Away from home, at home

A recent trip to Zürich had me marvelling; how is it possible to feel like you are in a completely different country when you are just in another city of a country as tiny as Switzerland?

Zürich is stunning. I was taken by surprise; before, when I heard the name Zürich I just thought finance, and Carl Jung. I never thought breathtakingly beautiful buildings, streets and lake, clocks literally everywhere and a real sense of peacefulness. It feels safe, affluent and classy. Every different city in every different country has a different feel. Yet it wasn’t the appearance or atmosphere of Zürich that made me feel light-years away from Lausanne, but the language. As always, the language.

Not knowing German, let alone Switzerdeutsch, rendered my friends and I instantly blind, deaf and dumb to the words around us. Well, I exaggerate. GCSE German served me for some very basic comprehension, but otherwise we spoke English. And everyone speaks excellent English in Zürich, it’s quite ridiculous. I would approach shop staff with the usual rehearsal going on in my mind of the sentence I would utter in French, only to realise that I could use English. My French probably dropped a notch this weekend.

Yet Zürich is two hours from Lausanne. Two hours, within a country a third the size of England, is enough to make a native (French-speaking) Swiss unable to communicate with a waiter in a restaurant. My Swiss buddy said it felt odd using English, and not being able to properly communicate with someone, in her own country. How odd, discomfiting, yet mind-opening that must be. You are obliged to have a consciousness and acceptance (if not appreciation) of languages and cultures different to your own, existing side-by-side with your own.

Talking of perfect English and opening minds, at the Kunsthaus museum, a friend and I ended up having a nearly hour-long conversation (in English) with the guy distributing and collecting the audio tour headsets: a well-travelled actor, Swiss born and bred, but with both American and British English (not to mention three types of German, French and I think a bit of Italian). It was a most fascinating conversation, full of reflections on differing national perspectives, and will form the basis of my next post.

This is why I love travelling, and Europe; you never know who you’ll meet or when. People are cultured, interesting and interested in others; and you might just end up having a conversation that enriches your world view that little bit more.


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