Monday, September 24, 2012

525,600 minutes

Who knew a year could pass this quickly? Returning is almost intimidating, so I'll start small.

Here are some of the things I've learned this year:

North America is not the centre of the universe.

It's nice to come from Canada and other people tend to think it's nice, too.

If you're reading this from a first world country, you won the geography lottery. No matter how bad the economy may seem, by virtue of where you were born, you have a zillion opportunities that the rest of the world doesn't have.

You can go almost anywhere in the world for weeks at a time with one small carry-on bag.

If you're ever in Doha, you should try to talk yourself into the Business Class Lounge.

Swiss weather forecasting is remarkably precise. They say things like, "It will rain on Sunday between 7 and 9 p.m." And it does.

A popular Swiss activity is cow fighting.

Europeans have much longer holidays than North Americans, and they tend to take them all.

Try not to visit Europe in August, when most Europeans are taking their holidays.

I don't know if my heart will ever recover from sitting beside a sick child in a malnutrition hospital in rural Zimbabwe.

Mountains look different in every light.

I hope electronic devices really don't interfere with a plane's navigational devices because most people are absolutely addicted to theirs and I suspect they leave them on in flight.

I occasionally forget what language is spoken in the country I'm in and say thank you in a foreign dialect.

The 24 hour clock makes a lot of sense and is less confusing. Dinner at 20:00 anyone?

It takes 6 months to settle in and a year to make friends of any intimacy.

The quality of food in Europe is better. Here, fast food is a gruyere sandwich with dijon mustard on a freshly baked baguette.

Air France has the best food of any airline. Swiss doles out chocolate at the end of the flight and you can take as much as you want. All the passengers on Aerolineas Argentina clap on take off and landing.

Switzerland is so expensive it makes everywhere else look cheap, even London.

The cure for jet lag is staying awake until it is bed time in that country. Afternoon naps will kill you.

I always have a box of emergency Kraft Dinner in the house.

Never underestimate the restorative powers of brushing your teeth on a long flight.

Despite being the perfect candidate for a Kindle, I can't bring myself to give up paper books...even though I found myself in rural Bangladesh with only the 600 page Steve Jobs books and realized that I hated him after 200 pages.

Google translate is amazing.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Newfs and stuff

Over the years I've noticed that every country or culture has another country or group of people they deem inferior to them. Without fail.

It's often in jest. It's like the rest of Canada and the Newfs. Or how Australians view Tasmanians.

I was talking about this phenomenon at lunch today and my colleagues ran away with it.

The Spaniard went on a long rant about the Portugese, which she followed by extolling the stupidity of a a tiny village in Spain where the local crop is strawberries.

The French woman went off on the Belgians. There was a lot of nodding about the Belgians. Apparently this tiny country of three distinct cultures and no common ground hasn't had a government in nearly year because no one can agree.

The Irish lad said that within Ireland the Kerry man is as low as it gets.

Then the Dutch woman started in on the Germans. Apparently they've never really forgiven them for Anne Frank.

She told us that one of the only jokes she can remember -- and see if you find this funny -- is this: "The Germans stole my bicycle. I wonder if they're ever going to bring it back." You know if you need to go back to 1945 to get the punch line that things are pretty ingrained.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Day in the Life

When they put global in my job title, they really meant it. This was how my day went.

I came in this morning to find a string of communication from India. I went back and forth with my colleague in Delhi, commenting on her fundraising program there and providing some guidance on creative. After a meeting with my boss at 9, where we went over the various country office priorities and he mentioned that he'd like me to join one of our New York colleagues on a film shoot in one or maybe two countries in SE Asia before the end of the year, I met with another colleague to discuss an opportunity with our Belgian office. Beautiful day, so lunch on a bench facing the duck pond at The Botanical Gardens across the street. Then back to my desk to compose a note to France and Sweden, requesting their assistance in translating some concepts we'll be testing in a number of countries. Don't forget to copy the UK on that correspondence and be sure to keep The Netherlands informed. Enjoy the banter between my English boss and our French colleague in Paris as they rekindle the long standing Ango-Franco rivalry. Assure them that they both wouldn't last a day in mosquito infested Canada.

