Swiss Pride

Swiss Flags

Boy oh boy, do the Swiss love being Swiss!

There’s a lot of Swiss pride going on here. They just really dig their culture, heritage, language(s), and food. The Swiss flag can be seen everywhere, people are genuinely happy when you show an interest in trying out some new Swiss aspect of life, and a product being Swiss made - whether it be cheese, an electric razor, or underwear – is a definite added value.

Made in the USAIt sort of reminds me of the USA. Not that there are that many things “made in the USA” nowadays, but we do have a strong sense of patriotism. The Americans and Swiss are proud to hail from their respective countries and will brandish their flag with fervor.

Italians, on the other hand, seem to always look down on their own country and even feel embarrassed to be Italian, which is a shame since it’s such a great place. In fact, the only time during my time living there when I really ever saw Italian patriotism was during the World Cup.

Gennaro Gattuso

The topic of Swiss patriotism came to mind because today is Swiss National Day! That means that Swiss flags are popping up all over the place in celebration. It takes me back to growing up in my hometown when my Dad would decorate our front yard with tons of little American flags whenever it was Memorial Day or the 4th of July. So cute!

1. August-WeggenThe supermarkets here in Zürich are particularly decked out. There’s all types of Swiss paraphernalia and even this special bread called 1. August-Weggen (August 1st bread) with the Swiss flag’s cross baked into the top. In typical “Garrett loves all things authentic” style,  I’ll definitely be trying some today! Most likely on the Swiss paper plates and accompanied by the Swiss paper napkins that I bought.

Here are some pics I took for you guys from my local Migros. I got chided for taking pictures, but when the security man heard my horrible (read: nonexistent) German, he said “Ok. Tourist. You can take a few photos.” so it all worked out for the best.

Happy August 1st! In an effort to unite the blog title with the topic of today’s post, I’ll be sporting these bad boys:

My Swiss Underwear

My Swiss Underwear

Yes, they’re made in Switzerland! :-)

About these ads

This is garbage!

I love the 80's The 80′s are totally back! For sure! 

I don’t know if it’s the same right now in America, but in Italy the 80′s are back with a vengeance! Fashion-wise, things like bright neon colors, retro printed tees, and bangle bracelets are all the rage! Music seems to be referencing the 1980′s more and more too with synthpop tunes that are best listened to on oversized 80′s-style headphones. Even some 80′s toys are back, like GPK (that’s Garbage Pail Kids to those of you not in the know).

Adam BombGarbage Pail Kids are these crude sticker-cards that feature gross-out situations and aptly named kids. I loved them when I was young. In fact, I still have a box full of them in storage somewhere in my parents’ house. I was thrilled to find them here in Italy too, especially because they’re even cooler since they’re in Italian! Toilet talk is just classier when it’s in another language!

Cerno-BillGarbage Pail Kids were originally launched in Italy under the name Sgorbions (playing off of the Italian word sgorbio, meaning ugly and freakish). The version I came across is the re-released edition that are called Kakkones (playing off of the Italian word cacca, meaning poop). For some interesting history on GPK in Italy click here.

 

I took a few pictures of Italian Kakkones and a re-release pack of American GPK that I picked up back in the USA. I wanted to delve into the different ways that these two cultures treat barf, snot, zits, and flesh wounds. This is some truly groundbreaking stuff and I expect to be asked to speak at some honorable universities around the globe on this very topic.  ;-P


One last point. Having a more unusual name like Garrett is neat-o, but it always meant having a harder time finding keychains and decorative license plates with my name on it. It also meant that I never found a Garrett Garbage Pail Kid. That’s something I’ve always yearned for. I would get mad at my friends when we found a card with their name on it because I was jealous. I mean, it wasn’t my fault that my parents were more creative than theirs! Butt-bit Brandon? Screw you! Messy Melissa? Unfair!

Some online research unveiled this one here below, but it’s spelled with only 1 “t” so that doesn’t count.Gassy Garret

Luckily, some creativity and an iPhone app have finally made it possible for me to chase down one of my dreams. I leave you today, ladies and gentleman, with the world premier of the Garrett GPK!

