Monthly Archives: November 2010

The Swiss Do Have a Sense of Humor

Introducing, the pig tram.

The porcine’s expression is a little worrying as he has a large coin penetrating his back. Is he surprised? Thrilled? Horrified? Titillated?

Next stop, insanity.

Swiss Thanksgiving

We were off to the the Alps for Thanksgiving for the traditional Swiss Thanksgiving feast of fried cheese (raclette) and chocolate.

Guest Blogger: Laurel Lee

The Passport and the Bureaucrat
by Laurel Lee

Laurel Lee, her husband and three children moved to Basel from Needham, Mass. four months ago.

We needed to renew our son’s passport and get him a passport card, a smaller passport-equivalent document easier for frequent travel. The US embassy in Bern is about 1.5 hours away from Basel by train and tram. The counter for passport processing is only open for passports on non-US (and non Swiss) holidays from 9 to 11:30 am.

Two days before we decided to go, I launched an all out search for the passport photos that I had taken in the US in preparation for this event. I finally found them as well as the official documents I would need for the passport and passport card fee. I was ready.

Entering the embassy is more rigorous than flying from Logan Airport post 911. No purses, bags, backpacks or cell phones are allowed. You go through an initial screening room and cannot enter until the previous party has cleared security. Once admitted you must be screened as at the airport with the addition of having a wand passed over you even if you didn’t trigger the first metal detector. Once you complete this process, you must do it again on the lower level before you can take a number to wait for counter assistance.

My husband and passed through security and I finally had our number called. We approached the first representative who examines documents to make sure they are in order. She cleared us and sent us to the cashier around the corner where you ring a bell, await the metal shutter to ascend and pay the $120 fee. I took my carefully prepared US money out of my file and happily handed it to the Swiss cashier. She looked at the $100 bill, twisted her mouth and said: “I can’t possibly take that: It’s too old!”


“What do you mean?”

“It’s a security risk, I won’t be able to get rid of it,” she says.

I was now pissed. This wasn’t some torn and muddied bill. It was a perfectly acceptable US hundred dollar bill.

My husband, sensing my growing anger, hissed behind my back “Take a deep breath!” He then produced some crumpled Swiss francs, which I handed to the clerk. She looked them over, looked at me, and finally processed the fee. Rumpled francs trump senior dollars. Is this monetary ageism, or just nationalism?

We are now sent back to wait for our number to be called for final processing. This next representative is friendly and predicts that we will have the new passport in one week. I think, “Wow, that’s fast, but maybe the embassy gets special privileges.” We say “thanks” and leave the embassy.

Too many times
I am not too concerned when the first two weeks pass with no new passport, I’ve never heard of a (non-expedited) passport arriving that quickly. However, by 3+ weeks, I go to the US website to find out where things are. The site tells me it was mailed on 11/7/10 (doubtful since it was a Sunday). Finally, I call to the US and am informed, “It was sent to a Virginia address.” We have never lived in VA. I give them the benefit of the doubt and think perhaps they send them from some central VA address to the embassy.

Just to get clarification, I send an email to the embassy. When I receive no response by the next afternoon, I call. Phone calls are only taken in the afternoons: Apparently they cannot do both counter work and answer phone calls simultaneously.

When I get a representative, he asks for our name and tells me that they’ve had some delays in New Orleans and that it might arrive at the embassy in the next few days after which it will be sent in the self addressed stamped envelope we provided. When I return to my computer later that same afternoon, I have an email stating that they actually have the passport but they are holding it per our (non-existent) request to await the passport card.

In the past 24 hours, I’ve been told it’s been sent to VA, it’s been delayed and will come in a few more days, and that it’s been there for “awhile” awaiting the other document. I point out in a reply email that it’s not clear which one of these statements is true but if it’s the last one, to put it in the mail ASAP.

Our son’s passport arrived on November 11th (a US holiday) by registered mail. The passport card, well, who knows when we’ll see it? Does anyone speak bureaucratese?

