Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Homeless in Geneva

I've been in Geneva for three months now, and I can count the number of homeless people I've seen on a hand with six fingers.

In Chicago, I couldn't walk from Union Station to Michigan Avenue without passing at least that many. And that was during 19-degree winters.

Maybe this is a reflection of Geneva's smaller population. Or maybe the Swiss just take better care of their people. Or maybe, if you lose your home in Switzerland you hitchhike down to Napoli or Barcelona so you're not in the middle of the Alps when the cold weather hits.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Open 7/7

Walk through Geneva and you'll see signs just like this one informing you that the place is "open 7/7":

24/7 I understand. But if you're only open 7 hours every day, is that something you want to advertise? I've asked several people what this means, and the conversation always goes like this:

Greg: What does "open 7/7" mean?

Swiss: It means they're open seven days.

Greg: But what about the other 7?

Swiss: What other seven?

Greg: There are two 7's. It says "open 7/7."

Swiss: Yes, because there are seven days of the week. They're open for all of them.

Greg: In English, we would say a place is open 24/7, meaning "24 hours a day, 7 days a week." Does this mean it's open 7 hours a day, 7 days of the week?

Swiss: No. Maybe they open at 9:00. Or 10:00. Maybe they close at 5:00 or 6:00. But they're open all seven days.

Greg: So why say "7/7?"

Swiss: I don't know. Maybe it's like saying, "open 7 days out of 7 days."

Greg: As opposed to the weeks that have 9 days in them?

Swiss: You know, I never thought about it. It is kind of weird.

I think it's interesting that it's so confusing to me, but so normal for the Swiss. It reminds me of my Indonesian friend in grad school who would ask me questions about America:

"What are the Amish? Are they a race?"
"Why is it pronounced Krispy Cream and not Krispy Kreme?"
"What is a Deadhead?"

I loved these questions because they made me realize how much of my own culture I mistakenly assumed was common knowledge. After I explained everything I knew about the lifestyle of Grateful Dead followers, he simply said, "Oh...Why would they want to do that?"

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Ultimate Road Trip

I’m about to tell you exactly why your next car should be a Volvo.

My in-laws have spent the last two weeks visiting us in Geneva. Before coming, they bought a Volvo directly from the manufacturer in Sweden. Not only was this less expensive than buying from the dealer in the States, Volvo also paid for their trip to Europe.

They were flown from Portland, Oregon to Gothenburg, Sweden. They were picked up at the airport and put up in a nice hotel. They received a guided tour of the factory with meals included. After receiving their fresher-than-fresh-off-the-lot car, they boarded a ferry to Denmark, drove down through Germany and Switzerland to see their us and their grandkids.

They've since driven back into Germany to visit some other relatives. In a couple days, they’ll swing back up to Copenhagen where the car will be shipped to the States. Shipping is paid by Volvo as is their airfare  back to the States.

Why would Volvo do all this? It builds brand loyalty. It provides an emotional link to their product. And the company bypasses the dealership entirely.

I think the bigger question is "Why aren't more Americans taking advantage of this?" If you had a choice between buying a car and buying the same car for less with a free trip to Europe thrown in, why would you haggle with the dealer?

Porsche has a similar program, and Saab says theirs should be available by 2009. I wonder if GM has considered doing this. Or would free trips to Detroit make people less brand loyal?

Friday, September 26, 2008

Am I Missing Out On Anything?

Today's headline from The New York Times:

Talks Implode During Day of Chaos; Fate of Bailout Plan Remains Unresolved

From CNN.com:

U.S. Financial Bailout Talks In Disarray

From The Wall Street Journal:

Bailout Proposal Hits a Stalemate

From the daily free paper in Geneva, Le Matin Bleu:

20% of the World's Cannabis Produced by the United States

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Cool Bands

We have a shared speaker system in my area of the office. Three of us take turns playing off our iTunes, although as the new guy, they've yielded more time to me than I deserve. I've been using the new Apple Genius playlist quite a bit. So far, the most appreciated are the classic rock and Motown mixes.

People haven't shown much interest in the bands I consider a little newer and a little hipper. The Apples in Stereo, Beck, the Decemberists, and Bon Iver have all been met with indifference. I haven't even tried playing Explosions in the Sky.

