Another Monday. It was, in all ways, a normal day for our life here in Switzerland. Henry and I went to music class and to the grocery store. James had a friend over for a playdate in the afternoon. But, throughout the day there were many little things that made this day different than it would have been if we were in America. I’ve chosen just two to elaborate on…
There are no garage door openers here. No buttons to push. No machines to effortlessly open the garage. Everyone still manually opens their garage. Ours flips up with the help of two gigantic cement blocks attached to the lever. Some have springs, some slide sideways, but I haven’t seen any that roll up the way garages do in America.
Also, I have never seen a double garage. There are only very narrow single-car garages. This is probably because no one here has more than one car. Unlike us, most families have one car, and they negotiate who gets to use it when. Whoever doesn’t get the car rides their bike and/or takes public transportation. As you might expect, the average size of cars here is smaller than in America. Although there are also vans and other large vehicles. I love watching the family across the street park their van in the tiny one-car garage. All passengers have to get out before pulling it into the garage, someone has to manually open the garage door, and then they have to help guide it as close to the wall as possible on the passenger side so the driver can squeeze out, exit the garage and manually close the door.
At first the garage, among other things, made me feel like Switzerland was several decades behind in terms of technology. But, I have since come to understand that the Swiss value things like sustainability and durability over minor inconvenience, while in America we choose convenience over quality and reliability every time.
It could be argued that this isn’t really a “little” thing. It was, in fact, the thing that scared me the most about moving here. I studied German independently for over two years in preparation, but was told that Swiss German is so different I wouldn’t be able to understand them. Indeed that is true. I still have to ask people to speak “high German,” and even then I have to concentrate really hard to be able to keep up. Every time my phone rings, my heart beats a little faster as I answer and then try desperately to understand who is calling and what they are asking. If Henry interrupts me while I’m on the phone, as two-year-olds are oft want to do, then I’m screwed. My brain can’t do that much.
At music class this morning, I understood most of what the teacher said, some of what the other parents said to each other and to their children, and a few words of the songs. This is a huge improvement over what it was like in my first music class. But half the time I still have no idea what we are singing.
We are quite adept at greetings, transactions, even small talk. And we find that, even when people know we speak English, they still address us in German/Swiss German. Originally I assumed that was because most people in our town can’t speak English. However, I have since learned that most people speak English at least as well as I speak German. They just prefer not to. Now I choose to take it as a compliment and a reflection of our integrated-ness.
Swiss German is a spoken language only. There is no written form of this language. When my parents visited, their tour guide told them that when people speak Swiss German, it sounds like they all have a terrible throat disease. And from the outside it can sound strange. But the more I hear it and start to understand it, the more respect I have for this language.
I looked around for an example of the language we hear ALL THE TIME. This video is a Swiss woman who could very easily be any of the parents in music class or school. Listening to the full 8 minutes isn’t necessary, though it gives you an idea of what we encounter every day.