Wednesday, January 17, 2007

chocolate and cheese and giant knives with lots of blades and things

One of the perks of my job is that I sometimes get to travel to neat cities and stay in very nice hotels. For the first time in the 3 years that I've been in this profession, I am finally being sent overseas for a work trip! Destination: Switzerland.

Although I love to travel, I'm a little nervous because I have to fly into one city, and then take the train to another city and then a cab to my hotel...all by myself. Here's the problem--how do you know what language any given person in Switzerland speaks? German and French are 2 of the official languages, Italian is another. English is not. Luckily, at one point in my life, I was nearly fluent in French. Here's why I hesitate to rely on my French: when faced with the fact that I will have to navigate the Swiss train system on my own, I tried to think of the French word for "train". For the life of me, I could not remember it. I looked it up online. It is "train".

I know I should not be nervous...in fact, I already know I will have 100 times more confidence than that day almost exactly 12 years ago, when I arrived in Paris--alone--to spend a semester living there. It was a crisp early morning in January, and I was still recovering from New Year's Eve. I had 6 months worth of clothes (mostly black and grey so I could fit in with the Parisians). I got into a cab and tried to pronounce the address of my apartment...knowing I would butcher it I simultaneously handed the cabbie a scrap of paper where I had written it down. I was tired, and nervous, and so excited. I'd never lived in an apartment before, and here I was, about to do it, in PARIS! We finally pulled up at the building. It was so "French". I was delighted. Then I met the concierge, who gave me the nastiest look as I tried desperately to explain to her who I was. Of course she spoke absolutely no English (or maybe she was just pretending)...I remember distinctly trying to carefully pronounce "Je suis une etudiante Americaine..." (as if she would not immediately realize I was an American...the French can *smell* us, I am convinced). After much deliberation, she finally handed me a key and showed me to the apartment--through 2 courtyards and up 5 or 6 flights of stairs. Did I mention I had 6 months worth of things with me? I spent that first day wandering the neighborhood. I think I even went into a store that sold phones because I couldn't figure out how to use the payphone to call home with my calling card. My roommate (and now best girlfriend) SV showed up the next day, so we tackled the rest of the basic necessities together, but I will never forget the nervous, exhausted, exhilaration I felt that first day alone in Paris.

Well, that was an unexpected stream of conciousness. I honestly didn't sit down intending to write about that. But you know what, I feel much better about showing up alone in Switzerland now! J, I wish you could be there with me. I swear I will get your ass to Europe before I turn too much more of your hair gray.

So anyway, have any of you been to Switzerland? In what language do I need to ask for my 4-foot Toblerone and Giant Swiss Army Knife? Should I ask people, in French, if they speak English? I hate to be the ignoramous who just starts rambling in English in a foreign country as if everyone is supposed to understand it. And on a serious note, if you have any recommendations for Must-See things in Zurich or Geneva (keeping in mind I'll only have 1 day in each city), I'm all ears!

5 comments:

Patrick (fishlamp) said...

Wow, what a great opportunity! Traveling alonoe worries me, especially to new coutries which is probably why it hasn't happened yet. Local travel, I can do with no problems at all.

Sounds exciting, though. You'll have fun!

karaokekitty17 said...

My experience in Switzerland is limited; I was only there for 4 days. I stayed in a teeny-weeny town in the avalanche zone - Gimmelwald. In that little town, of about 100 people and 150 cows, everyone spoke German and most also spoke English. I really wouldn't worry, since you're in Geneva and Zurich most will speak English (at least a bit). Just carry a phrasebook with you and you'll be set. Everyone I met seemed eager to try-out their English on me. It was a blast! Don't be nervous at all! You'll do fine! Don't forget about the ability of most Europeans to speak multiple languages (which puts our education system to utter shame). I'm sure you'll be able to communicate perfectly with a bit of English and German and French - no sweat!

Kat E said...

Note to self: Get phrasebook so German will not be limited to "wunderbar" and "eine kleine nachtmusik".

Jennifer said...

Oh my gosh Kat! Just reading this makes me hyperventilate. I have huge panic attacks whenever I have to go to a new place, even if it is a new store on the other side of town!! It's a real problem for me. So reading this gives me hives. But I am SO excited for you! I wish I had your courage.

Anonymous said...

Thankfully you could pronounce Toblerone!
-J