Wednesday, April 22, 2015

A Lesson in Swiss Culture

Monday, April 13, at approximately 12:15 pm, I decided to do some horn practicing. I'd played about 10 minutes when the doorbell rang and I went to see who was there. There is a camera by the front door and a screen in the apartment - I can see who rang the bell. I recognized one of the other tenants and not being able to hear her well or understand what she was saying, I thought she locked herself out. I buzzed her in. That was not what she wanted. "No. No music. 12 to 13. And weekends. Thank you." She left the camera view.

Whoa! I was stunned. She could have walked up the stairs inside, knocked on my door inside the building and spoke to me face to face. Instead she chose to speak through the security camera. I was immediately incensed. It's not as though I just moved here or that this was the first time I'd practiced in the apartment. She is not a little old lady or new to the apartment herself. She was here before we came and I'd guess her age to be mid-40's. I always play with the windows closed and the door to the room I'm using also closed. I fumed for a while and returned to play about 1:10pm. 

I did post a rant on Facebook because I needed to vent a bit and I'll share some of the creative responses I received:

I say play as loud as you can at 13:01.

Here's an idea. Do you have the sheet music for "Let it Go"... OR "Shake it off"... Play that! It will make you feel better and maybe your neighbor will get the musical hint! Good luck!

Play between 0:00 and 1:00; she'll forget all about the 12:00 - 13:00 thing.

Drop off a box of earplugs in her mailbox and play loud as you want as of 13:01  

The next day, there was a note in our mailbox from Nathalie, our cranky neighbor. She accused me of "always" playing an instrument. Ha! Music teachers of days gone by would say how inadequate my practice time was, but from her perspective it was too much.  She went on to further instruct me not to play on weekdays between 12 and 2 and not at all on weekends. She asked for my immediate cooperation. There was nothing friendly about the note that ended with "friendly greetings". The tone was definitely snide. 

The timing was perfect for me to take her note along to a ZIWA (Zurich International Women's Association) event where others could read it and comment. Plenty of eyes rolled when I relayed the experience. The Swiss have a reputation for having rules for everything and the sacred lunch hour was all too familiar to some others.

I had originally planned to just ignore the note, but Tom and I decided a written response was better. First we had to get details of what the rules are and then decide what to tell Nathalie.

When we took over the apartment, we were given an English translation of the "Hausordnung" or house rules. Interestingly enough, the hours listed for making music were not the same in both versions! The German version of the house rules are posted in the lobby, but the date is 2013. Maybe they've been updated since we arrived in 2012. Who knows? Tom also researched Horgen's local ordinances. The results are that she was right, but very rude in how she communicated it to me.

Our response was not apologetic, but I did agree to respect the rules. I am allowed to play during the hours of 9am-12 and 2pm-7pm on weekdays.  We did point out that on Saturday music is allowed between 9am-12 and 2pm-5pm. (Sadly, Sunday is a music-free day.) I told her I was a member of a brass choir in a neighboring town and invited her to come hear us play!  A German friend translated our response to make sure we had the grammar correct. The letter was placed in Nathalie's mailbox and also sent to the building's management company. They should be aware of the situation although we believe no further action is required.

What Nathalie doesn't know is that I have a silencer mute for both instruments. I used them when I first arrived, but I didn't like using them exclusively. They make the instrument much harder to play and the trombone is much heavier to hold up. If I have a particular need (solo coming up, maybe) to practice outside of the allowed hours, I'll use the silencer mute and have Tom go into the other areas to make sure nothing can be heard. 

The whole situation has stirred up many feelings in me:
It has taken away some of the joy of playing, but I think it will return with time.
I get angry whenever I walk past Nathalie's door or car.
I think of amusing ways to retaliate - all within the rules, of course.  (maybe some outside the rules) 
I am facetiously tempted to buy a cheap violin and scratch at it during the allowed times. (maybe saxophone, drums or accordion - so many choices)

The crazy part is that Nathalie lives on the ground floor and we are on the top. There is a level between us! I can't believe my playing is really that loud where she is. (I could play much louder!) We have spoken to the people on the middle level and they like my playing!! They also have a daughter who is about 18 months old - sometimes she cries and we can hear it. There will be another baby in June and much more crying. Nathalie will not be able to do anything about that. It makes me smile inside.

The complaint has also made me very aware of noise in and around the apartment. For instance, yesterday the landscape firm had men mowing and weed whacking between 1pm and 2pm! Horrors!

Reading through the complete house rules also pointed out to us some other rules of the building that are routinely ignored:
No storing of anything in the common area. We need to remove the winter tires around this time of year, but where do we store them? Some people (us) pay to keep them at the car dealer. Others store them in the area outside the elevator on the basement level. Maybe they are Nathalie's!

No trees or plants in the stairwell or common area. Some plants can't survive in pots  outside over the winter and spend the winter months inside. We saw others doing it and joined them. The marks on the floor clearly indicate the former tenants had done so as well.

