Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Frau's Swiss German Lesson

As most expats in Switzerland know, one of the reasons it’s hard to learn Swiss German as a foreigner is because Swiss German is only a spoken language and this is a country where strangers barely speak to each other.

The Frau has often wished for a more talkative Swiss population so she'd be able to learn a little Swiss German small talk.

Strangers don't usually talk to each other in Switzerland
As it is, the Frau can count on one finger the number of times a stranger on the train has spoken to her (asking if the seat is free doesn’t count). 

It happened on Saturday. The Frau was carrying a baby travel cot so she didn’t want to sit far from the door because the baby cot is big and awkward. As it happened, a man sitting in the second set of seats from the door actually smiled at her, gesturing at her to have a seat across from him.

Since the Frau was just off the boat from three weeks in the U.S., she appreciated the smile and the welcome so she sat there like a happy American and didn’t think twice about it.

But wait a minute. A Swiss person smiling and welcoming a stranger? She should have known this man was crazy. Her hindsight was correct. Because for the rest of the train trip, this friendly gentleman did his best to make the Frau uncomfortable.

He sat on the edge of his seat for the entire 15-minute train ride and touched her jacket, complimenting everything from her red-tag sale coat to her bandaged finger.

Now the Frau was proud to be able to understand some of his Swiss German advances and even reply to some, but in the end when she ran for the door, she couldn’t help but think that she learned a very important lesson: be careful what you wish for. Maybe a non-talkative culture is best after all.

Have you had any Swiss strangers strike up a conversation with you?


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Hattie said...

This is so interesting. I must have learned not to talk to strangers in Switzerland during the years I lived there. On a recent trip to Peru I was amazed at the way a traveling companion talked to everyone, not minding that her Spanish was not very good. We all benefited from her willingness to put herself out there and had a great time, getting tips from locals on what to see and do and learning something about their lives.

Unknown said...

Its strange I have many conversations with strangers specially since i got my baby. I come from barcelona and ive been living here for 3 years now and i find swiss people polite and very interested in children. In fact i got some really good advise from some strangers!

Céline said...

This blog is so realistic! Nice points of view. Congratulations, Céline from sérendipité.ch

Chantal said...

Hi Julia,

The Frau also gets advice from Swiss people, mainly she gets corrected by older Swiss women about what she is doing wrong: baby too cold, baby no gloves, stroller technique wrong on public transport, etc. But she wouldn't call it a conversation. More like a lecture.

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Amerikanerin in der Schweiz said...

I had a random Swiss comment on Saturday too! But since I am new here and haven't made an attempt to learn Schweizerdeutsch I had no idea what she was saying but just smiled and walked on. Hopefully I didn't miss something good...

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