Thursday, June 19, 2008

You know you've been living in Switzerland for long when....

Taken from a group on facebook...funny :)
You know you have been living in Switzerland for long when - think getting up early is good throw a party and expect everyone to leave by 11:30 pm clean up during parties expect dinner guests to help with the washing up think it's fair that you can only wash clothes once a month religiously and carefully write down the dates of the Waschküchekalendar in your agenda wish that your hometown had expensive garbage bags too wear white socks with black shoes become concerned about the color of your neighbor's curtains dress up to go grocery shopping prefer plain chocolate to candy bars
... you love Sunday Brunch
... you make your own yogurts feel really hungry if you don't start eating lunch by 12:00 love Migros Budget have breakfast cereal for dinner consider it healthy to eat lots of milk products and lean red meat know fruit pies are a perfectly good meal for breakfast, lunch, or dinner don't mind waiting in restaurants think it's OK for a Chinese restaurant to be run by a Swiss and staffed with Spaniards and Portuguese start thinking, 'Why can't they just speak Schwiizerdeutsch?'
...your German is better than the waiter's prefer Swiss wine don't worry about your jacket being stolen in a restaurant don't feel embarrassed when you order something non-alcoholic in a bar expect a slice of lemon in your coke prefer fizzy mineral water to tap water only eat fondue in winter (yuck!!!) begin to understand the subtlety of the Swiss cuisine think that milk and butter prices should be regulated worry about the economic hardships that Swiss farmers face consider getting goats and sheep to graze in your backyard appreciate the differences between the cantons actually get interested in the local elections know the words to the Swiss national anthem try to defend cartel based economics to a visitor think it was through their own efforts that Switzerland stayed out of WWII think that Switzerland's conservation efforts make a difference think that hard work is responsible for the stability of the Swiss franc hope Switzerland doesn't join the European community think that Swisscom approved telephones are better buy a new one instead of getting it repaired refuse to tell someone your salary get concerned about all the foreigners moving into the country think that 3% unemployment is high are willing to pay higher prices, because it ensures higher quality feel like you're broke if you have less that CHF 300 in your pocket don't mind paying CHF 16 for a paperback book wonder why anyone would want to shop outside of working hours expect the shop clerk to say goodbye after you purchase something say Grüezi to everyone, and consider it impolite when they don't say it back know "let's go for a walk" translates to "let's go for a five hour hike up hill/mountain in considerable amounts of snow" call your cell phone "handy" and a projector "beamer" have trouble finding English words start capitalizing Nouns, and joining Bigwords together insist on speaking German to people that are obviously English speakers take a foreign language course, in German start preparing costumes for Fasnacht think Thursday night shopping is really convenient buy Swiss anxiously count your Coop Supercard and/or Migros Cumulus points after each trip to the supermarket pick a three-wheel push cart for your kid become interested in the myriad of insurance offerings think that air conditioning makes people sick don't mind spending all day in the restaurant at a ski resort, and wonder why all the foreigners insist on skiing when the conditions are less than optimal consider target shooting a 'sport' wouldn’t miss Herbschtmäss for a sack of gold're not upset when a public holiday falls on a Sunday think that Sunday should be a day of rest start complaining about the breakdown of traditional Swiss values complain to your neighbor about the noise when he flushes his toilet after 10 pm get annoyed when the car ahead of you doesn't turn off it's motor at a traffic light call the police when you see someone washing their car on a Sunday stop your engine at the red light start getting irritated with honking (if at all it ever happens!) consider it normal to pay 50 CHF for a haircut read this far

Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Ordeal of a feminine name

Yesterday after having dinner, I was going through the yearbook entries once again that my friends had written for me while parting. Almost all the entries had a reference to the gender confusion caused by my name when they first saw it and how all their dreams of dating a dilli ki kudi were shattered when they met me. And then I read Rishi’s entry which said “He is happy to go to Europe because on one there knows the female orientation of his name”. Good Riddance, I had said to myself 6 months back when I read this comment and thought that he was right. How the hell would Europeans know if ‘Divya’ is the name of a male or a female? But I was worried also. What if they know that 98% of Divyas that come from India are females? It’s still easier to explain to Indians that the name is Divya (with ‘a’ silent…) and not Divyaaaa…!!! So it’s nobody’s fault but the English language which does not have any means to distinguish between ‘a’ and ‘aaaa’. Given their disliking for English language, French (and to some extent Germans) would still empathize with me but how would I explain it to my British boss!

