Can’t understand a word of Swiss German


I am writing this from the Pestalozzi Bibliothek in Zürich. The German keyboard has me frazzled as the Y and Z keys are switched, so I have had to backspace a few times already in this short paragraph.

Internet is not free here, and I am paying ten rappen (or ten centimes, in French) per minute. I have fed the computer 4 ChF (Swiss Francs) for forty minutes of cybermailing.

Today I went on a bookstore run and bought more books on Swiss German. It has been quite a laugh trying to understand a word that these people are saying. I have heard that when Swiss Germans talk on German TV, the native Germans must have subtitles. Even when I think I will know what people are going to say to me (like when I’m at a checkout buying books) I have no idea what comes out of a Zürich mouth. Case in point: when I buy my books, I know what I will be paying, and I expect to hear the amount said to me in Swiss francs. Sure, the Swiss German variation will be different from the High German I know yet when the cashier utters Swiss German to me I might as well be listening to Dutch. I just give the money and hope the cashier counted the right change.

I have managed quite well in German, and everyone understands me yet I just look perplexed when I am asked questions, or given replies, in Schwyzertüütsch.

I met a Finnish family from Kuopio during breakfast at the hostel and we chatted in Finnish. Quite a surprise to hear Finnish! I realize immediately how Finnish has become my “default second language” because whenever I need to find a foreign word, the Finnish word comes immediately to mind before the German.

It has been raining since I got here yesterday at 09.35 and I have thus far taken one photo: of a Swiss postal motorbike and cart. I went to the main post office today and bought twenty stamps, yet haven’t bought any postcards yet.

Switzerland is very expensive (no surprise there) and eating out will bankrupt you. In a book I just bought on Swiss German (for English speakers), there is a chapter on Dining Out and the server asks the customer, “Will that be cash, credit card, or mortgage?”.

I am very lucky to be travelling in Switzerland for my first week here with my boyfriend Mark. He arrived yesterday from Frankfurt and his flight landed just twenty minutes after mine (I had flown direct from Toronto). We are staying in the main hostel and it is only a fifteen-minute tram ride from downtown Zürich. As guests of the hostel we were given a free transit pass (worth thirty francs) for three days travelling.

We found an Indian restaurant where we had a vegetarian pizza and a six-course Indian dinner last night for under 40 ChF. The owner of the restaurant had family in Toronto, and even knew about Mississauga. Small world.

The prices on food in the grocery stores, however, is reasonable and the prices on books are no different from Canada. Some of the books I bought on the Romansch language are available from my favourite bookstore in the US, Schoenhof’s yet at a fraction of the price. I am so happy to have found a phrasebook for Luxembourg-German, as well as phrasebook in Corsican, Faroese, and Georgian. Here in Switzerland, the most multilingual country on Earth, you can find a language book for any of the world’s tongues.

Zürich is swarmed by bears. Enormous teddy bears, to be exact. Reminiscent of Mel Lastman’s abhorrent moose which I was shocked to discover littering the streets of Toronto upon my return from Finland in the summer of 2000, Zürich now has adorable teddy bears painted in different styles all over the city. Children love them; you see kids running up to the multicoloured bears all the time. There are striped bears, astronaut bears, boxer bears, bears painted in swimsuits, formal wear, etc. Even little baby bears. I will have to take a few pictures.

The trams do run on time and they usually come in four cars. In other words, one tram with the driver with three others trailing behind it. Mark and I just walk on and so far no one has come up to us to ask to see our transit pass. There is an 80 ChF fine if you board a tram or subway without paying.

Tomorrow Mark and I go to the Swiss capital, Bern, for a day trip.

More to come, and now to read your mails. To answer some of you who asked, the “contraband” Internet I used yesterday was from someone’s unused (and paid-for) Internet from the computer area at the hostel. I noticed that the customer had gone yet three minutes of her time still were left, so I hopped on the Net and fired off a quick “I made it” message.


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