Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Train Talk

After two years of living without, yes, a car, I am still trying to get comfortable with the set-up of Swiss trains. I grew up in the Chicago area, where the Metra train cars were set up so everyone sat facing forward. To pass the time going by suburbs that all looked the same, you stared at the back of the people’s heads sitting in front of you, studying everything from possible dandruff problems to hair so long it threatened to invade your personal space while sitting behind it.

But on Switzerland’s trains, the seats are placed in groups of four facing each other. This is fine if you’re traveling with four people (as long as two of you can ride backwards without getting sick), but it forces strange relationships otherwise, leaving you with only two options: to challenge the person sitting across from you to a staring contest or to read anything in sight. Needless to say, I usually choose to read anything in sight, which in most cases is Heute, the Swiss version of the National Enquirer that litters train seats (yes, they care about Paris Hilton). Unfortunately, this forces me to comprehend the German language faster than is really recommended but it sure beats losing a staring contest to a practiced Swiss citizen.

Seat choice, even for short rides, is also highly important as it could determine whether you are sick for the following month. So I will go so far as to choose my seat based who is already occupying the four-seated group—a reader, a starer, a parent, an iPod blaster, or a cougher. Not surprisingly, I prefer the readers.

The coughers are the worst possible choice. Which brings me to another benefit of these free newspapers. They double as a shield. People here are not trained in the concept of covering their mouths, preferring instead to spew germs on people stupid enough to not have grabbed a freebie paper before taking their seat. Is there any coincidence that germ is very close to German?

For some reason, German speakers have the most horrible coughs I have ever heard. They are deep and throaty and always include some bonus phlegm which they proudly blow out their noses as loud as possible. I can find no explanation for this outpouring of fluid except for the fact that the language spits even at its healthiest based on the plethora of “sch” sounds that comprise it. Add a few germs to 10 “sch” sounds in a row and there you have it. A German cough.

This is not the case in France, where after much careful observation, I have recorded a much more daintier cough and almost no obnoxious nose blowing. This also is a peculiar finding which I can only attribute to the fact the language itself already includes many nasalities and thus perhaps the cough is more disguised because of this.

In conclusion, yes, it’s true. You really don’t need a car to live in Switzerland. But you do need reading material. Never mind the language it’s written in, the bigger it opens, the better. Next time you’re in Switzerland, try the Frankfurter Allgemeine. It won’t let you down.

1 comment:

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