57: Stats-urday

Our Swiss town is in bloom from the ground all the way up to the treetops. The air is delicious.

Everyone complains about McDonalds food, but does anyone appreciate its value as an economic indicator?

Believe it or not, the price of a Big Mac tops the list of economic indicators at an international statistics website, which makes perfect sense to us because at some point, we all have to rely on a Big MacAttack to raise our blood sugar levels when overseas and surrounded by local cuisine aka unidentifiable food.

NationMaster.com reports that in Canada a Big Mac costs $3.01 while in Switzerland it costs $4.93. I don’t want to cast aspersions on NationMaster.com, but hamburgers here cost more than that. Dave estimates we pay $6 (Cdn) for a Big Mac, or $12.50 if we decide to live it up and order the Big Mac Meal. To be fair, NationMaster sources this particular piece of data back to 2006.

Nonetheless, Canadians will be thrilled to know that according to IMB International, while the Swiss are renowned for their fidelity to modelling to the world how to stay on-time and fiscally sound, Canada still ranks higher for business efficiency at 5th place. Switzerland was 8th. This data is seven years old, but it makes my homeland look good so I’m not going to search for more recent figures.

Our GDP per capita is six per cent higher, too. That’s another figure I’m not going to update.  And our gross national income is a whopping 146% higher – take that Switzerland! Canada rules.

On a more personal financial note: Dave’s Swiss salary is on par with his Canadian salary, but our cost-of-living is significantly higher here. I should emphasize significantly (the triple-threat of emphasis – bolded, italicized and underlined!), all the more so because we are living a very green, pared-back lifestyle here compared to our lives in Canada.

In Canada, we have a 2400-square-foot four-bedroom house; here we have a 400-square-foot single room bachelor suite. There, we have two cars in our garage. Here, we walk everywhere we go and rely on trains for out-of-town trips. There, we eat restaurant food probably once a week, more when we were both working. Here, we dine out about once every three months (this excludes sandwich and hamburger joints where we fill up while touring). By all counts, we should be spending less money here, but we actually spend more. A lot more.

And now for less painful statistics …


This week on Hobonotes stats page:

  • Top three countries: Canada, U.S. and Switzerland. Oddly for some reason, Canada pounds out everyone else with over 200 hits while the U.S. logged only 60. I know Americans will not take this sitting down.
  • Bottom three countries: Greece, Denmark and Austria
  • Readers from Japan: Two.
  • Oddest search term: “Loads of people riding elephants in India.” As this blog covers neither crowd issues, pachyderms or India, I am at a loss to explain how Google brought this reader to this site.
  • Blogoddity: This week is the first when the topic of Paris food did not make it to the top ten of most read posts. I know the French will not take this sitting down.

71: The Savagery of Swans + Statsurday

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

ABC News: Killer Swan Cited in Chicago Man’s Drowning Death

I’m not surprised a bit to learn a bird took an active part in a man’s death. In the late 1990s I spent some time in a cast, thanks to a ferocious rooster pursuit – the rooster was after me, not the other way around. I’ll say no more about this embarrassing episode except that he started it.*

Swans: Don't mess with them. Source: Wikipedia, Japan.

Friday was windy, sending Lac Biel swans up the town’s canals in search of calmer waters. They move almost in formation, pushing up against the current sometimes in a straight line, then ride the current back to the canal mouth into Lac Biel where they turn around and start the loop all over again.

In Canada, we read much about staying away from waterfowl lest we disturb them to the point where they fail to reproduce or thrive, but I’ve always suspected that loons, ducks, geese and all the like are more resilient than that. Switzerland’s swans bear out my hypothesis.

As I made my wind-whipped walk by the canal, the only pedestrian in sight, the swans took note of me walking high above on the canal’s banks, broke off their formation and proceeded to swim alongside me, poking their bills in my direction in the same manner my labrador retrievers used to nose my hand for treats.

Orderly Republican swans to the right, more Democrat "Frank Sinatra 'I Did It My Way" swans to the left.

Had I already learned of the U.S. man’s swan-induced drowning, the theme track to the movie “Jaws” would have run in my head, but I was blithely unaware of the dangerous flock that followed me. In that way, it as though I am living in a Hitchcock horror movie.

