Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Swiss Retirement Scheme

This morning, I read an article in the New York Times about how some U.S. employers are temporarily suspending their employee 401(k) matching to cope with the awful economy.

Fortunately, in Switzerland, employer matchings are required by law, as are employee contributions.

There are three components to the Swiss retirement scheme, and they're known as the Three Pillars.

Pillar 1: State pension. This is basically Swiss social security. 5.05% is taken out of every paycheck and employers match to make it 10.1%. Contributions are required by law. This is paid out when you retire or (in my case) when you leave the country for good.

Pillar 2: Employer pension. This is more like a company pension fund. Contributions range from 7 to 18% and increase with age. I get this when I retire in Switzerland or when I leave the country.

Pillar 3: Private pension. Contributions are voluntary. Sort of like owning your own mutual funds and life insurance. Tax deductible, and receivable when I leave the country.

So the three pillars cover state, employer, and individual. Pretty comprehensive. I'd love to hear what any of you finance geniuses think about this.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Holidays Sans Swag

I was spoiled with holiday swag* at Y&R Chicago. Every December, production companies would send the creative department ridiculously cool gifts. (After receiving several hundred thousands of dollars of business, most editing houses and sound studios will set some aside to reciprocate the holiday love.) Previous gifts have included:
  • A first-generation video iPod (thanks, Biscuit)
  • A limited edition (red) iPod Nano (thanks, Optimus)
  • The sweetest ski coat I've ever owned (thanks, Elias)
  • A $100 gift certificate at the Apple Store (thanks, SoundSlave)
  • A pile of ultra-premium chocolate (thanks, National Parks Conservation Association - a client!)
  • Enough gift baskets to build a small shelter with (thanks, everyone else)

But there were no iPods for me this year in Geneva.

I did receive a very thoughtful Christmas card from Bill Rohlfing, a great voiceover talent I worked with frequently. Bill helped us on a ton of projects in Chicago, and was the main VO on the NPCA spot "Search & Rescue" which shortlisted at Cannes, and can be heard here.

If you're in Chicago (or even if you're not), use Bill Rohlfing. He's very nice. He's very talented. And he sends trans-Atlantic Christmas cards.

* I used the think SWAG stood for "stolen without a gun," but the Urban Dictionary says it primarily means "stuff we all get," as well as "scientific/silly wild ass guess" and "sister with a gun."

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Producers Who Rock

A while ago, I posted a shoutout to all the great art directors I've ever worked with.

Having just gone on a three-spot production without an agency producer, I would be remiss not to do the same for all the great producers I've had the great pleasure to work with. I still don't know your pain, but I had a taste.

Addie. Ashley. Brian. Courtney. Ellen. Jay. Jeremy. Joy. Kim. Luke. Matt. Patti. Paul. Will.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Production Results

Results of production. Comments?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Make Money Teaching English in Europe!

I'm amazed at the number of post-university students who come to Europe, thinking they're going to support themselves by teaching English. I think these kids consistently overlook two key facts:

  1. The ability to do something is not indicative of the ability to teach it.
  2. Simple supply and demand. Contrary to what most of these kids believe, teaching English isn't like giving away gold. Or even free sandwiches.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Tortellini au homard

I went to lunch with an expat friend today. The plat du jour was tortellini au homard. I asked the waiter what homard is. He replied, “In English: hamster.”

My friend and I thought no way. But then we remembered in France they eat horsemeat, so hamster pasta couldn’t be too far a stretch.

So we pulled the trigger and ordered hamster pasta. It was pretty good. It tasted a lot like lobster.

Which is a strange coincidence, because “hamster” sounds a lot like “lobster” when spoken by a Swiss waiter with a lip ring.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Boston Blackies

The other day, our creative team was discussing using a black background on an ad. The words “black background” were repeated with great frequency, and somehow I found myself thinking about Boston Blackies, one of the great hamburger joints of Chicago.

I don’t get too nostalgic here. But, man I wanted a Black and Blue burger with coleslaw yesterday.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Doctor House

In Switzerland (and I believe throughout Europe), the network hit starring Hugh Laurie is referred to as “Doctor House.” Not “House” as everyone in the States knows it. “Doctor House.” So weird.

Based on this, I’ve retitled a few other shows to make them more European…
  • People in the Office
  • Lost on an Island
  • Madison Avenue Men
  • 30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York City, New York
  • Iron Chef America Cooking Show Challenge
  • Late Night at Night with Conan O’Brien
  • Saturday Night Comedy Skits Performed Live
  • Battlestar Galactica: Outerspace Fighting

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

How to Have a Great Client Meeting

One of our clients is on the far east end of the lake. It's about an hour train ride from Geneva. This is what I see going and coming from client meetings...

