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Playing The Neutral Card Of Switzerland

Playing The Neutral Card Of Switzerland


Isn’t it cute when you hear the expression on sports TV about “playing Switzerland?” To some not terribly familiar with the country, the term and image of Switzerland conveys a land of neutrality, prosperity and idyllic place to live (militarily neutral and won’t join other armies even though they have an army and will defend themselves).

Isn’t it cute to hear about the special land of Geneva, Bern and the Matterhorn and the only country portrayed as a neutral land in American media even though their neighbor, Austria, is also neutral but apparently does not get the same kind of love. Why not love for Vienna, Innsbruck and Salzburg too? Why just love Suisse? Perhaps Austria is neglected because of the absence of kangaroos and perhaps the Swiss have a better PR department and more influential lobbyists.

Decades ago, I lived in this beautiful place  for one year where at least four languages are spoken: Romansh, French, Italian & German. I still follow the ‘goings on’ from many kilometers away as I still find this land compelling. From my past experience, my perspective or take on this idyllic country is typically quite different from the American bus traveler who visits 20 European countries in 21 days.

It goes without saying that living in any country for an extended period may provide a unique “snapshot” of their culture.

In my mind, even though Switzerland is considered a neutral land, one might be prudent not to project much beyond that point. First, as mentioned earlier, military neutral means they have an army — and they’ll defend themselves tooth and nail. Military neutral doesn’t mean it doesn’t have social problems to deal with especially significant drug issues in their largest cities. Military neutral doesn’t mean it’s not ethnocentric in its thinking where any foreign worker or Gastarbeiter does much of the manual labor and is often looked down upon by the wealthy Swiss. Military neutral doesn’t mean there are many economists and business people who question their banking policies.

Perhaps this is overshadowed by the entire wonderful PR done by travelers who fall in love with pictures of Switzerland. Many of whom can’t wait to walk down those quaint and uber clean village streets, eat scrumptious chocolate, see snow-capped Alps, and hear the Brown Swiss cows casually ringing their bells while grazing in the mountainous regions.

Look, I don’t hate Switzerland and at the same time, I can’t love it either. Perhaps I hold a neutral position?  It offers a tremendous amount of beauty and many things to see and experience. However, it’s quite expensive so that experience may take a sizeable chunk from one’s wallet. Maybe in my mind, that’s the Achilles heel with Switzerland. If you’re extremely wealthy, they will welcome you with open arms. If you’re not, it might present many challenges. Of course, one might associate these conditions with many other countries and that might be true although, I’d argue, this is more acute with Switzerland.

Hearing references to ‘playing Switzerland’ during sports’ TV compelled me to provide another perspective about Switzerland – contrary to the common stereotype. Perhaps it’s only human nature to project “the grass is greener on the other side” about a foreign land. A place some may inspire to visit sometime.

The perception that Switzerland is a fairly tale place to live will be further reinforced by travelers who spend less than 36 hours there. One’s perception of the fairy tale land may be shattered by those outsiders who actually get a first- hand experience of how the Swiss actually think and feel.

The Villages’ Subway – Eat Fresh but Try to Ignore the Disgruntled Employee

The Villages’ Subway – Eat Fresh but Try to Ignore the Disgruntled Employee

There is a busy Subway restaurant a few hundred feet from Highway 441/27 in The Villages, Florida. Nothing remarkable about the interior or exterior – most consumers looking for a quick sandwich are typically not concerned about the lack of ambiance as it’s all about the food.  

While down here for my parent’s wedding anniversary, a few of my siblings had a taste for sub sandwiches so this Subway restaurant quickly came to mind. Being just outside of this Friendliest Retirement Hometown and beautiful retirement community and a good seventy minute drive north of Orlando, the location was ideal. The weather was cooperative for early February and and our family wanted to enjoy these sandwiches at a nearby park on this sunny Sunday afternoon.  

As we arrived, there were about 12 people in queue to be served. No need to worry, these employees appeared to be working hard. In lieu of the restaurant’s location and the fact it was Sunday afternoon, I was surprised only two women were serving customers – one was fairly young and quite talkative and the older women, while working the register, did not appear to be emotionally engaged. Perhaps with limited management support, both employees and customers potentially might experience the brunt of questionable scheduling during such a busy time.

