Thursday, December 13, 2007

Cry me a (Schweitzerdeutsch) River

The worst part of living in a country that does not function in your language is that you end up always feeling like a two-year-old. The other night I burst into tears because even after a year and a half of diligent German study I still cannot read most of my mail—especially the important stuff like details concerning our rent being raised, etc. These documents seem to consist of one 20-letter word after another and my English speaking mind just does not have the endurance to sift through such immense letter combinations.

One recent piece of mail I have pondered for the last two weeks. It was for heat and hot water. We pay 350 CHF per month (310 USD) per month in addition to our rent and then at the end of the year they determine if this 4,200 CHF (3,700 USD) was really enough. So we got our first note, and I didn’t know if we owed 250 CHF or they owed us 250 CHF. So I carried the note around for two weeks in my purse hoping to have someone help me with the mystery. I translated the words on my own, but it still made no sense. Finally, today my German teacher told me what to do—it seems they owe us the 250 CHF (should make up for the week we had NO heat and hot water)!! But they will send it to us via post minus 20 CHF unless we tell them within 14 days a bank number. Well it took me 14 days to understand the letter, so I guess we will lose 20 CHF because of it, but that is the price you pay for living outside your culture and language. You end up losing a lot of money in misunderstanding things or not knowing where to get the best prices (I used to spend 3,20 CHF on 1 Liter OJ before I realized I can get that same amount at a certain store in a non-refrigerated section for ,90 CHF.)

Another thing that is bugging me but I feel helpless about is our rising rent. A few months ago, they told us that in December our rent will go up from too expensive to really too expensive. But we just figured that was normal and accepted and are paying it.

Last night we received another note telling us our rent was going up again in April from really too expensive to really really too expensive…Anyhow, a German friend at work said he thought it sounded fishy and directed me to an organization that serves the rights of renters. Well, guess what. The site is all in German and I can’t for the life of me get up the enthusiasm to try to deal with any of that either. So here we go again, possibly overpaying but being helpless in the process.

I can’t wait to go back to the US sometimes. One country for taxes. Cell phone contracts in English that I still can’t read, but at least feel good about knowing for sure that it’s not my fault. A 15 page housing contract, no problem. For the first time in my life, I will revel in English legalese. I can’t wait. Bring it on, English-speaking lawyers. I’ll challenge you to outdo a German word on my latest piece of mail—Betriebskostenabrechnung. And if you think that’s bad, just add a few more words of the same length before and after it. And then you’ll have a real German sentence. And then you can move on to paragraphs. Or just take the easy way out-- Break down and cry.

3 comments:

Kaja said...

You are talking here not about Schweizerdeutsch but about German Deutsch, because Schweizerdeutsch is just spoken orally and much more difficult to understand than German - Hochdeutsch.

Hira Khan said...

This article has covered the topic quite well. Very informational and interesting. Thanks for sharing this knowledge with us.

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