Thursday, February 19, 2009

Where are all my Swiss friends?

My mother teaches English as a second language in the United States. A few weeks back, she had a student ask, “Why is it that I’ve lived in the U.S. now for two years but don’t have any American friends?”

Since I’ve lived in Switzerland for over two years, my mother wanted my take on the question. I suppose I am in a similar situation, living abroad, trying to learn German, but not speaking it fluently.

You could analyze the situation all day, but really, in the end, I think it just comes down to one thing—human nature. We like to be with and are most comfortable with people who are similar to us. And since friendship is based on communication that goes further than just, “I ate spaghetti for dinner, what did you eat?” unless you can communicate in another person’s language, or they can in yours, you are pretty much left with being friends with people like yourself.

Of course, there are always exceptions, and my Swiss neighbor and I have a friendship based entirely in High German. High German isn’t really her native tongue either (Swiss German is), but we get along. We’ve had raclette, gone flower picking, watched the Swiss soccer team lose, and had a few too many glasses of her favorite Prosecco together. In the latter case, she began switching into Swiss German without realizing it and my High German almost started sounding fluent. Note to self: I should really drink Prosecco more often when conversing in a foreign language.

With a basic language knowledge (or a few too many drinks), I suppose anything is possible. I've seen entire marriages come from it. But it’s far from ideal. As English speakers, we are fortunate to be able to be friends with people from around the world thanks to the high number of people who learn English. So I’d like to take a moment to thank my friends from Egypt, Jordan, Germany, Switzerland, France, India, and many other countries for learning my language. We most likely wouldn’t be friends otherwise, and I sincerely thank you for your efforts.


Jenni said...

Last week I met a French woman, who bemoaned the fact that she couldn't really do any volunteer work in Thailand, because what they need are primarily English teachers, and her English isn't very good. She said I'm lucky to speak English. I admit that many places it makes traveling easier (than if perhaps my only language was Dutch or Swahili). Today my Thai friend Jack said "Speaking Thai is only useful here in Thailand." He want to come back to America to improve his English. Having a diverse group of friends opens your eyes. I too am glad that so many others learn English....

Chantal said...

Yes, living here has made me realize just how lucky I am to speak English. I really never thought about it before living abroad. But we can go anywhere, for the most part, and be able to communicate. We should not take this for granted.

Michelle Glauser said...

That's exactly why I don't like it when people say, "Hey, you're American!? I know someone else who is, too! I could introduce you too!" I usually decline their offers. If I were to accept them, I wouldn't be as integrated as I am.

Chantal said...

Yeah, it would be too easy to just hang out with expats all the time.

Young Traveler said...

I'm in a similar boat, my high German is practically fluent, but my Swiss German is rough. My Swiss friends here are extremely patient with me.

However, my best friend here is American. Case in point, I suppose. :)

Young Traveler said...

Hey there! I've given you an award on my blog. Check it out when you get a chance.

Chantal said...

Thanks for the call out, Young Traveler!

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