Thursday, July 26, 2007

How the mighty have fallen...

I don't even know what to say about the Tour de France.

Seems the new strategy for winning is to ride clean enough to be the last man standing in Paris.


Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Serious play

Do you think he remembers the accident?


Monday, July 23, 2007

Department of inefficiency

I received this box from Amazon the other day.

This book was in it.

Just that book.

Let's see that again.





Maybe I should put something in the frame for a point of reference.



Amazon. Dude. I ordered, like, fourteen books. You couldn't have fit another one in there?


Thursday, July 19, 2007

Grace under pressure. Or not.

Years ago, while skiing at Sunday River, Maine, (lovely skiing, by the way), I had an accident that in the long run turned out to be nothing but at the time warranted a trip to the mountain-side clinic. As I sat on my examining table waiting for some Tylenol 3 with codine (which makes me throw up, by the way) and my turn at the x-ray machine, the ski patrol brought in a patient screaming uncontrollably. Curtains were quickly drawn around my little examining space and I was abandoned as the unimportant case that I was as everybody rushed off to help this new patient. From what I overheard through the curtain, I pieced together the following story: the young man and his friend had gone (deliberately, as I understood it) off-trail to ski among the trees; the young man had crashed into a tree; preliminary examinations indicated a likely broken femur and pelvis; and the young man was in complete shock and could no longer speak or understand English. He was an exchange student from Japan and couldn't understand a thing that was going on around him. His friend, fortunately, was a fellow Japanese exchange student and interpreted everything back and forth between the clinic staff and his friend.

I've always remembered this incident for two reasons beyond the obvious one, being that it's hard to forget the sound of somebody in that much pain and fear. First, it reminded me that mountains are not to be trifled with and thus always to ski within my limits; and second, once I moved to Switzerland, I frequently worried that this would happen to me, that I would have some sort of accident and be utterly incapable of speaking German. Of course, being able to speak only English in Switzerland is a far sight better off than being able to speak only Japanese in Sunday River, Maine, (every medical professional I've ever run across in this country has at least a smattering of and often outstanding English) but I still worried that under stress and shock I'd lose my German and be unable to communicate.

When I was pregnant with Small Boy I began to worry as my due date approached that, in spite of having taken all of my pre-natal classes in German, my German would fail me during labor. I remember being proud and pleased that it didn't, though I do believe I relied on R for clarification more than once and when Dr. Fantabulous arrived I spoke with him in English. And to this day I can't remember the German for "forceps" (Geburtszange) and always have to ask R, so certainly there was some break down in communication across languages but I always understood what was being said to me, and I was always able to make myself understood. I'm sure it was imperfect and riddled with errors, but there was enough communication to allow everybody to do what they needed to do when they needed to do it. I left the hospital feeling confident that I can, in fact, communicate under pressure, in an emergency, under stress. I've gone these past 30 months knowing that if something happened to the Small Boy and I had to call an ambulance, I could, even under stress, at least get across where we were and what we needed. I could take care of my son.

Apparantly I am not as cool under pressure as I have allowed myself to believe. I had to call 144 today - when you need an ambulance in Switzerland that's the number you call - after I saw a man get hit and run over by a forklift. I know that that sounds like the beginning of some horrible joke, but unfortunately I can assure you that it is not. I can also, unfortunately, assure you that there is absolutely nothing funny about watching a forklift drive over a human being. As for grace under pressure, I blew it right off by calling 118 - that's the number for the fire department - instead of 144. I was transferred immediately so I don't think there was really any time lost, plus about half-a-dozen people were also on their cell phones, presumably also calling 144 (it's Switzerland after all - everybody has a cell phone and most people take their civic responsibility seriously). In my panic I could not think of the words for "run over" (überfahren) or "unconscious" (bewustlos) or "forklift" (Gabelstabler) but I got the point across, I guess, I hope, that a man had been hit by a vehicle and was bleeding and I was able to give our exact location. But even as I was stumbling through the call - and why didn't I just try English, most dispatchers will know some English - another part of my brain was shocked and dismayed at just how much I was stumbling. It's quite simple, really : "Ein Mann ist mit einem Fahrzeug übergefahren worden. Wir brauchen einen Ambulance, er blutet sehr stark und ist bewustlos. Wir sind bei such and such a street corner and landmark." (A man's been hit by a vehicle. We need an ambulance, he's bleeding a lot and is unconscious. We're at this location.") I mean, I've done IVF, pre-natal classes and labor and delivery in German; i's really quite a simple collection of words for me but for the life of me I could not get überfahren out of my mouth. The woman standing next to me, who heard me stumbling over the words as I spoke to the dispatcher, had to prompt me: "überfahren" she said. Of course, by the time I called R five minutes later I couldn't really communicate in English either, but I'm not proud of how I bungled the 144 call. Not my finest hour.

It seemed to take forever for the ambulance to arrive but according to the calls made records on my cell I called the emergency number at 11:03, and the paramedics were on the scene by 11:10. I don't know exactly when they arrived, but they arrived with sirens going so they couldn't have gotten there much faster I guess. The paramedics worked on the man for perhaps a minute - a bystander had already begun CPR and others were doing what they could to stem the bleeding - before stopping and covering him with a sheet, so I suppose then what I really saw at 11:03 this morning was a man get run over and killed by a forklift.

