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.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Eat your heart out

I've noticed something quite remarkable since I started working in Europe. People take their lunch breaks. In fact, people frequently take a full hour for lunch.

Perhaps this is why my co-workers looked at me strangely the first time I opened my lunch at my desk and started to eat while working. It would appear that this just isn't done. In fact, one of my co-workers was aghast that I would even consider eating alone.

"This is Europe," she said, "we eat together."

Our cafe is the heart of the building. When we're not eating lunch, it's a favourite for meetings.

The cafe is generously kitted out by corporate donor IKEA and serves the finest quality organic products. All that with a view of Lake Geneva from the terrace.

Every day offers two lunch specials - one meat, one veg - and a host of delicious sandwiches on crusty bread, a salad bar and at least 20 varieties of chocolate. The morning sees fresh croissants and pain au chocolat and there's always a dangerous selection of ice cream.

One of today's lunch choices was lake perch with basmati rice and mixed vegetables, topped with fresh herbs and chanterelle mushrooms. It was fantastic.

All the more fantastic because five of us from the department headed up to enjoy it together and lingered over it without rushing back to our desks.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Kiss Kiss

There's a lot of kissing that goes on in Europe. The French call it gros bisous.

Yesterday I saw two distinguished businessmen meet in front of the Palais des Nations, greet each other an "Allo, mon ami", and then go in for a big double snog.

Try that on Bay Street.

Next time you're renegotiating your mortgage, butter up your broker with a gros bisous on the way in.

It doesn't really work outside Quebec. Ours is not a demonstrative nation.

Around here, where you're from determines the number of kisses you're likely to plant, too. The French go for two and the Belgians go in for three.

I think someone does four. Probably the Spanish or Italians - just because they seem to really know how to live.

The whole kissing protocol is knew to me, so I never really know how many to kisses to give or for how long. It can be dangerous.

I've come perilously close to knocking myself and others out.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A few interesting facts about living in Geneva.

For apartments with communal laundry facilities, you're assigned a time for washing when you move in. That time could be 2 to 4 on Thursday afternoon. It's inflexible. People arrange with their managers to work at home on laundry day or dash madly out of the office to make it home for their window.

There are signs posted in apartment buildings requesting that men sit down to pee between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. to avoid disturbing their neighbours.

If you see, like and can afford a large apartment, there's no guarantee that the landlord will rent it to you. They sometimes refuse tenants because they think the apartment would be better for a family.

Most apartments have few or no closets. IKEA does a thriving business in storage units. Often the criteria for renting an apartment will be to assume the previous tenant's IKEA purchase.

Tenants take their light fixtures with them when they go.

Three months rent is standard for a security deposit. Rent for a one bedroom runs somewhere in the neighbourhood of $3,000 CDN.

A storage locker is called a cave in French.

When applying for an apartment, you need to prepare a dossier. This includes copies of your passport, your work permit or an Attestation from your office, proof of three month's rent, and a third party letter of reference. They've yet to request a DNA sample, but I'm guessing it's because they haven't thought of it yet.

Lots of people live in France and work in Geneva. There are borders to the north, south, east and west of the city. When you cross the border, the currency changes from Swiss Francs to Euros. Only once in three weeks has an immigration agent boarded the bus I was on to check for papers. You need to carry your passport with you all the time.

My office has a spectacular cafe on the top floor with a cappucino machine, wrap around deck and a view of Lake Geneva. Also, they serve Ovaltine.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Let's Book a Meeting

Our Lotus Notes system is shared with the entire network of offices. So, if you're not careful, you can book a meeting room in Baghdad. I'm told it happens all the time.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

New in town

I like to celebrate the small domestic victories of day to day life in a my non native country and language.

Things like negotiating a money-saving bus pass that will get me from my temporary home in Ferney-Voltare to every corner of Geneva.

Or the fact that I've found a baker with whom I can negotiate for half a loaf of delicious, fresh bread, knowing full well that a full loaf would become a brick before week's end.

Or the discovery of possibly the only 7 day a week late-opening grocery store in the entire region at the airport train station. Clearly no secret to the dozens of internationals I found happily shopping there on Sunday, a day when the Swiss go into lock down. Sunday is like Christmas minus the presents around here.

There's nothing quite like moving abroad to remind you that the way we do it, and imagine that that is how it's done, is rarely, rarely how others do it. Every day brings a load of new discoveries.

While I know how stressful that changing jobs and countries and lives is for me, I can only imagine what it must be like for families with children.

Here at the apartment hotel, I'm sharing the experience of being a new arrival with plenty of others who've made their way to this international hub from every part of the Globe.

Even thought I've only been here a couple of weeks, I find myself watching them unravel of the secrets of buying a bus ticket (trust me, the ticket machine looks like the dashboard of the space shuttle), have their pictures taken in front of the United Nations and slowly discover the thousand ways that this new life is so very different from the one they left.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Break out the cone bra

Finding a Cuban restaurant in Bratislava that serves a great Mojito is one thing. Finding a Cuban restaurant in Bratislava that serves a great Mojito beside fashion icon Jean Paul Gaulthier is quite another. What a wonderful life this is.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Great Apartment Hunt, Part Deux

I may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer but in some things I'm a fast learner. And here is what I've learned. Finding an apartment on my own might just be a job that is bigger than me.

The effort required to locate, book an appointment to see, locate on a map and finally visit a given apartment pales in comparison to the actual jockeying that occurs once said lodging is finally viewed.

I visited a place on Friday night. The landlord told me that viewings were between 7:15 and 8:30. I arrived a bit early - closer to 7 - and saw an African woman waiting outside the door. I took a chance and asked her if she, too, was waiting for a viewing. Turned out she worked for the same organization I do, and had for the past 30 years.

She's on another floor and our paths hadn't and maybe wouldn't have crossed for some time. Yet, there we were in competition for the same place.

Frankly, if anyone was worthy of actually winning the popularity contest that constitutes apartment hunting in this city, it was her. Her last posting was Baghdad. The one before was Rwanda. I think she deserves a nice place to live.

But deserving doesn't seem to matter -- at least to the 30 or so people who filed in for a viewing while I was there. That's right. 30 people. And, it goes without saying, the apartment wasn't even that nice.

So I took myself out for dinner and made a plan.

I've bitten the bullet and engaged a relocation agent. His name is Philippe. He's blessedly eccentric and comes highly recommended from my colleagues

It's a pricey option but is, I'm told, a guarantee that I'll find something quicker and, presumably, nicer than I'd do on my own. It still might be a wild ride, but it's bound to be more fun with Philippe in tow.