Wednesday, December 30, 2009

More airline advertising

When I first arrived in Geneva, one of our clients was Baboo airlines. About a month into the job, their holding company forced them to consolidate agencies and vendors, and the account was sent to Saatchi & Saatchi, here in town.

These are a couple of the current billboards. I rather like them.

I think they do exactly what EasyJet's ads do. But in a different way. They're clearly branded - you know from across the street you're looking at a Baboo ad even before you read it. And they're a simple, interesting way of saying, "Fly to [fill in the blank] for cheap."

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Burning through the waffles

I have an awesome recipe for gingerbread waffles with blueberry syrup. I used to make it every Thanksgiving and Christmas morning. But since moving to Geneva, we've had the waffle iron in storage.

After our 18-month waffle fast, I pulled out the iron for some regular waffles. Not sure what the voltage is, but it burnt out the 500-watt transformer I had it connected to after only a couple waffles.

So I had to hook it up to the 1000-watt transformer our computer is hooked up to.

Not sure I'm going to be making waffles anytime soon unless I can find a Euro-iron.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas Market Comparison

My friend, Chantal, recently did a post on her favorite European Christmas markets. It reminded me of the one in Chicago's Daley Plaza, which is always really nice. I used to love to stop for a bag of roasted almonds on my way to the train station, and walk by the window displays at Marshall Field's.

Geneva's Christmas Market, however, is surprisingly and profoundly lame. I don't have any pictures of Chicago's with me. But I do have some of Vienna's, which I recently visited on business. Here's a head-to-head comparison.

Christmas decorations on Geneva's main pedestrian mall...

Christmas decorations on Vienna's main pedestrian mall...

Advantage: Vienna.

Vienna had at least three Christmas markets, and I've only found one in Geneva. So I'll compare Geneva's with Vienna's lamest one.

The lamest Christmas market in Vienna was in the Museum Quarter. It featured a three-man brass band playing "Hark! The Hearal Angels Sing," booths full of wood-carved ornaments, and chocolate-dipped pretzels.

The Christmas market in Geneva is on the way to the train station. It features 80% African tribal tsotchkes, and smells so much like burning incense I have flashbacks from the University of Utah student center.

Advantage: Vienna.

Don't get me wrong, being within site of Mont Blanc is a fantastic setting for the holidays. I'm just not convinced the Genevoix do their markets right. Maybe they're just too tired after Escalade.

Large bills

This is some of the money I won for the Rica Hotels contest.

I find it interesting that the larger the denomination, the larger the bill. The largest barely fit in my wallet.

I find it even more interesting that the Swiss have a 1000 franc bill - the equivalent of having a $1000 bill. Maybe it's designed not to fit into a standard wallet as a reminder that most people shouldn't be walking around with 1000 franc bills to begin with.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Down for Thanksgiving

This is a month late in posting, but here you go.

Every Thanksgiving weekend the ex-pats in our church organize the Turkey Bowl - i.e., a bunch of guys past their prime and a few kids just approaching theirs throwing a football around.

I was out on the first play. The QB yelled hike, and my left leg slipped out from underneath me on a patch of mud and I pulled a groin muscle. I wasn't the first to be injured, but I was the quickest.

I spent the rest of the game with the kids on the sidelines. It's been a month since the game and I still don't like climbing stairs.

There's a part of my brain that is convinced I'm still 19-years-old, and I'm not sure I can get it to listen.

Is display. Is not display.

I passed this watch store a while back. I thought it was an interesting window display. Kind of "Our watches are so cool, you'll try breaking the windows to get them."

Then I realized it wasn't a display at all, but the handiwork of a bunch of punks acting in the name of "anti-capitalism" during the WTO in Geneva a while back.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The 13th Month

In Switzerland, base salaries are paid in 13-month increments.

What this means is that my December paycheck is twice the amount of my usual monthly income.

Most people use this money to pay their taxes in the coming months. But since I've been in the country less than three years, I'm already taxed at source (i.e., taxes are taken out of each paycheck, just like it always was in the U.S.).

