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XXX- no, I’m not trying to be obscene, nor am I talking about a tatted-up extreme sports athlete recruited by the government (AKA Vin Diesel). I thought I’d shed a little light on some Swiss culture.

You’ve seen in movies I’m sure (or possibly first-hand) how kissy the Europeans can be, and frankly, for me, it’s slightly uncomfortable. But I’ve learned a lot during my stay here in this country of cheese, chocolate, and cows– one thing being how to greet people. It’s probably a good idea to learn this before hand if you want to avoid the awkward hand-shake/kiss/hug that I’ve had to endure more than once. I still remember my first day, arriving at the train station, greeted by our exchange “buddy,” him coming towards me, and me not really knowing what to do. Do I shake hands? Go in for a hug? Uh-oh…what’s this?? Kisses? I don’t even know this kid!

After a while though, I got more used to it– though secretly I still dread every time I have to greet a Swiss person. Sometimes, if they know you’re American, they will kindly go for the hand-shake to make you feel more at ease. Or, even more awkwardly, will just smile and nod as you feel the tension growing in the space between (you know they’re thinking, to kiss? or not to kiss?).

Pucker Up!


So, how to do it correctly? Well, generally, it’s 3 quick kisses, starting from the left cheek, then right, then left again. This goes for guys and girls, girls and girls, but I don’t think guys and guys (they shake hands mostly, but I could be wrong)…and I’m pretty sure it doesn’t matter what age you are (though I’ve never greeted an elderly Swiss person, or a little kid, so I can’t be sure about that either). No embrace is really needed (though sometimes I feel like a chicken pecking at something with my arms dangling at my sides). Most of the time I’ll place one hand on the other person’s arm…though this feels kind of weird too, especially if they don’t do the same. In my experience, it’s best to just get it out of the way as quickly as possible so life can go on.

Another interesting fact I learned– in France, it’s much the same, but with just 2 kisses. And here in Switzerland, if two girls are really close friends, it’s just one (slightly more heart-felt) kiss with a hug.

So, I hope by now you’ve realized that XXX = 3 kisses. Not that I have anything against Vin Diesel…in fact, if he was in Switzerland right now, I wouldn’t be opposed to greeting him in the typical Swiss way ;)

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So…there has been a serious lack of posting going on lately, but I am not to blame for this! My computer crashed last week and I have been computerless since then. It has been a serious inconvenience not only just because it makes it almost impossible to blog- but also because most of my class work requires the use of a computer. Needless to say, I am anxiously awaiting the return of my computer- which is at the moment sitting at UNIL “migrating” information. I’m not entirely sure what that entails, but I do know that it has been doing this since last Wednesday. Well, enough about my computer. On to interesting stuff…

I’m working on a borrowed computer, so this will have to be fairly brief, but I would like to update everyone on some recent events.

Item #1:
TEXAS PARTY!
So yesterday Chelsey, Amber and I hosted a Texas themed party on the roof of Triaudes (my residence). We had endless amounts of “Texas-y” foods and country music and of course country dancing! I must add here that I am not a proficient dancer, and the country dancing was demonstrated/taught by Chelsey and Amber. I am, on the other hand, fairly proficient in Texas cooking- so we had plenty to eat. For the 30-some-odd guests who attended, we provided chili and cornbread (with the rare and expensive cheddar cheese to sprinkle on top!), some tex-mex food (hard and soft tacos, pico, guacamole, and refried beans), sloppy joes!, lemonade, and sweet iced tea. We also had cake and muffins and various other desserts and drinks that were brought by our gracious guests. I must say that it was a lot of fun- and for a Texas party, there were quite a few languages being thrown around (French, Italian, Spanish, and Russian to name a few). It was a great big international success and hopefully our friends got to experience some Texas hospitality.
Unfortunately, I had forgotten that we had an apartment inspection this morning, so most of the night following the party (and much of the wee hours of the morning) were spent making the place spotless (for this I would like to thank Lionel for helping, even if he didn’t contribute to the mess-making).

