The mysterious flying rodent insect … who wants your teeth

B Horror MovieOk, so I know the title of this blog post seems like a cheesy B-horror movie title, but the subject matter is really quite cute, so don’t throw yourself into a fright! I want to talk about the tooth fairy and her equivalent in Italy and Switzerland.

the tooth fairySo, in the USA we have the famous tooth fairy who flies into children’s rooms while they sleep to collect their fallen-out baby teeth and leave a bit of money behind. In my family, we had this adorable little tooth pillow that my Mom bought at a charity fair, in which me and my brother would leave our baby teeth for the tooth fairy to take.

I lost my first tooth!  This is me with the tooth pillow.

I lost my first tooth!
This is me with the tooth pillow.

la formichina dei dentiI guess because I don’t have any children of my own and am not really in contact with that many children since I have been living abroad, I just sort of assumed that the tooth fairy visited all little boys and girls around the world. But, I was talking with my boyfriend the other day and he told me that in his family, they didn’t have the tooth fairy. They had the “formichina dei denti” (little tooth ant).

This got me thinking, so I did some research and polled some Italian friends to discover that in Italy, some houses have the little tooth ant while others (perhaps the majority?) have the “topolino dei denti” (little tooth mouse). These characters have the same job description that the tooth fairy does, although they have to have mad skillz to crawl/sneak into the children’s bedrooms, instead of simply flying.il topolino dei denti

I was then curious to know what goes on in Switzerland. It turns out that they have the tooth fairy and the little tooth mouse, depending on which part of Switzerland you’re living in. My thorough research (read: some WhatsApps sent to some Swiss friends) shows that the German cantons tend towards the fairy, while the French and Italian cantons tend towards the mouse. And, oddly enough, the children can only redeem baby teeth that were lost while eating top quality, 100% pure Swiss chocolate. Something about keeping the economy healthy… No, ok. I kid, I kid.

So, while it’s too late for me to personally experience the tooth-takers in Switzerland, I thought it was pretty interesting to know that the tooth fairy, as we know her in the USA, is not the only one out there that’s climbin’ in yo’ windows, snatchin’ yo’ teeth up. Try ‘na steal ’em. So hide yo’ incisors. Hide yo’ canines. An’ hide yo’ molars, ‘cuz they thiefin’ all them teeth out here.missing tooth smile

Switzerland: where water flows like … water

Poland SpringsI’m not a big fan of having to pay for drinking water. If I live in a place where the tap water is perfectly drinkable, it irks me to have to buy a bottle of water to drink, when free stuff is just flowing out of the taps.

In America, we’re much less into bottled water than in Europe. Ok, I mean, maybe if we’re out on the town and buy a hot dog from a street vendor, we might buy a bottle of water to go with it. But in general, America is a big tap water drinking nation. At restaurants in the USA, waiters bring you a big cold glass of tap water without even needing to ask for it (unless, of course, you’re at some fancy-schmancy place where they offer you San Pellegrino… at a price). At home, we just turn on the kitchen sink when we’re thirsty (unless you’re my Mom, who since moving to California from Massachusetts, thinks the local tap water tastes weird … but that’s an exception and a totally different story).

When I lived in Italy, I noticed that they had some ornate water fountains around on the streets and in the piazzas that you could fill a bottle up with or even drink directly from. At first, I wasn’t exactly sure what the deal was and was hesitant to drink from these fountains. They looked purely decorational, plus the water is constantly flowing from these European drinking fountains. There is no “on/off” switch that you need to press.  The concept was so foreign to me.

We, of course, have free public fountains in America, but they are usually indoors, located in places like a school, gym, or waiting room. They’re clearly for drinking and are pretty standard.

typical water fountain

typical water fountain – easily seen all over the USA

These fountains in Italy that I’m talking about were decidedly more ornate and were located outside on the street, in the open air. They were part of the ambiance of the city … but you could also get 100% free, completely drinkable water from them. So cool, right? I used them often, and whenever I knew I would be out for the day, I would just toss an empty water bottle in my bag so I could fill it up whenever I was thirsty. Free thirst-quenching win! Here are a few examples of Italian water fountains:

a water fountain in Milan

water fountain in Milan

water fountain in Bologna

water fountain in Bologna

Now that I live in Switzerland, I can enthusiastically report that Zurich has tons of free drinking fountains all over the city, and it’s awesome! There are so many, in fact, that when I have visitors, I make them play the “water fountain game” where the only rule is that you must take a sip from every new fountain you see as we meander around the city. Now, I carefully chose the phrase “make them play” because there are so many fountains that my visitors usually end up water-logged, begging me to quit the game. They can’t. Fun!

