Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Coffee and Chocolate!

I was never much of a coffee drinker before coming here, but I find myself participating in at least one of the three daily coffee breaks, and sometimes enjoying some chocolate as well. It would be a great opportunity to practice improving my German, but my wonderful colleagues have been very accommodating with English. I hear so many different dialects (and a few arguments about what constitutes Hochdeutsch) in one conversation that it is difficult to practice, anyway. Swiss-German is a little more complicated than I expected. Still, I sometimes attempt Denglish, as well as the newly developed "Swiss-English". Don't google it yet; we are still inventing it.
My first impressions of Z
ürich are not quite what I expected. I had read that it was an "industrialized" city with hidden historic roots, but this is not how I would choose to describe it (based on what I've seen so far). I see Zürich as clean, efficient, and commercial- but with enough history and diversity that it could hide its more modern character, if it chose to. I have to agree with Ryan, though- the Hönggerberg campus rivals modern industrial facilities.
So far, I have had a lot of fun getting to know my co-workers. We went hiking the weekend I arrived, and last weekend enjoyed the Langstrasse Festival and a housewarming party. On Fridays, after a hard week of work, we go out for a beer or five. I find I enjoy the Swiss Klosterbräu beer a lot more (maybe too much) than the pale lagers and pilsners of the US . That statement will probably solicit some serious anger from my American friends, but I am sorry- it is my preference.

As far as my research, we have data for the most recent vehicle purchased by 300 Swiss households, as well as socio-demographic information about those households. I am looking at the data right now to find any interactions that may stand out (e.g.- vehicle size vs. household size and household income). It is a very interesting and pertinent topic, and I would be curious to see how the Swiss result might compare with a similar US study. In the meantime, I think I will try to pick everyone's brains to get my own sense of some of the less obvious differences between US and Swiss lifestyles, and why these variations exist. I am very interested in how and why things develop the way they do, and the differences between US and European cities is really fascinating to me. Luckily, this research group includes not just engineers, but others with backgrounds in geography, sociology, and history. They come from Switzerland, Germany, Italy, Pakistan, and America. When I have a better understanding of the education system here, hopefully I can devote an entire post to the dissimilarities.

I haven't made any great treks across the continent yet as some of the other students wrote about- but I did go to the zoo on Sunday! One of the penguins was sitting on an egg! I read the incubation period for a penguin egg is 52-58 days, so I will definitely be here to see the baby penguin. I am very excited, as penguins are my all time favorite animal. The arrival of baby penguin could mean a season pass to the zoo for me. There are also some giant Galapagos tortoises, so I saw these in person for the first time this weekend. The biggest one looked nearly 6 feet long while laying down, and easily weighed 500 pounds.
A baby Galapagos tortoise was born in March, but will take 40 years to mature to full size. Zürich Zoo can be confident that its inhabitants are a steady or increasing population. There are some pictures online, but none of them show the perspective of this creature to a human, rock or tree, so I will post one here. It was a very popular attraction, as you can tell by the partial humans in the tortoise photo. The man on the left was about 5'7".

The only downside so far- the Schneeleopard was nowhere in sight...
I feel I should also mention, on behalf of a coworker, that the apes have appallingly small accommodations compared to the lions and bears. Perhaps this is because the latter two are considered more violent. The 10 plus elephants could use more space as well. The lions are enjoying more home square footage per individual than most Europeans, I think.
Okay then, enough about the zoo- back to work!


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