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.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Emergencies and dictionaries

Last month, I witnessed a hit-and-run. No injuries - a car just backed into a parked motorcycle, totaled it and drove off. Three other people and I took down their license number before they got away. (Why do people think they can get away with anything anymore? Don't they know how many iPhones are out there?)

Because it was in front of my building, I volunteered to be the contact witness when the cops showed up. Ten minutes later when they arrived, I met them, dictionary in hand, to explain what happened. Turns out "accident" is the same word in French, pronounced differently.

Last week, I went to our apartment's basement and found a huge pool of water with a leak of considerable consequence from the pipes above.

I ran back upstairs and to call the superintendent. But first, I had to look up the words "leak," "hallway," "pipes," and "puddle." The superintendent was a little skeptical at first. I think he thought I was using the wrong words. But when I said, "Beaucoup d'eau," he got the idea.

I'd say my French is okay. Not really conversational. But at least I can order in a restaurant and report pipe leaks and non-injury hit-and-runs.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Little America

A couple weekends ago, we went to Desalpes, otherwise known as "The time farmers put bells and flowers on their cows and bring them down from the mountains for the winter, leaving as much poop as possible in the middle of the road." Fun times, fun times.

The festival feels very Swiss. Lots of cows. Beautiful mountains. Lots of sausage and chocolates for sale. But for the second year in a row, I heard more American accents at this festival than any other time or place during the year.

Geneva's a very international city. But when I hear English spoken, it's usually Queen's English. East Indian may be a close second. Rarely do I hear American accents on the street. But Desalpes, as Swiss as it is, seems to be a 24-hour Little America.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Mac vs. Le Mac

I just bought a MacBook Pro. There's an Apple Store in Geneva (one of only three in Continental Europe). But I bought my new Mac online and had it shipped to family who will be visiting Geneva in a couple weeks. Why did I buy online?
  1. 12 months same as cash offer with a Barclaycard only available in the US.
  2. All the Swiss Macs have European keyboards, which means no "$", the Y and Z keys are switched, and the @ is Ctrl+G.
  3. Just didn't want to speak French when buying a computer.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Meet Cocktail

My friend Erin has a pretty sweet gig. I don't think she's been in Switzerland a year yet, and she's already a partner at a start-up ad agency.

This new shop, Cocktail, is housed on the south side of Lake Geneva in a building that is also home to the Geneva Archery Association (apparently the oldest club in the city, dating back to the 1400's). I went to lunch with Erin and her partner Phillipe a couple weeks ago and got to see their place.

Their office is only in part of the building, but it's still a pretty cool place to approach. It's at the end of a long road, and there are large archery targets used for practice on the adjacent lawn. It kind of reminds me of the old offices for Mullen.

As you enter the building, before ascending the stairs to Cocktail's offices you pass a display case which features a couple arrows and the archery association's flag. Proof that of all the ad agencies in the Swiss Romande region, Cocktail is probably the most heavily defended.

Best of luck to Phillipe and Erin. It's nice to know even Geneva can produce some cool shops with some great people behind them.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Henry has become Henri

The other day, my 7-year-old Henry and I were watching Batman cartoons. We were watching in English (we can toggle between our mother tongue and French), but the commercials are always in French.

At the end of one commercial, Henry started cracking up. When he realized I wasn't laughing, he asked if I understood the joke. When I said I didn't even know it was supposed to be funny, he explained the spot to me. And it was pretty funny.

So Henry's getting jokes in French. Very cool. But also kind of weird.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Le Subway

Annecy is a gorgeous city about 40 minutes away in France. With rivers running into the city from Lac d'Annecy, some call it the Venice of France.

There's a promenade along the lake shore, a castle over looking the town, and open-air markets along the riverside. But the main reason we drove 40 minutes to Annecy last Saturday was because they have a Subway.

Except for my freshman year in college, I've always considered Subway one of the bottom feeders of the fast food chain. But we've been living in Switzerland for over a year and a half. And anything served with refillable sodas looks pretty tasty to us.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Potato chips in nature

It's hard to see because my camera phone doesn't have great focus, but this weekend, I found a potato chip that had a tail.

