frugality -a forbidden topic


One of the topic that I had to remove from my list of go-to conversation pieces was my latest and greatest shopping deal.   In general, talking about money is a no-go in Switzerland, at least your own personal spending habits. It’s perfectly acceptable to talk about broad scale spending, such as the national budget or the USA’s national debt (sigh).  But as soon as it comes around to stacking coupons or a great sale on organic ground beef and how much I saved on my grocery budget, well… it’s time to practice some restraint.

This is my conclusion. A good Swiss wife knows how to save money, clip coupons, shop sales AND she does it all in secret!  She has the sly skills of a cat, and can spread her table in a way that looks like she has no cares in the world, while at the same time secretly collecting her Migros points (popular local grocery chain) and browsing websites for the best money saving deals.  It is allowed to use subtle communication about your great saving skills, but not outspoken verbalised bragging or quoting actual prices. I learned this the hard way. As soon as I say for example, “oh, I got all my fruit for the week at Coop, because they have this kickass fill-a-bag for 7 CHF deal going on” the conversation will stutter, no one will engage the topic, they’ll simply say something polite like “yes, they have good fruit” smile in response, then change the subject.  I made this cultural blunder many times in the first year, because where I come from talking about sales and saving opportunities is something that many women enjoy and bond over. It’s safe and fun, so naturally I assumed it was the same in Switzerland. It’s not.

So what are good topics to try out when you’re with a group of Swiss ladies? The weather is always safe, as are recipes, your progress in learning the local language and family vacations, just as long as you don’t mention how much your latest excursion cost you or how you found a crazy-good flight deal  ;-).


I realize that my list of “safe” topics isn’t very long and that’s because I’m still building it. I plan on dedicating an entire post to this someday, once I’ve added more than four items to my list!  Becoming a good Swiss frau is a work in progress 😉

For now, I can only advise that you refrain from presenting yourself as the frugal coupon crunching lady.



on having dinner guests

dipping-in-hummus_925xOne of the the funny things that happens to me on a regular basis is the awkward blank stare when we have guests over for dinner and I don’t serve them.  In Swiss culture, it’s polite to serve your guests. You know, to dish up their plate for them, to refill their drinks, etc. As an American, I find this rude. What if they don’t like the food? What if they are allergic to something, or have dietary troubles. To me, dishing up another person’s plate is presumptuous.  So I don’t. When we have guests I put all of the dishes on the table and tell them to help themselves. There is always a few seconds of blank stares. Then, more often than not, I reach for a spoon and begin to load my own plate. This results in another moment of eye-popping followed by a few seconds of mental processing. You can see it on their faces. Sometimes there is a quick glance in the direction of my husband… probably to make sure that he is in support of my unconventional behaviour. He’s  busy filling his own plate by this time, so, with a nervous hand, they reach for a spoon!

A few months back we had a very elderly couple over, and I asked my husband to please serve them, because I wasn’t sure if they could handle my impolite ways of hosing a meal. He laughed, hugs me, and agreed to my request.  I feel lucky to have a spouse that is so relaxed and supportive. Often he will comment briefly as we sit down, “This is an international home, we eat American style, help yourself.” This is much nicer than what is usually going through my head… “Dish up your own damm food!”   😉



Protective Gel

Did you know that guardian angel is the words “protection” and “gel” in German?  It’s also th180px-guardian_angel_1900e words “protect” and “angel”.   Two weeks ago I was genuinely confused! I was trying to read an article for my German class and it was discussing two people, one of which believed in “guardian angels” and one who did not. My problem was that I thought that the article was about protective gel. My husband had a good laugh at me once I finally figured it you.  He’s been teasing me ever since. “Hey honey, have a safe day at work, and don’t forget, your protective gel is watching over you!”

I had to google it, to see if it was actually a thing… turns out it is…


you can’t become Swiss

You can’t become Swiss, no matter how well you pronounce “chuchichäschtli.” By the way, that’s a “kitchen cupboard” if you don’t live here, and if you do then you are already sick and tire of people asking you to try to say it correctly!

When I first moved to Switzerland I figured I would be making jokes and blending in within a year. HA! It’s been ten months and I barely understand the sermon topics each Sunday. This was a bit of a blow to my ego, but I’m adjusting. I have a new aspiration; someday I want to be the cute old lady that says everything wrong but people love. If I can accomplish that in the rest of my lifetime, then I will be content! 😉

Yes, I am exaggerating a bit, but I have to say this; it is important to set realistic, obtainable goals. German is a difficult language to learn, and it isn’t the one that you need to be a “fake Swiss.” To be fake Swiss you need to speak Swiss German, and to speak Swiss German you also need to speak High German. It’s the devils circle, but ride it we must. Basically you must learn two languages, and when you do you still won’t be a real Swiss!  My new last name is German, not Swiss German. Our family name came up in a conversation with a neighbour a few months back, and she was quick to point out that it was a German name, and that my husband was of German decent, NOT Swiss. Later that evening I asked him when his family immigrated to Switzerland. He paused and thought for a moment, and then said, “oh… I don’t know, a couple of hundred years ago, I guess.” My mouth dropped open. My family has been in the USA for over a hundred and fifty years and we consider ourselves 100% “real” American. But, I am married to a Swiss man who is still categorised as a German immigrant. I had to laugh, and to come to realise that, if my husband’s family has been here for over 200 years and people still consider them German, I need to give up any of my grand ideas of becoming Swiss.

To be real Swiss is to have an unending line of patriarch and matriarchs on both sides, born in the mountains, raised on cheese, alphorn music and skis! I will never be a real Swiss, but hey, maybe I can be a cute grandma with a lovable accent.