Montag, 6. März 2017

An Aunt Abroad

I'm currently in the process of trying to become a Swiss citizen - or wait - will I be becoming a citizen of Schaffhausen, if the guy in immigration at the Zürich civil registry is to be believed.
Things that I've learned so far in the immigration process. (With the awareness that this process is made simpler by my current citizenship as an American, the fact that I am white and the fact that I am married and financially stable.)
1. Swiss bureaucrats have clear ideas about who is Swiss, which is good, because it's their job to make people Swiss, but this also means that they can have a tunnel vision of their definition of Swissness. At the civil registry, when attempting to procure a Gesuchsformular (application form), the civil servant uncivilly serving me refused to believe that my husband was, is or ever had been Swiss. He took my residency card to look me up in the system and didn't find me (this - of course - heightened his suspicion of me.) "M-U-N... Ich finde Sie nicht! Es gibt keine Munssen." Of course he couldn't find me. Of course no Munssen exists at my address. My name begins M-I-J. When I told him as much, he scolded me for the small print on my residency card, (not sure how that's my fault) and continued to be incredulous that anyone with such a foreign-sounding name could have been a Swiss citizen when he married me back in 2007. I told him that my husband's great grandfather had been Swiss, but he wasn't convinced till he found my husband in his system and read that his mother was called Hemmi. Apparently, he was permitted to be considered Swiss after that. The uncivil servant became more civil and told me that I would need to get my application form from Schaffhausen, as I would be a citizen of Schaffhausen. He also tried to scare me by saying that Schaffhausen's location, near the German border, meant that I might be under more scrutiny than people trying to become Zürchers. I told him that I welcomed scrutiny, with the confidence of a woman who'd been married 10 years and felt sure that I could convince Swiss Makers that my marriage is not being faked for citizenship.
2. Bureaucrats have no idea what they're talking about. Today I schlepped all the way to Schaffhausen, to pick up the application that Mr. Uncivil had assured me that I'd need to get there and I couldn't They didn't have an immigration office to visit at their registry, just a slip of paper with a lady's name and number on it. So I call her and she answers like she has a moment and then I'm telling her while I'm calling and she says, "I'll have to call you back, I'm in the middle of something here." First off, what can she be in the middle of if her office is un-visitable? Second, maybe don't answer if you can't talk or don't ask me what I need if you don't have time to hear it. That's impatient me talking, who's in the car to drive back to Zürich and there's a person in a car behind, wanting me to leave the parking space. So this magic, office-less lady calls me back and tells me that the Zürich guy should have absolutely given me the application because it's not a cantonal matter, it's a federal matter and she starts going on about those idiots in Zürich and I'm thinking, like the printing on my residency card, this is another annoyance for which I am not responsible and can not help. So she'll mail me the form that I just drove 45 minutes to get and then gets frustrated with me 3 times for speaking too quickly. You are a lady with just a phone number! You should be tops at taking info off the phone! Again, this is my frustration speaking. Luckily, phone number lady didn't have a problem with the foreign-ness of my last name at least.
3. As a foreigner, I am meant to better understand the naturalization process better than the people responsible for the process.
4. Jokes are not welcome. When I was visiting the tax office, I suggested that part of my integration process, on the road to becoming a citizen, was visiting a bunch of city buildings that I'd previously never visited before. She seemed offended by this attempt at whimsy.
5. People at the work and welfare office are never happy to have a visit and seem genuinely inconvenienced at having to leave their seats and come to the service window.
6. The America Consulate security fella is being overly dramatic about his job. His lap around the building, his singing of the Winkie Chant as he keeps you from visiting the Wizard… Because of the 4 visits there in the past month, 1 was with a different security guard and he was totally chill and seemed far more ok with my speaking Swiss German with him than Mr. Winkie.
7. Becoming a citizen of another country feels weird. It's different to the weirdness of getting a different last name after 25 years of having another last name. But it's similar to learning the language that the love of my life speaks. I've learned the language of the man that I love and the culture and then I went and lived there for longer than I've lived most any other place and it's home and now it'll be my home on paper and I'll be one of the growing number of Swiss people with non-Swiss last names.
Like changing my name when I got married, it feels weird to be something so different to my siblings; to be a foreign citizen to the citizenship of my family. The first most significant time that it felt significant to live abroad was when my nephew was born. I was an aunt abroad. When he talks about his extended family, he mentions that he's got an aunt in Europe. That felt big to me. When my mom was dying, the distance felt significant, but that wasn't anything to do with citizenship or particular location, just miles apart.
So that's the road thus far to being a citizen of the town with the golden bollocks.