When I lingered over a canal bridge, they gathered round as though readying for choir. I had no food and while swan’s faces do not appear configured to convey disapproval, I couldn’t help but get the feeling that I had let them down.

I’ve never seen swans up close until we came here. I always thought they were graceful elegant creatures, but up-close they are a lot like people. There’s always one in a crowd who bullies his way about, stabbing and tearing at other swans to get to the front of the flock.  Occasionally, we’ll spy one who for some reason the flock just do not like. That sad swan lingers at the fringes, pecked and pursued every time she tries to drift in to the heart of the flock. Others hang around in the thick, but they still guard their little circle of surf with an air of menace.

Nonetheless, they are lovely to look at, fun to watch as they try to take off in flight (it takes a long time, they are heavy birds) and despite the dreaded news of the man’s drowning, gather around people like puppies here in our little town.

* I was once sent flying out of my lounge chair when a loon spiked up out of the water right next to my head, triggering me to make noises that Dave said was what he imagined a person might make while being attacked by a bear.


Top country hits:  Canada, U.S., and Switzerland

Bottom country hits:  Qatar, Israel and Bulgaria

Readers from Japan:  Three

Weirdest search termNabadaba dingdong

Most read post:  Paris Food – Can you eat lambs kidney without having to sell your own has once again climbed to the top after being briefly usurped by Luscious Lucernewhich has dropped to third place, nudged out by Switzerland’s Toronto. I cannot explain any of this, except that perhaps I under-rated the world’s interest in Parisian food.

Most active time of day on this blog: 3 p.m.

Yes, he got close and his feathers were up. I have no idea what that means.

Swans are beautiful no matter how you look at them.

Fascinating only to me, possibly, but this is how much churn one swan kicked up on his start to avoid a bully-swan.

87: Dum dee dum dum dumb at the drugstore

Switzerland: Land where Nyquil & Melatonin users viewed with suspicion. Heroin-addicts and alcoholics are okay.

“Hola! Buenos dias! No! Er, hello. No, bonjour! Gruetzi! Dang! What country am I in?!”

This is what happens to me when I spend a protracted amount of time in a linguistic stew. I stumble over four languages in a nanosecond, which is what happened when I greeted the pharmacist at the local apotheke (pharmacy) yesterday.

“Why did you start in a language you can’t even speak,” my beloved asked. Why indeed. The pharmacist had Iberian skin tones and black hair, a visual cue that sprung the floodgates on the little reservoir of Spanish my brain has boxed up since our days in Madrid. The pharmacist’s responding look of incomprehension then caused the linguistic data to disperse at the synaptic cleft between my neurons, form into a ball and ping pong around my brain, hitting as many languages as possible. Given enough time, I might have recalled the Japanese that Mrs. Kirbyson tried to teach me in 1975.

I wonder if time-zone-trader Angelina Jolie has trouble sleeping.

It turns out the gentleman spoke English, but by then I had forgotten how to manage even that and so I persisted in my usual muddled melange. Dave just stood back and watched the show.

I am always in a slightly peeved mood when I go to a pharmacy in Europe, which is something like visiting a North American drug store in 1952 when everything was kept behind the counter and a conversation with the druggist was mandatory. I’m actually not sure about that being the case in 1952, but Hollywood tells me this is so and I’m too linguistically hungover to investigate further.

In Switzerland, something as mundane as NyQuil (called Medinait here, for those who need to know) can only be purchased after assuring a pharmacist that the buyer does not have asthma, glaucoma, a family history of glaucoma, neurofibromatosis, halitosis, a tendency to crack knuckles, arthritis, phlebitis, elephantitis or a cough that has lingered for over a week. Who would think a cold medication would come under such strict controls?

Costco's Melatonin: There's the good stuff.

But there’s more. Even the non-drug Metamucil (a non-medicinal soluble fibre product that does wonders for cholesterol counts, by the way) requires conversational counter-time with the drug-store staff.

Last week, I learned that melatonin* – a rather innocuous hormone that flits about in the pineal gland governing our sleep cycles – is only available in Switzerland by prescription. Melatonin has been an on-the-shelf product in the U.S. since the 1990s and in Canada it can be bought in comforting large containers at Costco stores, yet when I asked for it, the Swiss druggist gave me the studious stare associated with searching for signs of drug addiction – that is, my drug addiction. But then, considering how I opened our conversation in  a multiplicity of languages that I don’t actually speak, who can blame him?

