Wednesday, October 3, 2007

American Market, Geneva

"You always want most what you can't have."

It's not that I especially like Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. I don't even like birthday cakes made from cake mix. I only steal a few of the Pepperridge Farm Goldfish when the kids are already eating them. I only occasionally like Taco Bell. It is a rare event for me to go to KFC.

But now that this country doesn't offer these things, I sure do crave them. The children have been begging for Cheerios nearly every morning. Cecilia's favorite meal if "Macaroni Soup", which is simply Kraft Macaroni and Cheese with too much milk. Young Joseph asks for goldfish, and is not satisfied with the goldfish shaped pretzels that we get from the local Migros.

When complaining about these things that we missed, a co-worker asked why we don't just go to "the American Market" to satisfy these cravings.

"American Market?" I ask excitedly. I am familiar with the British markets; there is one not very far from my old house in South Riding, just west on Route 50. They are these stores where homesick British can get their "crackers" or other weird things that they can't find in the US. So it would seem that there is enough of a market in Switzerland to support two stores dedicated to these niche foods.

Stacy packed an overnight luggage bag with enough clothes for an overnight stay. We found a hotel in Geneva right next to the train station, with some incredible views of the very beautiful city. A short 2 hour ride on the train, and we were in Geneva. Also brought along for the trip were two empty rolling luggage bags. This is where we would collect the spoils.

First things first. It's Saturday, and we need to get to this store before it closes. Touring and doing touristey things will all be done later. This has to be done NOW. We made the short walk to the American Market about 2 blocks from our hotel. It is not your average grocery store, but a small shop, two levels, jam-packed with American goodness. There were many things that we were craving, that we were happy to find. Many things that we did not expect to find, and many things that we never would have thought of, that Americans might also want.

You might find it strange to know that Switzerland seems to lack these basic necessities of life. How they manage to get along without Stove-Top Stuffing, I don't know. How they get along without cake mixes must mean that they bake their cakes from scratch, or go to the store to buy birthday cakes, or do not celebrate birthdays at all in a fashion that we're used to. How they enjoy their hot dogs without sweet relish boggles my mind. And to think that the only breakfast cereals that they can serve kids are from Kellogg's (and off-brands too), also escapes me. Where's the General Mills Cereals in this country? Oreo double-stuff? How can watching TV be fully enjoyed without these things?

This store was too small for your typical shopping cart to be wheeled around. Instead, there were hand-baskets. We filled five of them. When it came time to time to pay, it averaged 100 Francs per basket. Ouch. Importing these things ourselves has proven to be almost as expensive, once it got through customs. So I can understand the price.

So you might be wondering about some of the things that don't exist in Switzerland, outside of the American Market, aren't you? Instead of making a boring list, I'll just give you a picture of the shelves, so you can get a quick idea of our wonderful American Junky food that the Swiss manage to live without:

About 500 CHF later, and two full-sized luggage bags packed to the brim with goodies, strange looks from the locals, one happy store owner -- we rolled out of the store, having fulfilled our trip's main goal. The secondary goal, of course, was to get some sightseeing done in Geneva.

We essentially re-traced my steps from my unplanned day in Geneva from two weeks prior. Here's a gallery of the pictures we took in Geneva and Lac Leman (Lake Geneva)
[ Gallery of photos ]

Food and Language Barriers
We had a very expensive dinner that evening. In case you are not aware, these children are incredibly hard to feed. Somehow, we really messed up in the kids' upbringing, and they have an extremely irritating tendency to eat only 5 or 6 things. Joshie used to be quite good at eating new foods until he saw Cecilia's pickiness, and imitated that. Joey used to be quite good at eating strange foods, too; but soon copied his older siblings. Jake is starting to come around and eat new foods, thankfully. I had so many food allergies as a kid, that being picky meant not eating. Being picky for no reason escapes my imagination.

