Value Added Tax

palmI had a moment yesterday which showed me how I am still thinking European-style. We popped into a Tea Shop to buy a Boba Milk Tea, and I told H that I had the right change for the drink, handing him 25 cents to go with his bills. The price for the small was $3.25. Of course, the price ended up being $3.51 because, as we all know, there is sales tax to add on. (Well, except for those of you in Oregon, Delaware, New Hampshire, Montana and Alaska where there is no sales tax.)

In Europe the VAT (Value Added Tax) is already figured into the price, so the posted price is what you pay. I appreciate that and it has apparently become a habit with me the past year.

Must adjust thinking.


What We Don’t Need to Miss: Or, What We Brought Back

Back in our first months in Zürich,Screen Shot 2015-08-06 at 10.40.49 AM a friend asked me what we might be bringing back with us from sabbatical. I can’t remember what I said, but I’m sure it wasn’t very much, and I’m very glad that we did not come back with any additional suitcases. For everything that we added to our bags, we left something behind. Mostly.

Of course we did bring back a few souvenirs. I already wrote about our Freitag bags, and I have just ordered some Sigg water bottles here (which are Swiss, but much cheaper to buy here than there).


Not one of our bags. Just one I saw in Lucerne.

What we did bring back and required no additional space in the luggage are some attitudes and habits that I would like very much to keep up.

First, I got used to eating regular-sized portions of food and to not stocking our pantry with so much excess food (which would sometimes go to waste – and waist). Right now our refrigerator has enough stuff to last for the next few days, as does our pantry. Although they look pretty bare, they also look very clean and uncluttered.

Second, I want to continue to walk to many places. I didn’t have a bike in Zürich, but I was so happy to ride mine here the other day that I want to ride it more. To be fair, I did walk quite a bit here before since we live close to the library, post office, shops, etc., but I want to see if I can squeeze in some more calorie-powered transportation.


Scientific Progress Goes “Boink”

Third, I am still practicing German on Duolingo every day, and I look forward to speaking at German Table at Pomona College soon. To enhance our enjoyment, we bought a Calvin and Hobbes book (in Bern on our last full day in Switzerland) so we can read one page a day over lunch as we used to do.

Repatriation Begins

Here is what repatriation on Day OneIMG_7273 looked like. One the one hand, it all seemed so natural to us. Claremont has been our home for 29 years, and it was so easy to come back and jump right in. I thought it would be more startling.

And yet, we got to look at our life here through new lenses. I felt myself saying “That’s not very Swiss” or “That would never happen in Switzerland.”

For example, I noticed right away how casual (read sloppy) most Americans dress to go out into public. This seems to mirror the casual (though not sloppy) attitude of public interactions. It took me no time to turn into my chatty self with the people at the check-out who I don’t know. The Swiss would say that Americans are very shallow and “fake nice” with strangers, but I don’t think that’s quite right. As one of those Americans, I feel as though I am having a connection with another person, and it doesn’t matter that I may never see them again. I rarely had a casual interaction in Switzerland with a complete stranger.

IMG_6374The first thing on our agenda was to pick up our new car (all ready to go!) in order to run errands. We could absolutely not do this in California without a car, but we never really needed a car in Switzerland.

We went out to lunch at our favorite Mexican restaurant where the waiter wondered why he hadn’t seen us in awhile. He welcomed us back with a handshake and a big smile. Neither of these would happen in Switzerland, especially two full meals for $13. (The cheese enchiladas in green sauce tasted, oh, so delicious!) We also noticed that people were not sitting for a long time to enjoy their meals, and the tables turned over quickly, an American thing.


Target beckoned. We had quite a list for items here that we didn’t need when living in a small Swiss apartment. We were reminded that owning a house requires more effort and capital than renting. The vast majority of Swiss live in rental flats.


We would never see a shopping cart this big in Switzerland! (We probably could not carry that amount of stuff in our arms after leaving the store.) Nor would we have had free food samples. However, we never stood in lines as long as at a Costco on a Saturday in Zürich.


So, my philosophy of enjoying where you live and appreciating life in other cultures is helping me adjust to changing countries.

Repatriation Blues?

In preparation for our sabbatical, I read a slim book called Sabbaticals 101: A Practical Guide for Academics and their Families. It offered good advice for planning a year abroad: what to pack, what to expect in your first months, what emotional things might happen. Then there was this chapter about returning home. I think I read it. (I left the book at home, so I can’t refer to it at the moment.)

H told me a few weeks ago that I could not talk about going home, yet. That’s actually kind of hard to do since we are now just beginning to make plans for our return. We bought plane tickets, we officially told the ETH that we plan on moving out on the day we had originally told them we would, they sent us a letter with all the stuff we need to do in order to have a smooth check-out here, and H has started researching what car we might buy upon our return since we currently own no car.

I have been following the WSJ Expat page on Facebook for a month or so, and this article on Repatriation Blues popped up a few weeks ago. In fact, there have been a number of blog posts from different writers about the difficulties with returning home.

I do expect to have some culture shock upon arrival at LAX and for the next month/s or so, but I don’t expect it to be as difficult for us as for others, although only time will tell. First of all, we’ve known all along that this was a one-year adventure, and many expats are gone from their homes for a longer time. Second of all, many of our academic friends have gone to other cultures for sabbaticals, so we now have something in common with them, and when we talk about our year, they will understand, giving us a community of academic expats already. We haven’t had to deal with kids in local schools here and then moving them back, so that part has been easy.

And as much fun as it has been to unwind for a year, and inspiring to travel, once I get back into teaching in September, I will be glad to have a creative direction once again, now with recharged batteries. And a chance to eat a real burrito…