The two exceptions are M. Ward and Iron & Wine. My coworkers love these guys. As well they should.

(If you've never heard M. Ward, check out the video for his song "Chinese Translation.)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Airlines I Have Yet To Fly

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Whistling Toilets

As you may recall from a previous post, we have interesting toilets. No handles. No discernible tanks. Just the big flush/little flush control panels.

When we first moved into our apartment, I was a little distressed to realize neither bathroom had fan. A bathroom without a fan is like a room that’s on fire without an exit. But after several weeks we realized these bathrooms have one of the most efficient ventilation systems I’ve ever seen. But in addition to being very capable, it’s also very musical.

In the photograph, notice the shelf behind the toilet. That’s not just cosmetic. I don’t have the schematics, but somehow air is being continually sucked into it the vents behind this shelf. I removed the iFlush panel and held up a piece of paper for confirmation. Air is being sucked out of these cracks at a impressive rate.

The good news: These bathrooms are virtually stink-proof.
The bad news: These bathrooms whistle. Sometimes quite loudly.

With the panel in place, the air that’s sucked through these cracks sounds like a 1950’s B-movie UFO landing. It’s worse when the toilet seat is up. Something about the bowl amplifies the sound. Remove the iFlush panel entirely, and it sounds like there’s a tornado behind the shelf.

The best solution I’ve found so far is to keep all but one of the iFlush panel corners secured. This leaves a large enough crack between the panel and the wall for air to pass through without becoming a high C.

Thus, my pre-bed routine has become:
  1. Detach the panels.
  2. Lower the toilet lids.
  3. Shut the bathroom doors.
  4. Lie in bed wondering if anyone else in Switzerland has this problem.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Culture Shock

My Discovery: There are no Sharpies in Switzerland.

My Reaction: What?!

I was at the office this weekend helping pull together a presentation. When we began making revisions, I asked if we had any Sharpies. I got a room full of blank stares. "You know? Sharpies? A black marker." I was handed a generic black marker. "No! Sharpies!" More blank stares. I even tried pronouncing it in French. Nope. Sharpies are not to be found in Switzerland.

No peanut butter and no root beer. This I was prepared for. But no Sharpies?

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Meet Victor!

Our new website has gone live. Still very rough. (Victor, the little blue guy will be more animated - especially on the second page. And there are a few bugs to work out, like the fact that you always have to go back to the home page to view the other pages.)

What's your candid opinion? Though I was able to contribute a few ideas, the concept for this began before I arrived, so I won't take criticism too personally.

What do you like? What do you not like?


Friday, September 19, 2008

Frank & Kimya

The first time I ever heard about Kimya Dawson was a couple years ago when we were trying to license a Moldy Peaches song for a Sears commercial. But I think it was her work on the soundtrack for Juno that really made her famous. A few weeks ago, my friend Frank saw I was playing Juno on iTunes.

Frank: Oh, you like Kimya Dawson?

Greg: Sure.

Frank: She’s married to my friend, you know.

Greg: What?

Frank: Her husband, Angelo. We used to be in a band together.

Greg: What?

Frank uses my keyboard to get onto Kimya Dawson’s MySpace page. There’s a cute photo of her with her husband and baby girl.

Frank: Yeah, that’s Angelo. He’s from Anncey. [Frank’s hometown.] You know the song Vampire?

Greg: Yeah.

Frank: They recorded it in my house.

I play “Vampires” from the Juno soundtrack.

Greg: This song?

Frank: Yeah. I don’t know if it’s this version, but the first one was recorded in my house.

So our interactive guy is friends with Kimya Dawson and her husband. Cool. A few days ago, he told me Kimya and her family were coming to Anncey, and they’d be staying with him. Interesting. But it was a surprise when Frank came to work this morning with a copy of Kimya’s new children’s album “Alphabutt” signed by the whole family.

What Kimya wrote for me...

What Angelo wrote for me...

What their daughter, Panda, wrote for me...

And, yes. The cover art features cute animals passing alphabet gas...

Now if I could just find a turntable in Geneva.