They are great clients, and I can't say I've ever had a bad meeting with them. But even if we did, with a ride like this, I don't think anyone could head back to Geneva in too bad a mood.

Monday, December 8, 2008

What our kids are worth

Every month, the Swiss government gives us an extra 600 Swiss Francs - 200 chf for each of our three children.

In the US, the most recent stimulus package gave us a one-time $300 per child. And as dependents, they factored into how much is withheld from each paycheck.

I'm not a tax lawyer. I'm sure I'm missing something here. But 2400 chf per child seems like a pretty good deal to me.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Licensed to Veg

With our new TV, we had to register with Billag.

Billag is not a cable provider, a network, or a manufacturer. They are simply the people you pay when you have a TV or radio in Switzerland.

See, in Switzerland, you have to have a license to have TV or radio. Even if you have no TV and your only functioning radio is in your car, you'll have to pay a monthly fee of 14.10 Swiss Francs to Billag.

Since we have TV, we'll have to pay about 32.35 a month. That's on top of cable.

I know plenty of people with TVs who've never paid anything to Billag. For them it's kind of like speeding on the highway. You might get caught. But you probably won't. (Billag sends random inspectors to homes to fine unlicensed TV and radio owners.)

Since we're expats with meager French skills, we've decided to play by the rules.

Still, I imagine a lot of the monthly payments go towards staffing for inspectors who go around checking to make sure people have made their monthly payments.

"We can't abolish Billag! How will we pay for people to make sure people are using Billag?"

Thursday, December 4, 2008

How to Get a Job Overseas, Part II

My friend, Claire Chen-Carter is an award-winning, Bay Area art director who started her career as an expat in Singapore. Here's her take on getting a job overseas...

These days getting a job 'there' is the same as getting a job "here"... network like crazy to obtain 1 or 2 good overseas contacts and have a decent portfolio. Then set time to fly there with your portfolio. Regarding the portfolio, having an online URL is a must so that it's a part of in your introductory email. And unless you are a CD level, don't have the delusion that some agency is going to buy your first-class ticket to fly there for interviews.

When i got my job outta VCU, email was getting popular but not as ubiquitous as it is now. I remember having to make long distance international calls from the US to try to set things up in Singapore. Now that is not necessary. Boy, do i sound like a dinosaur ("in my day, we had to dial a phone and know +011...")

Headhunters might be of more use, now, as everyone is more global.

As part of the networking (or just googling), one can find a headhunter contact in the target country. All the big recruitment firms here have offices there. they can give u a good overview of how the market is doing and hopefully give some good pointers.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

How to Get a Job Overseas

I receive a fair amount of emails asking me how to get a job overseas. They come from friends and friends of friends and people I don't know who sort of know people I only kind of know. And I tell them all the same thing: I'm not sure.

It's kind of like asking someone who won the lottery how they did it. I'd been playing for two years, and suddenly, it just happened.

As far as I can tell, there are only two ways to get a job overseas (at least in advertising):

  1. Transfer within the network.
  2. Get a headhunter.

I came to Geneva by way of the former. Because I was interested in going overseas, I was also pursuing via the latter, and had a couple opportunities in Dubai that would have been awesome as fallbacks.

But in either case it's a right place/right time kind of thing. (Not unlike getting a job stateside.)

If any of you expat readers have any other advice, I'd love to hear it, post it and share it.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Project 100

I've been selected as one of 100 authors for the Project 100. It's a collaborative effort initiated by Jeff Caswell, the VP of Marketing at Danone Waters of America - Evian.

100 authors contributing 400 words each on the subject "Marketing in the Social Media Era." There will be an ebook as well as a tangible copy available for purchase with all profits going to support Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

Jeff Caswell says they should be available Dec. 15th. I just got excited and wanted to announce my participation early.

Monday, December 1, 2008

I don't make this stuff up.

A client doesn’t want me to use the word "improved" in the body copy because they’re afraid it will make their new product sound better than their old product.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

On Production

Here are some pictures from the production I was on a couple weeks ago.

This is Minnerbio, Italy (taken during rush hour)...
This is the parking lot of the warehouse where we shot (also, why I fear the robot uprising)...
This is what I do for a living ("I need a chef, a cake, and some bulldozers, please.")...
This is craft services Minnerbio-style...
This is the closest I will ever get to seeing an AT-AT walker...

