Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Many (un)Happy Returns...

I met with the accountants this afternoon - one for the Swiss taxes, and one for the U.S. taxes. With my satchel containing perfectly organized tax records in one hand, and my laptop in the other, I jumped on the 12:41 tram that whisked me to my 1 p.m. tax meeting at "Big Worldwide Accounting Firm". I actually felt kind of like a businessman.


These were "new" accountants. I say "new" because this particular firm won the bid to handle the tax work for Mrs. TBF's employer, and this was my first time meeting with these people. I might add that this is the third firm doing our taxes in 7.5 years we've lived here.

I won't say which firm it is, but it doesn't really matter because they're all pretty much the same anyway. By the same, I mean that they all pretty much expect you to download their planner off their website so that you can fill in all the blanks with your information (thus, doing most of the work for them). Then they transmit the information to data processing centers in India to take advantage of cheap labor, but don't pass on any of the labor savings to you/your company because they need to make a lot of money so that they can continue donating money (via their Political Action Committees) to U.S. politicians' campaign funds so that the politicians won't pass laws that change the extremely complicated tax laws that make it virtually impossible for U.S. people working abroad to do their own taxes.

Don't believe me? Well, then just go ahead and Google search any major accounting firm's name along with "political action committee" or "PAC" and you'll see all the money that accounting firms donate to senators and congressmen every year.

Then, one of my favorite parts of the annual tax filing dance is that when the returns are done, the firms completely release themselves of liability by stating that we have to double-check the returns for errors, and that we are responsible for the accuracy of the returns. Oh, and did I mention that none of the firms really agree with how the previous firm has done the taxes? That's another good one!


So, anyway, I arrived at the accounting office at 12:55, was escorted about five minutes later into a big conference room with the two accountants, and proceeded to turn on my laptop and lay out my "business" papers that were all labeled and separated by binder clips.

Did I fill out the planner? Noooooooooooooooo! I never do. I mean, come on! They're getting paid thousands of francs for what? Me to hand them a few sheets of paper with all the info? I...don'! I made them go through everything one by one...handing binder clipped and labeled pieces of paper every step of the way. Then, I asked them several questions (to which I already knew the answers) just to make them earn the money a bit while I drank one of their bottles of fizzy water. By 2:30, I had run out of fake questions and wasn't thirsty anymore, so I just thanked them and left.

Let me point out that I have nothing against the accountants. As a matter of fact, I liked them; they were very nice, seemingly competent people. However, I just think it's a big exercise in futility. For the past couple of years, we've jumped through these hoops, paid our Swiss taxes, had our foreign tax credits applied, and then owed...ZERO dollars in U.S. taxes. That's right! $0.00!!!

Oops...I hope I didn't just jinx us for this year.

Wouldn't it be easier (and cheaper) just to make it so that Americans don't have to pay U.S. taxes when they're working abroad? Just have us fill out a form that says we're working abroad and send it to the I.R.S. with a big $0.00 at the bottom. Heck, we wouldn't even need an accounting firm to do that.

Maybe that's just the point...

Monday, February 25, 2008

I Can Read, Me...

The Economist
February 23rd - 29th 2008

From the article: The End Draws Nigh

Mr. Obama held onto his core constituencies (blacks, young people and affluent liberals) but made striking advances into Mrs Clinton's. He beat her among the Dunkin' Donuts crowd - people who earn less than $50,000 a year and lack a college education [boldface mine].

Wha' da????

I've never been so insulted in my whole life!

Friday, February 22, 2008

Friday Flashback: Big, Burly, Liechtensteiner Beard

Earlier in the week, I read a blurb in the Chicago Tribune about how "big burly beards" are back in style. Don't believe me? Here's a video:

Later that same day, I happened upon some photos that were taken during a day trip to Liechtenstein on January 26, 2002 (Geez! Has it really been over six years???). At the time, I was the proud owner of my very own BIG, burly beard.

Anyway, I started thinking...

Seeing how big, burly beards are back in style, maybe I should take a few months and grow back another BBB. If I start today, I'll have a really "nice" BBB by the end of May. Hell! Come to think of it, I haven't shaved all week so I already have a head start - the BBB would be in full glory by mid-May. What do YOU think?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Oh, Happy Day!

Believe it or not, but I am actually reading a book!

OK...I'll give you a couple of seconds to get over the shock.




OK! It's not like I don't ever read. Actually, I read a lot! However, I normally bury my nose in magazines, and I don't really make time to read books. Besides, I have a subscription to The Economist, and that magazine takes pretty much a whole week to read on its own.

So, back to the book...

I'm currently reading a book called The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner. Oddly enough, I read a review of this book in The Economist while I was flying to Chicago last month, and I decided to pick up a copy at the Barnes and Noble close to my sister's house.

I just started the book yesterday (I'm only on page 54), but I've already read the chapter on Switzerland which - surprisingly to me, anyway - just happens to have one of the happiest populations in the world.