It may have been a root that continued to grow, but it sure looked like a tail to me. But judging from the variety of chips it came from, it was completely natural.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Minarets, no. Cross on flag, okay.

More racist, jingoistic, xenophobic graphic design from the lovable UDC. These posters are a rally for a law that would make it illegal to build minarets in Switzerland. (Especially, black and foreboding minarets.)

All three major languages. Apparently, minarets aren't a concern among the Romansch-speaking population.

(Apparently, an extra "p" is the German equivalent of an exclamation point.)

You can see more madcap adventures of UDC graphic design on this post.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Hip hop pants in the Alps

Lots of Swiss guys in their teens and early 20s wear their pants like this...

Which means by my calculations, Swiss fashion is exactly 11.7 years behind US fashion.

Also, I found this image on a Google search. I did not take it myself.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Parks Lawyers Would Never Build, Part 2

I'm not even sure if this would be fun. But I know the lawyers would never allow it to be built on American soil.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Easy Jet advertising

Though I'd never heard about it before moving to Switzerland, EasyJet is the Southwest Airlines of Europe.

Every few months they'll advertise a group of popular fares - usually on billboards around the city. The posters aren't award-winning, breakthrough creative, but I do think they're very good. Most airlines (as with most car companies and retail stores) seem to abandon any sense of brand-building when they have a price to push. But EasyJet consistently does a nice job of ticking both boxes. No one would ever confuse an EasyJet ad for a RyanAir or Baboo promotion.

Some visuals are much better than others. (I like the rugby-Toulouse connection, but King Tut for a flight to Egypt? D for effort.) But they're always a mental connect the dots for the viewer. And as someone once told me, what happens in the mind stays in the mind.

Monday, October 5, 2009

When Y&R is not Y&R

Because I still have a lot of friends at Y&R Chicago, I have my Google Alerts account set up to email me any time the agency is in the news. But by having Google automatically search for the terms "Y&R" and "Chicago," I'm occasionally notified when Chicago-based fans of the Young and the Restless publish blog posts.

This was in my inbox this morning via Yahoo Answers:

I'm not sure which I find more pathetic: The phrase "They have a lot of nerve interrupting our soaps..." or that someone with cartoon-watching kids uses the handle Dirty Girl.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Our very own Boo Radleys

Two individuals in our neighborhood stand out: The Mummy Man, and Start-Stop Lady. Let me introduce them to you. (I had to draw them, because it'd just be too awkward to take their pictures.)
The Mummy Man was given his name by our kids. He walks with his face almost parallel to the ground, and never moves his arms, which hang straight down. He also has very pasty, mummy-like skin. He reminds me a lot of the kid in the orange shirt from Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown.

Start-Stop Lady looks a little like the Mummy Man.

She doesn't walk with one foot after the other, but does a kind of line dance. Five steps forward. Two steps back. Rock back and forth a couple of times. Move forward ten paces, and back three. I don't know if it's random or methodical, but it's pretty fascinating to watch. My wife has spoken to her, and says she's a nice lady. Apparently she's pretty normal aside from her two-step. Like the Mummy Man, she was also given her name by our kids.

Obviously, both of them have some psychological problems. And I'm honestly not trying to make fun of them. But I really like the fact that these two are part of our kids' childhood memories. I like that they're the kind of Boo Radleys - characters so strange and fascinating, the kids are too terrified to talk to.

Friday, October 2, 2009

The long lunch

This is what my office looks like from 12:30 until around 1:30.

After a year, I guess I had stopped noticing. But our new AE from Toronto recently told me, "I can't get over this mass exodus during lunch!" She used to work in New York, where it was common to have lunch delivered to your office so you didn't have to leave work. And unless it was a particularly slow and sunny day, my lunch breaks in Chicago rarely went past 20 minutes.

I don't think it's a matter of Americans working harder than Europeans. I think it's Europeans doing a better job of drawing a line on how much office life can interfere with inalienable pleasures.