Grody Garrett

Grody Garrett

The simpler the better

Fancy ForkThe United States is brimming with swanky, chic Italian restaurants. Walls, napkins, and candle holders in trendy colors like burnt umber passion or titanium flambé. Artfully displayed and long-winded dishes like mahi-mahi penne with a Napolitano ponzu sauce reduction or mini pesto torts topped with a whipped brie and artichoke chutney. Creative restaurant names like “Linguini & Tinis”, “Scampi 38″, or “Ciao Bella Fashion Lounge”. There’s nothing at all wrong with these types of places. The food is creative and tasty and the atmosphere is funky. It’s just that you’ll have a hard time actually finding similarly lavish places in Italy … at least, that is, if you want the food to be any good.

There are some cool, “in”, expensive looking restaurants in Italy, especially in Milan. However, if you’re looking for properly priced delectable dishes I highly recommend going to a “hole-in-the-wall” place that looks like it was last refurbished in 1973, perhaps by somebody fond of tacky wood panelling and frightening tchotchke. These places are where the real Italian dining experience is to be had.

Italian restaurants – good Italian restaurants – offer no-frills service and atmosphere. I’m talking no music, simple decor that borders on ugly, and a straightforward menu lacking any unpronounceably trendy words. No squinting at the menu through mood lighting. No having to ask the waiter what a “zucchini ribbon nest with a Pugliese compote” means. No pushing open 8 different doors (Oops! Broom closet! Oops! Kitchen!) to find the one to the delightfully ambiguous bathroom. Just food. Honest, good, and lovingly prepared.

Red Checkered TableclothIf you’re picturing those oh-so-stereotypical red checkered tablecloths in your mind’s eye, then you’re getting the right idea.

One great example of a down-to-earth Italian restaurant in Milan is Trattoria Bolognese da Mauro. This restaurant, opened back in 1969, mostly serves dishes from the Bologna region, which are, in my humble opinion, the best of the best. If you are ever lucky enough to eat there I recommend, nay, insist, that you try the salsiccia gramigna. Strepitosa (amazing)! Honestly, I make a mean salsiccia gramigna, but da Mauro’s is 10 times better than my own. Not only is the food spectacular, but it’s boatloads less expensive than most restaurants in Milan and the people that work there are welcoming with a hint of bohemian kindness. I just dig the whole vibe of the place and think it really sums up the concept of what a real Italian restaurant is all about.

Good eatin' goes on here!

Good eatin’ goes on here!

Here are some pictures I took of my last trip to Trattoria Bolognese da Mauro. Hungry yet? Jealous? Wanna be me? :-P


So remember, when it comes to Italian dining in the home country: the simpler the better. Oh, and grated parmesan goes with just about anything!

Grated Parmesan Cheese

Italian Tidbits

Today I just have 3 quick and random things that I wanted to share with you. These lil’ tidbits aren’t really substantial enough to merit blog posts unto themselves, so I’ve decided to stick ‘em all together here for a lovely *guazzabuglio of Italian things.

1) McDonald’s, Italian Style

Beer at McDonald's

Beer at McDonald’s

There are two things about McDonald’s in Italy that would never function in the USA. Firstly, you have to pay for condiments here. Not on the sandwiches themselves, but like, if you want extra dipping sauces for your nuggets or even ketchup and mayonnaise for your fries. Americans love their condiments and sauces way too much for such a thing to work. While an Italian can pay ten cents and make do with one ketchup packet, Americans need to drown things and would probably spend more money on the sauces than on the actual food itself. The other thing is that Italian McDonald’s serves beer! Good stuff, too! Peroni! Italians are more responsible than Americans when it comes to drinking. They can have one beer with their value meal, and move on. In America, beer at McDonald’s would turn into a sh!tshow and there would be people puking in the ball pit.

2) Gucci Fashion Map

Gucci Map

Gucci Map – Front

Gucci Map - Back

Gucci Map – Back

Everybody knows that Milan is a European fashion capital. But did you know that Gucci has actually made a sort of fashion map to help you find their various stores around the city. Crazy, right? And this map only includes the actual Gucci stores and official retail spots, not  stores where Gucci happens to be sold together with other brands. I just think this is so cool! In fact, I had one hanging up in our bathroom for a while! Talk about taking a fashion shower!