Item #2:
l’Art Brut
Otherwise known as Outsider Art in English. Last week our tandem class went on a “field trip” to the Collection de l’Art Brut here in Lausanne. It’s basically a collection of all different forms of art done by non-traditional artists. The term non-traditional is used very loosely here, as is the term artist. Nontheless, it is an extremely interesting museum with all different kinds of paintings, sculptures, and mixed media work. We got in free, but I think normal admittance is fairly inexpensive. I would definitely recommend going to visit the museum to anyone visiting Lausanne. http://www.artbrut.ch/

And now I must bid you all farewell….I’m not sure when I’ll be able to blog again- but I’m hoping that my computer is fixed this week (but then again, I said the same thing last week!)
Ciao :)

So, I guess there will be no element of suspense or surprise in this story…because I basically just told you what happens in the end. But I suppose the real reason I’m telling you this story is to give you a word of caution. I thought I was prepared for anything, but I guess this can happen to anyone…

My story begins not in Paris, but actually much, much before. I had heard about pickpockets almost as soon as I mentioned the words “trip to Europe.” Anyone who had anything to say normally warned me about pickpockets, and I, being the sage traveler that I am, heeded their warnings. Even here in Lausanne, Switzerland, on the first day of arrival, I was greeted by an ad campaign that had a giant photo of someone getting pickpocketed. My adviser here at Unil warned us to be careful with our things because even though Lausanne is a fairly safe area, thieves are still a problem.

I felt very prepared- mentally and physically. But soon I began to relax. Which is always bound to happen.

And that’s where the real story begins. My weekend trip to Paris. It was about mid-trip, and we had already ridden the metro a few times, but this time it was packed. So packed that you couldn’t avoid bumping into the people standing next to you, and already everyone was trying to avoid eye contact with anyone close. Our group of six people was all huddled around each other basically, and of course we were talking about how awkward this was and giving each other knowing glances. It even crossed my mind that it would be really easy for someone to steal something in a situation like this…which is probably what saved me, because at that moment I made sure my bag was zipped and in front of me. I distinctly remember noticing three women, one of whom was pregnant, standing amongst our group. I thought it was kind of strange that they were standing unnaturally close to us, but attributed it to the different proximity norms that people in Europe have (they tend to stand much closer together than in the US). Then, the woman who was pregnant moved right in front of me, uncomfortably close. But since I was standing right next to the pole, I assumed she just needed a little extra balance. Again, I tried to avoid eye contact (which is perhaps what these folks are counting on) because of how close she was standing. What seemed like an eternity later, I felt my bag moving. I figured it was just people bumping into me again, but looked down out of reflex (my bag was still in front of me). To my utter shock and horror, the pregnant woman had one hand unzipping my bag, and the other inside, clasped around my wallet! Without thinking, I quickly grabbed her hand and my wallet. I shoved the wallet back into my bag and zipped it closed. By this time, she was already on the move, with her two partners in crime. I looked around at my friends who were all standing around me- none of them had even noticed. My mouth was still gaping as I looked around to see if anyone else had seen- but nothing. The entire incident had taken place within a matter of seconds, and the woman was gone even quicker than that.

After getting off the metro at the next stop, we noticed the three women running to the next metro car. I felt so angry and violated, but there was nothing I could do except be grateful that I had not lost anything (that would happen on the next trip!). The entire rest of the trip I was extremely careful and even paranoid. Now, I’ve come to realize that I should use this experience to remind me that even if you think you are being careful, bad stuff can still happen- and it’s a good idea to not ever become too relaxed.

My advice to anyone would be this:

1. Backpacks are generally not a good idea on any sort of public transportation unless the compartments are locked, or if you take it off and hold it in front of you.

2. A shoulder bag that crosses in front of you is a better idea if it has a flap over the top as well as a zipper underneath that. No matter what bag you have, always make sure that it is zipped, snapped, or buttoned closed and in front of you, not behind you. Another tip that I heard from a friend of mine in Italy is to wear your bag underneath your clothes or jacket. Whichever you feel more comfortable with is your choice. I prefer to have my bag in front of me so that I can always see it.

3. I have never really been a fan of the money belts that people wear underneath their clothes, but if you need to carry important documents with you or some extra cash, then here is my advice. Never take things out of your money belt in public. It will definitely peg you as a tourist and only draw attention to you. Needless to say it will also draw attention to the fact that you have important stuff stashed in your money belt (which believe it or not, is not off limits to a professional pickpocket).

4. My final words of advice to you are this: Like I mentioned above, avoid drawing any sort of attention to yourself. My large group of loud, obvious Americans probably drew unneeded attention to us on the metro, and made us out to be easy targets. Secondly, stay vigilant. If you keep alert, and pay attention, you should be safe. I think pickpockets can tell if someone is paying attention or out to lunch (literally, a friend I met on the road had his bag and camera stolen when he was out to lunch at an outdoor cafe…)

I don’t want to scare anyone or deter anyone from traveling. In fact, I feel as though I am much more prepared for many more travels in the future, and much happier ones now that I know what to look out for. Keep traveling, keep safe, and just remember to keep on the lookout for suspicious looking pregnant ladies in crowded metros!