Sonntag, 29. Januar 2017

Abroad and Abstracted

There's an election here in Switzerland next month. There's an important election in neighboring France. There's Roger Federer playing on the television in my living room and my husband and our neighbors are brunching and jumping and screaming at breaks and what-nots. On my social media, friends and family are making signs, joining protests, marching, screaming and I'm here.

The feeling of watching my homeland post-election 2016 reminds me of that boyfriend I broke up with, who started dating strippers, doing drugs and generally declining. How could that be the same guy? How could this be the same country? I chose a different life that didn't involve that boyfriend. I chose a life in another country, but there's a difference - I'm still an American.

I'm in the process of becoming a citizen of Switzerland and I should be focusing on the country that I chose and hoping that it chooses me. But nobody can look away from the US. Not just the US, but the leader, whose policies will effect us all. I'm grateful that the protests and demonstrations are gaining such attention. Because the distraction of the hateful leader and his isolationist policies is too profound as it is.

I remember back in 2004, when Switzerland voted to increase the difficulty in becoming a citizen. My swiss boyfriend was disturbed by it and I didn't understand. He obsessed over the xenophobic implications and was ashamed that the vote had a majority. Comparing it to American citizenship rules didn't make it seem that extreme. I wish that I had been kinder and listened better and given him empathy. Because only now do I understand how it feels to be away from your country of origin and have things happen in it that do not fit the picture that you had of it, or the story that you tell yourself about the place you were raised and molded.

I appreciate that I'm looking back as a white woman and that my life there and here are largely easier because of that fact. I remind myself of my privilege when strangers express their distaste for America when they realize that I am American. I try to do my part for the US and the under-represented while I'm far away. I marched, I write and call my representatives in the region where I'm registered in the US. I'm a candidate for a role in the Democrats Abroad organization. But when I renew my first passport with my married name next month, I will again enter the American consulate with the photo of a president who does not represent me hanging on the wall. The 10 years since I got the passport after I got married will expire and I will feel as alien in the consulate as I did then. But back then, we were on the verge of getting a new, bridge-building presidency, which made me proud to be an American abroad. Now we're back to the wall-building presidency, and I'm on the other side, with only my blue passport to connect me. 

Montag, 9. Januar 2017

I'm afraid of Americans, I'm afraid of a lot of things

I'm filling out forms for my citizenship process and listening to This American Life telling me that Iragi translators can't get American citizenship. Here I am, an under-performing foreign translator in a peaceful nation, getting citizenship in a land I've lived in for 10 years.
When I first moved here, I took an intensive German course. My mother took this fact as proof that immigrants in the US should learn English. Seriously.
Here are the flaws in that maternal logic:
I came here on a visa sponsored by my partner and was able to learn the language without actively earning income. I was a leech on a Swiss citizen and was able to benefit by being given the opportunity to devote myself to learning one of the 4 national languages in the country that I chose to move to for love of a kind and generous guy who loved me too.
Second, America has no official language.

I learned that to get citizenship, you don't actually have to speak Swiss German or Swiss French or Swiss Italian Romansch but an interviewer will speak to you in the Swiss language of the canton your getting citizenship in and you have to understand them enough to respond and be understood by them.

What I mean to say is that mom didn't understand privilege in these situations and I think that too few people do. 

Freitag, 6. Januar 2017

This new year in the mountains was snow-free. But we managed to stay sporty.  There was enough natural snow to go langlaufen, and I decided to challenge myself to learn to cross country skate. I'd been fairly successful at classic cross country skiing the past couple of years, so why not give it a go, right? Well, had I asked, I would have learned that it's not that simple, especially for people who've never down-hill skiied. Apparently, one should really master the classic before moving on to the skating. But I didn't know that. Instead, I cussed and snapped at Ivo and generally felt like a failure, until reverting back to classic, and actually improving. I wish I'd been able to avoid the pity party. 
Next sporty endeavor was jogging in the mountains. Oy. The air is totally different and the uphill feels like it'll never end. Ivo had decided to jog to Ladir, 18km round trip. Mine was 10km round trip but 4 of those I walked in warm up and cool down. It was amazing. My lungs burned. The sun was in my eyes the way back, the air was cold and my legs ached and I felt so strong. I'd made the crucifix rest point my goal and I made it!!!