So this is my second December with a doubled paycheck. Merry Christmas.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Missing my producers

In Chicago, we had awesome producers. And I took them for granted, they were so good. Anything we needed, they'd find a way to come through. In Geneva, we have no producers, so I end up doing the production work when necessary.

We currently have a US-based client, who wants to conduct interviews around the globe for a corporate video. They want to do an interview in Stuttgart, Germany, and asked me to find someone who could film it.

1st attempt: Gauged the distance between Stuttgart and Geneva on Google Maps to see if was something I could do myself. But the client won't pay for me to make the 5-hour drive.

2nd attempt: Contacted our office in Frankfurt to see if they had any recommendations. They don't.

3rd attempt: Googled "videographer Stuttgart." The top hit is for videographers in Stuttgart, Arkansas. I realized this isn't going to work.

View Larger Map

4th attempt: Contacted a producer in England to see if he knew anyone. He put me in contact with the Deutsch Film Commission. I found a list of 27 cameramen and carpet bombed them all with emails. I have spent the rest of the day answering emails and taking quotes from German cameramen who are asking questions about studio booking, camera angles, wardrobe and make-up, when I just need someone with a guy who does weddings to show up with his Sony digicam and a light kit. In the end, we got someone at a decent price.

What would you have done different, dear producer friends?

Friday, December 18, 2009

Celebrating the Escalade

A couple weekends ago was Escalade - a Geneva holiday. Not a Swiss one. Just for the people in Geneva. While the name may lead you to think it's the day the Genevoix celebrate full-size luxury sport utility vehicles, it's actually a little more interesting. In a nutshell:

In the middle of the night on December 11, 1602, the French mounted a surprise attack on the city-state of Geneva, hoping to plunder its wealth.

According to legend, as the French were climbing the walls of the city (escalade means to go up a ladder), a woman who lived above the town gate was up late preparing vegetable soup when she looked out her window and saw the troops approaching in the darkness. Not knowing what else to do, she dumped the scalding soup and the cauldron on them. The ensuing commotion woke the rest of the city, and with men called to arms, the invasion was unsuccessful.

In short, the French were beaten by a bowl of soup. They just can't win, the French.

Today, Escalade is celebrated by serving...wait for it...vegetable soup. But go anywhere in the city, and you can buy various sizes of chocolate cauldrons, which are filled with marzipan vegetables. The night of Escalade, the oldest person and the youngest person in the house each take a spoon and say in French, "So perish the enemies of the Republic!" and then smash the cauldron. (Kind of makes me wish we had something patriotic to shout before biting off the head of a chocolate Easter Bunny.)

Escalade has also become a bit of a costume party. Kind of a Swiss Halloween with kids and even teens wearing costumes to school and parties. Not sure what dressing up as Spiderman has to do with a 1602 foiled invasion, but, whatever.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Fisherman

I see this guy around our neighborhood all the time. He's such a fixture, I had to take this stealth shot of him when I was behind him at the grocery store.

He only has two outfits that I know of:
  1. In the summer, he wears shorts, a yellow t-shirt, and carries a fishing pole and a bucket of bait. (Not sure where his fishing hole is, but he takes the bus to it.)
  2. In the winter, he wears this purple and pink coat - sometimes with a fishing vest over it. If the weather is warm, he pushes the sleeves of this big, puffy coat up to his elbows like an eskimo in a John Hughes party movie.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


Years ago, I went to an outdoor Dave Matthews concert. It was ear-ringingly loud. I was talking to my friend Brooke during one of the songs when a woman in front of us turned to shush us. I was a little stunned, but Brooke just looked at her and said, "Sorry. I didn't know we were in a library!"

Sometimes I feel like that at my office. The American agencies I've worked for are much louder. Or at least, less hostile towards volume.

Switzerland during World War II

Why didn't Switzerland take part in World War II? Was it because they were “neutral?” That’s a question I’d had in the back of my mind for quite a while, so I decided to look it up.