So to get back to the expensive dinner, we finally found a restaurant on the Lake that we thought the kids MIGHT be able to eat something. Of course, none of us speak French, so there's a language barrier. Reading French is much easier than speaking it. Often the French words look enough like the English words that we would never use, but still understandable. The waiter looked on patiently, as we tried to communicate.
"Do you speak English?"
"¿Hablas español?"
"Sprechen Sie Deutsch?"
"日本語を話すか。" Yes, I actually said that. That's Japanese, by the way.
"No." A response of simultaneous confusion and surprise.

This is one of the most international cities in the world. A full quarter of the population did not come from France or Switzerland. I can't believe this. OK, French it is.
What comes next is my usual fare in French. When I don't know the French word, which is always, I resort to my personal approach to communicating with non-Anglophones. Most Americans use the method of, "If they don't understand you, speak English slower and louder." My technique is much more advanced. I point and grunt. Thankfully we had a menu for me to point at, and I came up with the grunting noises which were probably intelligible, so long as they were French-sounding grunts.

After finishing the three pizza dinner (which was quite good), we decided it was time to head back to the Hotel. We asked the waiter at the door for directions to the bus. It was a suitable walk home on foot, but the kids were tired, and a bus might do us better. I asked the waiter, one word, in English. He didn't know English, but I suspected the one word question would work.

"Bus?" (Pronounced with an American Accent) IPA: /ˈbɐs/
"Eh?" A shrug of confusion.
OK, let's try German. "Bus?" (Pronounced with a German accent, the "u" sounds like oo in 'fool' IPA: [bys]
"Eh?" Another shrug of confusion.
Hmm. Think of Inspector Clouseau, with a suitably outrageous French accent. How would he say "Bus?"
"Bus?" (This time with the outrageous Inspector Clouseau French accent, /bys/ , Kind of like there's one long vowel in "Boeus", hard to spell in English, because that vowel does not exist in English.)
"Oh! Le Bus!" He got it. You've got to be kidding me.

I will never figure out this language.

He gave us directions, in French. Slowly and loudly with many hand gestures. He suggested that it is much easier to walk, 5 minutes on foot.

Exploring Geneva
The next day, we bypassed the 40 CHF per person breakfast in the hotel (with six people, that would be awfully expensive for croissant and toast), and stocked up on the cheap croissants at the train station. We sat at the boat dock, looking at the water birds, the boats, and the scenery. Life's not that bad.

The kids enjoyed chasing the pigeons, Joey would run full speed at the pigeons and shriek with joy, the annoyed pigeons would just fly away. We walked to the Geneva Sundial, but it was too cloudy to see any shadows fall on it. We grabbed an electric train trolley up and down the lake's banks, with a guided tour of the sights of Geneva. We found a water fountain; Jake looked at it suspiciously.

"You're actually drinking that?" he asked me, as I filled a water bottle with the water from the fountain.
"Yes, it's drinkable water"
Suspiciously, Jake asked, "How do you know that's OK to drink?"
"It says right here on the sign" I pointed to a sign that said 'Eau Potable'
"That's French, how do you know that says it's OK to drink? "
Frustrated, "Eau means water. Potable means drinkable."
"But how do you know 'pot-able' means you can drink it? You don't know French"
"Dude! Potable means 'You can Drink it' in ENGLISH"
"Oh". Still suspicious. A Canadian looked on with amusement, and confirmed my translations to Jake.

Coolest Park Ever
We came across the Cheetah Beach in Geneva, which would never exist in the sue-happy United States. Dear lawyers who read this page: "You Make America Suck." Decades of ambulance chasing, get a papercut, I-have-to-sue mentality has made cool places for kids to play an impossibility. Don't know why I'm ranting? Because you haven't seen this park:

This is a park called "Cheetah-Babyplage", a very wonderful park including many swings, and a beach on Lake Geneva. The swings are all that has many recycled bicycle tires. The kids spent at least two hours swinging around. It was truly wonderful.

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