I find this fascinating in a country where heroin and other narcotics are legal, and if I wanted such I could probably just drop in at the local injection clinic and load up my veins.

Alternatively, if I’m having trouble sleeping and can’t access my usual supply of melatonin, a cheap and ready source of alcohol of all sorts can be purchased at any food store. I looked down my nose at the men lining up at a nearby convenience store with their beer and booze during the supper hour, but now I realize they may just be fellow-insomniacs whose melatonin-prescriptions have run out.


On Hobonotes’ most recent daily report:

  • Most hits come from the U.S.
  • Least hits come from the Russian Federation
  • Weirdest search term that landed a reader at this site was “Paris restaurant Winnipeg”
  • Readers from Japan did not even register in my country list. I cannot break into that readership. Dang. 

DO NOT USE THIS WEBSITE FOR MEDICAL INFORMATION: To learn more about melatonin, go to legitimate medical websites, such as mayoclinic.com. 

98: French fils et filles – c’est bon or non?

A French child playing quietly at an outdoor cafe' in France.

Yesterday’s one-day research project into the conduct of French children and the efficacy of French parenting was carried out over the cobblestoned medieval square at Mulhouse, a museum-laden town in France’s eastern Alsace region. Pity me, working so hard.

The task was triggered by American author Pamela Druckerman’s assertion in her hit book Bringing Up Bebe that the French know more about parenting than do Americans.

Joanna Goddard, Manhattan-based blogger at A Cup of Jo summarized Bringing Up Bebe in this way (this is a summary of her summary):

  1. You can have a grown-up life, even if you have kids.
  2. You can teach your child the act of learning to wait.
  3. Kids can spend time playing by themselves, and that’s a good thing.
  4. Believe it when you tell your child “No.”

This dog raised two boys, neither of whom turned to a life of crime.

It’s worth noting that these four tenets are nothing new. Focus on the Family founder Dr. James Dobson wrote the same stuff back in the 1970s. Before then, my mother took #3 to an extreme level by pushing us out the door immediately after breakfast and not letting us back inside until supper.

I took the practice even further with my own children who spent their summers outdoors under the supervision of a yellow labrador retriever that I trained to deliver notes to them that read “Dinnertime!” and “Don’t let your brother play near the shore.” Come to think of it, I should have penned a book “Retriever-Raising Your Rascals.”

Outdoor cafes in town squares are lovely car-free zones to teach children about restaurant manners. They can sit quietly with the adults, or safely blow off steam by running around the square.

In our afternoon of observing the French, we saw many children dining quietly at street cafes, trundling contentedly along the pedestrian malls and frolicking in the cobblestoned squares. Recalling the wailing kids we had seen in North American Wal-Mart stores, it seemed that Druckerman might have a point.

Then Dave saw a fussing four-year-old girl whose mother delivered to her a solid whack on the bottom and a stern reprimand.  A little later, another siren-whine of  some random child cut through the crowds. Two whiners in one afternoon seemed on-par with North American over-bored and stuck-in-stores-too-long child stats as reported by the unscientific commission of me and my friends.

Here in Switzerland, the scene is very much the same, although overall the Swiss are a more restrained people than North Americans and it shows in their youngsters.

There is another constant at work in this. The popularity of Bringing Up Bebe shows that not only the French are concerned about how to raise children, but that as a society, North Americans are, too. Otherwise, Druckerman’s book would never have made it to the New York Times bestseller list.

Eeny, meeny, miny moe

Mitt Romney, going for the gusto.

A special beauty is attached to living overseas, and that beauty is the avoidance of regularly repeating national outrages, namely elections and occasionally referendums.

We were happy to abscond to the Deep South during Quebec’s separation referendum from the mother ship Canada. It was a riveting time, covered in-depth in the Atlanta Journal Constitution in a three-line story buried deep in the world news section. That was exactly enough coverage to suit us.

Harper knocks the Liberals right off their high chair.

America was not fussed about any Canadian fissures, partly because they were obsessed with Cochrane, Kardashian and Simpson, and I don’t mean the musician, the gown-sheathed Kardashian descendants or the hapless but lovable cartoon Simpsons.

Romney likes to point.

