Thursday, January 31, 2008

Bad English

On coming to Switzerland, my English has gotten worse and worse. So far, I’ve found five reasons for this:

1. In explaining anything in English to a non-native speaker, I tend to simplify my speech so I end up sounding something like my neighbor: “It coming. I go to market. You too?”

2. I hear and see bad translations of German into English and somehow my speech seems to soak them up like a sponge. For example, in e-mails I get at work, the greeting is: “Hello, together.” Or, “No, she cannot just translate this. Her German is yet too young.” Or, on listening to the train announcer translate to English: “First class, sec-tone A. Second class, sec-tone C.”

3. The stress of English on demand makes me forget my entire vocabulary. For example, a co-worker will come in and expect, on the spot, that I can think of the English word for a group of boxes lined up together. I stutter and spew and finally, 10 minutes later after they’ve already given up on me I think, “oh, a column, what was so hard about that?”

4. Word order. The German word order puts things very backwards when you think of the English way of saying something. Instead of saying “they will get a translator now”, it might be said, “now get they a translator.”

5. The mix of British and American English and the confusion over each. For example, two German friends looked at an image of a woman in a magazine and pronounced that she had “goosepimples.” When I said they should say “goosebumps” they proceeded to say that both their teachers taught them “goosepimples” and perhaps it is a British thing. Anything I don’t understand about their English is never wrong, it’s simply “British”.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Squirrel and Spare Ribs

Two random events happened in the last two days. One, I saw my very first Swiss squirrel in the forest where I was running. It was black. You think with all the hiking we do that we would see more wildlife, but alas the Swiss wildlife seems as reluctant to make friends with foreigners as the Swiss.

Then today, at lunch, there were SpareRibs on the daily menu! Imagine my excitement. This is truly a first—me eating ribs in Switzerland. I wasn’t sure if I should pronounce it “Shhparh Reebs,” so I just said it the good ole English way. They tasted great and came with a baked potato. This was one lunch that was truly worth 20 CHF (18.30 USD). The restaurant was Palmhof, near the University in Zurich. To top off the excitement they even have a separate but equal non-smoking room. And free tap water. What’s not to love?

Friday, January 18, 2008

A typical Swiss Day

I wake up to staticy German radio. Spend two minutes in denial. Shower and eat breakfast, lamenting terrible Swiss milk taste on Fit Flakes cereal. Clock dings twice at 8:30. Leave for train one minute later. Train comes at 8:38. Swiss people flock to the doors, blocking them before people on the train can get off. I either fight my way through them or stand back so at least I can choose my seat partner instead of vice versa. On train I either: listen to music and sleep, read an English book or magazine, or attempt to read the nearest German paper as to block the person sitting directly across from me from staring/coughing at me the entire trip.

Once in Zurich I hold my breath as I get off the train and walk to the tram station to avoid breathing in too much smoke. If I’m lucky and the train’s on time I take the 8:59 tram to work.

I arrive at work at 9:11 or 9:12 depending on my final walking speed when I get off the tram. I brace myself for German.

I go through a mix of German, French, and English e-mails trying to make sense of them. (The English ones are usually just as confusing based on the fact they are written by non-native speakers and usually begin with the greeting, “Hello together.”) If I’m lucky I understand enough of them not to use Google Translate. Yet.

Have an e-mail for an urgent translation of a German press release. Try to translate it. Turn to Google for help. Have a colleague who speaks fluent English read it over to make sure I’ve done it correctly.

Go out to lunch with two guys from the office. One of the items on the menu literally means “bird meat”. But one of the guys reassures me it’s actually veal. Needless to say, I never know what I’m really ordering. I speak a little English and a little high German. They speak to each other in Swiss German but one of the guys speaks back to me in English. I don’t understand much of their Swiss German except I can usually determine the topic of conversation. I drink lukewarm water without ice and eat a so-so salad. All for the price of 16 CHF—a bargain for Zurich. The waitress masterfully lets us each pay separately and makes change for all of us. (You can only pay in cash).

On the way back to the office after lunch, the one guy goes to the grocery store to buy his dinner. (Stores close before we’re out of work in the evening).

The office has turned smoky. I shut my door and have two options. Breathe cigarette smoke or freeze. I choose to freeze.

Over the course of the afternoon I read a German e-mail telling me to fix an English headline from the previous day. I try to convey what final prints and jpegs I need for award shows to a woman that speaks very little English. And I try to explain the word “charm” to a colleague who doesn’t understand what a “wine charm” is as they do not have that concept in Switzerland. Needless to say this idea does not make it into the finals of ideas for a give-away.

I say my “chows” (the Italian word for good-bye adapted by everyone in Switzerland). And leave the office a little after 6. I walk to the train station in 20 minutes all down steep sidewalks and steps. As usual the 18.36 train is packed. When there is a free seat, someone has conveniently placed their large shopping bag or rubber recycled Freitag bag in it. I look for a seat that is bagless and 3 cars later finally find one and ask in my high German, “is this seat free?” I am given an affirmative “Ja” and a sideways glance to let me know they realize I am a foreigner. I bury myself in a German paper anyhow for the 15 minute ride.

