the floodgates have opened and now I'm a raging out of control pastry eater and guess what, I don't even care. If I've found something about Geneva that I enjoy I figure I need to embrace it. 

The eclair that started it all. 
Recently, I decided to make a day of pastry eating. I thought it would be a delicious endeavor and would make for a good blog post. My thought was that I'd walk around the city visiting multiple establishments and enjoy a sweet treat at each one. I could visit about five or six of these lovely shops within close walking distance to where we live, but I thought if I could combine a fair amount of walking into the agenda, I might burn a few calories while at the same time consuming thousands of empty ones.

To begin my pastry eating marathon, I walked down by the lake, but strangely I found myself in an area of town that seemed to have no bakeries/pastry shops. I walked, walked and walked finally becoming so hungry that I contemplated scrapping the whole idea and just eating pizza, as I did pass numerous pizza shops. Eventually I found a place called Globus. 

Globus is a department store which contains a big food hall filled with all kinds of edibles. I found a pastry counter and ordered the most beautiful, glistening plum tart I've ever laid eyes on. 

After enjoying my treat, I was so full that I couldn't continue my plan of pastry crawling so I decided to take a new direction and spread my pastry eating out over a longer time period to ensure maximum enjoyment. 

One Sunday, I asked Mr. Deep if he would like to join me in my pastry eating quest. He agreed and so we walked to a nearby shop. The case was full of gorgeous pastries, chocolates, breads and sandwiches. Mr. Deep then decided he wanted to order a ham sandwich instead of a pastry. Seriously?! But while he ate a proper lunch, I enjoyed some kind of almond flavored crispy horn filled with a caramel custard that was to die for. 

Clearly Mr. Deep missed the point of the exercise.

I'm looking forward to continuing to eat my way around the city. 

Wednesday, September 13, 2017


Now that I am once again living in the Northern Hemisphere I am reminded of something. 

I hate fall.

Hate is a strong word to use when describing a season. Usually the word hate is reserved for discussing something vile like terrorists or cancer. However I've hated fall for years. My hate dates back to the 80's when the back to school issue of Seventeen Magazine would arrive in the mail mid July ruining my fun summer and reminding what was to come. 

Fortunately for me for the past few years I've had the chance to skip fall entirely. That's one of the beauties of living in Joburg. Sure, there was a fall, sometime in May or June, but it lasted maybe a few hours. One day it was summer and the next it was winter. That was it. No messing around.

I can hear all of you now collectively asking "but how can you hate fall?" Don't you just love...
- cooler nights?
- pretty leaves?
- apples?
- pumpkins?

My answers...no, no, no and no. Okay I do like apples but let's be honest in this day and age we can all buy apples anytime and anywhere even if it's not fall. And while I have gone apple picking a few times I did not find it enjoyable at all because we paid one price to fill up a bag and then Mr. Deep spent the whole time voicing complaints that I was overfilling the bag and that it was going to break, which I think it actually did one year. Of course I like pumpkins, in a pie, but it doesn't need to be fall to enjoy pumpkin pie thanks to the canned pie filling that most Americans use. And on that note I do love Thanksgiving but only because I love eating, not because it's fall. 

I find fall very sad and I find Labor Day to be the crown jewel of the saddest holidays only to be challenged by New Years Day, which in the Northern Hemisphere is usually a cold day spent with a hangover. If you're lucky, in the Northern Hemisphere on New Years Day, the sun will peak through the darkness for 15 minutes to disturb the otherwise hazy twilight. Sure you can spend the day watching the Rose Bowl parade, perhaps the most boring TV known to man, while being jealous of the people in California who are there live and enjoying bright sun. You can also spend the day thinking about how fat you got over the holidays while simultaneously munching on left over candy canes and chocolate Santa's. You can spend the day pondering the fact that you have to go back to work tomorrow and won't see any kind of a break until Martin Luther King Day which thankfully is just a mere two weeks away although that two weeks will feel like a thousand years. Believe me.

Like New Years Day, Labor Day means the party is over. The minute September begins in places like New York and I am learning, Geneva, the weather changes. While Spring takes its slow sweet time to arrive in these places, fall seems to move in quickly overnight putting a chill in the air and leaves on the ground. The days become noticeably shorter and suddenly you can no longer wear shorts or flip flops even though you were wearing them with no problem just the week prior. 

What's strange is I dislike fall more than I dislike winter. Winter is what it is. Winter doesn't pretend to be pretty or nice. Winter doesn't play games. Winter is like hey I'm cold, I'm dark and I'm icy and I'm here for the duration people so settle in. Fall is a drawn out painful power play. Fall thinks that it can divert our attention by showing us pretty leaves so maybe we will forget what's to come. Well I don't "fall" for fall's games. 