With all the options and combinations of building a sandwich, it took about 10 minutes before we received our order (even though the first woman had initially skipped over me). For a moment, I thought I was a potted plant! As I paid and because the woman working the cash register appeared to be somewhat agitated, I engaged in small talk to let her know her work mattered to me. I complimented her on how hard she was working on a Sunday afternoon. That touched a nerve or two as she begin to tell me management wanted to cut expenses so they only had 2 employees during the Sunday afternoon shift. She also voiced her frustration at not knowing how long she was going to work. Was it Noon or 3 pm? She could never rely on a schedule as her manager had a penchant for changing her hours without advanced notice. Piecing things together, it would not take a labor relation’s attorney to ascertain there was some history and friction between her and her manager about scheduling and working conditions.

If what she said was true I could certainly understand her frustration at the working conditions and lack of empowerment at this restaurant. Some critics of the harsh variety might say she should just quit if she’s unhappy but that’s not really a nuanced approach. My only comment was she needs to focus on what she says at a given time and who she says it to. 

Even though customers might feel her frustration, it’s certainly not professional to complain to those ordering a sandwich about her inadequate pay or lack of control with her work schedule. Most Subway sandwich lovers or patrons want to quickly stop in to get a sandwich, a soda and bag of chips and want to enjoy their day without feeling guilty that they helped contribute to this one employee who’s being overworked and perhaps under paid.

I chuckle at how many celebrities promote the Subway sandwiches and restaurant. This includes Michael Strahan, Michael Phelps, RGIII and Apollo Ono among others. I wonder what their reaction might be if they had a similar situation with this overworked and frustrated Subway employee? Would it be support? Kindness? Understanding? Or would they merely smile, ignore her work situation and go about their business.  

Subway, eat fresh but ignore the disgruntled employee!

Work, Life & Critical Thoughts 2014-03-30 19:19:00

Work, Life & Critical Thoughts 2014-03-30 19:19:00


So I got yelled at the other day by the kitchen manager because I leaned over the counter and pointed at the food in the Chipotle restaurant in downtown Libertyville. Mind you, I was still a few feet away from the actual food although without any ingredient labels, what was a Chipotle Burrito lover to do in creating the ultimate sandwich?

You see, even though I enjoy Chipotle, for whatever reason, I’m not a regular so when it comes to determining what I want on my tacos or burritos, somehow, I need ingredient labels for assistance. Without signage, I revert to pointing which is contrary to restaurant policy especially if you lean over towards the food as you point. And the way the Chipotle Grill is designed in Libertyville with a lack of a barrier between the customers and how the ingredients are displayed, customers who are not vertically challenged may sometimes accidentally lean over and point at the food. Again, I learned, a big “no no.”

I’m all for hygiene and adhering to restaurant guidelines so for future visits to this Chipotle, I will certainly be cognizant about not getting close to the food and pointing. Oh yeah, and using my words (including adjectives) to specify what ingredients will comprise my ultimate sandwich.
Having said that, I’m wondering if this interaction could have been handled differently. The kitchen manager loudly told me not to reach over and point at the food. It was the first time I was ever scolded for pointing at restaurant food. I was more shocked than embarrassed as my intent was really benign, just trying to customize my burrito. Perhaps she could have taken me aside and mentioned this to me? Customer centric?

After the verbal reprimand, I constructively asked her if it was possible to include an ingredient list so I would not have to point. Seconds later, she just walked away as she was not interested in my suggestions. Perhaps she was not interested in addressing the issue, but rather just do her job by ensuring the food stay pure with proper hygiene. I understand she has a job to do, however, being a representative of the restaurant, she could have “heard me out” and told me she’d submit my suggestion to the store manager for consideration.

As I was leaving, I met a woman who had heard the interaction who quietly told me her boyfriend had been yelled at two nights ago because he too pointed at the food. I’m sure others have been scolded over the first years of the restaurant’s existence. At some point will she or other employees talk about this issue and decide to take some action to help mitigate this issue from occurring again?



As I was listening to the Dan Patrick podcast the other day a term caught my attention as I heard it was improperly used. The host, Dan Patrick was talking about the upcoming 2014 NFL draft and the fickle sports media when it came to the flavor of the month and suggested the NFL media are so reactionary.

After hearing this, I rolled my eyes regarding Dan’s misuse of this term. According to Wikipedia, reactionary refers to a person who holds political viewpoints that favor a return to a previous state in a society. I believe he should have said ‘reactive’ instead.

According to Bing, the term reactive relates to a response to events or situations rather than initiating or instigating. This dictionary also suggests it’s something caused by stimuli or events.