3) Shutter Holders Thingys

Italian Shutter Holders

Italian Shutter Holders

I’m not sure exactly how to call these things in Italian or English, but they’re the things that you use to hold window shutters open and flush against the house. I’ve really Googled the crap out of these things to try and find out more information on them, but have been largely unsuccessful. Besides learning that they are popular in France too, I haven’t been able to figure out much so I’m just going to have to go on what I’ve heard from other people regarding these things. Looking at the photo, you’ll note that when the shutter holder thingy is in the up position you can see the face of a man, and when it’s down you can see the face of a woman. Cute, aren’t they? Well, rumor has it that these faces are supposed to represent Giuseppe Garibaldi and Anita Garibaldi. I haven’t been able to “officially” verify this, but at this point my blog is all the authority you need, right? ;-P

* If you don’t remember what guazzabuglio means, click here for the Italian Phrasebook.

Panini Do Nothing For Me

Italian panini suck! There, I said it! They are boring, and simple, and uncreative, and lack anything fried inside of them! As I’ve said many times before (to avoid a revolt … and because it’s true) Italian cuisine is great. However, when it comes to stuffing bread full of every meat, topping, and condiment possible, America has totally got Italy beat at the sandwich game!

Italian Panino

American Sandwich

Not only are Italian panini too simple and boring (imagine a single millimeter-thin layer of prosciutto, a solitary slice of cheese, and some dry lettuce without any condiment on it), but they also lack creativity. Anywhere you go in Italy, with a few overpriced exceptions, you find the exact same panini with the same dull options. Bleagh!

What’s worse, making any alterations to a “pre-set” panino is a no-no! After nearly 7 years in Italia, I must say that the habit that Italians have of making it difficult to make any changes to a sandwich drives me bonkers! I think I’m adult enough to know what I like and don’t like, thank you very much.

For example, this one time I was getting a sandwich at a café – one of the many where they don’t even permit you to chose your own fillings, but rather have sandwiches that are already planned out for you, even if they need to be made at the moment. The sandwich came with arugula, which I hate, so I asked for it without. When I went to pay they hit me with a surcharge of €1 because I asked for the sandwich without the arugula. And remember, the sandwich was not already made. It’s not like they had to take the arugula off and throw it away. They simply had to not add the damn thing, actually saving them both time and money. Well, I got in one of my infamous arguments with the lady at the cash register and stormed out without paying anything. So I guess I won that time, though I’ll have to add that café to the long list of places that I can never return back to because I made a scene.

This lengthy list also includes the sandwich shop where they tried to charge me fifty cents more because I asked for a condiment on the side, as apposed to actually on the panino. I guess the sandwich maker having to move his hand 2 inches to the right before squeezing the mayonnaise bottle is worthy of an extra charge in Italy…. Plus there is the place where I asked for a sandwich in Italian and the lady answered me in horrible English. I told her that her English was an atrocity and huffed out of there too, with no panino at all and still hungry. Well, this last one actually has more to do with me being too touchy about my Italian than it actually does with the panino itself, but it’s still on my black list.

In America, the local deli might have some pre-organized sandwiches, but you are more than free to simply create your own, choosing from the slew of options. The world is your oyster .. or, rather, topping. Your mile-high American sandwich will be stuffed to the brims and served with your choice of potatoe salad, macaroni salad, chips, or french fries. In Italy you practically have to open the two slices of bread to make sure that there is anything inside and the panino is served with your choice of … napkin.

I always feel bad for my American visitors who come to see me in Italy. They  have these great expectations for mouth watering Italian panini. I hate seeing the look of disappointment in their eyes when they discover that there is no such thing as a chicken pesto panino with roasted bell peppers and grilled marinated portobello mushrooms, smothered in tons of gooey melted mozzarella. That’s just the American take on an Italian panino.

I would say that the food I crave the most when I’m in Italy would be American sandwiches.  Man, I’d kill for a bologna sub from A&A with american cheese, mayo, pickles, grilled onions, jalapenos, and black olives! The best sub in my hometown! My mother would say that the best one is a steak bomb with mushrooms, peppers, and onions from Boyles, and those are pretty darn good too!

*** Grammar Point *** All this talk of food, and I almost forgot the grammar point I wanted to make. So “panino” is singular while “panini” is plural, so saying “I am having a panini” is technically incorrect. Although, who cares about grammar when you’ve got a foot-long sub to chow down on!

Grabbing milk and bread … in heels!

Something like quickly running to the store just for milk and bread or popping by the ATM to withdraw 50 bucks is an easy and effortless task in America. You throw on a pair of somewhat clean sweatpants and a backwards baseball cap over your messy hair, head out, do your thing, and you’re back home in a jiffy.