I'm continuing to train 3 times a week because we've got the new year's race next Saturday. Ivo's doing 12km and I'm doing 6.6. I'm a bit scared of doing it on my own. But I keep doing things that I'd not known I was capable, so hopefully this will be one of them. Today I ran in the icey, snowy, slushy road to the snow covered track at Sihlhölzli. Last night was so cold that my bike gears froze and I was unable to shift. Today was really bitterly cold still. 
Ivo had told me to add a loop when I am headed home, to add on unplanned extensions to keep pushing boundaries and I looped up a big-ass hill on my way home today. It was slow and icy but steady and I did it and felt so proud and when I got home my body temp exploded. It'd been trying to keep me warm in the cold and I was warm and sweaty and when I arrived it took a while to cool down. But I felt like I was flying. 
Sunday I'll hit the treadmill again and Monday and Wed I'll be outside again. I'm psyched and nervous and psyched and scared. But I'm trying stuff and accomplishing stuff and I feel strong. 
Tomorrow is badminton!

Montag, 12. Dezember 2016

Rosie's first footrace

2010 me
Yesterday, I spent an amazing evening, running 5km with my spouse and a load of people in costumes.
5k doesn't seem like a lot, but it was to me.
I'd tried running once before, back in 2010. It was a help to manage grief, but I couldn't manage much without needing the bathroom.

So, I was the supporter at foot races when my husband ran, and walked a 5k while he ran a 10k in San Francisco. We finished at about the same time. 
Jogging became an exciting goal when I was looking forward to my permanent ileostomy. And once I was given the ok from doctors, I hit the gym. 
"first jog in 4 years and I only visited the toilets to take a selfie"
I mostly jogged on the treadmill at the gym, but had a few goes at outdoor jogs once the temperatures got more manageable this autumn, but they were baby steps and I was quick to tire.
This Thanksgiving, I got my first snowy jogs in while staying in Western Mass with the family. 
I learned then how helpful my husband truly was at helping me jog correctly. And he motivated me and distracted me when I needed it. I learned to work on my breath-patterns, my body posture, my arm swings...
"running errands - forgot to bring tissues on our jog"

I began to surprise myself on my bike, never able to predict what gear I was in, because I could pedal more easily. I began running outdoors more and seeing that each run required less effort. But I felt my body and it complained and I let it stop the instant I'd fulfilled my goal for that day, sometimes just a meter or two short of it. 
By race day, I'd successfully done 4km multiple times, but not made it to 5, so I was feeling insecure. At first the fears were rational. "What if I can't do it? What if my feet/legs/shoulders hurt? What if I feel nauseated?" These were things that had stymied me in the past and previously I'd given in and quit, more recently I'd powered through. 
As we biked to the race, I kept taking deep breaths. I was totally in my head. Ivo said "Did you hear that?!" I hadn't "That kid thought that you were St. Nick's helper on a bike!" I was wearing a santa hat for the run and hadn't heard the kid at all. I must have been scowling. I felt like a jerk. 
By the time we neared the race, my thoughts had turned to the irrational, "What if all my guts fall out? What if I have a sudden stroke? What if my legs, just, stop moving?!" 
But by the time we were at the starting line, all my fears were gone. I was distracted by the energy and the costumed people. It was like a party. Ivo and I danced around to keep warm. The announcer was so enthusiastic and everyone was cheerful. Then we were off. 
With the huge crowds and the ever-changing width of the path, the going was slow. I'd never passed another runner before, so it took a couple of kilometers to give it a go. At one point, I patted someone's shoulder to pass and I think it may have been rude. But the guy read my number sign aloud and seemed empathetic in his reading aloud of "Oh es ist ihre 1st 5k." 
It was thrilling and fun and not nearly as hard as I'd anticipated. I was carried along with the crowd and sucked in energy every time we passed folks cheering on the side-lines. I did my best to slow my pace for endurance vs speed, but it was hard. I felt a bit ill when I went uphill in the second round, but that was mainly because of my dancing and singing along with the music in my earbuds. I had one bud in in case I needed it. And had begun listening when we were even with a group of people in Trump costumes, who were getting booed. The booing dampened my mood and the music got me up again. 
I was nauseated more thoroughly as we neared the finish line and the sent of something cooking on grill stands near the finish line nearly did me in. It was disgusting. But I crossed the finish line, put my hands on my knees and breathed and the nausea passed once I let out a gutteral moan. I broke into tears, really embarrassing sobbing tears and Ivo grabbed me and lead me to a safe space and we hugged and I cried. I was elated. I trusted my body and it saw me through and I was astonished. And I missed my mum. I wanted so badly to call her. 
after - glassy eyed and hungry
So I called my favorite woman - my sister - and facetimed with her and my nephew. He is 5 and asked what place I'd come in. With a bright red, wet face, I told him that I did well and that it amazed me and that was good enough. But he's 5. My sister got it. She told me about her cross country days and I felt so surprised to relate to a cross country story!

