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.


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