Friday, August 12, 2016

6 months in

I've written about a hundred posts in the past few months, in my head. It's hard to know where to start describing my life here sometimes, when everything is still such a new experience. But Melody A helped jolt me a bit and I decided I would write a little post (of interest possibly only to myself) about Swiss laundry.

Yes, laundry.

We had two apartments while we lived in Brooklyn. In Williamsburg we had a combo washer dryer in the unit. It was the worst thing ever. Aghh, I hated it. It took 3 hours to wash and dry one load. Ridiculous. At a certain point I just gave up on it and started hauling our stuff up the street to a laundromat. At the time, I didn't realize how exceptional this particular laundromat was. It was sunny and bright, and most importantly, clean. Instead of coins, you put money on a plastic card and used that to run the machines. The multiple TVs were permanently tuned to too loud telenovelas, but it was easy enough to walk over to Grand Street and run other errands while your stuff washed/dried. The whole loading up the laundry bags, hauling them down to the car, driving around looking for somewhere to park, plugging the meters, getting cash out to load your laundry card, actually doing the wash and dry, hauling it all back home again, draping the "delicates" on a rack (along with a fair amount of other stuff that didn't get fully dry after 4 spins in the dryer) took a considerable chunk out of the day, but what was the alternative, really? I've never paid to have my laundry done, that's always seemed like something only 1%-ers did.

Anyway, after we moved to the Bed-Stuy neighborhood, this all changed. There was a washer/dryer hook up in our new apartment, but no appliances. The idea of buying major appliances as a renter and then having to sell or take them with us when we invariably decided to move again had exactly zero appeal. I was already used to my laundromat routine so I figured I would just find me a new laundromat. What I didn't factor in, though, was just how seriously janky the laundromats were in my new hood. My default one, the closest one with parking, was possibly the filthiest, most broke-down laundromat in the history of ever. If you wanted to buy a soda or some soap, you had to shout your request through the bulletproof plexi while sliding your money through an inch-wide slit. A fourth of the machines were permanently broken, the floor was filthy and usually flooded, and I was invariably hit up for cash by random folks whenever I pulled out a bill in front of the change machines. Well, go somewhere else, you are probably thinking. It's not the only laundromat in the city of Brooklyn, you might say to me. And you would be right, and you would be wrong.

Self-serve laundromats are disappearing in NYC and Brooklyn as property values have escalated in recent years. I can attest to that fact. The smaller laundromats in both my Brooklyn hoods tended to be packed with users. There was rarely anywhere to sit while your load was washing, and there was inevitably a wait for machines. Doing laundry became one of my most onerous weekly chores. And it's not as if I was having to wash for a family with children. Just 2 adults. You don't really think about the ability to be able to just thoughtlessly do laundry as a quality of life issue until it becomes one. Which is all an elaborate preamble to the wonder and magic of Swiss laundry!
Laundry card. We keep it tucked next to our intercom by the front door as advised by the previous tenants. So as not to lose it, which I would have done 20 times by now, had they not made this wise suggestion.

We have two rooms in the basement of our apartment dedicated to laundry. Each side of the apartment building gets their own laundry room. There is only one washer and dryer in each room, but somehow this is more than sufficient for the 5 families that share it. There is a clipboard and pen outside each laundry room with a schedule on it. You sign your name to whatever block of time you wish (about 5 hours at a go) and that time is now reserved for you. Each apartment has a plastic credit card with a chip in it. This gets plugged into the little device by the washer to activate the electricity. That way your unit is charged by the power company for just the amount of laundry you do. No coins or cash needed. No having to pay for a neighbor's greater use. Just yours.
Sometimes I forget to remove it after I am done, however. But it is always sitting on top of the dryer waiting for me when I finally remember to go back down and get it.

The washing machine is spotlessly clean. As is the dryer. It is assumed that each neighbor will keep it as clean as they found it for the next user. The floors are spotless. The whole basement is amazingly well-maintained. Everything is set up for maximum ease of use.
Hanging lines.
Magical air blowing blue thing.

The lines strung along the ceiling are for hanging up things that need to air dry and there is a magical machine that blows air into the room and sucks moisture out of it so there's no need to drape your brassieres and granny panties all over your apartment or out on your balcony. On laundry days, our NYC apartments invariably looked like something out of a Jabob Riis tenement photo with stuff draped or hanging over every available surface. I have a lot of feelings both good and bad about living in Zurich 6 months in, but I can attest to the fact that at least my laundry life is 100% improved.
You could eat off the floor, for reals.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

...and so we are here!

