Category Archives: Holiday

Living in Switzerland ruined me for America and its lousy work culture

Chantal Panozzo | February 1, 2016 | Vox

I was halfway through a job interview when I realized I was wrinkling my nose. I couldn’t help myself. A full-time freelance position with a long commute, no benefits, and a quarter of my old pay was the best they could do? I couldn’t hide how I felt about that, and the 25-year-old conducting the interview noticed.

“Are you interested in permanent jobs instead?” she asked.

“I could consider a permanent job if it was part-time,” I said.

She looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language and went right back to her pitch: long commute, full-time, no benefits. No way, I thought. Who would want to do that? And then it hit me: Either I had become a completely privileged jerk or my own country was not as amazing as I had once thought it to be. This wasn’t an unusually bad offer: It was just American Reality.

Now that I’m back, I’m angry that my own country isn’t providing more for its people

Before I moved to Switzerland for almost a decade, American Reality was all I knew. I was living in a two-bedroom apartment making $30,000 a year in a job where I worked almost seven days a week with no overtime pay and received 10 days of paid time off a year.

In other words, for the hours worked, I was making minimum wage, if that. The glamour of this job was supposed to make up for the hours, but in reality, working every weekend is a ticket to burnout — not success.

My husband and I were so accustomed to American Reality that when he was offered an opportunity to work in Switzerland, we both thought about travel and adventure — not about improving our quality of life. It hadn’t occurred to us that we could improve our quality of life simply by moving.

But without realizing it, or even asking for it, a better life quality came to us. And this is why, now that I’m back, I’m angry that my own country isn’t providing more for its people. I will never regret living abroad. It taught me to understand another culture. And it taught me to see my own. But it also taught me something else — to lose touch with the American version of reality.

Here are seven ways living abroad made it hard to return to American life.

1) I had work-life balance

The Swiss work hard, but they have a strong work-life balance. According to data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the average Swiss worker earned the equivalent of $91,574 a year in 2013, while the average American worker earned only $55,708. But the real story is that the average American had to work 219 hours more per year for this lesser salary.

Which brings us to lunch. In Switzerland, you don’t arrive to a meeting late, but you also don’t leave for your lunch break a second past noon. If it’s summer, jumping into the lake to swim with the swans is an acceptable way to spend your lunch hour. If you eat a sandwich at your desk, people will scold you. I learned this the hard way.

“Ugh,” said Tom, a Swiss art director I shared an office with at a Zurich ad agency. “It smells like someone ate their lunch in here.” He threw open the windows and fanned the air.

“They did. I ate a sandwich here,” I said.

Tom looked at me like I was crazy.

“No. Tomorrow you’re having a proper lunch. With me,” he said.

The next day, exactly at noon, we rode the funicular to a restaurant where we dined al fresco above Zurich. After lunch, we strolled down the hill. I felt guilty for being gone for an hour and a half. But no one had missed us at the office.

Lunchtime is sacred time in Switzerland. When I was on maternity leave, my husband came home for lunch to help me care for our daughter. This strengthened our marriage. Many families still reunite during weekdays over the lunch hour.

Weekends in Switzerland encourage leisure time, too. On Sundays, you can’t even shop — most stores are closed. You are semi-required to hike in the Alps with your family. It’s just what you do.

he author and her daughter in Urnaesch, Switzerland, watching the cows come home. (Brian Opyd)

2) I had time and money

The Swiss have a culture of professional part-time work, and as a result, part-time jobs include every benefit of a full-time job, including vacation time and payment into two Swiss pension systems. Salaries for part-time work are set as a percentage of a professional full-time salary­ because unlike in the United States, part-time jobs are not viewed as necessarily unskilled jobs with their attendant lower pay.

During my Swiss career, I was employed by various companies from 25 percent to 100 percent. When I worked 60 percent, for example, I worked three days a week. A job that is 50 percent could mean the employee works five mornings a week or, as I once did, two and a half days a week. The freedom to choose the amount of work that was right for me at varying points of my life was wonderful and kept me engaged and happy.

When I took only 10 days for a trip to Spain, my colleagues chastised me for taking so little time off

Often, jobs in Switzerland are advertised with the percentage of work that is expected. Other times, you can negotiate what percentage you would like to work or request to go from working five days a week to four days a week, for example. There is normally little risk involved in asking.

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Thanksgiving Holiday History | Footnote to History

by Jon Vara, published November 1995 in Yankee Magazine

happy-thanksgiving-370x309The country was still emerging from the depression when Franklin D. Roosevelt announced, in the summer of 1939, that he was moving the Thanksgiving holiday from the last Thursday in November to the Thursday preceding it. In purely economic terms, it seemed to make sense. Moving the holiday forward a week, the president explained, would enable retailers to sell more goods before Christmas and provide a longer period of temporary work for the unemployed.

In practice, however, the plan was unpopular from the beginning. College and high school football coaches were incensed to learn their Thanksgiving Day games, long ago scheduled for November 30th would now fall on an ordinary working day. The Plymouth, Massachusetts, board of selectmen sent an angry letter of protest to Roosevelt, and board chairman James Frazier announced that Plymouth would not recognize the revised date. “It is a religious holiday,” he said, “and the president has no right to change it for commercial order lasix online cheap interests.” One republican senator acidly suggested that the president abolish winter.

