10 years ago – Zurich web cams

10 years ago we were not Zurich-bound. I was very interested in moving abroad at the time. Susan nixed the idea of Iceland, I couldn’t find a job in New Zealand, so Switzerland seemed like a great idea. Furthermore Google had opened an office there and I would wind up applying for a job (not getting it though, different story).

Hard to remember that 10 years ago web cams weren’t all that mainstream. What’s even more astounding is this same Zurich-cam is still running. Most web sites I reference are gone or broken.


Here is a shot of the Jungfraujoch (same web cam group does this):



Thank you until the next time

God what a run we had!

We are on our way to Iceland for a short decompression before we go home. What a hell of an adventure!!! We left Seattle on October 19th 2007 a whopping 1223 days ago. We intended to spend a year or two in Zurich. Instead we spent less than a year there and now over two years in Paris. I look back on my post from our first day in Zurich and just think how amazingly hard that move was, how different landing in a strange world for us, and how well everyone adapted and even thrived. When we moved the kids were still little boys; now as we return neither boy could be called little. Susan earned her Master’s Degree while in Europe. Some of us failed spectacularly in learning German or French but hey, better to leave something undone for the next time around.

We have done a lot in our time here. We have skied all over the Alps, we have vacationed in the Calanque, we have visited Italy numerous times. During our time in Zurich we hiked the hills and walked all over that lovely little city. In Paris we have feasted both on food and on the sites and the energy if this amazing, wonderful, stunning city. We have taken weekend trips to London, Dublin, Sardinia, Rome, and the French countryside.

But most of all we have met so many wonderful people. We were welcomed into the communities in which we worked, went to school, and socialized. We have friendships we’ll carry with us wherever we go in this world. And we have learned so much about different cultures and the way people go about living their lives. We could never have done any of this without the friends we’ve made. So for everyone we have met and who helped us through this journey, thank you so much. And to all the friends and family back home who cheered us on, supported us from afar, dealt with weepy Skype calls at odd hours, we love you all and will see you soon.

Some photos here, they can never capture the entirety. http://www.flickr.com/apps/slideshow/show.swf?v=71649

With much love,

Susan, Paul, Liam, and Kellen

En G??etta

What is this phrase? It’s the Swiss phrase one says before everyone eats, equivalent to bon appetite in French or buon appetito in Italian. I’m not sure precisely how this translates, I always think something like “enjoy” but that is just me, no actual Swiss people were consulted in the writing of this post.

One of the things I notice in Switzerland is people wait until everyone is served, people say en güeta* and then everyone eats. It’s nice if a little slow sometimes; being American there is just a built-in “hey, let’s dig in, consume the calories, and move on”. It’s very social. It’s also the case that things like “cheers”, “prossit”, “sante” and other equivalents are more sincere on the Continent than in the States.

Which led me to a question: what is the English equivalent of en güeta or bon appetite? I have pondered a bit. I know I have heard “bon appetite” but it usually has a slightly ironic flavor, for example being used only when the group is about to eat something sort of nasty, like a McDonald’s slurp-fest. If you read this and know the answer, please use the comments to help me out. It’s starting to feel like a real cultural difference, you know, the kind I was looking for when we moved to Europe. Basically in America we don’t really have anything to start the meal off (assuming you skip saying grace).

  • en güeta is sort of pronounced “en gwetta” or perhaps “en goo ett a” depending on who is saying it. I busted out a line the other day about Swiss German: the regions for each dialect are so small that sometimes family members cannot understand one another. I thought it was a pretty good line and one of those witty things I would use for years to come. Then my colleague (hi Roger) informed me that it’s actually true. Well hell, it’s not as funny if it’s actually true. Another line busted.

Another cold snap?


Here is the forecast from Google. I love the image for Saturday. The first, oh, twenty times I saw that I somehow saw frozen blocks. I was in the process of writing this up when I suddenly realized nope, it’s a tree branch with icicles. Funny how icons work.

FWIW all the sites agree that it’s getting colder this week. Only MeteoSchweiz thinks it won’t snow.

Continue reading

Respect Please!


This is a sign from near Lake Zurich. The lawn/field was covered with beautiful crocuses. Lovely, just gorgeous on this spring afternoon. But notice anything about the sign? One of two things was true when the city of Zurich decided on this wording:

  1. This is a heavily touristed city. 25% of the people who live here are foreigners. Maybe we better use something other than German and English is the most common second language, the lingua franca if you will.
  2. “Only a clumsy, dimwitted American would trample into a field of flowers… or maybe an obnoxious Brit or two. Better make the sign in English”

This reminds me of the time we were at the zoo. All the signs are in German of course. Except there is one sign in the waterfowl preserve which asks visitors to be quiet… written in English of course. My friend, who is a fluent German-speaker pointed out the sign. A Swiss woman walked by and said, in German “well of course they only need it in English”. Wonderful moment. I dropped litter in her cart as she walked by.


Okay I didn’t, but I wished I had.

It’s the wind!

I have a theory about the hats. Earlier this week I saw more hats than I’d ever seen before. I speculated. I pondered. But I also observed.

The weather in Zurich has been consistent (chilly and rainy) all week. Monday and Tuesday were hat days. Wednesday and Thursday were not. We were planning on buying a radio so we could listen for the broadcasters telling us which days were which; we hate to be left out.

But then walking home yesterday it occurred to me: no wind. Monday and Tuesday were really windy. Apparently on the coast (not of Switzerland, but up near the English Channel where there is a big bike race going on) the winds were hurricane-strength.