We are not supposed to run any machines (washing machine, dryer or dishwasher) between the hours of 10pm-7am. I can admit to not choosing to do laundry then, but we routinely start the dishwasher before going to bed. From our perspective, the building is well insulated against sound. We do not plan to change any of our actions other than the music. 

I mentioned the complaint to the director of my brass group. He acted a little embarrassed, but acknowledged that the lunch hour is off limits. He added "you are absolutely allowed to play one hour every day!" Really? One hour? Do they have any professional musicians here? How can they possibly become proficient with that little amount of time allowed. So few people live in free standing houses - most people rent apartments.

One of my tennis friends is a private piano teacher with the students coming to her. I asked her how she got away with that because that is explicitly forbidden in our rules. She lives in a free standing house. Earlier, she lived in an apartment, but her landlady was deaf so she had no problem. However, her son played the trumpet and as he finished his high school studies had no time to practice except on Sunday. A neighbor from another building came over, shook her finger at them and said "no trumpet on Sunday." That was the end of his trumpet playing. 

I spoke to another woman who is Swiss, but has lived in many other countries before coming back here. She is also a lawyer. I relayed the story and she agreed that there is nothing else to be done. I asked whether she thought the real problem was my neighbor not liking my music or that I broke the rule. "Oh, it is absolutely all about the rule."

There you have it. The Swiss are known to like the rules nearly above all else and now I have experienced it first hand. 

I truly believe that any place worth living in is hard to leave. (For instance, I cried on my way to Belgium having no idea what to expect and I cried when we left knowing exactly what I was losing.) The "rule culture" will make it a bit easier to leave when the time comes.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Farewell, Winter! Hello, Spring!

 2013 parade
Zurich has an annual festival (Sechseläuten) celebrating the end of winter and the beginning of spring. (For more information, refer to Google.) Our first spring here, Tom and I went to the main parade and stayed to see the burning of the böögg (snowman on top of a bonfire). The length of time he burns is meant to predict the quality of the summer. A long burn indicates a cold, dreary summer, but I put little faith in the böögg's accuracy.


There is also a children's parade which I'm guessing is shorter than the three hour long parade we saw. These pictures are courtesy of a friend of mine. I'd like to go  next year. The children are so adorable.

newspaper ad

In March, I discovered mini-bööggs were  available for online purchase! Since Tom's birthday is April 1st, this seemed like the perfect April Fool's gift.

The evening of the official celebration, we had our own private Sechseläuten on our balcony. Here is a series of pictures of the preparation and demise.

hat removed

pegs removed and mini-firecrackers inserted

looks the same, but now firecrackers are in place


the end - firecrackers have burst

It was fun to do, but I did feel evil burning him. He was so cute in the beginning! We used this as the starter for a "normal" fire and sat outside to enjoy the beautiful evening as it turned into night.


This man has been building the böögg for 50 years, but this was his last. He gave it a special crown to mark the occasion. 

The next day, we had our summer weather prediction:
burning for 20 minutes and 39 seconds isn't very good. Maybe I'm glad I'll be in the USA for quite a bit of the summer. I hope July in Switzerland is good!

And for the folks who do not feel right about burning the böögg, there is another way to dispose of him: eat him!

Happy Spring everyone!

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Miss Hospitality?

I'm taking a break from German lessons and am back in Switzerland after our house purging trip. What should I do with my time? I didn't actually make a conscious decision to start entertaining more, but that is what has transpired. I thought it would be fun for me to write about the different occasions and include the menus. If I make you hungry or drool, I apologize. 

I met several other American transplants when I first arrived and attended a "Living in Zurich" class. One of the group suggested getting together for a monthly coffee at each others' apartments - taking turns being hostess. The group has changed as people have left and others have arrived. When I hosted, I also invited two Brits and an Irish woman to my coffee.  It's my place - I choose the guests!  There is often very little coffee consumed, but that's what we call these gatherings!

I should have taken pictures of the guests, but sadly did not. A friend took a picture of the table with refreshments. Since two of my guests are "gluten free" and one also eats no dairy, I made sure there was nothing there they could not eat. My menu consisted of spiced nuts, cucumbers slices topped with goat cheese and smoked salmon, fresh fruit salad, and chocolate covered strawberries. We also had a raspberry lime sparkling drink which was quite tasty, hot tea and wine. No one opted for coffee! 

Here are some pictures of the group of women at some other coffees.

Halloween theme

Farewell "high tea" for Julia (front with the big hat) since she was moving to London. That's why we are wearing silly hats or "fascinators".

Not ideal planning, but the day after I hosted the coffee, we also hosted two couples for dinner. The women were both at the coffee, but finding a time when all six of us are available can be a challenge. We took the first available opportunity. Marisel brought her famous guacamole (well only famous here among friends, I suppose) and chips. I had snack kabobs of cherry tomato, mozzarella cheese balls and basil and also the same with goat cheese. (Marisel can have goat cheese, but not dairy.) The main meal was served family style without separate courses. 

chicken in a beer and prune sauce (much tastier than it sounds)
tomatoes and mushrooms filled with a chorizo stuffing
roasted potatoes

Following Marisel's dietary restrictions, Eva brought a gluten and dairy free chocolate cake that was very tasty and a fruit salad.