That’s not the first time I’ve heard Dan misuse that term. The last time it was used, I reached out to the Dan Patrick show pointing out the misuse of the term without ever receiving a response. Regardless, I won’t just call out Dan Patrick. I’ve heard other sports’ talk show hosts use ‘reactionary’ when in fact they should say ‘reactive’ instead.

Whenever the term ‘reactionary’ is improperly used, it raises my ire in a number of ways. First, reactive and proactive go hand and hand — especially in a corporate environment or dealing with customer service. Do you react to events or are you proactive or anticipate new events or possible problem areas? If I hear reactionary, the last association would not have anything to do with proactive behavior. Two, the term ‘reactionary’ suggests having political views in favor or going back to a previous state of society – not something I would necessary endorse.

Dan, in the future, please consider using reactive instead of reactionary when describing a response to events.

Exceeding Expectations at Publix Super Market in The Villages

Exceeding Expectations at Publix Super Market in The Villages

Publix Super Market at La Plaza Grande West Focusing on the Customer

So my mother and father were a day away from celebrating their 65th wedding anniversary which meant last minute errands to help make the party a success. Being residents of Florida’s Friendliest Retirement Hometown (The Villages) in Central Florida, my parents appeared to pick the right venue in which to celebrate this wonderful event.  

My brother and I had some literal and figurative running to do before the party – our last stop for that day, a Publix grocery store just south of The Villages Spanish Springs Town Square to get our party balloons inflated. We initially went to customer service who steered us to the balloon inflation area quite close to the produce department.  
We waited there for about 3 minutes until one employee came by and asked us who we were waiting for. Our reply was, “waiting to get our balloons filled.” A few minutes later, a different employee inquired about our needs and we basically had the same response. Finally, the manager, Alfred, came by after about 10 minutes of waiting and he said he’d take care of us. Alfred inflated all 9 balloons for us – having a nice chat as we streamlined this process together to get these done and over to the party hall ASAP. In the back of my mind, I felt like asking him for a discount for our inconvenience but decided against it. I was just happy to get this done.  

After Alfred finished, he told us the service was no cost – he apologized for our wait and stipulated that we should not be charged anything at checkout. What a pleasant surprise! Look, with no service for 10 minutes, he did his best to rectify the situation. By doing this, he made us more determined to come back and shop – it was an expense of $10 or so although that “good will gesture” had a lasting impression on us and to others as we felt compelled to tell this story a number of times.  

In October of last year, while doing some preliminary planning for the February party, my two sisters and parents had visited the same store to get some ideas about the 65th Anniversary cake options. They had worked with Karen, a bakery specialist, to learn about pricing and the types of cakes available for our parent’s anniversary.  

When it was time to make the cake in February, Karen made the wedding cake top as her gift to my parents. She also had her bakery staff sign the anniversary card for them. Talk about going above and beyond! 

Karen also had the idea of adding the wedding photo be placed on their cake. Because she added everything up and forgot to add the charge for the photo, she decided otherwise about adding that extra fee to the order. She duplicated the color and design from the invitation on both cakes – totally unexpected but incredible, as you can see by the photos. 

Her attitude toward this very special event indicated to my sisters that she takes her work very seriously and is all about service. She acted as though she was making these cakes for someone in her family for a very special event. Having the cakes just right was a big deal for our family and Karen did the necessary “leg work” to make it a big deal for her.  

You don’t always know what impact the little things employees do that can impact the reputation of a business. Because my father was so impressed by Karen’s leadership, he mentioned her caring attitude and excellent customer service to about 75 attendees at his anniversary party. In addition, because my father is an extrovert, hundreds of others he meets during his active lifestyle in The Villages may hear the same positive story about Karen and her employer, Publix. One can’t forget the customer centric approach by Publix motivated me to write about this encouraging experience and share with hundreds through my customer service blog.  

During special events, you hope things fall into place and when they don’t, you hope that you’re working with the type of service provider who will do what it takes to help ensure your event is special. This is what took place.  

One more thing, some consumer advocates say customers are more likely to distribute bad press after a negative situation than a positive experience. I understand that logic as it’s sometimes easier to disseminate bad news but this isn’t always the case. After being wowed by Publix’s commitment to service, many members of my large family have told these positive stories to others – in addition to what positive things my mother and father will say about Publix around The Villages. And again, when I see and experience a good product or service, there are several channels I will utilize to ensure other consumers are aware of the positive experiences my family had at Publix La Plaza Grande West.        

I Want to Live in the Cialis World

I Want to Live in the Cialis World

010I want to be that man in the Cialis commercial. You know, the one where the middle aged man and woman (probably husband and wife) are working so pleasantly and lovingly together. I will call them Mr and Mrs C.
It appears Mr and Mrs C have been a couple for many a year although they act contrary to that fact as they have that look about them – you know what I mean. I want to be that man!  