By the lake.
Pretty house and garden.
Random park.
Running in rain for the tram.
Okay! And so started this entry a week and a half ago? Maybe 2 weeks now? Just reread it and decided to leave it. Will pick up on further tedious details of life as an ex-pat three paragraphs down.

Week one as a new Swiss resident has officially concluded. I'm feeling pretty good overall, but there's lots to do yet. We're currently in an Airbnb, the "legality" of which seems a little uncertain. The dude who's renting it to us has been pretty active as a host, but we were still asked to keep a low profile. One of the many obligations of a new resident of Switzerland is to register at your local Canton (district or county) within 3 days of arrival. We did that the next day we were here, hauling all of our paperwork with us. Frau Mittel, the efficient bureaucrat helping us, did not understand Airbnb. Was it a hotel? No, not exactly. So you are staying with a friend? No, not exactly. Hmmmm. She did not approve. And without an approved residence, you are not granted a permit (legal residency). We need to have our Airbnb host sign a paper stating that we are, in fact, installed at the address we listed. But he is out of the country. So for right now, we are in a sort of legal limbo. Not sure exactly how we'll resolve that yet, but given everything else we need to do, it's getting shoved to the back burner.

We opened up a bank account on Monday and it took one and a half hours. Getting a Swiss bank account is no easy thing. In addition to an accounting of all our financial assets and what I have come to refer to as our "dossier" (permit application, work contract, passports, marriage license), we were asked to provide the names and ages of our son and grandchildren (at the permit meeting, we were also asked for the full names of both sets of our parents, states where we were born, and our religion). I had read that the Swiss were generally very private, but evidently not within their bureaucracy. Next tasks: signing up for health insurance (legally required to be done within the first 3 months of residence) and finding an apartment.

Evidently, finding an apartment in Zurich is as challenging as finding one in NYC. Awesome, right? We went to see one last night and there were 8 other people waiting in line in front of us. If we didn't have cats, we would have a larger selection of places to consider, but what can you do. Applying for an apartment here is a process closer to applying for a job in the states. Or admission to college. It was recommended to us to include photos of ourselves and bios along with the usual financial data and references. Unlike in the U.S., where the first applicant with proof of appropriate income gets the apartment, here other considerations may come into play. Like, do you seem like a "good fit" for the apartment building in terms of age, interests, etc. I can't help worrying that the younger and prettier applicants will outshine us.

As of this morning, we were accepted for both apartments we applied for—so much for that worry! We're going with the one that is my favorite, and also less rent than what we were paying in Brooklyn. Yeehaw! Alright, italics off now.

So I am beyond excited at the prospect of settling into new perma-digs. Our stuff is still on its way across the ocean, and with any luck will only sit in storage for a week or two until we get into the new apartment on March 1. I am not quite desperate to be sewing, but something close to that. I have been without a sewing machine or workspace since December, when I had to pack it all up. I had thought I could use this interim time to try to write more/better/regularly, but I've found myself unable to do so. This change is very exciting, Zurich is beyond pretty, but navigating all the details of this relocation has been exhausting. From the smallest to the largest: learning Zurich's recycling system (they are deadly serious about this, you don't want to get caught throwing anything out that should be recycled—a good thing, but takes a bit of work to manage), learning and navigating tram, bus, train and boat schedules, trying to figure out where to buy ice cube trays for less than $20, translating forms and paperwork from German to English, etc. I miss the relief and mental distraction of sewing.

For the month of February we are in a temporary apartment, sublet from a very nice individual named Tudor. He is taking 6 weeks to explore Australia and New Zealand, and we are sleeping in his bed and using his flatware. His apartment is located in the red light district. It is considerably noisier at night, but only by Swiss standards. Nothing compared to Brooklyn. It's a one minute walk to the tram with a grocery store immediately opposite. Not maybe my first choice for a neighborhood (it has a Hooters! Srsly!), but it's just fine as a temporary arrangement.

Anyway, to date everyone is surviving, including the cats. The Swiss version of Fancy Feast—"Sheba"—is super stinky, though, both going in and coming out, if you know what I mean. Going to have to try out some alternatives, these apartments are way too small for that, omg.