Fred, Eva, Roger, me and Tom
Again, I didn't think about taking a picture of us. Here we are at a previous dinner together at Marisel and Fred's apartment. We also had Christmas dinner with Marisel, Fred and their children. 

Christmas dinner - photo by Alicia

Fred, Roger and Tom all work for Zurich Insurance, but that is not why we're friends. I met Marisel the one and only time I went to the "Lunch Bunch" of the American Women's Club. It was her only time to attend too. We'd both just arrived in Zurich. Marisel introduced me to Eva and the rest is history.

Easter weekend was not made for traveling this year. Instead, we invited dear friends, Ruth and Michael, to come spend the holiday weekend with us. We met in 1997 when we both lived in Belgium. (They're in Belgium for their third time now and about to retire back to Michigan.) Since I knew they would not be with us for Friday dinner, I used the day to chop ingredients or prepare some of the dishes that I would serve later in the weekend. They arrived late on Good Friday evening and we shared some wine and (Swiss) cheese while chatting away. In the morning, I baked the breakfast casserole I had assembled the day before, serving it with English muffins and a tray of fresh fruit.

tour guides

The weather was rainy and chilly on Saturday - not conducive to going up a mountain or taking a boat ride. Instead we went to the Swiss National Museum in Zurich that was hosting the paper cutting exhibit. Tom and I had seen it before, but I'd wanted to see it again. This was a perfect outing for a nasty day. We took a short tour of Zurich to see the Chagall stained glass windows in the Frauenmünster, have lunch and buy some Swiss chocolate. They brought us some of our favorite Belgian chocolates, but we also wanted them to taste our Swiss favorites. 

lunch at Zeughauskeller

After our time in Zurich, we came back to the apartment and were welcomed by the smell of the crock-pot working its magic. I had a wild boar stew cooking and served it later with bread, applesauce and raw veggies with a hummus dip. 

busy in the kitchen

Everyone slept in on Easter morning. We had more of the fruit, Swiss Easter eggs (sold already hard-boiled and dyed) and breads. The weather was nicer allowing for pretty mountain views on the way to Einsiedeln, a short drive away. We visited the abbey church there: we can say went to church on Easter, just not to a service.

in front of the abbey
higher elevation = snow remaining!

We all had vegetable "rosti" for lunch.

Michael and Ruth

On the way home from Einsiedeln, the mountains were out in their glory. We made a detour to an excellent spot to view "our" mountains. It is a traditional photo spot whenever we have visitors.
photographer was in a hurry and didn't get much of the mountains behind us - darn!

Easter dinner menu:
garlic soup with garlicky croutons
roast leg of lamb with rosemary, carrots and onions
Belgian endives (seemed an appropriate choice to me!)
roasted potatoes

Of course, there was wine involved in the meals.  Tom's job was to choose the proper pairings - he made fine choices. I never got around to making any dessert. We just picked at the chocolate we bought. No one needed anything more. 

Deirde, Rowena and Helen
My next hospitality event was a few days later in the week. I hosted my Friday tennis group for lunch here. Since there would only be five of us, I cooked everything rather than have it be potluck. I served asparagus soup, leek, tomato and smoked salmon quiche, spinach salad and cafe au lait pudding. Helen arrived with a chilled bottle of champagne that no one turned down! Again, no photo from that day, but here is a photo of some of them on the court.

Hosting Robin and Chris was the conclusion of my hospitality extravaganza. Chris does a tremendous amount of business travel (for Zurich Insurance as a matter of fact) requiring us to block dates well in advance.  The plan was to go hiking first and then come back here for dinner. The weather was iffy so we waited until afternoon to start out. We walked out our door, followed the path across the farm and up into the hills behind us. It's a rather steep climb at first, but we eventually get to the "Horgenberg" or Horgen mountain. It's not really a mountain, but is higher. It's very nice to be able to take this kind of hike without traveling somewhere first. We got drizzled on, but not much more. 

Here we are towards the beginning of our hike. The lake is visible behind us, but we still have more to climb.
Robin and Chris

you know who!

You never know what you'll find along the "wanderweg". Here is a contraption on the corner of a field. It is for cows to be able to scratch themselves. 
Robin pretending to be the cow
When we got home, I pulled out the prepared tomato/mozzarella/basil kabobs (sound familiar? they're simple and good) and something I've named "Greek salad on a stick". There were three ingredients on each stick: any combination of tomato, feta, kalamata olive and cucumber. Tasty! We grilled chicken that had been marinating while we were out and ate it with a peanut sauce. We also had grilled vegetables and salad. To top off the meal, we had carrot cake, the dessert I had planned for Easter. I had the ingredients and needed to use them! No matter where we are or what the plan is, there is always a lot of laughter involved when we're with Robin and Chris.

All of these events happened between March 27 and April 11. Also in that period was Tom's birthday with his special dinner. It was a busy time, but a lot of fun too! (and I'm not getting on a scale for a while!)