Not so in Italy! Italians, as we all well know, are a fashionable bunch. Italians will take the time to comb or pull back their hair, apply some make-up or moisturizer, and choose a casual but well-thought-out outfit for such a menial task. Even running to the corner store is an opportunity to show what you’re workin’ with (or break in your new Armani shoes)!

Let’s turn to the world of celebrities to help me underline my point.

Here’s Britney Spears looking sloppy and disheveled:

I know, I know … LEAVE BRITNEY ALONE!

And here is Italian celebrity Ilary Blasi lookin’ good ’round the neighborhood:

Hot damn!

Shall we play “spot the difference”? ;-)

Italy is Closed Due to Inclement Weather

When American people think of Italy, the kinds of things that tend to pop into mind are images of people tanning on sun-kissed beaches, historic monuments illuminated by the warm sun, and Sophia Loren riding around on the back of a Vespa in a short skirt with stylish sunglasses on to keep the bright sun out of her eyes. Our image of the bella vita is generally lots and lots of sun and warm weather.

I hate to be the one to shatter anyone’s image of Italy, but we do have winter here and it does get cold.

Me all wintered up with a nice pea coat from my parents, a soft scarf from my boyfriend, and cute mittens from my brother. Lucky me! (The scally cap I bought for myself from H&M)

My family and friends back in the USA were surprised when I would call from Italy in December or January and talk about how cold it was or explain that we got a light dusting of snow. The fact that I needed a jacket, hat, scarf, and gloves to go out was something that really bowled them over and, I think, ruined their sun-filled ideas of Italy.

Italy does have pretty good weather most of the time, but we definitely do have 4 seasons. Winters in Italy are less harsh and shorter than in many other parts of the world, but it does get cold here, particularly in the central and northern parts of the country. Coming from Boston, I can tell you that winters in Italy are nothing at all like winters in the north-east part of the USA. I mean, it snowed on Halloween in Boston this year. Just imagine all those poor little boys and girls dressed up as Spider-Man or Cinderella who had to don winter coats over their costumes to go out trick-or-treating. However, Italy still feels the chill of old man winter.

This winter, in particular, has been quite cold recently and has seen lots of snow hit the country. Well, “lots” for Italian standards. Here in Milan we had a good few days of snow and places like Bologna and Rome really got pummeled by powder!

The funny thing is, since winters here are not normally that bad, when it does snow a lot  Italians always seem to be caught off guard and unprepared. The Italian news reports on the storm referring to it as a “Snow Tragedy: schools and roads closed – thousands stranded in their homes” when it Boston it would just be called “We Got Some Snow – scrape off your car and get your butt to work“.

My parents now live in San Diego, and it’s the same sort of thing that happens there when it drizzles. People in southern California just aren’t used to rain (lucky them) so when it does rain a little bit, people go crazy and freak out – boarded up in their homes and driving haphazardly off the road. My Boston-born parents can’t help but snicker at this. They survived years and years or “nor’easters” and certainly aren’t going to let a little rain slow them down!

Here to prove my point, and convince the more hardened of you “Italy is always sunny and warm” believers, are some pictures of the recent snowstorm that buried Rome.

The Christmas Witch

Buon Natale a tutti!

My non-Italian readers may find the above picture to be strangely out-of-place during the Holiday season. It seems more like a Halloween thing rather than a Christmas one, doesn’t it?

Well, this witch with a heart of gold is very Christmasy in Italy. Her name is La Befana (or “Beffy” as I like to call her). She flies around on her broomstick and fills the stockings of  little boys and girls on the night of January 5th for the Christian holiday called Epiphany on the 6th. She gives candy and small toys to good children and coal to bad ones, just like Santa Claus does in America.

In the USA we have Santa that does both presents under the tree and the stockings while Italians have Babbo Natale (Santa Clause in Italian) for Christmas presents under the tree and La Befana for the stockings at the beginning of January.

Apparently, Italian Santa Claus was too busy enjoying “la bella vita” to get around to taking care of stockings, so he enlisted the help of the good witch.

Personally, I think it’s kind of cool to have the gifts split up between two different holidays that are close together. Getting presents on multiple days is sort of like a mini Hanukkah!

Well, I hope you’ve all been good this year or Beffy will be leaving you a lump of coal. If you’re lucky, maybe she’ll give you some candy coal instead of the real thing!