Friday, November 28, 2008

How to Watch American TV Abroad

Disappointed that I can't get The Office or 30 Rock, and a little paranoid that I won't be able to watch Lost when Season 5 starts in January, I began digging around for answers. With the help of a couple friends, I've found some pretty cool solutions that don't include waiting for the DVD boxed sets.

My friend Tom recommended But I found like many US-based sites (including and Pandora) Hulu  doesn't stream outside America. But there is a free security program called Hotspot Shield that's meant to shield your IP address from hackers, that also keeps sites from recognizing that you're logging in from outside the US. As long as you're running Hotspot Shield, you're given the benefit of the doubt, and it's assumed you're watching from inside the US.

Another tool is Slingbox, which we don't have but sounds pretty cool. (A couple of my expat friends use Slingbox to watch college football.) Basically, you hook up a laptop to your cable network back in the States, and Slingbox lets you watch whatever's appearing on that station on your overseas computer. The only prerequisites are a spare computer to serve as the base, and a friend or family member in the States who will keep that computer and the dish or cable hooked up for you.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving Weekend!

Or as we call it in Switzerland, Thursday and Friday. (Expat celebration on Saturday.)

At least the shopping centers in Geneva won't be overcrowded Friday morning.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

New production tradition

A friend of mine recently told me whenever he travels, the first thing he does when he checks into his hotel room is take out the hotel stationery and write a letter to his college-aged son. Now his son has a growing collection of unique letters from around the world.

I thought this was such a great idea. So while I was in Minerbio, Italy last week, I wrote a letter to my mom.


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Will You Be My TV Guide?

After 5 months, we got our TV set up. It feels like a ridiculous luxury - something we almost shouldn't have - like a gold-plated sink or federal bailout.

Flipping through the channels I found CNN, CSI in Italian, yoga and South Park in German, MTV in French, and Al Jazeera.

I started to program my DVR. It's set to record Heroes. I know Lost isn't on until February, and I'm not sure when BSG picks up for its final season, but I know it's not for a while.

Here's my problem: Even though we get CNBC Europe, my DVR can't find any matches for The Office, 30 Rock or SNL. I can't imagine than CNBC wouldn't be airing these shows.

I've got a theory: It's the week before Thanksgiving, and these shows are in reruns. In a week or so I'll be able to search them, find them, and hit the "record season" button.

Can anyone out there confirm or crush this idea?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Another Atypical Production

I should mention that as atypical as my Italian shoot was, it was nothing like my first commercial with Y&R Chicago where we were still writing scripts the night before the shoot. We’d selected the director. We’d flown to New York. We’d gone through two days of callbacks at the talent agency. And we’d had the prepro. But the client had killed so many scripts, we were still writing them.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Thunder on the Plains?

After day one of production in Minerbio, Italy (i.e., middle-of-nowhere with great pasta), I did what any American would do: I went back to my hotel room and watched CNN.

That's when I learned that the Seattle Supersonics are now the Oklahoma City Thunder. When did this happen? What's up Seattle? Too rainy to support your team? Boy, do I really feel disconnected.

(Trivial side note: In college, a friend and I spent an otherwise productive workday emailing back and forth trying to determine which NBA team name contained the most syllables. Tied for second with 7 syllables each were the Seattle Supersonics, and the Minnesota Timberwolves. Oklahoma City Thunder pulls the team ahead by one syllable. Sorry, Minnesota. But the undisputed champs of length are the deca-syllabic Philadelphia 76'ers.)

Production Notes

I just returned from my first production since coming to Geneva. Not surprisingly, it was one of the most atypical. Key differences between this and almost any other shoot I’ve been on:
  • Instead of an agency producer, there was me and my partner.
  • Instead of bidding the project, the client’s preferred production company was assigned to us. (Fortunately, they’re a good group of people.)
  • Instead of a carefully planned schedule, the client informed us when we’d be able to shoot and chose the location for us.
  • Instead of taking the plane to LA or New York, it was driving six hours to Bologna.
  • Instead of English being spoken on the set, it was English, French and Italian.
  • Instead of a breakfast burrito from craft services, it was croissants and muesli at the hotel.
The shoot date and location were mandated by the client, the former coming just four days before the shoot. This led to these continued points of difference:
  • No talent search.
  • No prepro.
  • No wardrobe check.
  • No shooting boards (that we saw, anyway).
  • No editor search. (We lucked out and got a great one, though.)
  • No account people from the agency on the set.
  • No client on the set.
  • And lastly, due to short notice and scheduling, the director we’d been working with was replaced with another. We first learned this when we met the new director the night before the shoot. (Fortunately, we lucked out again. He was a good one.)
But the best difference between this shoot and any other I’ve ever been on was my partner and I receiving a text message from my CEO the morning of the shoot saying “Good luck today.”