So, I realize that I have not really been on the ball with this whole blog thing lately. I have been getting many complaints about not having posted anything recently- so here’s your post. Unfortunately, I don’t really have time to post something interesting or useful today, so instead, I will sum up what I’ve been doing lately, and what I will be up to in the week to come:

Last weekend- Went to Paris!! It was really, really, really amazing and we had loads of fun. I took about 1000 pictures (no exaggeration here) so it will take me a while to sort through them all. I also have plenty of great stories to tell, so look forward to hearing about gypsies, the Eiffel Tower, cemeteries, the Louvre, etc. However, for the time being, you will have to just wait.

This week- Extremely hectic. I’ve had assignments due every single day in all of my classes and I’ve also had TWO tests. Assignments and tests.
NO BUENO. (<— not French)
Also, I've been busy preparing for NEXT week, which is EASTER BREAK!!!!

Next week- Trip around the world!! Or at least around Europe. We are leaving tomorrow for a whole week of travel (by car! AH) visiting Zurich (the foreign part of Switzerland that I have not visited yet…they speak German there- how bizarre!), Austria, and Italy.

So, that is all I have time for.
Ps- in other news, I have started a new blog that I will reserve for photos only. There are just a few pictures on there now, but I am planning on adding many, many more when I return from the Easter break! You can find my other blog here

I didn’t know that they celebrated St. Patrick’s Day in Switzerland, but apparently there are a few Irish souls here in Lausanne who enjoy a jig and a Guinness if the occasion calls for it on a certain day in the middle of March.

Last night, I was fortunate enough have the opportunity to attend one of the [only?] St. Patrick’s Day celebrations here in Lausanne. It took place at the fairly packed from wall-to-wall King Size Pub at Le Flon. There was a legit “Irish” band playing on the stage, speaking plenty of French in between singing “Whiskey in the Jar” and “The Wearing of the Green.” Very strange indeed, yet surprisingly entertaining!

The King Size is one of the main places Lausanne where it’s really “cool” to speak English. Most of the bartenders at least try to speak a few words of English, and they might even strike up a conversation with you if they hear your American accent (it’s probably cooler if you have a British accent…but I don’t have access to one of those).

I found it amusing that the workers were all clad in Scottish kilts…but it’s all celtic, eh? Overall, it was a great night, and I wore green, as to avoid getting pinched (not punched, as my roommate initially thought I had meant…)
If ever I’m in Lausanne on St. Patrick’s Day again, I will most definitely be attending the festivities at The King Size Pub! And you should too!

Addendum:
I just discovered that I missed ZU2, who is performing tonight at the King Size (there are continuing to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day into the weekend). ZU2, as I’m sure you are aware, is the “official” U2 cover band…………………..
what a shame that I had to miss that…….

*sarcasm*

:)

Delicious home made Tarte aux Pommes

My first attempt at a home made Tarte aux Pommes was a success!

One of the most popular desserts here in Switzerland is what we (in the US) would probably call pie. It’s basically a flaky crust with sweet fruit on top, and sometimes a bit of custard in between. Here a “pie” is normally called a tarte. They come with all sorts of different fruits like strawberries, blueberries, pears, etc.

Last night I decided I would try my hand at one. I sort of cheated because I didn’t make the crust from scratch….but everything else was genuinely home made. With the help of Amber and Chelsey, the apples were peeled, cored, sliced, and carefully arranged on the pastry crust, then sprinkled with sugar, dotted with butter, and placed in the oven! It’s as simple as that. After about an hour in the oven, it was then removed and we applied an apricot glaze to the top. Bon appetit! It was absolutely amazing!! (and it was gone in about 5 minutes)
No doubt I will be making more of these in the future, and next time, I will try for a home made crust :)

Minarets in Switzerland

New minarets built in Switzerland

You may or may not be aware of the recent 2009 referendum banning the construction of minarets in Switzerland; you may not know about the Libya-Switzerland conflict going on right now, and I’m not going to go into the details (if you want to know more, click the links).

But living in Switzerland, if you read the paper at all, or talk to any Swiss people, the subject will probably come up. The issue has been mentioned every single day in the local paper that I read, and just the other day, I saw these “minarets” on the side of the road and thought it was a pretty clever idea.