Thankfully nothing happened when I arrived! People had better things to do than to analyze name of one of the 1.8 million expatriates in Switzerland. Life went on smoothly for some days until one day when one of my colleagues asked me over lunch “Usually names ending in ‘a’ are feminine names…Tania, Nadia, Maria, Diana, Claudia (the list was endless!!)….How come in India its different”. Every bite after that got difficult to swallow! “It’s the same in India also but…ummm..actually…my name is not Divya…its Divya”. She started laughing hysterically “Did u have beer with the breakfast today..what r u saying …..My name is not Divya…..its Divya”. Finally after a lot of hard work I was able to explain to her the nuances of hindi language though still they all pronounce my name as ‘Deeevyyaaaaaa’. Colleagues were still ok to handle. I decided to apply to Kanton Basel for a Certificate of Residence which can be used as a substitute for an invite in order to get a Schengan Visa. I was amazed to see the automated processes, u just apply online and the letter and bill for it is delivered at your home within 72 hours of application! If you change home, you just need to inform police, they update the record and it gets automatically updated everywhere….all databases synchronized…wow!! I said to myself. The letter arrived and I was about to send it with application when I thought of going through it. The last para in the letter said “Frau Kumar….. blah blah blah..” I said to myself…what the ****….if everything else is synchronized with other databases, why not gender of the applicant. ‘Frau’ is a title in German used to address females!! The next thing I did was calling up the office and pointing out the mistake to them. The lady on other side of phone wasn’t happy to know that my passport said I was male when she had assumed otherwise seeing my first name!!.

I had still not recovered from these personal and official shocks when today I got another one…that too in office. The Head of Corporate communications has sent me a CD and the note written by her PA starts with “Dear Ms. Kumar…..”. Another confusion, another apology! Shakespeare had said “What’s in the name…What we call as rose, by any other name, would smell as sweet” He was right….it doesn’t matter for roses because roses don’t live under the terror of their gender being changed without any intention of doing so. I love my name and its meaningfulness but for how long this ordeal of attaching an explanatory note on gender with every first communication carrying my name would continue!!

Saturday, August 18, 2007

The Search for Perfect Relationship

This blog is triggered by a discussion that happened few days ago on the MOR yahoogroup. We decided to continue discussions on the group after being asked by Dr. Fenn if we would like to continue. The reason why most of us chose to stay active on the group was probably best pointed out by Antra - "ppl suddenly become active when something frm the past....which they truly enjoyed is on the verge of being taken one wants to hold onto all da gud things...gud things like XL..which u knw will never come back....but you just keep tryin to find it in all the new things u r doing..."

The discussion was on the topic - Is a perfect relationship possible? Can there be a person who loves you unconditionally? Can a relationship be totally transparent with no skepticism? Sir's view was that such a relationship is possible only with God. Nobody sees the world with your eyes because everybody has grown up with different experiences. All of us have an inherent need to be perfectly understood and sometimes this need wrecks havoc on relationships with people moving on from one relationship to another in need of perfect understanding which is not possible.

There were conflicting views on this. My view was very similar to Sir's view. We all tend to approach towards the ideal state of being perfectly open and transparent in a relationship with time. But Is that state achievable with humans at all?
When I look at my life, I have a set of very close friends with whom I have shared many things rather most of the things that happened/are happening in my life...but a there are a lot of things about myself that I have not shared and probably will not share with anyone ever. Not only this...there are several times when I don't like smthg abt the persons I am very close to (my parents, close friends, relatives) but still I don't convey to them in exact form and words what is going on in my mind! Only I am aware of my actual feelings...the other person just hears my words which I want him/her to hear. I am yet to see a situation in my life where I can say anything without thinking at all about how other person will take it. This is what I call Management of Relationships.

Last evening I asked one of my closest friends whether he/she would do me a favor. It was not for testing my theory or something but I genuinely had some work. He/she prankishly replied - only if it was 'reasonable'. I was slightly shocked at first instance. Why did he/she put this caveat? Doesn't he/she know I would probably never put my friend in a problem by asking for unreasonable favors. This conflict can probably only happen when I see something as reasonable while he/she sees it as unreasonable. I started thinking about some scenarios which I would see as reasonable but he/she might find unreasonable. I could not come up and even he/she could not come up with any such scenarios independently. However if we start discussing those scenarios mutually one by one, I am sure there will be many such conflicts. The simple reason, for not being able to come up with 'unreasonable' ideas, I believe is that we tend to test the reasonability/rationality of our idea or argument by our own perspective and assume it to be reasonable/rational for others too as per our own assessment. However it might not be so in practice and when actually confronted with that situation, my friend might find my request unreasonable/irrational which I assumed would be reasonable/rational for him/her.

What if the person accepts it despite finding it unreasonable or doesn't even get into the question of reasonability? What if his/her concern is not the reasonability of the favor but that it is for you and nothing else matters. This can happen repeatedly without exception only if the other person merges his/her own identity/existence with you. Though physically there but intellectually he/she does not exist any more in your presence. You only become center of the universe for him/her. The thoughts, the ego, the self of the person do not remain any more. Will this relationship be called 'perfect relationship'? Probably yes! But is it possible with humans?