Sunday, November 16, 2008

On production

Leaving for production in Italy. Looking forward to that. Back on Wednesday night.

At Y&R Chicago, we had a client based in Italy who mandated all production be in the home country. It was tough to get good work sold, but the assigned team always knew they'd at least be getting a nice Italian trip out of it.

The one time I was assigned to it, the Italian government has just passed a law to protect children under 12 by making it illegal for them to work at all (our spot was very family-centric, and we had to have kids). Of course, the government realized the law was too extreme and they repealed it. But not in time for our shoot.

We discussed shooting in Buenos Aires because it looks European. Prague and Lugano, Switzerland were also options. The script had been through so many client revisions there was no way it was going on my reel. But as long as my passport was getting stamped, I could live with it.

We ended up shooting in LA.

I love LA. I love staying in Santa Monica. I love Shutters and La Merigot. I love appetizers at the Little Door, crunchy french toast at the Broadway Deli, cocoa at the Novel Cafe, animal style at In-N-Out Burger and bringing my family along so we can hit Disneyland on the weekend.

But if you tell me I'm going to Buenos Aires, Prague or Lugano, and then say I'm going to LA? Sorry. That's a bummer.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Speaking Frengarian

I was a Mormon missionary in Budapest, Hungary. I lived there for two years, and despite being out a decade out of daily practice, I still speak Hungarian fairly well. It’s not a very useful language out side of Hungary and certain areas of Cleveland, but it sure makes learning French seem easier.

Problem is, I still throw in Hungarian words when I’m trying speak French. The most frequent violations occur when I confuse the currencies. I mean to ask for francs and I ask for forints, and the cashiers look at me like I’ve got a second nose.

I also say “jo” a lot, which is Hungarian for “good.” If you’re speaking to someone in Hungarian, you can pepper the conversation with “jo…jo…jo…” as in, “I see…Uh-huh…Right…” But when someone’s speaking French to me, I find myself instinctively saying, “jo…jo…jo…” And because it’s pronounced “yo,” I’m sure I come across as an American gangsta wannabe saying, “Yo…Yo, my French hommie…Yo…”

At least it goes both ways. The other day someone asked me to speak some Hungarian so they could hear what it sounded like. I began speaking and started throwing in French words on accident.

I’m not sure if that’s progress, or just utter confusion.

Friday, November 14, 2008

99 bottles of apple juice on the wall.

Have I mentioned that apple juice here is normally carbonated?

It is.

Which is why I have accidentally bought beer twice.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

"I pledge a what?"

Yesterday, it randomly occurred to me that when (and if) we decide to move back to the States, our children will be able to speak fluent French. But they are likely going to be unable to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

I thought about getting a flag so we could practice saying it each morning. But then I realized that would be kind of weird. Much weirder than having to memorize those 31 words as a teenager.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Meeting Place

One of the very first assignments I was given at Y&R Geneva was to help update the Baboo Airlines meeting point in the Geneva Airport.

Our initial idea was pretty grand. Having spent time at GVA, it was apparent the people waiting for their loved ones to come through customs were a captive audience begging for some diversion.

One of the walls featured a manifesto on why Baboo makes a difference. There were little pieces of copy scattered all over the board that were whimsical little discoveries that demonstrated the care Baboo gave its customers. And we had the entire board painted in Baboo red to make it really stand out. The initial idea was well-received.

Then we learned that the meeting place was going to be dismantled by December, and that to paint it all red, each board would have to be individually dismantled, and they didn't have a the budget for something of that scale and could we do something a little simpler?

I had a lot of heart for the original idea. But considering this is only going to be up for another few weeks, I guess I can't Baboo for being practical.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

McSwiss Burgers

With rare exceptions, I avoid going to McDonald's outside of America. I want to experience a foreign culture, not McHegemony.

But the McDonald's in Switzerland are currently running a promotion called Semaines Suisse (Swiss Weeks), and they're featuring a different burger each week with uniquely Swiss ingredients.

There's the McSpeck, the McGruyere, and the McEmmental.

So far, I've only had the McEmmental, which I liked quite a bit. With the large fries it wasn't an entirely foreign experience. But at least it wasn't the same kind of Big Mac I could have picked up in Chicago.