Switzerland's current neutrality kept them from entering World War II. But it had nothing to do with Germany not invading it. Honestly, would Hitler have said, “Well, it wouldn’t be fair to occupy a neutral country.”

Hilter had plans to annex Switzerland as soon as the Germans occupied the rest of Europe. German propaganda at the time declared Die Schweiz, das kleine Stachelschwein, nehmen wir auf dem Rückweg ein or "We'll take Switzerland, the small porcupine, on our way back home!"

But there were three reasons the Germans never invaded Switzerland (oversimplified here, of course):

  1. The Swiss were overwhelmingly anti-Nazi. Their democracy was too conservative to accept a single-Führer regime. And Hilter hadn’t bombarded them with propaganda as he had Germany and Austria. Invading Switzerland would lead to massive civil disobedience. So the Nazis would have had to use more force than they did in other German-speaking countries. And that force was being diverted towards France and Russia.
  2. The Swiss were better prepared militarily than its occupied neighbors. While German tanks could have rolled easily into Bern, a contingency plan had the Swiss Army fighting with guerilla tactics from the Alps, which was more than the French or Belgians had planned. So invasion was postponed.
  3. The railways that ran through the Swiss Alps connected Hilter's Germany and Mussolini's Italy. Germany knew an attack on Switzerland would lead to the Swiss Army dismantling the railways, paralyzing trade indefinitely.

If the Nazis had attacked Switzerland, it would have been a short battle – even all of these together wouldn’t have been enough to keep the Nazi agenda at bay. But together they were enough to encourage them to postpone their invasion plans.

So it's not that Germany respected Switzerland's neutrality. The Swiss were just very lucky.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Je suis le concepteur.

Our agency and its work was recently featured in a regional industry magazine. I was listed not as "copywriter" but as "concepteur-redacteur."

I think I need to buy a beret.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Targeting Geneva

A couple weeks ago, Swiss voters helped bring about a constitutional ban on building minarets in Switzerland. So apparently religious freedom isn't covered by "neutrality."

A couple days ago the UDC representative who initiated the anti-minaret movement debated a member of Hamas on Al Jazeera. I wasn't able to watch, and I haven't been able to find a transcript. But I've got to imagine there are some gems in that debate.

While the Swiss I've spoken with are disgusted with the motion, a few are even morespooked by the idea that the new law and the recent debate will turn terrorist eyes onto Switzerland. One of the people I spoke to asserted that Geneva would be the most likely target because, as he put it, "Geneva is the heart of Switzerland."

In my mind, a more accurate geographic metaphor would be the "cowlick" or "skin tag of Switzerland." So I asked why not Bern, since it was the the capital where the law was passed. Or Zurich, because they have a nicer airport. But he was adamant - Geneva is the most likely target for a terrorist attack because it is "the heart of Switzerland."

The comment reminded me of two women I heard interviewed on NPR in the months after the 9/11 terrorist attack. They were from the Champaign-Urbana area of Illinois. When the interviewer asked them how the attacks on New York and D.C. affected them, they expressed concern that they might be next. "We're so close to the University of Illinois," they said. "And that could easily be a target."

I also remember receiving forwarded emails from friends in Salt Lake, convinced that al Qaeda's next target was the bobsled run for the 2002 Winter Olympics.

I remember as a kid thinking that a city had really come into its own when it got its own Hard Rock Cafe. A few years ago it was having a Frank Gehry building. Now, in a kind of perverse way, it's finding reasons radical jihadis should bomb you.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Coley Porter

Today, someone I work with made a reference to Crispin Porter + Bogusky.

But they said "Coley Porter." Twice.

I'm not a Crispin worshipper. But how can you work in this industry and mispronounce that name?

That's like saying you're going to search for something on Glibble.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Childhood terrors, and other gifts I've given my children

Yesterday, with a home full of sick kids, we turned on the TV, and I decided to introduce the kids to Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. We put in the DVD of the George C. Scott version – which I had never seen – and sat down for a couple hours of edifying holiday mirth and merriment.

