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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!

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“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.

…okay so I’m not an expert yet- in fact, I am far from it. But I have learned a few things since I have been here, and today being the 10 day anniversary of my arrival in Lausanne (a very special occasion, of course), I decided to write down a few things that I have learned that may benefit someone else planning on visiting Lausanne (or you could just read it and feel educated)

1. Public transportation- it’s…easy!?

Public transportation is definitely a new concept for me. All of the research in the world could not have prepared me for having to get used to a whole new way of getting around (okay, so maybe all of the research in the world could have, but who has time for that?)
I’ve already mentioned my bad experiences with the doors that close extremely fast, the mobs of people who pile onto and off of the metro, and the large gaps between the platform and the train (the perfect size for my foot).
But what I haven’t really mentioned, are the amazing benefits to learning how to deal with the public transportation.

One of the most important things is to purchase the Mobilis pass for the metro and buses. It’s not very expensive, and if you don’t own a car, it will pay for itself within the first week. If you don’t have the pass, you will have to purchase a ticket that’s only good for one hour, in a particular zone. It can get complicated because many of the machines only take coins, and sometimes you can miss the metro or bus because you are waiting for your ticket to be printed (not fun). Of course, the public transportation in Lausanne is on the honor system (meaning they don’t check for tickets) so you could always just hop on and hope you don’t get caught. I wouldn’t recommend this however; seeing as, if they do decide to check for tickets, you will get fined on the spot- a very large amount of money.
Once you have the pass, you are free to move about Lausanne on all of the metros and buses…which makes life a LOT easier. There are plenty of maps you can carry with you and there’s also a nifty website as well where you can map out your route. I guess the main thing is to not allow yourself to be intimidated- after a few days of mistakes, getting lost, and learning to always bring along a map, you will become a master of the public transportation system!

The Mobilis pass is better than having to buy a bunch of tickets

2. Having Denner for Dinner

Finding food is such an obvious need that I did not put much thought into it before coming. Oh yah, there were the all of those rumors that everyone hears, like “oh, you can’t get insert American food staple here in Europe!” and “eating out is so expensive in Switzerland!” And I was sure to tell all my friends so they could “oooo” and “ahhhh” about how I was going to have to survive in this strange land that doesn’t have peanut butter.
But the truth is, if you really want something, you can find it. I soon learned that although peanut butter is very hard to find, they do sell it here. There are some differences however….the label says “Easy Rider: The American Way of Life” and there is also a picture of a guy on a motorcycle. Not your typical peanut butter. I still need to try it to see if it makes me feel like Peter Fonda….

But I digress- the food is different here. The names of things are hard to translate. All of the cheese is white (and some of it smells extremely unappealing) . And food is very expensive. That’s why I have learned very quickly to adapt to the Swiss way of shopping (actually, it’s the poor folks’ way of shopping- but same difference).
First of all, shopping must be done in smaller quantities and more frequent intervals, because all groceries must be carried by hand all the way home (unless you hire goats to pull carts for 20 Swiss francs/hr).
Secondly, you have to know where to find the best prices. So far, I have discovered several options:
For my immediate needs, and general items, I go to Pam, a smaller grocery chain with a location just a few blocks from my apartment. The prices aren’t great, and the hours are not always convenient, but it’s nice to have something close when I need something quickly.
For more hard to find items (aka Easy Rider Peanut Butter), I go to Coop (pronounced “cope”) or Migros. Migros generally has the better prices, but both stores have locations everywhere, and you can find almost anything you need there. Migros is my favorite place to go and I have learned to search for the green boxes that say “M Budget” (it’s the off-off-off brand) and the signs that say “ACTION” (this means that something is on sale, and needs to be sold).
Now, if I’m really feeling frugal, I have discovered an amazing store called Denner. It is a smaller store, with very discounted prices. It is normally good to go there if you do not have something specific in mind, but are just looking for some good deals. There are some random things there, such as ready-made, frozen macaroni and cheese (with some surprise chunks of ham inside!) and REAL miracle whip and ketchup.

Eating out can be very expensive (50 Swiss francs for a Chinese buffet), so it is probably best to save that for special occasions. Going shopping with friends and then cooking a meal together is a lot more fun- and ends up being really cheap when everyone splits the cost (and stays afterward to help with the dishes!)

3. Try French!

One thing I have learned is that many people here speak English (or at least understand it). Upon discovering this, it is tempting to simply lapse into English whenever it is inconvenient or uncomfortable to make the effort to say something in French. However, this is a bad decision. Switzerland is unlike France (again this is just another one of those rumors- cause I have never actually been to France) in that people will not generally be angry with you if you try and fail at speaking their language. I think it has to do with the fact that there are so many languages being thrown around here that people are used to accents and broken sentences (or it could just be the Swiss hospitality!). But seriously, people normally are extremely patient and appreciate it if you at least give it a shot.
I have had more good experiences when I try to say things in French, than when I give up and lapse into English. Yes, it is awkward the first few times, and yes, the moments during which your mind goes blank and your mouth is stuck open will feel like an eternity (or maybe that just happens to me….) but that first instant when you realize that you just had a successful conversation with someone in another language is completely worth it.

I had initially entitled this post “10 tips for your first 10 days in Lausanne”
….very clever, yes. But unfortunately I only have time for 3 tonight.

Tomorrow morning, bright and early, I’m headed to Basel. More pictures and anecdotes to follow!

people in wheelchairs like to pop wheelies here

giant croissant

milk

doggies and children can ride the metro for 1/2 price!

Napoleon Dynamite

très vite

yummmmmm

cool tree

stank

recycle your pets here

rhodanie- where chelsey lives

heavenly lunch

mayonnaise

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