And Small Boy saw it too. It happened right in front of us as we were waiting for the bus; his stroller was parked facing outward with Small Boy looking right into the street. I'm not sure how much he saw and less certain how much he understood. His version of the event goes like this: "Ma hat kli bang von forklift. Amblance choemt pick up." (The man is in a little pain from the forklift. An ambulance came to pick him up.") I think in his mind he's probably equating the man getting run over with the forklift with Small Boy himself running over my toes with his push-car. Just a kli bang. But he saw it, and he remembers it. The first thing he did when we got home was to call out to the cat, "Meow-baby! Ma hat kli bang von forklift. Amblance choemt pick up!" At random times throughout the day he suddenly turned to me or R and said "Ma hat kli bang von forklift. Amblance choemt pick up." And we responded, that's right, the man has a little bang. The ambulance came to get him. I'm going to affirm as much of his story as he'll tell me but he certainly doesn't need to know about the blood, that the man died, that the ambulance was too late. My instinct is to respond to him truthfully without providing any information that he isn't himself trying to express. I don't think he understands that a man died, what that means, and I think in the nature of small children and things with sirens he found the event interesting the way he finds trash trucks, helicopters, and construction sites interesting. I don't think he was ever scared or upset except for when he saw me getting upset, and I tried very hard not to get upset in front of him but it was upsetting, to say the least.

A man stepped out into the street and less than six minutes later he was dead. In front of me, in front of my child, a man stepped out into the street and died. I know Small Boy doesn't understand it that way, I know that "Ma hat kli bang von forklift. Amblance choemt pick up" is an honest reflection of what he thinks happened, but it's not the sort of thing you want to know - that a man died in front of your child - even if your child doesn't know it. Not the sort of thing you want to know at all.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Ordering books the penny-pinching expat way

In comments to this post about searching for some books for Small Boy, Junebee wrote:
Look on Am*z*n and then I guess see if the title is available in your area, if
Am*z*n does ship overseas it is probably very expensive.
Indeed, shipping is expensive. However, the price mark-up for English language books in a non-English speaking country is also pretty significant* so even with shipping charges Am*z*n is certainly competative if not always attractive. Plus the English language selection here can be limited, especially in the non-fiction department, which leans heavily towards British offerings. Not that I have a problem with British offerings, but I keep track of what's going on in the US book world far more than what's going on in the British book world; I suscribe to the New York Review of Books, after all, not the Times Literary Suppliment. When a work of non-fiction piques my interest, chances are it's coming out of, and responding to, a US-based social dialogue that I'm trying to follow from my distance. (Note to self: cut the cord already. You live in Switzerland, self!) The non-fiction I haven't been able to find in the English section of my local bookstore surprises me, though perhaps it shouldn't. (Special orders are possible, and often at no extra cost, but I don't want to spend my life special ordering, you know?)

But wait! There is also Am*z* (Germany). Am*z*n Germany doesn't charge for shipping to Switzerland, and the books come much faster, though not necessarily as fast as I would have expected. But the mark-up for English language titles is in play, so the base-line prices are all higher. Sometimes I can't find what I'm looking for on Am*z*n Germany (especially in children's books) or it's only available in hardcover, making the price difference even greater. Sometimes books are published under different titles in the US and the UK (Am*z*n Germany seems to get most of its stock from the UK) and then it takes some extra patience to find what I'm looking for (the recent biography of Gertrude Bell has this title in the US and this title in the UK.) Sometimes it works out that ordering from Germany makes sense, sometimes - believe it or not - it doesn't.

But wait! There's more! Because there is also Am*z*! They do charge for shipping, but less than from the US. I can almost always find what I'm looking for there (except, again, for children's books) unless the book is a very recent US title. However, the books are generally more expensive than their US counterparts, so the lower shipping fees don't always pan out. I almost never order from the UK.

What does all this mean? It means I generally wait until I have a nice big order of books I want and then I price the whole lot through all three Am*z*ns (yeah, because I've got that kind of time). For the lot I'm about to order, ordering from the US is $20 cheaper than ordering from Germany even with the US shipping costs, plus the Germany order has two fewer books because they don't seem to be available. Ordering from the UK is $20 cheaper than ordering from the US; but again, there are two fewer books. The missing books just happen to be the "a new baby is coming" books that I want for Small Boy so they're not books I'm prepared to take a pass on. For an extra twenty bucks** it looks like this time around I'm placing one mammoth order from the US.

Do I go through this every time I want to order some books? No. For smaller orders, especially if there are no children's books involved, I order through Germany. But the price hike on the English-language titles starts kicking in at around 10 or 12 books, depending on what I'm getting, and at some point it's actually cheaper, even with shipping, to order from the US. This is one of those times.

* For example, my book club just read a book by a Swiss author that I chose to read in German. I paid SFr 14.90 (US $12.34) for the German language paperback and those of us who read it in English paid SFr 27.40 (US $22.69) for the English language paperback!

** Of course at the end of the day all of these prices get converted to Swiss Francs once I put the order on the credit card.


Monday, July 09, 2007

An open memo to my husband:

Dear R:

Thank you for giving Small Boy a shot of pure sugar right before nap time and then leaving me alone with him. That was really helpful.



Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Request for help

Could any of my readers out there recommend a children's book about bringing home a new baby? I'd like to find a picture book for the Small Boy to start helping him getting his head around the idea. It's becoming impossible to hide this pregnancy for much longer (yeah, at 18 weeks it looks like the jig is up, imagine that) so it's time to start helping Small Boy figure all this out. I'd prefer titles in English, but if there are good German books out there those would be welcome too.