We ended up with kids who were too afraid to sleep alone, plagued by visions of Jacob Morley.

Thanks a lot, Chuck.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Office space

I always like visiting other editing houses and production companies. The most recent issue of Creative Review talks about how ad agencies and design shops are cutting edge places for architects, because they're always willing to try new floor plans.

I'm writing this from a pretty cool space in Vienna, where Wiener Klappe Film Produktion makes their home.

Man, I love exposed brick, high ceilings, and Macs with really big screens.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Mobile PowerPoint Disaster

I was in Paris recently and found myself behind this van at a stoplight.

Mess that it was, I can't say which line, image, or bullet point was the first thing to catch my eye. But couldn't help noticing the man-holding-the-lightbulb clip art (sorry about the camera phone resolution).

How do I know it was clip art? I had seen it before in Jon Steel's book Perfect Pitch, where he rails on awful presentations created with awful PowerPoint clip art. Here is a scanned page from Jon's book that uses the exact same clip art to make his point.

Maybe S.E.R. Électricité could use a copy of Jon's book. Assuming his arguments apply to van art as well.

(I also recommend Jon's other book, as well has his brilliant performance as Hurley.)

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Worst. Soda. Ever.

Found this in France. It was in the soft drink aisle, but judging from the taste, it should have been right next to the children's cough syrup.

We didn't actually drink as much it appears. After a few sips, we decided to use it for scrubbing the toilets.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving?

I'm going on production next week, so I just changed my voicemail to alert callers that I won't be in the office until Thursday, November 26.

Which I then realized is Thanksgiving Day.

Which, for an American, is a weird day to say you'll be "back in the office."

No, we don't get Thanksgiving weekend off work in Europe. But four weeks paid vacation more than makes up for it.

Geneva Rips Off the Eames

I like cities that display art in public places. Chicago does it. And so does Geneva. Right now, there's a sidewalk exhibition along the Bergues Bridge downtown.
I'm sure a lot of people think it's cool. But if you're at all familiar with "Powers of 10" by Ray and Charles Eames, you'll know it's just a blatant rip off. Which makes it less cool.

The Bergues Bridge version isn't as interesting or as comprehensive as the original, but at least you don't have to put up with the soundtrack or the voiceover that sounds exactly like a guy wearing a short-sleeved, button down shirt with horned-rimmed glasses and a pocket protector.

Unlike the Eames version, this one goes into the man's testicle. Ouch.

Sperm cells are apparently more interesting than strands of DNA.
(There's a crossover point mid-bridge where we go into the woman to see her ova before pulling slowly back to outer space.)

Despite being a rip-off, it's pretty cool to look at these panels and then look up to see you're actually there - something the original film doesn't offer. Unless, of course, you're watching it during a picnic near Lake Michigan. (I once saw Coldplay in the United Center, and they showed a clip of "Powers of 10" on the screen behind them, which comes pretty close.)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Hay there!

Nice to know that in a world-class city like Geneva you can still see farmers on the main drag.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

10% Euphoria

You know you live in one of the world's most expensive cities when a 10% discount is cause for a three-story billboard.

Monday, November 16, 2009

I missed Global Handwashing Day!

I saw this poster above the sink in a public restroom. Although my camera phone doesn't have the best focus, you can see it is for Global Handwashing Day, which was apparently October 15.

I missed it this year, so I guess I'll have to wait until 2010. Here are a few other special events I'm afraid to miss:
  • Global Wipe Your Bum Day
  • Worldwide Chew Your Food Day
  • Breathe Week

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Ali Kebap - still going strong

No. 4 in the series

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A fundamental cultural difference

"Americans don't want to have to scrub poop off the inside of the toilet. They don't! We'll take the extra water in the bowl to avoid that."

- my wife, after scrubbing our kids' poop off the inside of the toilet

Writer Abroad

My on-line, fellow American living in Switzerland, VCU alumnus, friend that I've never met in person, Chantal has launched a new blog called Writer Abroad. (This is in addition to One Big Yodel.)