Two impressions about the McEmmental:
  1. The cheese makes all the difference. It tastes nothing like a McDonald's hamburger, and is therefore consumable guilt-free. I could almost convince myself that it was homemade.
  2. This would be a complete failure in the States. 
More reviews to come. I can't wait for the McGruyere.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Queen's English As A Second Language

All of our clients are international. And almost all of them advertise in English. But I've learned that it's English English. Not American English. So program becomes programme. Color becomes colour. And z becomes zed. (Not that you use zeds very much because realize is realise, sterilize is sterilise, etc.)

As if learning French weren't enough.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

I've heard from even more American expat friends that their coworkers are congratulating them on the Obama victory. It seems that Europeans simply assume that all Americans wanted Obama to win.

When you're following the election of a foreign nation, I think the story is drastically simplified.

How foreigners see McCain: He is in the same party as George Bush and he wants the war in Iraq to keep going. He's old and used to be a soldier or something like that. He also has a running mate who's really religious who used to live in the forest and shoot bears.

How foreigners see Obama: He is a black man (no one uses "African American" here), and he wants to fix everything George W. Bush messed up. He wants to end the war in Iraq. He smiles a lot and even took time to visit Europe, so he must care about us.

No one considers the economy or taxes. And forget about things like constitutional amendments, and gay rights. I can almost guarantee no one in Switzerland thinks "Obama won? That's great because he's pro-choice and wants to reform health care."

When Viktor Yushchenko was running for president in Ukraine, didn't you want him to win just because he dissented from Russian control and his opponents poisoned him and his face turned blue and you wanted to see him overcome that adversity? That was their story simplified for us.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Swiss Are Watching

My coworkers are congratulating me today. No one asks if I'm Republican or Democrat, who I voted for or if I voted. They just congratulate me and say, "You must be very excited."

On my way to lunch, I saw a couple of Obama stickers in the street. Wish I had my camera with me. It's amazing to realize the scope of yesterday's election. Even in Geneva, there's a palpable excitement, though I'm sure it's nothing like Grant Park will be later today.

Globally, I'm certain more people were rooting for an Obama win. I wonder what the mood would have been had McCain pulled one out.

Election Night As Viewed from Six Hours Ahead

Being six hours ahead of the earliest polls to close, I figured I'd be up refreshing the browser on every half hour anyway, so why not enjoy myself?

I spent election night in Geneva attending a James Bond double-feature with a couple friends. Casino Royale followed by the all-new Quantum of Solace. The first started at 9 pm, and I returned home a little after 2:00 am.

By then, the only news was that McCain had carried Kentucky and Obama won Vermont. Big surprises there.

Of course, now I'm operating on about 5 hours of sleep. But whatever.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

An Expat's Election Day Confessional

I waited too long to send in my absentee ballot.

One of the first things my wife and I did when we arrived in Switzerland was log onto and request our absentee ballots. But last week I called the U.S. consulate in Geneva to ask them when I could bring by my ballot and was told, “You’re a bit late for that.” (To add insult to injury, the guy who answered the phone didn’t even sound American. He was either
 French with an English accent or the other way around.)

He suggested I send my ballot by DHL or FedEx. I had wanted to use the consulate because postage is paid as long as it’s dropped off at a U.S. military base or branch of the U.S. embassy. But I was willing to do what it took to make sure my vote was counted.

Then I discovered that sending my ballot by courier would be 50 francs – about $45. While that’s a trivial price to pay for participating in democracy, two things occurred to me:

  1. I was voting with an Illinois ballot. Not exactly a battleground state
  2. Despite being united in all things, my wife and I voted for different candidates this year. So we effectively cancelled each other. (This is probably the Swiss neutrality taking its toll.)

If I lived in a battleground state, there would have been no question. But as it is, I decided not to pay $45 to have my wife and I cancel each other’s votes in Obama’s home state.

I was really sick about this for a day or two. And I’m embarrassed to the point that I consider lying every time a coworker asks if I’ve voted. But I’m more at ease airing my mistake., and vowing to send in my next ballot much, much earlier.

Go ahead. Call me a hypocrite. Call me ungrateful. Call me un-America. Just wire your 50 francs to my Swiss bank account when you do.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

They celebrate Halloween in Switzerland. Who knew?

I didn't expect Halloween to be observed in Switzerland. So I was surprised when special sections of the supermarket began featuring costumes, candy and decorations. (I didn't see much reflective tape, but that's because this country isn't so litigious.)