I want to live in the Cialis world where my wife would be interested in staining and varnishing, wear stylish clothes and not create any permanent stains on her attire during the entire project. What talent! 
Like Mrs. C, I want my lady to remain a brunette for many years to come and wrinkle free, even though she may have recently celebrated her 30 or 35 year high school reunion. Any gray from age, stress or needless worry will be placed on the man’s head courtesy of the age gods. In this glamorous world of Cialis, and contrary to the ‘Just for men’ hair care commercials, any man can have much gray hair and still be oh so desirable by his partner. 

It goes without saying that my Cialis world would include my precious bride giving me a concerned and loving look regardless of what we’re doing. I may be fixing a leaky kitchen faucet or stopping the toilet from excessive water waste but that special bond transcends issues, even if she’s handing me a phillips screwdriver or a pipe wrench.

Remember, you’re in the Cialis world so neither partner is tired or has a back ache after working on various projects. Neither of you have cephalalgia or continuous head pain or smell like you haven’t had shower in 4 days. Neither of you have any weight issues – perhaps the Cialis world is exempt from excessive weight gain. Neither of you would ever resist sex or intimacy from your life partner and neither of you would misconstrue an advance by the other. Thank God for such a scenario that allows Mr. and Mrs C to consummate their commitment in compassionate love to each other over and over again. 
Who really knows how long that special world may last, but when things are going so well, let’s just enjoy this special ride! How can you go wrong when your partner not only helps you with a project outside, which eventually includes cuddling and could lead to a touchdown celebration later that afternoon. Perhaps the smell of varnish or wood stain acts as an aphrodisiac? Perhaps paint would too? With this new approach, the “Honey Do List” would no longer apply as tasks and projects would be a collaborative and loving experience.
I want to relive that beautiful fall day of staining your romantic “sitting bench” in such a relaxed and loving manner. No errands to run that day, no toilets to clean, no grocery shopping to execute, just unlimited time with me and my bride. No leaves falling in your yard or into your gutters so yard clean-up is not an outdoor priority. On this glorious autumn day, no hungry hornets or wasps flying around the loving couple searching for flowers that can still provide nourishment or possible sugary substances. And no wind whatsoever. Just love, companionship and pleasure. 
Ah, what a glorious Cialis life and I’d like to try that on to see if it fits!

How Do You Create Great Peanut Butter?

How Do You Create Great Peanut Butter?

What’s this product??? 

It’s rich and delicious. It’s the best I’ve tasted and trust me, I’ve tried much peanut butter in my day. Special roasting process brings out the highest flavor. And the best peanuts – Valencia! It’s not emulsified and only two ingredients – Valencia peanuts and sea salt. It goes with bread, crackers, pita bread and apples, bananas and much more. And a very good value, especially if you love peanut butter as it’s less than 14 cents per ounce. 

What is it? 

Well of course, it’s the Kirkland (Costco brand) Signature peanut butter. The label states these peanuts are grown in the American Southwest and known for their “natural sweetness and flavor.” One may argue this brand doesn’t need to add sugar as a flavor enhancer as they are using peanuts with natural sweetness and highest flavor.
According to the article, Working for Peanuts in the Costco Connection, the Costco buying team experimented with the roasting process until they landed on a dark roast that, like coffee, brings out a stronger peanut flavor, both more robust and sweeter. 
You can find two 40 ounce jars for around $10.99. Some might think “sticker shock,” having to spend nearly $6 for a jar of peanut butter but let’s look deeper into the Kirkland peanut butter world. 
First, Kirkland Signature uses Valencia peanuts, and of the four varieties of peanuts (Virginia, Spanish and Runner), Valencia peanuts are the hardest to grow. When it comes to harvesting the peanut, because the stems are sometimes weak, it can be quite challenging to gather the pods. Even though the Valencia peanuts have the shortest growing season, the yield is smaller than other varieties. Lastly, some peanut butter connoisseurs may not realize it takes at least 1800 peanuts to make one Kirkland Signature jar. 
Even though Kirkland peanut butter requires stirring with the oil at the top, you don’t necessarily have to stir all the peanut butter in the jar after opening. Yes, initially you can stir the top half of the jar but “stir as you go” applies here which means every so often, you may need to “stir as you go” and one will continue to find delicious, creamy and smooth peanut butter all the way to the end.
I used to transfer peanut butter from a knife to my bread until I recently found a spoon is the way to go and if you’re dealing with a deep jar, a long spoon may have to suffice. Unfortunately, because this peanut butter is incredibly delicious, I suspect more consumption is done each time I partake in this delectable endeavor. 
As I mentioned earlier, Kirkland Signature peanut butter keeps it simple with only one ingredient besides the Valencia peanuts. Other peanut butter, such as Skippy and Jif contains hydrogenated vegetable oils (to prevent separation) and sugar (to add taste). It’s nice to have that option at Costco to choose a peanut butter that not only tastes superior to the traditional peanut butter brands and doesn’t include sugar and incorporate chemical processing. Consumer centric in their approach? 
One more piece of advice for consumers. If you choose not to try or sample this peanut butter, realize first this peanut butter is made from the best peanuts. If you want to compare it to other brand-name peanut butters, check out their label and tell me what peanuts the brand-name producers use. Chances are, it will not say Valencia peanuts as part of the ingredient list for products such as Jif or Skippy so is it possible they are using the same high quality ingredients? Trust me when I say that peanut butter manufacturers would not be shy about advertising they used the best peanuts if they indeed did. If they don’t, would it not be a significant challenge for product developers to compete with the outstanding flavor of Kirkland peanut butter without additional flavor enhancers? If you want an incredible peanut butter experience, give this product a try. But be forewarned, there may be no turning back.
Before consumers automatically discount this

