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.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Using More Than You Need?

Here's a little something we produced last week. Our CEO, Marcus Brown, was asked by the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) to moderate a panel titled "Overconsumption, Ethics and the Role of Advertising."

Marcus asked if we could come up with a design for a flyer that could be distributed throughout the convention center in Barcelona to drive people to the meeting.

My partner, Fred and I were swamped. We had two pitches to prepare for. But we thought Why not?

We sat for an hour or two, and came up with a few ideas. Fortunately, our creative director, Bob Heron, and Marcus gravitated to this one, which was our favorite. (Click to enlarge.) After all, why do flyers when you can do toilet paper?

The only kink came when panel members got a preview and began asking for confirmation that the paper was not only recycled, but FSC-certified. Took several more hours that we'd have otherwise spent on the project, but it paid off. They're all FSC-approved.

According to Marcus, the event and the flyers were a big success.

CD: Bob Heron
AD: Frédéric Savioz
CW: Greg Christensen

Friday, October 10, 2008


If there were a Bureau of Indian Affairs in Switzerland (or any Native Americans, for that matter), I'm sure the good people who make Winnetou popcicles would have their fair share of anti-defamatory-threats-of-legal-action headaches.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Bang! Bang!

Whether it's making friends in church or idle chat with a waiter, when I'm introduced to someone with rudimentary English skills, this is inevitably part of the conversation.

Swiss: Where are you from?

Greg: Chicago.

Swiss: Oh...Al Capone! Bang! Bang!

No one mentions Michael Jordan, the Cubbies or the Sears Tower. It's always Capone. The man's been dead for over 60 years. Talk about leaving a legacy.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

No blue balls.

Here's a typical European "no-parking/no-stopping" sign...

The other day, my son asked me why blue balls aren't allowed by our apartment.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

We've got an Apple Store!

A couple weeks ago Geneva and Zurich became two of only three European cities to boast an Apple Store (the first was in Rome). Apples says Switzerland has the highest rate of Apple user to PC users than any country; about 1 in 10 people in Switzerland use a Mac.

I took a walk to visit the new Geneva store during my lunch break last week. 

I was a little disappointed with the absence of the trademark glass staircase (it's only one floor), but the interior is pretty cool. The ceiling is an enormous skylight that floods the floor with natural light and offers an interesting view of the European apartments that surround it.

Macs are so awesome.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Soccer Chefs

A new lunch break photo from Alan in New York City. He broke the rules by not leaving the office, but the original instructions said to find something inspiring. I think watching chefs play soccer in a New York alley (click to enlarge) warrants breaking the rules.

Meatball Parm
Alan from New York, New York

Two More Airlines I Have Yet To Fly

Continued from a previous post.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Are You Talkin' To Me?

I recently learned that the United States is the only developed nation to tax its citizens who are working abroad. Right now, I will be taxed both by the Swiss and the U.S. governments. The American Fairness Tax Act of 2008 has been proposed to eliminate this redundancy. Fingers crossed, although I'm sure my representatives in Congress have enough to worry about right now.

But I'm only telling you this, so I can tell you this...

Curious to know if either Presidential candidate had anything to say on the matter, I emailed identical queries to both the Obama and McCain campaigns. Of course, I didn't expect to get an immediate or personal response. But I was curious to see what would happen. (Being from Illinois, I've emailed Obama's senate office several times and always received some sort of reply.)

Since emailing both candidates from the questions/comments section of their web pages, I've received at least ten emails from the Obama camp. Some from him. Some from his staff. A couple from Joe Biden. I just got one from Michelle. It may sound like overkill, but none of them feel intrusive. They've mostly encouraged me to watch the debates. Video clips of debate highlights. Reminders of when the next ones are televised. Only a couple have been outright requests for donations.

McCain has sent me exactly zero emails. No requests for donations. No information about the debates. Not even an acknowledgement that they can't possibly respond to each individual email. Maybe it's because I listed myself as a resident of Oregon (my mail's being forwarded to my in-laws there). Maybe McCain figures he's not going to win the Beaver State, so why return any Oregonian messages. Still, you'd expect something.

Politics aside, Obama has been a much better communicator from the start. As someone in advertising, I've got to admire what he's been doing: While every politician in the history of elections slaps their name on a blue background and throws in some red, wavy stripes, the Obama team created a logo (although McCain's is also much better than the generic ones); Obama's taking the online approach Howard Dean pioneered four years ago and improved upon it; and Barack, himself, gives speeches that are eloquent and stirring whether or not you agree with the policies. No doubt he's made some big blunders. But all things equal, he's been a much better communicator.

And whether it scares you or not (depends on who you're voting for), in politics and in marketing, the person who tells a more compelling story usually wins. Just ask Ronald Reagan, Nike or Johnnie Cochran.

Friday, October 3, 2008


Thursday, October 2, 2008

No Smoking. Oh, wait! Yes Smoking.

A few months ago, before I arrived, the canton of Geneva voted to ban smoking in all restaurants. Over 80% of the population voted in favor of the ban. Yesterday, Zurich voted to pass a similar law.

But yesterday I learned that the Swiss national government revoked Geneva's ban on Tuesday. I'm not sure why, because I can only make it so far through the French newspapers. But I went to lunch with our CEO and there were already a couple people smoking at the table next to us.

So don't confuse neutrality with lack of infuriating politics.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Lunch Break Challenge Results

Thanks to everyone who took the Lunch Break Challenge. I didn't expect half this many responses. So cool that so many of you got out of the office/home/rutt for this. If you weren't able to participate this time around, I've set up a Lunch Break Challenge blog to keep this going. Enjoy.

Seaweed Salad, Bean Sprouts and Kimchee
James from Chicago, Illinois

Chicago-style Hot Dog with Extra Peppers
Dan from Chicago, Illinois

Ham and Cheese Sandwich, Yogurt, and Melon Chunks
Shawn from Hillsboro, Oregon

Two Doughnuts from Top Pot
Leslie from Seattle, Washington

Chicken Tuna Sandwich, Meiji Chocolate Bar and Coke Zero
Kelvin from Singapore

Julie from Salt Lake City, Utah

Taco Bell and Sea Urchin
Jim from San Francisco, California

Homemade Turkey Sandwich and Dr. Pepper
Jeremy from Chicago, Illinois

Backpack Full of Carrots, Granola Bars, a Couple of Ham Sandwiches, and a Few Fresh Peaches for Dessert
Justin from Salt Lake City, Utah
Taco Bell Meal #4. One Mexican Pizza, Two Soft Tacos
Glen from Las Vegas, Nevada

Roasted Vegetable Sandwich with Fresh Mozzarella on Focaccia Bread / Cherrios, Avacado and Peaches
Dawn from Chicago, Illinois

Buffalo Chicken Sandwich and Root Beer
Dave from Boston, Massachusetts

Going Home For Lunch
Corey from Chicago, Illinois