Being down south, where there was some secessionist flavor in the earlier century, led our American friends to puzzle over our nation’s leaders’ lax attitude toward the separatists. Why does Canada put up with it? they wondered.

Here is why: It is endlessly amusing, especially when the northern natives volunteered to lop off the top two-thirds of Quebec in their own separating-from-the-separatists bid. Quebec roared, but the rest of Canada sat back smugly, trying not to say, “So, how do you like it?”

And now that the U.S. is deep in primary season, the usual grumblings are burbling about leaving the country should (insert political candidate name here) get (re)elected.  I can assure them that it is fun to leave the country in a snit, but the problem is who will take them.

I did not know my own country's official opposition leader until I looked it up just now. Ignorance is bliss. This is not to diss the NDP. This woman, whoever she is, looks like a very nice person.

This is why it is good to not be around during election/primary season. TMZ posted this 'topless' photo of Newt Gingrich asserting it was reason enough to not vote for him. It is reason enough to not pay attention to TMZ, and its adolescent (albeit lucrative) version of election coverage. It is not the politicians that annoy us. It is the media. Okay - some politicians do annoy us, but not as much as TMZ and Sean Penn.

It surprises some people to learn this, but showing up at another country with the intention to stay past their regular tourist-trap allowance can attract the attention of bureaucrats, the world’s version of bullies-with-briefcases.

This comes up now, because tomorrow Dave and I head down to renew our visas, and if there should be any hiccup, we could end up with an escort to the airport, which would be kind of nice as I’m sure the helpful Swiss officers would lend a hand with the luggage.

That is okay with us. We have already missed Canada’s federal election and as far as I can tell, there won’t be another for four years.

*Note: I do not own the rights on any of these photos. Relax vigilant editors, I am not making any money off of them.

Not THIS Kardashian.

THIS Kardashian.


Rain, rain please do stay. I can't take another hot day.

In non-news, yesterday we watched a never-seen-anywhere-else-we’ve-lived  weather-induced phenomenon (I am trying to break a hyphenated-sentence record).

While out on our evening stroll through downtown, heavy rain started pouring, driving many shoppers to line up execution-style, their backs pressed tight against the buildings for shelter in that miniscule 18-inch ribbon of dry pavement next to the wall.

Witnessing this led me to reflect on what this unique behavior would lead to in other parts of the world.

Do this in the Pacific Northwest and you’ll be waiting for the weather to clear from November til April. Try it in Manitoba or North Dakota and soon a sheath of ice will form over you, rendering you immobile until spring.

Lining up in this fashion in a giant American metropolis will lead criminals to assume you are volunteering to be relieved of your wallet or purse, getting you mugged within two minutes. The good news is that ambulance attendants will arrive to get you out of the rain, although you will be in a prone position, likely for quite some time. If you are single, this is even better as you are about meet a lot of doctors, just as your mother always hoped. You might not look your best, but the doctors will be too busy checking your intubation tube to notice. See how a little rain can change your life?

In Victoria, British Columbia, muggers are more polite and will ask for your money instead. Many would-be robberies are aborted in this way as the prospective victim is often unaware he has a role to play. And in true Victoria form, the mugger will be too polite to point out this faux pas to the victim, and let it pass. This happens dozens of times a day there.

In Australia, line up against a wall and someone will hand you a beer. Do this in Spain’s Plaza Mayor and locals will assume you’ve had too much beer,  search you for it and take it away.

Our view: Not very attractive, but not so bad. The buildings absorb the sound of ambulances screaming down our street. I'm not joking. We rarely hear them from inside our courtyard-flat.

I did wonder how long the Swiss would stand there, but as it turned out, the locals knew what they were doing. Within a few minutes, the rain paused in an orderly polite Swiss manner (just  as it started, quickly and on time) and the crowds meandered back onto the roadway. I should point out, this area is a no-car zone, so no tremendous traffic excitement ensued.  In the meantime, the Swiss had a sociable time chattering with their fellow rain-refugees,  presumably about the weather.

In other news that matters to no one in particular, yesterday I was told twice that I speak French very well, proving that you can get by in a foreign language on only two sentences, as long as you pronounce them very well.

And finally, I’ve been told I am living a rich-lady-life, which sounds pretty glamorous, but in the interest of truth, allow me to dispel that myth by sharing the view outside of our flat.

Plants that I plan to neglect.