What I'm really trying to say for the 9,999th time but using a different format is that I miss South Africa. I love that winter is summer and summer is winter in South Africa. I love that my birthday falls in the spring instead of the fall. I miss the fact that in South Africa it's still green, sunny and warm all winter long and that flowers can bloom in the winter. South Africans find the winter weather to be painful and horrible and they will complain about it endlessly but if you've experienced a real winter then you know it's not so bad. In fact, I think winter in South Africa is the same as summer in Canada. 

Yes, during the winter in South Africa it's cold inside and you may have to sit in your house wearing your winter coat, gloves and a hat while still freezing your ass off as cold air sneaks through the cracks in your poorly constructed concrete cave house that doesn't have heat or insulation. BUT you can go outside and stand in the sun and look at palm trees and realize it's 70/21 degrees and that it's really not so bad. And winter in South Africa is short, it's June, July and August and then suddenly, one day, it's summer again. 

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

A Pig's Ear

On Saturday night Mr. Deep and I were invited out to dinner. We declined the invite at first because we were feeling tired and it was raining but my friend insisted we join her and her husband at a Portuguese restaurant in Plainpalais, an area of Geneva. I would love to tell you the name of the restaurant but when I tried to google it or find it on a map it seems not to exist at all.  And when I asked my friend said she also doesn't know the name of it.

Similar to grocery shopping, going out for a meal in Geneva can be a bit of a downer as the prices are ridiculously expensive. But my friend promised that the Portuguese restaurant was priced reasonably, had a great vibe and good wine. What more does a person need to know? I should add that my friend's husband is Portuguese. So if he thinks the food is good then it must be.

The restaurant is small with football (soccer) scarves from various teams covering the walls and the ceiling throughout. There are only a few tables, a bar and some kind of large orange gambling machines. I'm not exactly how they work but they were quite popular. As soon as one person would leave a machine another would come up and begin to use it. 

When we arrived and were seated the food began coming out immediately. From what I could tell we didn't order anything except drinks. Later my friend told me that the servers just bring food based on the number of people at the table and that there is no menu. First there were various starters such as fish croquettes and some kind of fried, half moon shaped meat pies. Next, a huge salad followed by three large platters of food served family style. The staff treated us like we had been there a bunch of times, and I do think my friend and her husband are regulars but it seemed like the kind of place that you might be treated that way regardless. 

Soccer scarves line the walls and ceiling. 

Not a great photo but you can see the size of the platter and also the large orange gambling machines in the background.

Pig's ear

Another not great photo, I think because the light was so low in the restaurant. These are the gambling machines. 

Much of the food was delicious but the pig platter definitely contained some parts of the animal that we are not used to eating. Including the hoof (complete with nails) and ears. I know firsthand about the ears because when I asked Mr. Deep to put some meat on my plate he chose something that looked very strange, almost like a fish fin. When I protested he got annoyed and told me that I had requested a piece of meat and now I had to eat the one that he gave me. It was then that I was informed that the piece on my plate was an ear. I didn't want to taste it but by now everyone was watching and encouraging me to try it. So I did. I didn't like it and I don't recommend it. It was chewy and a little slimy just like you would imagine, but remember I'm brave so I wanted to give it a chance. After my one bite I gave it to someone else to eat. 

In true European form the meal the meal lasted well after the food had been eaten. After we had been digesting a while, the waiter brought out a large metal "silo" and some shot glasses. The beverage was meant to be sipped. It tasted very strong so I only had a sip or two. I love how there is a ladder on the "silo" almost like a miniature person climbs up to the stop to stir the contents. 

I'm still not sure what the name of this place is but if you are in Geneva and looking for a fun, relaxed atmosphere and don't mind eating some unusual pig parts, then check this place out, it's right near the Lady Godiva pub. Look for the scarves. 

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Border Crossing

Located on the edge of Switzerland, Geneva is surrounded by France. French influence permeates the city evident in food, language and culture. Geneva is also notoriously expensive, listed at number seven on Mercer's 2017 list of top ten costliest cities for expats.  New York City is number nine by way of reference. 

Going to the grocery store was something I enjoyed when I lived in the U.S. and South Africa but in Geneva I find it unpleasant as everything is ridiculously pricey. Often, I stop myself from purchasing certain things based on principal. For example how can it be that a tiny package of chicken costs 6 Swiss Francs (CHF) which is about $6/ZAR81? Upon seeing the price I am no longer in the mood for chicken. The outrageous prices are not limited to meat and chicken. Everything, every item in the grocery store, costs much more than it should. Yes, I am coming from South Africa where prices are cheap for expats being paid in foreign currency but prior to that I was happily shopping at Whole Foods in New York and those prices never shocked me as much as the ones I find here. 