I was shocked. After seven years, I must say that I've never really thought of the Swiss as being an extraordinarily "happy" people. But, the chapter (Switzerland - Happiness Is Boredom) was very insightful. Here is one of my favorite excerpts:

Everyone is surprised that my research has taken me to Switzerland. The Swiss happy? There must be some mistake...I take an informal poll around the table. Overall, how happy are you these days? The results are in: solid eights and nines all around, and a seven from the American. The Swiss at the table look surprised, as if they're thinking, "Hmmm. Maybe we are happy. Who knew?"
"So, now that we've determined you are indeed happy, what is the source of Swiss happiness?" I ask.
"Cleanliness," says Dieter. "Have you seen our public toilets? They are very clean." At first, I think he's joking but quickly rule out that possibility, since the Swiss do not joke. About anything. Ever...

The Swiss have done for boredom what the French did for wine and the Germans for beer: perfected it, mass-produced it...

Not only boring but humorless. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe Swiss humor operates at an entirely different frequency, undetectable to my non-Swiss ears. And so, with this open-minded attitude, I ask Dieter - diplomatically, of course - if it's true that the Swiss have no sense of humor.
"Define sense of humor," he responds instantly, thus sealing the case....

The Swiss live attenuated lives. They hum along, satisfied, never dipping below a certain floor but never touching the ceiling, either. A Swiss would never describe something as awesome or super, but only c'est pas mal, not bad. Is that the secret to happiness, a life that is c'est pas mal? Or perhaps the Swiss really do find many aspects of life awesome but know on some subconscious level that such superlatives diminish the experience. Describe something as awesome, and it ceases to be so.
Happiness researchers have found that, from a statistical point of view, the Swiss are on to something. Better to live in this middle range than to constantly swing between great highs and terrible lows.

I think I'm going to be VERY happy today...

...because I'm feeling VERY bored.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Say Hello To My Little Friend...

Our friend, The Sour Kraut - graphic artist extraordinaire - designed this logo for me last August. For a number of reasons (kept putting it off until "tomorrow", couldn't figure out how to load a PDF file into iPhoto and Blogger, just kept forgetting, etc.), I didn't get around to putting it on the blog now.

I'd like to put it up in the header of the blog, but I have no idea how this is done? Could somebody who knows how to do this (perhaps Canadian-Swiss) give me a few tips? I guess I could just start trying to edit my template, but I'm afraid of screwing things up beyond repair.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

It's Almost Over!

If you're looking for pictures from this year's Basel Fasnacht, then you've come to the WRONG place. I've managed to nearly completely avoid the annual Fasnacht festivities. I say nearly because I did: see people on the tram dressed in their costumes, hear drums and fifes over my blasting iPod as I quickly made my way from the gym to the tram, trudge through confetti pretty much everywhere I walked.

While I respect the tradition of the Fasnacht, I have to say that I find the music to be incredibly grating; fifes and drums just don't do it for me. Also, the confetti that is thrown from the floats - eventually finding its way into every bodily orifice - is a major source of annoyance. I've been to Fasnacht three times, and if I never go again it'll be fine with me.

NOTE TO SELF: From now on, go to Chicago during Fastnach week to avoid the whole thing.

OK, so I'm a party-pooper. Big deal!

You know what? That was pretty negative, wasn't it?

Let me try to balance out all the negativity by saying that the weather here has been absolutely FANTASTIC the past few days. It's been 10˚C/50˚F and sunny for the past several days, and it appears that we're in for more of the same at least through Saturday.

I guess it's not all bad, now is it?

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Life Is Good!

Basel, Switzerland
Saturday, February 9, 2008
12:25 p.m.

A blue sky...

A hot dog...

Life is good!

Thanks For The Warning!

I bought us a new toaster on Friday.

There was nothing wrong with the old one, but I just felt like getting a new one.

We also bought a new kettle. Again, nothing wrong with the old one.

You see, we had built up about a zillion Super Points at our local Coop grocery store, and I was able to buy the toaster and kettle (already bought a new blender a couple of months ago) at significantly discounted prices.

As I see it: the discount brought the price down to only about 50% more than the stuff would cost in America!

Speaking of America...

The fine people at Kuhn Rikon (the manufacturer) obviously have America in mind as a potential market for their fine appliances.

Why else would they have put this ridiculous warning on top of the toaster? Just to be safe, I left it out on display all weekend.

I'm happy to report that Mrs. TBF made toast this morning, and she didn't burn herself!

Let's hope I remember not to put my fingers inside the toaster.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Your Money Is No Good Here!

My parents didn't actually say that while I was visiting them, but I kind of acted as if they did. In hindsight, I have to admit that I really didn't make much of an attempt at all to reach for the money clip while I was visiting the folks. Well, I guess I did reach for it when I saw a shirt I liked in a store window, and...a belt at the Lucky store (both in West Palm Beach).

JEEZ! What a bad son I am - I made my mom carry my stuff, and I didn't pay for anything during my visit!!! OK, I guess I bought a couple of Starbucks coffees and a Danish or two, but...that was about it. When it came time to eat meals, my pockets were suddenly, magically sewn shut.