Thursday, September 18, 2008


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Fire and Water

We brought a 1000-Watt transformer with us so we could continue using our U.S.-format electronics. The problem is, there is only one outlet in the apartment that can handle that current, and it's in the closet that's designed for the stacking washer and dryer.

Since we use the building's laundry room, our wash closet is our computer hutch. We say it's temporary, but if it's still the set up in 2010, I won't be too surprised.

Connected to the transformer is a power strip with six U.S. outlets, which means this closet is where we get online, recharge the Leapster, plug in the iron, and (as you can see) make our popcorn. We brought a waffle iron, but I don't want batter dripping on my iMac.

The good thing about this being in the washer closet is that if there's ever an electrical fire, we can just turn on the tap (on the right, just behind the broom).

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Clearing Out iEverything

I've been a little frustrated with the memory of my computer at work. It's a G5, loaded up with the latest Adobe Creative Suite, as well as the previous version (neither of which I need as a copywriter), and after I loaded a scant 100 albums from iTunes, I was left with only 2 GB.

For the last two months, I've been managing the memory on my hard drive by pulling off albums I wasn't using and deleting podcasts I wasn't getting around to watching, including most of the Democratic and Republican National Conventions.

This morning, it occurred to me to log on as the freelance art director who had this computer before me and see what he had on his desktop. In short, about 50 albums on iTunes, a couple of iMovie projects on an iDVD template, and almost 1000 pics on iPhoto.

Deleted them all. And I'm cruising with 119.36 GB right now. I'm loving the new Genius playlist feature on iTunes, and I'm pulling some old albums off my iDisk and taking them for a spin. 

Side note: Even though I missed most of the Democratic and Republican conventions, I made a point of watching Palin's and Obama's addresses. But neither one compared to this:

Monday, September 15, 2008

Monday Morning Ad Thoughts

When I was at Hadrian’s Wall (now Zig in Chicago), I began reading Jim Aitchison’s Cutting Edge Advertising. I found a lot of great quotes in that book, and began emailing selected quotes to the agency (all six of us) every week. They became our Monday Morning Ad Thoughts. Here’s a sample:

"The more I judge shows, the more I realize that people do come up with similar ideas. That's why the presentation of an idea can make such a difference. Because people are thinking in similar ways, it's more and more incumbent on you to execute everything to the finest detail."
-Bruce Bildsten (creator of Fallon’s BMW Films)

“Instead of people pitting themselves against each other, and being rather petty and jealous, everybody was interested in what the other person was doing, just to see the great ideas that were coming out, and to want to do better through admiration rather than through jealousy.”
– Neil Godfrey on his early days at DDB.

“Advertising companies show reels of commercials when they make pitches to prospective clients. The reels are samples of past work; they can be as old as you like. But nine times out of ten, we show reels from only the last three months. The oldest reel we would show – if, for instance, we needed to make a specific point – would be six months old. We would never show a seven-month-old reel, even if it was great work. This pushes people to the limits very fast.”
- St. Luke’s Andy Law

I discontinued Monday Morning Ad Thoughts when I joined Y&R Chicago (I think I was too intimidated to email advice on creativity to people like Mark Figliulo and Tim Cawley).

Anyway, I’ve started Monday Morning Ad Thoughts again in Geneva. I send them out each week to our creative department, but if you’d like to be on the email list, too, just send me your email address to greg.christensen@yr.com. If you have any of your own, please pass them along.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Resisting the Gravitational Pull of A Big Mac

Last Thursday was a bank holiday in Geneva (Je√Ľne Genevois, or the Fast of Geneva). I took Friday off as well, and took our family to Lugano in the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland. 

This is where we went:
And this is what we ate:

I harbor a lot of guilt about eating at McDonald's now that we live in Europe. Lugano offered authentic bruschetta and gelato and pasta al forno, and we ended up supersizing.

But after weighing the pros and cons, taking three hungry and over-exhausted kids into a lake-side Italian bistro wasn't going to work. Were we pragmatic parents or stupid Americans? As long as the kids are full, we'll be whatever we need to be.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Absentee Brick

Yesterday, I received this email from my old boss, Kevin Lynch. The subject line was "Chicago Show" (aka the Chicago Creative Club Awards).

I just presented radio, and you won. please hurry back and pick up your brick.