Friday night, we got a few trick-or-treaters. Not as many as in the suburbs of Chicago. But more than I would have imagined in the Alps. The costumes were pretty simple. When I brought out the candy, they seemed a bit greedier and more ravenous than American kids. But maybe that was just enthusiasm.

From what I understand, most Europeans think Halloween is more about scaring each other than about dressing up and getting candy. That seems odd until you realize the only information they get about Halloween in America is from horror movies. Jason and Freddy don't knock on doors and ask for Milk Duds. That's why a lot of our non-American friends thought it was weird that we were having a Halloween party at our church.

Three months ago, I was asked to be the chairman of our church's activities committee. I didn't realize exactly what was being asked of me. I learned later that it was a pretty huge deal because it tends to extend beyond the congregation and into the American expat community. Where else are World Health Organization and UN families going to celebrate if not at the Mormon chapel?

I began to feel like an intern who was asked to conduct a shareholder's meeting. Or maybe what Sarah Palin might feel like if McCain is elected and dies within the first 100 days.

But I had a lot of help. The party was cool. People had a nice time. All the kids had too much candy and not enough sleep. And isn't that really what Halloween's all about?

I kept with my unintended tradition of dressing as something creative that no one understands. Past efforts include "Relentless Passion" (shirt off with my entire upperbody painted red), and "Tooth Decay" (candy taped to my clothes that ended in a National Geographic-like feeding frenzy).

This year I tried going as a Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon of myself. I tied strings to my arms, legs and waist and attached little Playmobil men to look like they were keeping me tethered.

A few people saw me and said, "Are you supposed to be Gulliver and the Liliputians?" Points to them for literacy. But that only lasted a few minutes before the strings and toys became too tangled for me to walk. Then I just gave up and went looking for a pair of scissors. Next year, maybe I'll just go as a Jedi like every other 35-year-old guy.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Life Without TV

I'm not a huge Phillies fan. Or even a Rays fan. But I really would have liked to have watched the World Series.

I would have liked to watch the Presidential debates.

I would have liked to watch the Bejing Olympics.

I would like to be watching The Office without having to pay $2.99 an episode downloaded to my iPod.

We're working on getting cable. Hopefully, we'll have it in time for the next big event. We'll at least have by January, for the main reason we have a TV.

My Midwest past and Alpine present have collided.

Ad created by Lowe in Zurich.  Click an image to enlarge. See credits here.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Thanks, Ro!

Special thanks to Roseanna Lee McKay, a talented graphic designer who just sent me an Alaska quarter for my collection.

Hawaii rolls into circulation on November 3rd. If anyone finds one, or has any suggestions for a new hobby once my collection is complete, I'd appreciate it.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Seattle, Switzerland


My creative director, Bob, has an interesting collection of artifacts in his office. One is a book on Phrenology, a defunct field of science that attempted to tie a person's character to the shape of his or her head. It is pseudo-science attempting to demonstrate superiority by showing that men have bigger heads than women, Caucasians have bigger heads than Africans or Native Americans, etc. The book, published in 1882, is racist, sexist, preposterous, and beautifully illustrated.
Beautiful, embossed cover. No Oprah Book Club logo, though.

SON: Dad, I've decided to become a doctor.

DAD: That's great, my boy! What field? Cardiology? Neuro-science?

SON: I'm really interested in phrenology...Where are you going?

Notice The Good Boy has a larger skull than The Bad Boy? Notice they both look like twits? 

Ever wondered where "cautiousness" or "hope" or "ideality" resided in your brain? Click to enlarge. (I didn't see a compartment marked "donuts.")

Comparisons of big skulls (good) and small skulls (bad). Yep. That's a big-skulled Joseph Smith in the lower right-hand corner.

Notice the guy in Fig. 12 - the Partial Idiot. That's either a backhanded compliment - "Oh, don't feel so bad. You're only a partial idiot." - or a real insult. "You're so dumb, you can't even get being an idiot right."

Monday, October 27, 2008

Moving Up

In my US-centric experience, when you have a family and a job, you only change homes to make them bigger and better. For example…

STARTING OUT: We began in a brownstone apartment in Chicago’s Bucktown.

MOVING UP: As our family grew, we moved to the suburbs.
  • Rent became mortgage.
  • Two bedrooms became three.
  • One bathroom became 2.5.
  • 800 square feet became 1900.
  • The strip of dirt between the building and the curb became a yard.

BIGGER AND BETTER: Before we considered moving to Switzerland, we had our next house planned out.
  • We wanted a basement.
  • We wanted an extra bedroom.
  • We wanted a laundry room, not just a laundry nook.
  • We wanted a pantry, not just a cupboard.