And Wife Says Ewwwwww

New Phrase Alert: Vagina Water
Definition: “You know, pee, Daddy. Like penis water.”
“Thanks, Jack.”

Tram Trip, Part Two

Louis Lumiere, Thomas Edison, Roundhay Garden Scene, The Birth of a Nation, all greats in the history of film. And now I give you Tram Number 11. Like all firsts, there are technical glitches to overcome. Please either turn your computer screen half way around, or tilt your head (recommended) to view.


Jack has introduced a new word: Stuperb. Stupid + Superb.

Stuperb ([stoo-purb], adjective): Brilliant in its stupidity. Stupidity in action that is so outstandingly stupid it becomes a lovely thing to watch. For example, every Jackass movie.

Finally, a Jewish Energy Drink

We took the number 14 tram to the suburbs on the way to Ikea. We don’t (yet) have a car and so would be public transporting it and then walking the last half mile (anyone else out there ever walk to Ikea?).

The boys were protesting extreme thirst before the hiking portion of our journey, so we ducked into a convenience store. And there it was, in the cooler next to the Red Bull: David, the Energy Drink.

I am surprised it took this long for someone to jump on the David and Goliath story, the same David who would be King of Israel. This was a guy with a lot of chutzpah and energy. The aspiration and message in the can: Party Like a Jewish Historical Figure. I’ll drink some of that.

Well, actually I won’t. Because I don’t read German and so have no idea what kind of chemicals they want to disperse into my body (I’m all for introducing chemical enhancements, but I want to know what they are). And the picture on the can — a shirtless barbarian-type warrior in distressed leather shorts and strappy sandals hanging out in a cloud — is just too fey to convince me that this juice will help me rock. I am more certain it will help me dance circa Nena and 99 Luftballoons. But I welcome someone else giving it a try and reporting back in.

Party Like a Jewish Historical Figure

A Reason for Shaving My Head

So I can’t pull out what hair I have left.

Today I spoke with a Swiss bureaucrat.

We are waiting for our residency permits, which we applied for on the second day we arrived. Six weeks ago.

Three weeks ago we were notified by mail that Jessica and the boys’ permit photos were rejected: They were smiling. The Swiss reviewer carefully pointed out that lips must be closed in the photos. This is one of 25 stipulations for proper photo taking. We had been OK with the 24 other stipulations. Missed the not smiling.

Last week, in a phone conversation, I was assured that the permits had been completed and would arrive by Wednesday. It is now Friday. No permits. Which means we can’t buy a car, can’t get a local cell phone, can’t get a permit for street parking, and can’t buy the double special centuries-old best thing you have never tasted Swiss-residents-only chocolate (OK, I made the last one up, although I am willingly to bet something like it exists… people here are very protective of their goodies).

So I call the immigration office to find out the status of the permits. And proceed to have a 20-minute Who’s on First? conversation revolving around the city vs. immigration office, the hours of operation of both, the computer systems access and who out of 100 people in the immigration office I had initially spoken to.

I finally got a response – call back on Monday. This type of round-about conversation with service people in Basel is pretty typical. Here, people are trained to be helpful, but also they are trained to take every question literally and never jump outside the box of that question. Please follow the line, sir. It will take you around the building several times and back to exactly where you started, but look how perfectly straight the line is drawn, and what a fresh yellow color it is maintained in.


The Girl and the Bunny

I’d like to introduce you to Erin Heatherton, this year’s new Tally girl. I don’t know the rabbit’s name.

Tally is a Swiss clothes company, and the boys and I pass this poster advertisement every morning on the tram. It has become as integral to my morning as my cup of coffee. I will miss my new friends when there is a new campaign.

And for the record, Jack and Adam reviewed this post. Jack’s unsolicited comment: “She’s not nearly as sexy as mommy.” The kid has a good eye.

Meet the girl and the rabbit

Tram Trip to Pick up the Kids at School