These fountains range from very simple to simply astounding. Some even have a separate spigot near the ground for dogs, like this basic Swiss water fountain here:

Simple Fountain

I spent a lovely sunny afternoon strolling around Zurich taking pictures for you of some of my favorite fountains that you can drink from. Just click on any of the below photos to see ’em all nice an’ big!

 Well, that’s all for today. Let’s close with a water seeeeelfie!

Seeeeelfie

 

 

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! :-)

The Extra Kiss

Kiss Me Candy HeartAmerican singers Hall & Oates sang about a kiss being on their list. Well, if they were European, that list might be pretty lengthy and include kisses from just about anybody (friends, neighbors, colleagues) for just about any reason (saying hello, thank you, congratulations). Europeans are very kissy.

Fashion SnobOf course, I’m not talking about sensual lip-to-lip kissing, but of friendly cheek kissing. You don’t even really actually kiss the cheek. It’s more like you place your cheek on the other person’s and then sort of just kiss the air next to them. To get a better idea, think of the snobby, fashion-conscious, female character from any Miami or New York-based TV show who always wears designer sunglasses, carries her little dog around with her in a Louis Vuitton bag, and says “ciao” to everybody when she leaves an exclusive rooftop party. These people, even if they’re American, do those kisses too.

These cheek kisses are a very European thing and I’m all in. I even give them to my friends and family back in America. I guess I caught them off guard at first, but they know to expect it now. Though I should probably specify that you don’t really give people you just met kisses to say “hello”. However, if you get along swimmingly and bond a bit, I think there’s nothing wrong with giving goodbye kisses. For me, it’s a way of saying “ok, we know each other now”.

Men KissingThese kisses even happen between two men and two women and I find it much nicer than the awkward, man-on-man hug/back-thumping that leaves plenty of room for the holy ghost. And this has nothing to do with being gay. I just think that the American “we’re both men and I care about you, but we have to stay macho because feelings are lame-o” embrace is silly.Man Hug Rules

Italian LipsNow, back to the subject at hand and what I’ve learned of kissing culture in Europe. Italians generally do two kisses, starting on the right. Starting on the right. If you mess that up, you might both go the same way and get more than you bargained for… which can also be fun. Just sayin’!  Anyways, it’s two quick kisses and that’s it! No way to really mess that up too badly, as long as you can count as high as two.

Swiss LipsSwiss, on the other hand, do three kisses. The “extra kiss” was something that I wasn’t prepared for when I first moved here. I think I left a few people confused and perhaps hurt some feelings, but I’ve got it down now. In fact, I’m a professional at the Swiss Triple Kiss. I don’t really get why they do three and I personally think it’s one too many, but if it’s what they do here, then ok. Three kisses it is! I just want to fit it, all right? My horrible German already makes me stick out, so at least let’s do the kissing correctly!

So throw your fears about personal space aside and remember, when packing your bags for Europe, bring your passport, your coolest shoes, and some mouthwash for greeting people.

Do you guys know of kissy greetings in any other countries? Let me know with a comment below! 

Italian Food Facts: Cappuccino

Pouring CappuccinoCiao ragà! It’s time to learn some more cool stuff about the Italian foods (or beverages, in this case) that we all love.

Hot n’ frothy! No, it’s not the name of an adult film … well, actually it probably is … but that’s not the point! Today, we’re talking about cappuccino!

Ok, so you know what a cappuccino is, right? Sure you do! You’re a card-carrying citizen of planet Earth! How could you not? But do you know the meaning behind the word “cappuccino”. No, no you don’t. That’s why you need me.

The word “cappuccino” means “little hood” in Italian. No, I’m not talking about a small urban area known for its tough streets. I mean “hood” in the, “head covering attached to a sweatshirt” sort of way.

Capuchin MonksThis famous Italian coffee concoction got its name because of its light brown color – the result of the espresso and steamed milk coming together. This shade of brown is the same as the one found on the robes of the Capuchin monks, they themselves being named after the hood on their robes. See the connection? There are tons of pictures I could show you of real Capuchin monks to illustrate this point. I, however, have opted for the salt and pepper shakers that my grandparents used to have.

These sure bring back memories!

These sure bring back memories!

A few more quick points on cappuccini (note the correct plural form in Italian is “cappuccini” and not “cappuccinos”):

  1. Good luck trying to order a cappuccino in Italy after 11 am or (horrors!) after a meal! That’s sort of against the rules here. Something to do with Italians believing that milk will block your digestion.
  2. Have you ever gotten a cappuccino with cinnamon on it? Mamma mia! It’s good stuff! Try it!
  3. There are some real cappuccino artists out there. Baristas who decorate the top of the cappuccino with the foam or cocoa powder. It always puts a smile on my face when I order one and it comes with a little extra care put into its aesthetic quality. Here’s a few examples of cool cappys!

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.