Check it out here.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Gruyere Illustrated

We recently had family in town and took them to one of our favorite Swiss spots - Gruyere, about 80 minutes away from Geneva.

I picked up a couple postcards while I was there. I love old timey illustrations like this. It's what people did before the Canon Powershot.

I'm also a big fan of old tour posters. I love photography, but you just can't get a shot like this unless there's a giant ladle floating in the sky.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Branding Lessons from Vomiting in the Park

This morning, in the middle of presenting some ideas to my creative director, I got very nauseous. Five minutes later, I excused myself and went and threw up in the restroom.

Outside of vomiting, I felt fine. But I left the office to get some fresh air. Then, while I was in the park, I threw up again. Of course people throw up in parks all over the world. It's one of the things that ties the human family together. But I somehow vomiting in a park made me feel strangely European.

As it so happens, two police officers were passing on my last few heaves. As I stood up from my crouched position, this is the conversation that took place (translated literally):

POLICEMAN: Is it going?

ME: No.

POLICEMAN: Is it not going?

ME: I think I eat something bad.


ME: I vomit in the office. In the toilet in the office. Then I come walk in the park. And I vomit.

POLICEMAN: Is it going?

ME: I think so now.

POLICEMAN: (makes a drinking gesture) Coco-Cola! Drink lots of Coca-Cola!

ME: Yes. Thank you.

I've heard it said that the highest tier of brand-dom is when a brand becomes a verb, i.e., when you Google something, or FedEx a package, or Xerox a paper. But I'd have to say it's when a brand is thought to improve someone's health. Especially in spite of being sugar water.

p.s. I am feeling much better now. It is going.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Barry and the Halloween Party

A friend of a freind started Obama in Our House - a kind of Flat Stanley project with a 6-foot cut-out of the President that's traveling the world (he came to me by way of Sweden).

I decided to use him as part of my Halloween costume this year.

In Geneva, the big Halloween party for expats is our church party, which gets bigger every year. It's a little funny that a few Christian faiths eschew Halloween as a night of bats, monsters and pumpkin worship, but the Mormons embrace it as a night of pot-luck fun and free on-site baby-sitting.

A few observations on bringing a 6-foot Barack Obama cut-out to an LDS/expat party:

1. The Africans love him. No matter what country they were from, little African kids in the building would call out his name and jump up and down when I walked down the hall with him.

2. The Americans loved that their kids knew who he was. No matter what their political position, Americans are so happy that their kids aren't totally out of touch with the homeland that they recognize who's in charge. (An American friend of mine said she became concerned last Fourth of July when they pulled out the Stars and Stripes and her daughter asked, "Mom, what crazy flag is that?")

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


I’ve had to learn to write in UK English for the majority of our clients. "Colour." "Programme." Stuff like that.

I'm on a new assignment, and I’ve recently learned that the British don’t have “tidbits." They have “titbits.”

If that’s how the Brits want it, fine.

But if you Google each word, you get surprisingly different results.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Omaha Beach

While in Northern France, we stopped at Omaha Beach. As we approached, I told my kids what happened here on June 6, 1944. I had hoped it would instill a sense of reverence and appreciation in them.

Instead, my sons combed the beach looking for bullets.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Art history by accident

Last week our family drove seven hours for a vacation in Northern France. An hour north of Paris, we were all getting a little hungry, so we started looking for a place to stop for lunch.

The nearest city was Rouen. I had never heard of Rouen, but it looked big enough to offer something nicer than a roadside McDonald's. When we arrived, we found this...

Turns out the city is the home of the Cathedral Notre Dame de Rouen, a subject Monet had painted over 30 times. (It's much less fuzzy in real life. Even with the scaffolding.)

Had we eaten earlier or packed a picnic, we would have never seen this. Had we paid more attention in art history, we would have stopped on purpose. As it was, it was just a happy accident.

I think the only time something like this happened to me in the States was when I was on the corner of Broadway and 112th Street.