PS: The day a person's existence is erased from his memory and merges with you, you become God for him. So technically the point that such a relationship is only possible with God still stays [:D]

Monday, July 23, 2007

Labour Pains in Firangland !!

Don’t get scandalized by the title....

One thing where India any day scores over these western countries is availability of cheap labour. Whether you have to call a lineman to fix your telephone line or an electrician to hang lamps in your apartment or labour to transport your furniture – nobody atleast sends you a bill with 70 CHF hourly rate with 7.6 percent VAT!

I was told by my relocations consultant that an electrician will come to your new apartment to activate the telephone line at so and so time. The smart Indian mind came into action immediately and I thought he’ll charge some 15-20 CHF anyways so why not give him 10 CHF extra and ask him to hang lamps also in my apartment instead of doing it myself.... When I tried giving him money after the work, he smiled and said some arbit things in Swiss German + High German + English + blah blah blah ….good enough to make me understand that he’ll send the bill by post and I should pay through post office (as is done for most of payments here in Switzerland). The bill gave me a bigger shock than I would have got had I hung lamps myself!! What the ****….90 CHF!!!…..why would I pay him 3000 Rs for hanging lamps and activating the telephone line!! (Though the golden rule of happy survival in firangland says that one should convert only savings into INR but I am still finding it difficult not to convert my expenses in INR) There was no option but to pay! But I decided to be cautious from next time onwards.

Few days later, I contacted a small logistics group to transport my newly bought furniture to my new apartment. For two persons and a mini truck, they told me a vulgarly high hourly rate with additional 0.5 hrs charge for coming and going back along with additional VAT. I wanted to scream “Hello!! The amount u r asking for totally is more than my monthly expenses here!” But furniture had anyways to be picked up! I decided to call only one person and help myself in loading and unloading. After picking up the sofa with him, the first thing I did was to call up the company to send another person!...just a few hundred more CHF….big deal…what for I am earning if I can’t spend it on myself!! (Believe me! The argument was of little help in overcoming the guilt generated by post decision Cognitive Dissonance)

“Assembling furniture should not be a problem if u help me with it”..I confidently told Venkat (another Novartisian). I was excited……it was a challenge to assemble it without the instruction booklet and after four years I was going to use my design engineering knowledge!! After three hours of hard work…the design engineer inside me figured out that the basic structure was alright but I had assembled cupboard on ground exactly 180 degrees opposite of what it should have been. Another 3 hours in disassembling and reassembling only to find out that it was impossible to lift it up in that position!! It should have been assembled vertically! Another call for skilled labour….another hourly rate….another VAT….A few hundred more CHF gone!! Why the hell they don’t teach assembling furniture and hanging lamps as a VI term elective in XL! I would have saved enough money to sponsor two wet nights!!

My mother has been asking me to keep a servant for doing dishes, washing clothes and cleaning home. I haven’t told her yet about the labour pains that I am undergoing here! I might have a servant…but no house to live in, no food to be cooked, no dishes and clothes to be washed after paying him/her for that!

Sunday, July 1, 2007

The First Swiss Experience!

Atlast I also decided to start blogging. Donno if this is the best way to vent out what u feel and want to share with others but certainly the cheapest one and one of better ways to kill time in 'firang land' on weekends with unfriendly weather.

It has been two months in Switzerland now. Didn't even realize how fast time flew. Everything here is so different - clean streets and roads, robust public transport system, trains and trams running with an accuracy of seconds, full automation, no stray animals on roads, noone in present generation atleast has heard of a power cut. Its a wonderland for someone coming from India. A privilege in India like access to clean water and healthcare is taken for granted here. The issues are quite different in India and Swissland - its about life vs quality of life.

On personal front, past two months have given me mixed experience. I have been an object of awe, respect, love, hatred, jealousy, suspicion, belief what what not...all within last two months. There have not been many times when the feeling of being an Indian has been so strong. Hindi has become music to ears. Never before I felt the need of friends and family so strongly...even in tough times. Its weird...people say Switzerland is the safest country in world with literally jobless police but still I feel vulnerable! I definitely have access to better resources, am earning decent amount of money, am building stronger career foundation but has my quality of life improved? People have varying opinions :).

What a nightmare it is for an English speaking vegetarian Indian to land in a German speaking, beef pork rabbit lamb horse buffalo and what not eating country which considers fish as vegetarian! No wonder the first words I learnt in German were 'Vegetarisch' and 'Ohne (without) Flesh'. German learning is in progress and hopefully with improvement in German will improve my social life here.

Besides a good career option, a major motivation for me to accept this job was to give better quality of life to my parents whom I have seen perpetually struggling. A typical lower middle class family from a small town of Northern India. No power, no AC, no car, no fancy house.....but still a satisfaction that they never said no to anything that their children wanted (and not desired!) They happily sacrificed two thirds of their life first for their parents and then for their children. I'll feel blessed if I can make a difference to atleast remaining one third!