The truth is (according to Wiki and a couple other sources) that there are maybe 4 minarets in the whole of Switzerland! (if you’re wondering, that’s not a lot)
I’m not taking sides here, but I do find it a bit strange that there would be a need to legally ban the construction of minarets here in Switzerland by amending the constitution.

What started as a small, local disagreement turned into a national campaign to save the countryside from un-Swiss, foreign religious architecture. To me, it seems a little extreme. It’s not as if the place is being overrun with minarets. In fact, I haven’t even seen a single one since I’ve been here (bar the ones pictured above). It seems to me that this constitutional amendment would bring more harm than good. Even now, in the conflict with Libya–though it was initially born amidst different circumstances–the subject of the minarets has not been ignored, and it has given Libya one more piece of evidence in the case against Switzerland.

By no means am I implying that Libya is right in its “jihad” against Switzerland, on the contrary. However, it has been rather convenient for Libya to use the referendum in convincing the Arab League that Switzerland is a “racist” country, thus gaining further support in its tiff with the neutral country.

“Yah, I think she wears that shirt just to make her butt look better,” one said with an Indian accent as thick as the Himalayan Mountain Belt. The other nodded in agreement, “I’ve seen her when she wears shorter shirts, she looks completely different.” This one spoke with a Russian accent that I had a hard time understanding.
I was sitting on the last metro of the night, and I had just taken off my headphones because the two individuals sitting across from me appeared to be making some sort of comments in my direction, and of course, I wanted to hear what they were saying.
I discovered they were not talking about me, but were indeed talking about someone. After discussing the girl who looked better with longer shirts, they switched to Sarah, who was definitely not a good match for that guy from the Physics department.
I was intrigued, partly because they were speaking in English, but more because, as I strained to understand their heavily accented and fractured words and phrases, I was in awe of how well they understood each other! It was also interesting to see how guys talk about girls when they don’t think anyone can hear them. They sounded more like two high school cheerleaders than two grad students at EPFL. I suppressed a smile as I heard one say, “I know, I was shocked when I saw them making out after class!”
I could tell that they were speaking freely because they [wrongly] assumed no one would understand English. As it became more and more difficult to hide the fact that I was listening in on their conversation, I decided to take action. I had a plan.
Taking out my phone, I dialed Mom. A simple, short conversation in English would do the trick.
I smiled at them as their jaws dropped when they heard me speak English. They both gave each other a wide-eyed look. I told Mom goodnight, and hung up the phone- enjoying the rest of the ride in silence, as my two neighbors each sat quietly looking down.
Moral of the story? Don’t assume the girl across from you on the metro doesn’t speak English! She does.

First off, I would like to say that I must be experiencing some sort of delayed jet lag or something, because I cannot seem to get un-tired. Either that, or I just have not been sleeping enough…..so needless to say, I should be sleeping right now- but instead, I am blogging.

Now that I have gotten that off my chest, I will commence this blog of random, unrelated subjects.

First off: blue bathrooms. Have you heard of them? I had, but I thought they were merely a thing of fiction until I saw one the other day at the Lausanne Gare.

Where are my veins??

…and yes, I took pictures in the bathroom.

So, why are these bathrooms blue? Well, I’m so glad you asked! (not really…I was hoping you already knew)
It’s because in the blue light, one’s veins are not visible, making it practically impossible to donate blood in these restrooms. It also discourages any other sort of activity during which one might need to locate one’s veins…(e.g., injecting oneself with illegal narcotics)

We also had a laugh because each bathroom stall had a lock on it that could be opened by inserting 1 CHF. I guess if you gotta go, you gotta go.

On to item #2, Tandem. Tomorrow, I meet with a random stranger, who claims to speak French, and who also claims to want to learn English. Seems pretty convenient, yes? The program is called Tandem (I believe this has already been mentioned) and not only did they match me up with a helpful stranger, but I can also receive college credits for meeting and conversing. Sounds easy? Well, that is to be determined. I meet with my stranger tomorrow…

Of course this wouldn’t be my blog if I didn’t mention food somewhere in here…so I saved the best for last: Spätzli! It’s pronounced shpitz-ly (cute, right?) and it is as delicious as it sounds! It’s basically just a fat little egg noodle…I bought a pretty large package (it said ACTION! which meant that it was on sale) and I and my roommates have been eating on it for the past couple of days. It takes about five minutes to heat up in a skillet with a little butter (I also added some of my CHEDDAR CHEESE at the suggestion of my roommate Isa). It is one of my new found favorites!

here’s a cool artist I discovered today :)

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