I get home exactly at 7. I know this because the clock is going haywire. Luckily I bought things for dinner two days ago. Because the stores are now closed. Good night from Switzerland.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

(Time) Zoning Out

I woke up in the middle of the night wondering where I was, and then reminding myself that I was in my sister’s bed in Atlanta. Then I opened my eyes and realized I was actually in my own bed back in Switzerland. This is what 3+ weeks sleeping in 6 different beds will do for you.

Not to say that the last 3+ weeks haven’t been amazing. They have been. To all my friends and family, I can’t express how great it was to see everyone. And to all the airlines I flew (Air France, American, and Delta) not one of them lost my two 50 pound bags! (Although Air France could use some better customer service. (when you choose a window and an aisle seat you expect to have a window and an aisle—not to be seated in two middle seats for your nine hour flight. But perhaps, upon discovering that you are not in fact, French, any seat choices previously selected are discarded.) And American could use some on time arrivals. But I have to say I was pretty satisfied with Delta, even though their in-flight entertainment was pretty lame—our plane did not have individual screens so I forewent watching any movies to avoid neck strain.

I celebrated my birthday this year in two time zones, another amazing feat. When my mother called as she usually does at 10.07 central time, it actually was 10.07 central time for me, and that hasn’t happened in years. Alas, during the conversation I ended up on eastern time, but it was nice while it lasted.

All this time zone and city hopping (or maybe it’s just the old age of 30 thing) has made me all the more sure I am ready to return to the U.S. next May and stay in one place for awhile. I am excited about our final hoorah in Europe and can’t wait to travel more, but after doing laundry all day yesterday in our shared basement laundry room and hearing Swiss German on the streets, I and am more and more ready for a house complete with a dog and English speaking neighbors.

Thursday, January 10, 2008


I have been running around the US for almost 3 weeks now and I despite the fact that I am having a blast, I am also getting tired of living out of and constantly rearranging suitcases. I am so tired of it that I am making plently of mistakes.

The reaccuring theme of this trip is airport confiscation. So far I have had 3 things confiscated not due to the fact that I don't know the rules, but due to tiredness and stress to keep track of airlines, flights, friend's numbers, keys, hotels, etc I have lost the ability to remember changing airline rules.

So far I have had fondue forks confiscated in Paris and brand new hair gel and face scrub purchased from Target taken away in Richmond. I'm hoping Atlanta goes better! We did get away with an extra .5 pound over the 50 pound luggage limit without penalty thanks to a kind soul at American Airlines in Chicago.

Now as I am packing for my venture into state number 5 of this trip, I realized I have left the wedding music I need for tomorrow in the trunk of my sister's car in the one bag I didn't think I needed. I have the music memorized, but it is a bit irresponsible of me not to at least have a copy just in case the accompaniest doesn't have it for some reason...I am mad at myself for dragging the music from Zurich to Paris to Chicago to Richmond to Atlanta and now not having it!!

But that is life and hopefully I won't need it after all. At least I've got the bridesmaid dress. (It may be wrinkled beyond belief by now, but it's there...)

Until next time, long live airport security and suitcase living.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Back in the USA

I have been in the US now for over 2 weeks. This has caused a stir among many friends and family who have never heard of having more than 2 weeks of vacation. That being said, I have one more week to go and am enjoying my European time-off. Finally a long break where I won't be chided by my European colleauges who can't believe I would only take a week off to go to Spain. ("How can you see anything in a week?" they ask).

Today I had lunch with a friend from my old choir in Richmond, VA. I had pho ga, my favorite Vietnamese speciality and one I can't find in Switzerland. It tasted great!

So far other highlights have been:
1. Friendly people
2. People wearing smiles and brightly colored clothes (as opposed to the constant funeral procession in Switzerland of a sea of black).
3. People wearing their pajamas in public with no remorse. (sweat pants, flannels, you name it, people wear it! (see #2, bright clothes))
4. Cheap everything
5. Free water with ICE
6. 32 oz root beers with free refils
7. Being able to chat with cashiers
8. The girl at Target today asking for an ID before she'd swipe the cold medicine I was buying and it not being a huge misunderstanding due to language issues.
9. Having lunch with my mom
10. Remembering that the price for something is never a nice even number because the tax isn't included.
11. 70 degree weather in Richmond in January
12. Seeing the sun
13. Forgetting the rain
14. Doing huge loads of laundry and having them done and dried in an hour
15. English, English, English
16. Knowing exactly what I ordered at a restaurant
17. Shopping with my mom and sister who ask me why everything I'm buying is black (see #2)
18. People using credit cards for a $3 dollar purchase
19. Seeing my old house in Richmond that like me has gone black (see #17). The house now has black shutters and a black door. (It used to be blue).
20. Lucky Charms
21. Seeing my sister, parents, in-laws (yes it's true!) grandma, 92-year old grandpa, aunts, and cousin and lots and lots of friends!!



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