My working theory then is the Swiss are worried about the wind. Now why would that be? Even with the wind chill it wasn’t very cold, maybe dipping slightly below freezing. I have been asking but either no one knows or they aren’t saying, sort of like how no one will admit there are hollowed-out mountains with fighter jets in them.

What’s up with hats?

Having spent a winter in Zurich now I can ask “why don’t people wear hats”? It was cold at times, snowing once in a while, certainly hat-worthy weather. But nope, apart from the occasional old man wearing a cap (ears conspicuously left in the cold) no one wore a hat. Well except for me, I like to wear hats, they keep my head warm.

So imagine my surprise when Monday morning, when lo and behold easily half of the people I saw had hats on! And not just hats, frequently they had stocking hats, full-blown Heidi hats (ear flaps, drawstrings, alpine patterns), just hats everywhere. Did I mention it was a fairly mild spring morning with the sun shining and just a bit of wind?

Apparently there are something like 20 different sirens that can go off here. Each one tells the Swiss what threat is imminent and where to go (small note that none of my coworkers could identify the siren that went off a few weeks ago:-) My hunch is that either:

  1. A very quiet klaxon went off in every Swiss home Sunday night alerting the people that tomorrow was wear your hat day.
  2. Everyone listens to the same radio station here and the DJ announced it was freak a foreigner out day, wear a hat. I can only expect another day like this in the coming months called “freak out the American expats by wearing a baseball cap”.

In any event I so far have not been able to figure out why no one wears hats here. Comments?

More weather

I have written about this before. Over the weekend the forecasts all began calling for nasty weather this week. Odd, it’s been spring-like of late. Today though the models are changing and no one can figure it out.


This is the Weather Underground. Notice that -16C on Wedneday? Brr. Now over to the BBC


And finally Yahoo (which has been the most accurate of late). Yahoo had been calling for about the same weather as the BBC and WU, but has in the past few hours backed off.


What can I conclude from all this? Probably that it might, maybe, get a bit colder. And maybe some rain. Or not. Or snow, but probably not. Of course two of three claim the barometer is steady right now, one claims the barometer is falling.

Some thoughts on returning home

I am waiting at the airport to fly back to Zurich. I have been in Seattle for about a week on a business trip. I think it will take some time to digest this trip (literally and figuratively) since it is my first trip back home since we moved. Great to see my friends and family.

The good

The first thing I should mention is I really, really liked being able to speak the language. From the moment I boarded the British Airways flight I could just relax and not worry about German. There is a moral to this: work harder on German and maybe this relaxing feel can happen all the time.

The second thing worth noting is I really do miss hamburgers. I thought I missed steak and I did. But hamburgers… they have them in Europe but they are, all apologies, wrong. Maybe they don’t have enough added hormones, maybe the beef is cleaner or not, who knows. But I can assert that American hamburgers really are better. Fries are usually but not always better in Europe. There are exceptions. But some quick rules about burgers:

  1. I don’t know what the sauce is in Europe, but it’s not right. The only good sauce on a burger is barbeque sauce.
  2. Pickles are dill, not sweet.
  3. Lettuce, tomato, onion. Yogurt is right out.

Before going too far let me address the reply that will certainly come, “what about American cheese”. Well… it’s not cheese, it’s “cheese food” whatever that distinction means. It’s neither cheese nor food, discuss. Seriously, just ask and most restaurants will happily give you something better like cheddar, “Swiss” which causes me to chuckle anyway since how could one word wrap all the cheeses in Switzerland. It would be like asking for “French” dressing… oh wait.

I’ll move on to steak. I miss big, gigantic, marbled, grilled steak. My in-laws cooked up a doozy on Tuesday. We had a decent if disappointing steak at El Gaucho on Wednesday. And then another big steak on Saturday with the in-laws. Man…. I miss steak. On the other hand I ate half a kilo of beef for each steak and that is just not sustainable for someone of my advanced years.

What else…. really good Mexican food. Rare in Seattle too, but rarer in Zurich. Carta Oaxaca in Ballard is a treat.

Sliced bread is good too. Someday I will sell bread-slicing machines in Zurich and make a fortune. Imagine good, tasty, rich bread but sliced. It would be the best idea since, well, you know.

The bad

Traffic. It was everywhere. Tons and tons of cars. And no trains. I’m ready to be back in the land of trains and trams.

There was also a noticeable lack of bratwurst stands in Seattle, go figure. I miss bratwurst. And cervelat. I’d make a large wager one cannot find cervelat in Seattle.

I also couldn’t really walk anywhere. I wanted to go to the store — jump in the car. At one point today I caught myself driving 60 yards from one parking lot to another as I changed stores. What is that about? By the time I return to Zurich I will have lost my walking muscles.

It was also pretty damp. I always forget how damp Seattle is. Of course this year Seattle has trended colder than Zurich which is unusual. And they are having an amazing ski season.


Home is where you wear your hat, after all.

Zurich Weather

I have mentioned the “interesting” weather forecasts I see for Zurich. I know weather forecasting can be tricky. We’ll even ignore for a moment the spread between the BBC and the others. You know what the weather was (and I mean the weather, the stuff that is happening outside the window)? It is snowing.



Weather Zurich


Weather Underground


The good news is we all love snow. It always starts the morning right, we walk around singing. I hope it sticks. And we can go sledding/sledging.