Work, Life & Critical Thoughts 2013-10-27 19:35:00

Work, Life & Critical Thoughts 2013-10-27 19:35:00

IMG_7894_newWould you Recommend the Oatmeal, Mac? 

On a Sunday morning in July and not familiar with breakfast restaurants in Hudson, Wisconsin, and the surrounding areas, I drove along the beautiful St. Croix valley to find somewhere that served breakfast. The only restaurant that appeared to come through in the clutch was McDonald’s – I don’t typically eat breakfast at Mickey D’s but thought, “why not?”

Trying to start my day healthy, I ordered coffee and oatmeal.  As I had surveyed the menu, I saw oatmeal priced at $1.99 so I thought I’d give this relatively new item (to me) a try.

While I’m enjoying my oatmeal and allowing my coffee to cool to a manageable temperature, I notice the paper that typically covers the brown serving trays. It says this is printed on 100% recycled paper, great, I thought. For some of their packaging, they are using 100% recycled paper. Then I thought about this restaurant and McDonald’s corporation located in Oak Brook, if you’re trying to be eco-conscious, why not have recycling containers in restaurants? Would it be bad for business to help coax some customers to recycle most of their trash after a meal? Is it presumptuous to think McDonald’s only signed up for the part-time eco-conscious platform? 

Anyway, back to the oatmeal. The $1.99 variety did not eliminate my hunger pangs – even after waiting 20 minutes to allow my stomach to send that signal to my brain. Less than 2 greenbacks is quite reasonable for a container of oatmeal until you realize we’re dealing with oats…I’m not a huge eater but I needed a second container of oatmeal to feel slightly satiated.

The first container of oatmeal was good except it was too sweet for my tastes so before ordering a second one, I asked the friendly cashier if they are allowed to serve it plain – allowing customers to add items to suit their taste but this was not allowed. Their oatmeal came prepackaged so no deviation could be done for those oatmeal lovers who like their oatmeal a certain way. 

So McDonald’s advertises this oatmeal is made with 100% whole grain (whole, sliced oats) but there are no ingredients listed on the side of the container but I do see the Monopoly game advertised on the side. I’m reminded that when I purchase a similar product in a grocery store, I’d see the ingredient list with nutritional information.

If my online research is correct, there are 290 calories per serving. If you need two servings to feel full, that’s close to 600 calories. Mind you, you’re dealing with oatmeal. There are almost as many grams of fat as protein (4g versus 5g), but plenty of carbohydrates (58g). If you’re lucky, you can eliminate 30 calories by opting out of the brown sugar although my restaurant didn’t provide that option. I won’t get into any other details about the oatmeal besides including there are a number of preservatives contained in the light cream and cranberry raisin blend.

My perfect McDonald’s breakfast would include at least two things, the ability to flavor the oatmeal to my personal tastes and include a larger size perhaps at $2.99 so only one container of oatmeal may suffice. Perhaps, if I could add a third, it would include free coffee refills.

One other thing, why a tax on oatmeal in Wisconsin? Oatmeal of all things! Isn’t that a basic necessity regardless of where it’s eaten?