But, I guess my parents didn't really seem too concerned about my freeloading. I mean, they looked pretty happy to me.

Mom To The Rescue!

Mrs. TBF had bidness to attend to last week while we were both in the U.S., so it was just me in Florida with the folks from Sunday night to Wednesday morning.

While I was there, I started to get an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach when it dawned on me that Mrs. TBF wasn't there to carry my stuff. I mentioned this dilemma to my mom, and (exactly as hoped) she very graciously volunteered to be my P.S.C.H (personal sunglasses case holder).

Thanks, mom!


The transfer of all the info from our old Mac to our new MacBook Pro took place without a hitch, and now we're off and running. Well, almost without a hitch... At first, our iTunes didn't load up into the new one, but a quick software update (Already? I just bought the thing last week!) followed by a restart, and we we were REALLY off and running.

As you can see from the artistically blurry picture, our old laptop had developed a bunch of lines in the screen that were beginning to become a bit annoying. So, 'annoying lines' was as good excuse as any to buy a new one. This time, I opted for the smaller screen because the 17" screen was both unnecessary AND a bit of a hassle when traveling.

We'll continue using the old one until it conks out, and then we'll replace it with the new MacBook Air so that we can be total computer geeks by being online at the same time e-mailing each other even though we're sitting right next to each other on the sofa. That'll be even geekier than when I noticed my S.I.L. and B.I.L. speaking to each other last week on their cellphones even though they were both inside the same house.

Tonight, we set up Mrs. TBF's new iPod Touch - which I noticed is already out of date (...bought the thing less than a week ago for chrissake!) because Apple just announced the new 32GB model (we bought the 16GB model) today!

I could just sit here and play with this thing all day...


Shouldn't I be at the gym?

Gotta go...

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

It's Official...

I'm jet a serious way.

I woke up at 11:18 this morning - which is ridiculous considering that I went to bed at a little past midnight. At 3:00, I suddenly woke up and stayed awake for about an hour. Then, Mrs. TBF did wake me up when she was leaving for work this morning - I remember that, at least - but I apparently decided that a little more (a few hours!) shuteye was needed.

My plans of going to the gym at 10:30 have been dashed. I guess I'll just go at 2:30 instead to avoid the lunchtime crunch.


What will tonight bring?

...stay tuned.

Monday, February 04, 2008

TBF Alarm!

As I said before, we arrived in Chicago on Saturday afternoon. On Sunday morning, I woke up at 3:20 a.m. - I'm not really sure why, but it seems that I always wake up at the exact same time my first morning in Chicago. I tried to fall back to sleep, but I knew after fifteen minutes of lying in bed wide-awake that it was hopeless. So, I just got up, made myself some coffee, and read until about 6:00 a.m. At 6:00, I was tired of drinking coffee and reading magazines, so I woke up Mrs. TBF and we went to the grocery store to buy a few essentials like bacon and Fritos.

By the way...I made Mrs. TBF drive so that she could get in some practice!

We got to the store at around 7:00 a.m. The first thing we did was buy a couple of coffees at the in-store Starbucks from a lady who seemed to have already had about fifteen cups herself. Then, we proceeded to walk through every aisle of the store just looking at the multitude of "low trans fat" products and products containing "antioxidants". Who knew that you could buy Coca Cola with either vitamins or anti-oxidants? Wait a second...

Doesn't caffeine impede the absorption of vitamins?

...thought so.

I immediately realized I was going to have a problem when Mrs. TBF said that she wanted to push the shopping cart. You see, the problem was that Mrs. TBF was going to be pushing the cart with one hand and holding her coffee in the other. As you may recall, I don't really like having to carry my own stuff so I was kind of getting myself psyched up to carry that hot cup of coffee myself when I noticed that (luckily!) our shopping cart had a special Starbucks cup holder.

I'm not sure how I would have coped without it!

Two Seasons...

...for the price of one.

We're all clean and safe here in Basel after our (too short) week in the U.S. I'm happy to be back to see King and our friends, but I would gladly have spent another week in Chicago. But no worries, 'cause I'll be back in Chicago in 71 days.

This trip was very unique for me because I took a side-trip to Florida during the week to visit my folks at their winter condo. As far as I can remember, it's the first time in my life that I ever experienced this and this in the same week during the month of January.

While I was in Florida, the sun was shining with highs in the upper 70s (25˚C). I wore shorts, a short-sleeved shirt, and flip flops...when I wasn't wearing a bathing suit and swimming in the pool. When I returned to Chicago on Wednesday morning, the temperature was 0˚ (-18˚C) and the snot inside my nose was freezing up each time I inhaled. The next day, Chicago got dumped with 12" of snow.

Maybe it's just me getting older, but I found wintertime Florida to be extremely appealing. But...I also found a certain appeal to driving around Chicago in 12" of snow and sliding all over the place.

Hmmm...which to choose?