Then some concentrated writing time with a focus to our global impact. What other organization can claim to have the means and the expertise to globally eradicate polio I ask you? Then fielded a last minute request to join a conference call with The Netherlands tomorrow before grabbing my backpack and getting on the bus back to France.

Life is good.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Bust a move

It's possible that there is someone in Geneva who does not yet know that I've found a place to live but if there is, there's a good chance that that person is on a ventilator or, having been raised by wolves, is unable to communicate in the usual ways.

Yup. I'm pretty happy about it. I'm getting the keys on Friday.

It looks like I'll be camping out with a few borrowed odds and ends for a few weeks until my shipment arrives, but I don't really care. I'll just be happy to be in the same place for awhile. Sleeping in seven different beds in the last 30 days is beginning to take a toll on me. I need to nest for a bit.

Now I get to plan exciting things like negotiating which cable package bundle to choose - a task made all the more magical by doing it in a second language.

I'll need to buy a TV and a microwave. And I might even splurge out on combination washer/dryer (who knew such a thing existed) so I can avoid the stress of my laundry period. But the thing I'm most excited about is buying furniture for my deck. I plan to do a lot of sitting and staring at mountains.

If I'm patient, I can find some of the necessities second hand.

We have access to an active intranet site where Geneva's largely transient population sell their nearly new goods at rock bottom prices. The secretary in my department and her husband got a BMW for about $500 because the diplomat who was selling it left it till the last minute and was happy to get whatever he could for it.

Monday, September 26, 2011

What genius?

What genius thought it would be a good idea to serve Daal to the vegetarian passengers on Air Canada flights? That's just what my pressurized bowels need while spending nine hours strapped to an airplane seat.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Heaven on the Seventh Floor

Yesterday I won the Geneva equivalent of the lottery. I got an apartment.

It could very well be a most ordinary apartment, but in my mind it has reached almost mythic proportion.

I certainly didn't get it alone. Hiring an agent - especially this agent - was the smartest thing I ever did.

He got us into Shangri-La first, and worked his magic behind the scenes to ensure that I was the preferred candidate.

He also made a series of kooky demands because he knows what it takes to land digs in this town. That is why the sweet taste of victory also belongs to the collective good energy of my agency friends and a former client who wrote letters of support. You know who you are.

So here's what your good energy got us, friends.

It got us a completely renovated one bedroom apartment on the top floor of a modern building in the heart of Geneva. It's about a 15 minute walk from my office. It's about five minutes to the central train station. About ten minutes to Lake Geneva.

Location, location, location.

The apartment is so recently renovated that we viewed it while the work was going on. New kitchen, new bathroom, new floors. No closets...but this is Europe. Closets ruin the aesthete. But there's a sizable storage locker in the basement.

And there's more.

It has a fireplace.

And there's more.

There are two decks, one of which has a beautiful view of Mont Blanc and the Alps. That's right, sun rising and setting on mountains.

And there's more.

It will be available in a week.

And there's more.

In a city where I could get 3000 Swiss Francs for a chicken coop, the apartment which I have been so fortunate to get is...wait for controlled!

Are you kidding me?

My agent sprang this delightful surprise on me today, when I was signing the lease. The apartment will cost me half of what I had budgeted for accommodation.

Philippe was clearly as delighted as I was. He made me promise that if I ever left that apartment, that he would sublet it. He knows it is a steal.

Now here's the thing that I have not said to anyone.

I get the keys to this beautiful apartment on October 1st. This was my Dad's birthday. And it was also the day he died.

I think he was helping me, too.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Workin' It

A few interesting facts about my new life in Geneva:

After years of working in an incredibly young work environment, I realized something the other day: Now I'm working with grown-ups.

There's a protest nearly every day in front of the Palais des Nations. They're usually orderly affairs but, if they are significant enough, we get a security briefing.

The executive assistant in my department both looks and sounds like Sofia Vergara.

This is Europe. People think nothing of standing inside a bus shelter while smoking.

It isn't unusual to hear conversations in at least six different languages on the bus in the morning.

Geneva has a reputation for being boring. When I asked my co-worker what the best thing about Geneva was, he replied, "The airport and the train station."

George Michael is coming in October and I can't find anyone to go with me.