I'm guessing this was for "Search and Rescue" which was written for the NPCA, a great client who always let us do great work. I'm very happy we won. But if Y&R Chicago doesn't put the brick into a FedEx pouch bound for Geneva, I'll understand.


Recently, I posted about the CERN rap. Apparently, rap videos are not a unique way to communicate in Switzerland.

A few months ago, some long-term public phone numbers were privatized, causing a lot of confusion. Chief among the problems was that the number to call if your house caught fire (118) was confused with information. People who only needed to know when daylight savings went into effect were calling Geneva's fire hot line.

Here's the video that remedied the problem. It's all in French. But if you've got soul, it don't matter, yo.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Black Hole Watch

CERN's Large Hadron Collider was activated yesterday. So far, no black holes. Not that I've seen anyway. Nice to see Google acknowledging the event on their main page, though.

Tardy Slips and Culture

We had an agency meeting yesterday for a presentation on account management. It was really well put together. I enjoyed it. But there were probably 20 people who attended, and with a handful of exceptions, the majority of us were late.

Our CEO asked if he could say a few words before the presentation and said he had "a moan." He told us there is no excuse for showing up at meeting 10 minutes late when everyone knew it was supposed to begin at noon. He didn't talk down to us. He just made it very clear that he didn't want tardiness to be a part of our agency culture.

There were two things I loved about this:
  1. I don't think I've seen an agency leader be that stern about starting a meeting on time. Ever. (In fact, because of their schedules, it seems it's often the agency leaders that are the late ones.) Very refreshing.
  2. He wasn't complaining because his time was wasted. He was being a vanguard of our agency's culture. Here's a CEO who not only understands the importance of culture, he's consciously trying to shape ours for the better. Again, very refreshing.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Lunch Break Photos Are Coming In

Lunch break photos are starting to trickle in. I've received pictures from four people so far, and each of them is really refreshing and inspiring in their own way.

Please keep sending these to me at greg.christensen@yr.com. I'll post them October 1st. (Be sure to include the location and what you ate.) I think this is going to be a cool show.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Every Office Needs A Frank

Frank Sorgues does a lot of our interactive work. He’s a musician who had never heard of Y&R before taking this job. He spends his free time experimenting with different film and animation techniques, and making clips like this for his own amusement:

I would guess Frank's less concerned about getting into the One Show than he is about creating something cool. He’s got a thick layer of glitz insulation. When he wins a Cannes Lion, my guess is he won't value it as much as his “Nobody Lies To A .45” beltbuckle.

To see more of Frank’s work, check out his homepage and his YouTube site.

Friday, September 5, 2008


I started riding my bike to work this week. I bike. To work. In Europe. I feel like I should get a basket on my handlebars and fill it with baguettes.

Geneva is a very bike-friendly city. There are huge paths set apart from motorized traffic. Even when bike and car traffic merge, there are small traffic signals specifically for bicyclists.

The only disconcerting part of the ride is the occasional lane that is designated for buses, taxis, and bikes. They may as well include mothers with prams. It’s kind of like having a special room in your house for rare paintings, fine china and wildebeests.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Lunch Break Challenge

The Y&R offices are about three blocks from Lake Geneva. So at lunch, I take my sandwich and a bottle of water down to the shoreline to eat. Here are a few pictures of my lunch breaks...

(I ate a pepperoni sandwich here.)

(Chicken gyro from a place called Istanbul Kebab.)

(Salmon sandwich and carrots.)

I have to wonder what I would have discovered if I would have spent my lunchbreaks in Chicago like this. At Y&R Chicago, I'd take the elevator down to the foodcourt and either return to my office, or eat in the open space of the creative area. Working in a habitrail complex was great during the Chicago winters. But I never spent a summer day eating at Millennium Park. I never took an extra half hour to walk down to Navy Pier or Grant Park. I never ate between the lions on the steps of the Art Institute.

I don't expect to get many responses to this request, but here it is:

Before summer is over, take a lunch break somewhere unusual/cool/inspiring, send me a picture of your cool lunch spot and I'll post in on this blog. This is open to anyone, not just salaried employees of the Greater Chicagoland area. Send pics to greg.christensen@yr.com. I'll post them at the end of September.