Little Mouse

I am a huge Mickey Mouse fan! Have been ever since I was a boy!

I love Mickey so much that when I was little I dressed up as the famous Disney mouse for numerous consecutive Halloweens. My Mom gave up on trying to persuade me to change costumes by saying “Why don’t you try being a cute lil’ Dracula” or “Don’t you want to be a Ninja Turtle this year? Cowabunga!” and just accepted the fact that she was going to have to dust off and slightly alter the old Mickey costume once more, for the 4th year in a row.

Me as Mickey Mouse for Halloween in the 80′s! How cute am I?!!?

One year Mom was able to convince me to be a cowboy … but I still had to have some Mickey Mouse involved!

You may even say that I was possessed by Mickey Mouse. In fact, my parents have video evidence of me being silly (what else is new?) and talking in a high-pitched voice saying “Hi! I’m Mickey Mouse!”. When my parents kindly ask “Garrett, use your normal voice.”, I creepily respond by shrieking “Garrett isn’t here right now, but you can talk to me, Mickey, if you want!” The video is an old 1980′s VHS home movie, and I have absolutely no idea how I’d go about transferring and uploading it to YouTube so I can’t show it to you, but I think just writing about it is embarrassing enough for me!

Now, you might be asking yourself “What’s this got to do with Italy?”. I’m getting there, don’t worry!

Mickey Mouse is known around the world either by the original American name that Walt Disney gave him or by a country’s local version (ie. Mickey Maus, Miki Miška, Ratón Mickey, Mikki Mús…).

Italy is an exception to this rule. In Italia, Mickey Mouse is known as Topolino (which translates to Little Mouse) and there’s an interesting historical reason behind this name change.

The cover of the first issue of the famous Topolino magazine in Italy … still read by children (and adults) even today!

During the period of fascism in Italy, Benito Mussolini outlawed the publication of foreign comic strips, especially American ones. The only one American comic that was “allowed” was Mickey Mouse, apparently because Mussolini’s children loved the character so much. The way to get away with publishing it anyways was to get rid of Mickey’s filthy American name and give him a new Italian one that was more in line with the ideals of strong Italian nationalism and pride. Fascism in Italy may have died off but the name stuck, and to this day Italians refer to the Disney star as Topolino.

Call him whatever you want, all I know is that Mickey Mouse continues to have a special place in my heart!

I think it’s quite clear which Disney character is my favorite. What’s yours? Leave a comment below! :-)

Let me give you some advice

  • I meet up with my friends outside the bar where we’re going to have a few drinks and one of them asks ” Shouldn’t you be wearing a heavier jacket?”
  • I dunk my french fries in ketchup and a fellow McDonalder says “I don’t think you should use so much of that stuff, it’s not good for you.”
  • I’m at a store looking at some candle holders and shop assistant states “You should look at those silver ones over there. Also, make sure to buy 3 because 2 is bad luck.”

Unwanted and unsolicited advice is one of the things that drives me most bananas about living in Italy. I’m talking a big ol’ bunch of ripe Chiquitas here!

Italians love, lovelove voicing their opinion and giving you advice whether you want it or not. I, being an outgoing-yet-humble guy, have absolutely no problem voicing my opinion (which has a time and a place) or asking for advice (which needs to be left to the individual to decide whether or not to ask). But, Italian people (God love ‘em) for some reason think that their opinion/advice is exactly what you have been searching for and longing to hear.

Among themselves the situation goes without a hitch. An Italian will respond to unsolicited advice from another Italian by responding with some of their own. Both parties seem content to have expressed their opinion or shared their advice and then they both continue happily with their day. This is not so with me.

An unsuspecting (and essentially innocent) Italian will gawk at me with an expression of hurt surprise on their face when their unsought advice is met by my gruff “Who the hell asked you?!”

I know my jacket is light, I understand that too much ketchup isn’t good for you, and I am perfectly capable of selecting candle holders all by myself thank you!

I don’t want to seem hostile or non grateful towards my host culture, so, being that today is Thanksgiving (at least back in the USA), I’d like to close with something positive: I am thankful for my life here in Italy and all the wonderful/strange/exciting/frustrating things that come along with it!

Italian bog reader: “You know, Garrett, you really should have started your post with the Thanksgiving thing and I’m not sure that the Chiquita banana reference was pertinent.”

Me: “Shut it!”

(Okay, I just had to get one last zing in there) :-P