INTERRUPTION: But when we moved to Geneva, we went back to living in an apartment and paying rent.

This is typical for expats. And I think the success and happiness of most expats is based largely on our ability to ignore the notion that this as a step backward.

Friday, October 24, 2008

My friend, Steve Yee, works in the creative department of TBWA Chiat/Day in Los Angeles. Super talented, super nice guy.

He and a couple friends launched this website a week ago. It was a personal project, not funded or backed by anyone but themselves.

The first day it launched, it received 36,000 hits. That's without a press release. The next day, Steve woke to 500,000 hits and calls from CBS and CNN asking for an interview. Again, without a press release.

Some of you will love this and pass it along. Some of you will be infuriated and think my friend Steve’s an idiot. For me, that’s not the point.

What I’m in awe of is that they had fun creating something in their spare time for a cause they believe in. We’ve all got causes we feel strongly about. But how many of us try to create value for them?

Nice job, Steve.

Thursday, October 23, 2008


I learned today that my agency's holding company, WPP, has issued a world-wide hiring freeze. That affects over 2000 offices in 106 countries. Even jobs that have been offered but not accepted must be withdrawn.

At first I found this a little disconcerting. Not on a personal level, but more on a the-world-is-in-turmoil level. Also on a how's-my-401(k)-doing-? level.

But the more I think about it, the more I'm glad Sir Martin's taking proactive care of his own.

Milking James Bond

The town of Mürren is listed in the book 1000 Places to See Before You Die. It's fairly easy to see why...

Mürren is a town set on the side of the mountain that is only accessible by bus or by venicular. You can't drive to it (which is why our GPS system brought us to a dead end), and the only motorized vehicles in the city are small maintenance cars.

If you walk through Mürren, you'll see the ubiquitous boast that a James Bond movie was filmed there. Even the veniculars themselves have a 007 logo on the side...

I'm a James Bond fan, but I wasn't sure which movie they were referencing. Because the signage was everywhere, I thought it was probably the upcoming Quantum of Solace.

It wasn't until I did some Googling that I realized the movie the Mürrenites are so proud of was On Her Majesty's Secret Service, filmed in 1969, starring not Connery, Moore, Broson, Daniel Craig or even Timothy Dalton. But everyone's favorite 007...George Lazenby?

Come on, Mürren. You're one of the 1000 Places to See Before You Die. Do you really have to drum up tourism by milking the only James Bond movie to feature Telly Savalas?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Swiss Missing

In Chicago, as soon as winter arrived, I used to have a packet of Swiss Miss almost every day as soon as I arrived at work.

But as far as I can tell, you can't buy Swiss Miss in Switzerland.

Some things just make no sense.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Swiss Army Chocolate

I saw this in the store and had to buy it.
  • Great design.
  • "Survival portion."
  • Not your run-of-the-mill chocolate caffeine, but caffeine specifically "of guarana." Now that's worth bragging about.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Our Buddhist Neighbors

I really think I'm an open-minded person. So it's with a good deal of shame that I admit that when we first moved to Geneva, and I saw the Buddhist temple kitty corner from our apartment, I thought, "Oh, man. That's not going to be too weird, is it?"

And it's with even more shame that I admit that a few weeks later, as I was walking by it and smelled the curry and heard the conversation in the back patio that I realized it's not a temple, but an elaborately-decorated Thai restaurant.

And man, does it smell good in the evening.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Combative French

I think there are 3 Levels of French:
  1. Casual French
  2. Conversational French
  3. Combative French
Casual is saying "bonjour" to people in the street and ordering in restaurants.

Conversational is actually being able to use verbs to construct complex sentences.

Combative is when you buy The Little Mermaid from Migros Electronics, take it home, put it in the machine to find out for some reason it is defective and even the menu screen doesn't appear, take it back to Migros Electronics only to be told you can't return it because it's already opened and you're able to convince the sales woman that because the store sold you a defective product they owe you another one and you walk away feeling good about the exchange and your kids get to watch The Little Mermaid after all.

I am not yet at the Combative level. And I have a defective Little Mermaid DVD that the sales woman at Migros Electronics insists I can't return.

Saturday, October 18, 2008


In the movies, the man takes the woman by the hand, and staring into her eyes, just before kissing her hand, he will say, "Enchanté."

This always sounded so smooth.

