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Archive for May, 2011

We got the keys!

A few days earlier than expected, we had our apartment check in/check out with the Regie, the former tenant, our agent and us. Friday morning at the crack of dawn, the inspector came to look at everything in the apartment to see what was damaged/broken/needed to be fixed. This is a key part of the acquiring-an-apartment-in-Geneva process because a clean inspection means you can get back that three month’s rent you’ve put in a bank account. That’s right, three months rent that you can’t touch until you move out. It’s a crazy deposit, but apparently that’s the way things go here in Geneva.

What I’ve realized in the past several weeks that we’ve been here is that the Swiss are very serious and very rules driven. The point of us getting an agent was effectively bribing someone who is well connected in the city to let us have a place. No, really. I’m not sure how else people get apartments in Geneva with this kind of market. It was a bit of a gamble to go with an apartment that was big, convenient and in a nice part of the city, but on a lower floor and noisy corner with a higher price tag rather than a smaller cheaper apartment slightly further away. The tipping point was the agent’s relationship with the regie and landlord of the building, and if you know that your landlord cares about the place, it’s worth it to have that piece of mind. (Oh, and higher chances of getting a place? Yes please!)

So here we are, five weeks after we arrived in Geneva and Wednesday morning, bright and early, our things will be delivered and we can finally, FINALLY unpack and start trying to live normal lives.

I can’t wait!

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But, the news is finally looking good on the apartment front for a June 1st move in date!

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Week 4: cooking

When we first arrived, a crazy thing happened. maybe it was being overwhelmed by having no knowledge about local ingredients (which of the 12 types of butter to I buy?!) Or, perhaps I was paralyzed by my lack of kitchen equipment or spices. Despite being in heaven of local, organic, and natural ingredients, I discovered I could not put a meal together.

Normally, I like to think of myself as a pretty capable cook, punctuated with moments of culinary brilliance. Yet, our first week’s diet consisted mostly of cheese, bread and the same sausage. Although there’s a grocery store around the corner, it is infamous and universally acknowledged as craptastic.

The first two weeks, we went to farmers markets just blooming with all sorts of gorgeous options and produce.  Anyway, I’d stare at all the beautiful artichokes or pears, at a total loss for what to do with them. Flustered and insecure with my French, I’d buy random things that looked good, but nothing that would make a cohesive meal. When I’d finally figure out a recipe to make, it inevitably meant I was missing some key ingredient, and would have to return to the crappy grocery store.

Frustrating. Did Julia Child ever feel this way?

With some increasing confidence in my French, I’m happy to report that, finally, the cooking is going better. We’re still frequenting the store, but I’m emerging from the chicken-onion-carrot-potato rut i was in for a few days. While braised endive in butter and lemon juice was a clear disaster, a roasted garlic cream sauce was successful. Yesterday’s visit to Intermarche turned up five varieties of small soy sauce bottles, (I’ll stick with Kikkoman, even if it’s a euro more) and made possible shoyu chicken. Today, we even got the oven to work and discovered that despite there being not a single baking pan or sheet in the apartment, it is possible to bake a cake in a glass bowl.

The creativity and opportunity to cook certainly lift my spirits. I can’t wait to cook in an apartment of my own again!

Side note: “Farmer’s market” is a bit of a misnomer since they seem to happen year round and few of the vendors are actually farmers. This means that tomatoes are beautiful, but are flown in from Spain, or the melons are coming from the Ivory Coast. It’s a little bit like a traveling grocery store, where many of the carts have actual stores in the city, and they open shop for a few hours in select towns on the weekends.

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So, we’re in the thick of apartment hunting right now. Here’s apartment hunting in Geneva in a nutshell:

  1. There is a shortage of housing in Geneva
  2. There is a big demand for housing in Geneva
  3. 1+2 = Near impossible odds of finding housing without some help
  4. Help = Someone who speaks French (SwissFrench, BONUS), someone who is friends with the Regie. (We have hired help.)
  5. The Regie, from what I understand, is this underground mafia of real estate agents that actually act as the go-between for you and your landlord. They control who sees and who gets each apartment available for rent, and will also be the person to contact if something in your apartment breaks, not your landlord. (Weird, right)
  6. Currently, there appear to be 18 places open in the entire city of Geneva in our price range.
  7. By the way, our “price range” is 2-3 times more than our rent in Chicago for a similar modest 2 bedroom place
  8. Every apartment we apply to will also have at least 30-40 people apply to it. This is again why #4 is so important since the Regie may (or may not) prefer  (in this order) rich, Swiss, white people to live in their apartments.
  9. No one really works on Saturday or Sunday, so what would be prime visit times in the US are just two annoying days where nothing happens on the apartment search front.
  10. Because of #3, 6 and 10, we’ve seen a total of 5 apartments over the past three weeks, and have applied to 3. We hope to get a yes sometime soon because living with other people is starting to drain on me.

Details about Swiss apartments:

  1. The apartments here are often “equipped” which means they have the hookups for a stove or fridge, but most actually come without. (Buying a stove and/or fridge and/or laundry machine was really on your list of things to do in Geneva, right?)
  2. The French & Swiss appear to not believe in air conditioners or screen windows. Fans are a rarity. (Uh oh…already dreading summer)
  3. The Swiss  appear to have this rule that the toilet needs to be in a separate room from the shower
  4. The Swiss also have a love of separating rooms. They adore walls.
  5. The Swiss have a lot of rules including No flushing toilets after 10pm. I am told this is actually a city law.

So, we wait, and hope we get a new place soon, but now you can see why it’s been so long and we’re still looking.

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French Countryside

While I delay the long post about apartment hunting in Geneva, here’s some pictures of where we’re currently living: St. Genis-Pouilly.

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progress

I bought a phone today.

The only problem was that the phone came in German. It took me at least ten minutes and lots of random button pushing to finally figure out where I could change it to English.

Then it took me another half hour to undo all the setting changes I’ve made.

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