Friday, November 4, 2011

i dream of germans

Or Germanic people.

I think it's rather funny that after moving away from Switzerland over three years ago, I still had this dream last night that reveals my subconscious impression of the Germanic approach to laws and law enforcement.

I dreamed that Boyfriend and I had rented a large, white Econoline van (no idea why) and were driving around in a small European town. We got pulled over by the police, who turned out to be German-speaking. Based on the accent, I'm guessing that we were somewhere in Austria. He was not pleased about something, and was speaking very quickly, and I struggled to understand what he was saying.

In the mean time, Boyfriend wandered off and started shopping for shoes.

The police called our car rental agency, who quickly sent a man out. The rental agent and the police officer then proceeded to disassemble the cover and cap for the gas tank, still yelling at me in German.

Boyfriend continued shopping for shoes. (What does this say about what my subconscious thinks about Boyfriend?)

I finally figured out what the policeman and the rental agent were upset about. Apparently, for this particular van in Austria, you could only drive it with the gas cap and lid open. The cap and lid were reserved for high-speed situations. And they decided to enforce it by taking the car apart to prevent us from driving with it closed any more. They even handed me all the parts afterwards. I am pretty sure the rental agency was then going to charge us for damage done to the car (by the agent, mind you), and the cop was probably going to write us a ticket for driving with the gas cap on.

Yes, this was something that my dreaming mind made up, but the fact that it didn't seem strange at all shows you how odd some of the rules are in Germanic countries and how scrupulously they enforce them.

And yes, I have been giving Boyfriend grief about his shoe shopping during the crisis.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


It has probably been over 20 years since the last time I was in L.A., and it was not the place I remembered, probably due in large part to the fact that my earlier visits were with family, and revolved around hanging out at my uncle's house and going on long road trips in the minivan to various national parks.

That is not what L.A. is like. At all.

We flew into Long Beach instead of LAX, which was an amusing mistake. Long Beach is basically a small trailer park with runways. The airport employees don't seem to be aware that they are working at the airport, which can be problematic when you're trying to check a bag or get through security.

From what we could tell at the hotel and when we went out in the city, L.A. is kind of like Vegas, but with no gambling and more plastic surgery. We saw a girl in thigh high boots who apparently decided that the height of her boots negated the need for pants. We saw a middle-aged gentleman in a sequined shirt who has had so much done to his face that we were afraid it would fall off at any moment. We saw enough SUVs to use up all the oil in Kuwait.

On the other hand, we also saw dolphins and whales swimming around right next to our hotel. That was pretty awesome.

Oh, and they also hired a falconer and his falcons to keep the seagulls away. Only in L.A. could a dude with a leather glove and a bird find full-time employment at a fancy resort.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

buy the way

One of the things I love doing when visiting foreign countries is to go to the local mall and the local grocery store to see what odd products they have to offer their customers.

I am quite sure that foreign visitors to the U.S. enjoy doing the same thing.

An American friend who lives in Switzerland was in town for a couple of days a few weeks ago, and we went on the requisite "stock up on things that are cheaper or only available in America" trip to the mall, Target, and Safeway. I took a few pictures of some of the great things you can buy in our wonderful country.

Double Stuf Oreos weren't fattening enough, so they now make Triple Double Oreos, which have three cookies and two layers of Double Stuf creme.

In case you wanted to wash your hair with placenta shampoo, but were afraid your hair would be dry afterwards, have no fear, there is also placenta conditioner
Available at Target.

Old Spice comes in "Matterhorn" and "Swagger." 
How can you possibly choose??

I had no idea Axe was so popular that it now requires multiple scents. 
(Does anyone actually use Axe?)

Maybe the people who shop here use Axe. 
For all your armor needs, Armor-Geddon occupies an entire store in the mall.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

best and brightest

Oh, Silicon Valley, you have an endless supply of interesting (read: weird) people. 

Today, I was driving home from work, and even though it was almost 7 p.m., it was still almost 90 degrees outside. I looked over and saw a guy in the bike lane, also going home from work. He was carrying the laptop backpack that every person at my company has, so I knew that he was One of Us. Kudos to anyone who is willing to bike to and from work in this heat, but super kudos to this guy, who was doing it on a unicycle. 