In my local grocery store in Geneva less than half a kg of chicken costs 6CHF which equals $6.00. I was reminded of the fact that in Diepsloot one can buy a whole chicken for just ZAR50 ($3.87)

Thursday, my friend (no need to specify which one as I only have one friend in Geneva) asked me if I'd like to go with her to France and go grocery shopping as the prices are much lower there. She has a car and offered to drive. 

You might think of grocery shopping in France as a delightful excursion. You may imagine an overload of fancy sights and smells as happy voices speaking French language drift through the air. You might imagine lovely items for sale such as bundles of lavender from Provence, the finest mustard from Dijon, crunchy perfect baguettes just waiting to be put in a bike basket and driven home to a chateau as well as cheese to die for and of course endless wine. These things may be true in some cases but the store we visited was no fancy market. Instead I would compare it to a Makro for the South African readers and to a Target Superstore for the the American readers. It seems that even France is full of regular people who like a good deal on pork chops and want to buy their toilet paper in bulk.

The grocery store we visited in France, just outside of Geneva.
The trip to the store was a quick 20 minutes from home. I brought my passport knowing we'd have to cross the border but there was no need as there was no one at the border crossing and we didn't even stop. There was nothing more than an unmanned booth there. I find it funny that it's easier to get into France from Switzerland than it was to go and visit a friend in Joburg. In Joburg a visit to a friend almost always involved a guard, a gate, a checking of the boot (trunk), a call to said friend to confirm entry, and a showing of ID. But we just glided into France without any problem. 

Thursday was a holiday in Geneva and I think all of Geneva had the idea to head to France and pick up some less expensive goods. The place was mobbed with shoppers. 

Have you seen this? The trolley carts are all locked together and to release you must insert a coin. Then, when you return the cart and re-lock it the coin is returned to you. So basically, you can steal a grocery cart for the cost of a coin if you are so inclined.

I ended up spending 113 Euro for three large reusable size bags of groceries and a 12 pack of beer. As France uses Euros and Switzerland CHF, and as my mathematical skills are underwhelming at best, there was no way that I could convert on the spot the cost of each item to ensure I was getting a good deal. I could have used my phone and currency converter but as I was in France I would have had to turn on my data roaming so instead I hoped for the best. I think in Geneva the same groceries would have been three times the amount I spent in France but that is just an estimate. For those of you counting at home 113 Euro equals $136, ZAR1758 and 128CHF. 

For anyone who has wondered what a rabbit without its fur and skin looks like here you go. 

This was in the section featuring American products. No, I didn't buy any.

My haul

Tuesday, September 5, 2017


Over the course of the one month that I've lived in Geneva I've observed a few things which I find unique and unusual. Maybe what I've noticed is common place in Europe? I'm not sure.

As I mentioned in my last post, living in safe, condensed city allows me the opportunity to walk quite a bit. We don't own a car, I'm still figuring out the buses and trams and it's summer which all equate to me walking a lot. This brings me to my first observation. It seems the Swiss won't or don't walk across a street unless they have a green indication that it's safe to do so. Even if there is no oncoming traffic in sight pedestrians will patiently wait until they have been given the "green light" to cross. 

You could chalk my first observation up to a culture of rule following but the second thing I've noticed seems to indicate a lack of order and adherence to rules and makes my Virgo self shudder. It appears drivers have no problem parking on the street with their cars facing any way they choose. This is especially concerning if like me you have just moved here from a country where people drive on the left and you are never quite sure which way traffic will be coming from. Normally, I would check to see which way the parked cars were facing to remind myself but when they are parked like this that strategy doesn't work. 

How is this o.k.? 

And back to crosswalks for a moment....often times I will come across an intersection that has three cross walks but four directions from which it is possible to cross. Why is there no cross walk the fourth way? Am I expected to cross three ways when I could easily cross one? And while I'm on the subject many cross walks have a button for pedestrians to push indicating they wish to cross but some do not and instead have a box for blind people to touch which vibrates when it is safe to walk. Why do some cross walks have the button and why others the box? What's the logic? 

Why can I only cross 3 out of 4 ways?

And my final observation which is really a complaint very poorly masked as an observation is when ordering a glass of wine in this country what is the story with the minuscule amount of wine that is poured into the glass? Are bartenders using eyedroppers? When I get my glass of wine my first thought is where is the rest of it? To prove my point visually, I went out at 2:00 p.m. today to order a glass of wine so I could include a picture with this post. The things I won't do for my readers. Sadly, this glass didn't really prove my point as it was fairly full. It cost 6 Swiss Francs which equals $6.00 and ZAR80 and the glass itself is tiny so... 

About Me

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Hello and thank you for taking an interest in my blog. This blog tells the story of some big life changes. First, my husband and I have just moved to Geneva, Switzerland for a few months following a few years of living in Johannesburg, South Africa. The two places could not be more different. I'm excited to share our adventures, challenges and insights with you! My thoughts and opinions are my own.