Freitag, 11. November 2016


My first ever election was also a presidential election. I was planning to vote for Ralph Nader, but an appointment to check out an abscess led to hospitalization in a neighboring state and I was unable to vote. (They had absentee ballots but only for residents of the state.)
I woke up on November 6th and the rest of my stay in Floating Memorial was spent watching chaos on the news. That was my introduction to the electoral process.
Election 2004, I was registered and voted in Philadelphia; the day after Halloween. That night, my boyfriend - now husband - was in Boston, waiting in the cold with Kerry supporters. He'd not been allowed to vote, but was excited to see this part of the victory. The summer before, I'd visited him in Switzerland. His friends and family were excited about the coming election. The courts had elected W. previously, but the American people would set it right...and that Chicago politicia's speech at the convention! But alas, the American people gave him their stamp of approval and the next day I couldn't stop crying. I went to my nanny job and hugged my charges a bit too tightly and during nap time, my boyfriend and I tried to console each other over the phone.
Four years later and a time difference of 6 hours away, I went to sleep before the election was called. The phone rang in the middle of the night and my husband asked if I wanted to get up. I told him that if the results were unfavorable, I wanted to enjoy the not knowing a little longer. But the caller was our friend downstairs, ringing to tell us that Obama had won. We turned on the telly and cried and hugged. We rang my brother who was in the streets of New York, celebrating with his neighbors. We had friends over to watch the inauguration.
Election 2012, we'd just been living in the US and were still so hopeful and very gratified at the outcome. I mean, come on, "binders full of women"?

Laughing on Wednesday

Wednesday morning, my husband and I made plans to meet for lunch before he left for the office. He'd been working on the sofa since 4am, but it was time to go to the newspaper and attempt to make sense of the American election for his Swiss readers. The idea was, that it we had an anchor in the middle of the day, it could be an oasis. It meant that he wouldn't sit glued to his computer and experience the distancing power that writing the news apparently gives to reporters, if they can be believed. It meant that I wouldn't sit on the sofa with my sore throat, stuffy nose and headache, crying over the news all alone.
After a couple of hours of mouldering in the internet, I got dressed up and put myself together as much as possible and set out to walk, to brave the fresh air, clear my head and clear my head a bit. I ran a couple of hours, used a bunch of tissues, and as I was heading to my husband's office early with a book - for the companionship - I got a phone call.
(I'm crap at answering the phone, especially when I'm feeling fragile, but I've learned that it's the adult thing to do, so I did it.)
The oblivious fella on the call said that he saw that I regularly attended a fitness center. (Effing Base Fit...selling my information...) As someone who is clearly interested in my health, he thought that I would be an excellent customer for his health insurance company. Oh how I laughed. It was so refreshing. Oh, how I needed to laugh and how that man delivered it to me on a silver platter.
"Pardon me, but your information about me is woefully full of holes. I work out regularly, I have an artificial intestinal exit, I've had Crohn's disease for 20 years and took injections that cost 4,000 CHF per month for 4 years very recently. You don't want me as a customer. Let me be someone else's problem."
He thanked me very genuinely for my honesty and wished me a good day. It couldn't be that. It wasn't a good day and hasn't been a good week. But for a 4 minute phone conversation I had a laugh at a man who had rightly mistaken me for a healthy person.