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


One of my favorite things about having international friends (other than the interesting perspectives and cultural exchange, etc., etc., etc.) is the hilarious little quirks of language that emerge in conversation. I will be the first to admit that their English is far better than any foreign language that I speak, and that I have been known to make my own embarrassing comments in both English and other languages.

OK, disclaimers aside, one of the funniest moments from our trip to Zurich happened when we went out to dinner with a group of people, and at the end, a few of them were trying to open little individual bottles of kirsch. The bottles proved to be very difficult to open, and the guys were pulling and pulling at the corks, trying to get them out.

Our German friend finally suggested, "Just wank it! Wank it off!"

(Mostly unrelated note: there is a town in Switzerland called Wankdorf. "Dorf" in Switzerland is the equivalent of "town" in English.)

Monday, May 23, 2011

hair hat

Not to be confused with "hat hair" or "hat head," this styled wig, which I've dubbed a "hair hat," is inexplicably featured in an exhibit at the Ballenberg Swiss open air museum, which is supposedly dedicated to traditional Swiss culture (something like Williamsburg in the States). For context, most of the other exhibits were about things like water wheels, yodeling, and farm animals. The card notes that this amazing hairstyle is from circa 2003.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

losing my religion

I've never been a religious person, and so the only holidays I can really keep track of are those that fall on the same day every year, like Christmas. Easter is a vague concept that floats around somewhere in the spring time and can only be pinpointed with a Google search. I had a better grasp of it when I was in high school, but that's because my high school was Catholic, and when I was living in Switzerland, but that's because I got time off for Easter (most of the official Swiss holidays are Christian ones: Easter, the Ascension, and Whit Monday being three examples of Swiss holidays that fall sometime in the first half of the year). Because they impacted my vacation schedule, I kept very close track of them, and because I knew they were national holidays, I also expected and accepted that everything would be closed on those days.

Coming back to the States, where we skew towards non-religious holidays, like Martin Luther King Day or Presidents' Day or the Fourth of July, Easter again became an amorphous floating holiday with no relevance to my schedule, especially since I no longer bother going to stores, for the most part, because online shopping is so much better for people like me (read: lazy people who don't want to put on pants to go buy things).

For some reason, however, today I decided to go to the brick-and-mortar stores at the Stanford Mall to browse around. Malls are modern altars to capitalism and consumerism and all the other -isms that we take so seriously in the New World. People congregate in malls the way they once did in churches. Imagine my surprise, then when I arrived at the mall, and it was closed. Everything was closed. Even Neiman Marcus, the ultimate shrine to secular consumption, was closed. For Easter.

This is the worst of both worlds -- a religious holiday that doesn't give me any extra days off, but which nonetheless closes down all of the stores. Pick a side, America -- if you're going to close down shop for religious holidays, then give me extra time off. If you're not going to observe religious holidays, then make everything else run on a normal schedule.

(On a side note, Jesus, why don't you want me to go shopping? It's good for the economy, helps keep unemployment in check, which helps the poor -- I doubt Jesus would be opposed to a little bit of retail therapy for the greater good.)

Friday, April 22, 2011

meeting chicks

We were up in San Francisco last weekend at a coffee shop in Noe Valley, and one of the customers had a small chicken perched on her arm.

A chicken.

I asked her about the chicken, and she said it was the class pet for a kindergarten class. When I was little, our class pet was a guinea pig.

Only in California would a chicken be a class pet and spend weekends at a coffee shop.

travel style

It's interesting how my goals and style of travel have changed over the years, partly from changes in perspective and interests, and partly from changes in income and free time.

Student days (lots of time and no money): budget travel, fitting in as many "traditional" sights as possible per trip while minimizing transit, food, and hotel costs.

Expat days (some time and some money in a location convenient for travel): frequent travel, fitting in as many trips as possible while minimizing transit and hotel costs, seeing some traditional sights and some quirky sights, and splurging on specific interests, like food and diving.

These days (insufficient time and sufficient funds in a location inconvenient for travel): infrequent travel to far-flung destinations, splurging on hotels, food, airfare, and diving, and spending more time being lazy than seeing sights (unless they have quirky appeal).

Sunday, January 30, 2011


"The world is a book, and those who do not travel, read only a page." -- St. Augustine.