But when one of the new interns came around to introduce himself, my art director Fred shook his hand and said, "Enchanté." This threw me off, and Fred later explained that it's not a term strictly reserved for busting a move. Dudes can say it to other dudes.

It's kind of a paradigm shift for me. And a bit of a disappointment. Enchanté has gone from the height of suave to "Pleased ta meetcha."

Friday, October 17, 2008

What The?

Our apartment has hot water/cold water problems about once a month. Some days a notice will appear on the building entrance letting tenants know the water will be off from 8am to 4pm. Inconvenient. But what do you do?

Recently, we received notice that to correct the ongoing problem, workers will be coming to our apartments to replace the pipes.

Last week, they showed up just as I was leaving for work. They put plastic on the hardwood floors. They cut holes in the wall to access the pipes. Suzy asked how long this was going to take.

Their response: "Two weeks."
Our response: "What?!"

You can see in this picture where they cut the holes in the wall, and how they're covered with plastic wrap and not-quite duct tape.

The yellow bit in this picture is the plastic wrap in the kitchen directly below ours. We can also see the plastic wrap of the kitchen directly above us.

The noise doesn't carry through the apartment. But it's pretty clear in the kitchen. We hear all our neighbors' conversations in the evening. They probably hear all our kids' screaming in the morning. Last night, it sounded like a group of guys started yelling and got into a fist fight in the apartment below us. I gave Suzy a should-I-call-the-cops-? look and she just said, "Soccer game. Someone must have scored." Which made the noise more pleasant.

When I mentioned how ridiculous this was to my art director at work, he just said, "Welcome to Switzerland."

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Pantheon of Really Great Art Directors

I've been spoiled with really nice, really talented art directors throughout my career. And I am hereby inducting Fred and Sabrine into the Pantheon of Really Great Art Directors I Have Worked With.

Here's my Lucida Grande Shout-Out to the Pantheon:

Fred. Sabrine. Corey. Mollie. Thomas. Amanda. Isabela. Denison. James. Dawn. Sonya. Chris.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Expat Blues

The last two days, I've had a twinge of the Expat Blues.

I find myself not reminiscing, but just considering the fact that we once had a yard. With grass. And a deck with a grill and patio furniture. My son used to play soccer on the lawn. Now he kicks the ball against the playroom wall.

This morning I arose uncharacteristically thinking how great it was that we used to live next to a really nice outlet mall with a Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory.

I think I've got the Expat Blues, not because I miss Chicago, but because I've been working so much. The last few weeks have been incredibly busy. We've had two very big presentations, and I've worked through a couple of Saturdays. The first was for a pitch, which we won - details to follow - and the second concluded yesterday (and was very successful).

Forgoing a couple Saturdays means that our family hasn't taken their typical weekend trip into the Swiss, French or Italian countryside. And that's when living in an apartment with no yard, deck or grill and no Banana Republic or Puma store in site really doesn't seem like a big deal at all.

The kids have next week off school. I'm taking Monday and Tuesday off, and I've booked a room at a hotel on the lake near Interlaken.

I've resisted making this blog a travelouge in favor of focusing on work, advertising and the random observations of an American in Geneva. But after the last few weeks, it's easy to see that travel and exploration isn't just a luxury. It's a crucial part of why we came to Switzerland in the first place.

Culture Shock, Part 2

The cheapest pizza on the Domino's menu is a medium-sized Margherita pizza, with special tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese.

It will cost you 22.90 in Swiss Francs, or over $20 in the US. That's without delivery.

Most of the large, multiple-topping pizzas come in around 40 bucks each.

I will not be eating Domino's Pizza for a long time.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Hamish and Sir Martin

The agency I work for is Y&R. And the worldwide CEO of Y&R is Hamish McLennan, who is based in New York City.

Y&R is one of several agencies owned by the parent company called WPP. And the worldwide CEO of WPP is Sir Martin Sorrell, who is based in London. 

At Y&R Chicago, Hamish McLennan was always referred to. "Hamish is asking us to do this." "So-and-so's flying out to meet Hamish." "Hamish is coming to meet with the client." Everyone knew who Sir Martin was, but only as the first and biggest picture in WPP's annual report.

In Geneva, however, it's the exact opposite. References to Sir Martin are made almost daily, and on a much more personal level. Hamish McLennan came to visit our office this summer. And that's probably the last time I heard his name.

It's interesting to me, because I think it's a simple matter of geography. Sir Martin feels more accessible to the Europeans. And Hamish (even though he's Australian) has easy access to peanut butter, root beer, and Domino's Pizza.

I wonder who gets more references in the Asian offices.