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The Life & Adventures of Santa Claus

by L. Frank Baum, published April 12, 1902



1. Burzee
Have you heard of the great Forest of Burzee? Nurse used to sing of it when I was a child. She sang of the big tree-trunks, standing close together, with their roots intertwining below the earth and their branches intertwining above it; of their rough coating of bark and queer, gnarled limbs; of the bushy foliage that roofed the entire forest, save where the sunbeams found a path through which to touch the ground in little spots and to cast weird and curious shadows over the mosses, the lichens and the drifts of dried leaves.

The Forest of Burzee is mighty and grand and awesome to those who steal beneath its shade. Coming from the sunlit meadows into its mazes it seems at first gloomy, then pleasant, and afterward filled with never-ending delights.

For hundreds of years it has flourished in all its magnificence, the silence of its inclosure unbroken save by the chirp of busy chipmunks, the growl of wild beasts and the songs of birds.

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The Remarkable Dream by Mark Twain

Note: Regular posting will resume in January.  Enjoy the holiday season!

The Remarkable Dream by Mark Twain

I dreamed last night that I was sitting in my room smoking my pipe and looking into the dying embers on the hearth, conjuring up old faces in their changing shapes, and listening to old voices in the moaning winds outside, when there was a knock at the door and a man entered – bowed – walked deliberately forward and sat down opposite me. He was dressed in a queer old garb of I don’t know how many centuries ago. He said, with a perceptible show of vanity:

“My name’s Ananias – may have heard of me, perhaps?”

I said, reflectively, “No -no – I think not, Mr. Anan

“Never heard of me! Bismillah! Och hone! gewhil – . But you couldn’t have read the Scriptures!”

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Mr. President, Don’t Let The Russians Kill Santa!

jfk-caroline-kennedyIn this Nov. 9, 1960 photo, Caroline Kennedy gets a piggy-back ride from her father, Sen. John F. Kennedy, in Hyannis Port, Mass. (The Associated Press)



In 1961 at the height of the Cold War, eight-year-old Michelle Rochon of Marine City Michigan overheard her parents talking about the Russians testing bombs at the North Pole. Worried that this would prevent Santa  from visiting her home on Christmas Eve she wrote a letter to the president.

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The New Zealand Christmas Tree

NZ Christmas Tree

The Pohutukawa tree is possibly one of the best known and most loved New Zealand native trees.

Pohutukawa flowersPohutukawa flowers are bright red, smothering the tree in December (right: Pohutukawa in bloom), hence its common name: the New Zealand Christmas Tree.

Why not try something different next Christmas…instead of bringing out the plastic tree, or buying a sad-looking pine, why not plant your very own New Zealand Christmas Tree, which will last for many a Christmas to come!



Note: Normal posting will resume in January.

North Polar Bear’s Leg Got Broken: Letter From Father Christmas (via J.R.R. Tolkien)

Note: During December, we’ve been focusing the blog on the holiday season.  In January, it’ll be back to normal fare.  Please take time to enjoy your family and friends.  Afterall, that’s what this holiday season is all about.


In December of 1920, J. R. R. Tolkien secretly began what would become an annual event in his household for the next 20 years: in the guise of a shaky-handed Father Christmas, he lovingly handwrote a letter to his 3-year-old son, John, placed it in an envelope along with an illustration of his home near the North Pole, and planted it in the youngster’s bedroom.

From then on, until 1943, Father Christmas never failed to write to all four of Tolkien’s children, and with each passing Winter his enchanting stories from the North Pole became more elaborate and character-filled. In 1976 many of the letters and illustrations were compiled and released in book-form; in 2004 a far more comprehensive and beautifully crafted version was published: Letters from Father Christmas; 25th Anniversary edition.

Continue reading North Polar Bear’s Leg Got Broken: Letter From Father Christmas (via J.R.R. Tolkien)

Dinner for One (aka The 90th Birthday)

by Mike Peake, London Telegraph


In the big book of international stereotypes (which is, of course, forever being updated, Russian poisoners take note), Germany is not a country known for its vice-like grip on humour.  It is undoubtedly a sin that it has been so cruelly separated from comedy. This, after all, is the country which gave us stand-up legend Helge Schneider, who reached Number One in the German charts with Katzeklo (“Kitty litter-box, kitty litter-box, it makes a cat so happy”).

But it may yet turn out that our German cousins have the last laugh.  Well, for one day a year at least, because New Year’s Eve, in Germany, is marked by a hallowed tradition with which we just can’t compete. “New Year, without Dinner for One, would be like Christmas without It’s A Wonderful Life,” says Kathrin Haarmann, a German expat who lives with her husband and two young children in south-west London. “I saw a DVD of it for sale on the internet and we simply had to have it.”

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Letter from the Recording Angel by Mark Twain

from Scott Horton, Harper’s Magazine

We have come to the season of angels. Suddenly they are everywhere: standing in front yards, department store windows, draped around streetlights, gazing from cards in the mail and keeping vigil atop Christmas trees. There are tall, slender, white-winged angels, and short pudgy cherubim and many other variations. But among all the angels, I have a personal favorite, the Recording Angel, and particularly the one who made an appearance in the February 1946 issue of Harper’s.  He stems from the pen of the magazine’s top contributor at the end of the nineteenth century, Mark Twain:

recording-angel-elihu-vedder-1883Office of the Recording Angel
Department of Petitions, Jan. 20

Andrew Langdon
Coal Dealer
Buffalo, N. Y.

I have the honor, as per command, to
inform you that your recent act of benevolence
and self-sacrifice has been recorded
upon a page by itself of the Book
called Golden Deeds of Men: a distinction,
I am permitted to remark, which is not
merely extraordinary, it is unique.

As regards your prayers, for the week
ending the 19th, I have the honor to report
as follows:

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