The Swiss Vaccine

I can make a pretty confident guess that if you are reading this, you have been infected by Affluenza to some degree. Never heard of Affluenza? It’s the title of a book by Oliver James. You should read it. As you can see, the title is a portmanteau of “affluence” and “influenza” and James talks us through this very modern malaise that is affecting mostly English-speaking countries and is spreading to places that are heavily influenced by modern American culture and Selfish Capitalism.

Symptoms include: Continue reading

No More ERASMUS for Switzerland?

So this is when direct democracy can really come round and bite you in the arse. If you’re reading this presumably you have an interest in Switzerland and/or ERASMUS, so you’ll know that the recent referendum on limiting immigration into Switzerland has resulted in Switzerland being excluded from participating in the ERASMUS program. Sad news for future possible Lausanne exchangers, and also more selfishly, sad news for me. What about my plans to retire over there???

The really tragic thing is that Continue reading

ERASMUS for grown-ups

It is the tenth and final day of a summer school I have been doing in Brussels, and time to consolidate my learning. Daily lectures on the EU have been in turn informative and dull, but have at least been enough to neutralise some Euroscepticism. I have always been pro-Europe myself, least of all because without the EU, the ERASMUS program wouldn’t exist! Therefore I would never have gone to live in Switzerland! Therefore this blog would never exist!! However what I walk away with most is an Continue reading

“Gimme me a bise, baiser or bisou – just don’t use baiser as a verb”: A guide to Kissing

In cold, rainy England, where we try to limit physical contact with unknowns (and sometimes friends) as much as possible, and where being accidentally brushed by someone on the tube warrants an apology (on the part of the brushed, that is), the idea of kissing somebody you have just met is, despite our (vague) awareness of our continental neighbours, not really done. Unless you’re being a pretentious prick like I was Continue reading

Clubbing classy-like

It’s been a while since I hit the campus club back here in England. A year away had faded my memory of just what a uni night out in England looks like. However, walking across uni at, oh around 10pm the other evening, heading home with some nutrition-less supplies from the campus supermarket to fuel a late-night reading session, I was slapped in the eyes with the sight of what can only be described as rows of naked legs on stilts.

What I was seeing, of course, was several Continue reading

ERASMUS isn’t over…

So I might be back at my home uni. So it might be pouring with rain every time I step out the front door. So my friends are now scattered across the face of the globe. So I should actually be reading rather than blogging. I refuse to let it go. I refuse to accept that everything is back to normal. Now that the semester is well and truly under way, I am undergoing what can only be described as severe denial; my mind is rejecting reality like the cable connecting me to the Matrix is loose; like I’m half-asleep and waiting to wake up again.

It’s not helping that Continue reading

How to have a long-distance lurve

Going on exchange has in turn shattered my faith in long-distance relationships and strengthened my conviction that love will conquer all… But before we get into that, what exchange has first and foremost changed is my perception of what constitutes a “long distance”. Before, when my university experience was limited to the borders of my own country, I thought something like London to Manchester was a long distance. Pah! That’s less than 200 miles. Today, I scoff at any distance within a country as small as England.

I now know of couples who are separated by many, many more miles. Try Europe to Continue reading

Somewhere to belong

Zürich’s Kunsthaus museum, November 2011. I was tired, and not particularly enthused about the artworks. A friend and I decided to hand back our audio-tour headsets and have a wander round outside before our 6pm rendezvous with the rest of our group. But we never made it outside, because we got caught up in a nearly hour-long conversation with the guy at the counter for the headsets.

The conversation ranged over Switzerland, mixed-race babies, London, studying, Australia and drinking, amongst other things. But the subject that stuck with me most was the issue of moving countries, and trying to find a place that fits. For all three of us, that meant somewhere we could feel both belonging and excitement, comfort and challenge, familiarity and variety, and none of us felt we had quite hit on that magic combination just yet.

For the Swiss, an actor and arty type, Switzerland is charming, but too conservative. Too small and reserved to appreciate innovative theatre, recognition in Switzerland is more likely to come once acclaim has first been gained abroad; somewhere bigger and more liberal. This guy spoke French, English, German, Swiss German and Italian (I think that’s all), and had lived in the States and England.

So though he came back to Switzerland in the end, and it is still his “home”, I got the impression that it felt like a bit of a misfit for him. I’d say I feel “at home” in many ways here in Switzerland, but even the familiar things still feel foreign to me – probably because I am always functioning in a foreign language. It’s not a bad feeling, but it doesn’t make for the homeliest vibe. And if I were to continue living here after the vast majority of my exchange friends had left, I don’t suppose I’d feel very much at home any more; I guess it’s my friends who made Lausanne feel like home.

My friend had studied at a foreign university and whilst there went on three different exchanges in three different countries (including, naturally, Switzerland). I myself have moved “home” (in the physical sense) every year for the past four years, starting at three different universities in that time. With so much locational shifting inevitably comes mental adjustments, and the attempt to create “home” in each new place. Indeed, the very concept of what constitutes “home” can begin to blur.

What does “home” mean to you? Is it the house where you grew up, or the town, or the country? Is it even a physical place at all, or does it move with the people who matter most to you? Is it merely a state of mind, a sense of belonging, which can be found anywhere? Did you choose a home for yourself, or was it chosen for you, and either way, do you love your home, or resent it? Do you even feel like you have a “home”, or are you in fact still searching…?

Football Fever

Euro 2012 is in full swing, and where better to follow it than the very heart of Europe itself here in Suisse? It’s all anyone is talking about, all we spend our evenings watching, and it’s all the more fun here because my fellow exchange buddies are from all over Europe. I have also suddenly come over exceedingly and unexpectedly patriotic. If I were in England I would doubtless not give two hoots about the football but now that I’m in a foreign country and I am the only English person in the vicinity, I need to represent! Funny how that happens…

The atmosphere is fantastic. The weather here in Lausanne has recovered from a recent miserable bout of clouds and rain to give way to blue skies and sweltering sunshine. Switzerland did not qualify for the Euro, so support for various countries feels (in typical, democratic Swiss fashion) fairly evenly spread. It’s very easy to get caught up in the ambience and find yourself getting emotional and shouting along with the other spectators, cheering and swearing in a variety of languages.

It’s not only England that I am supporting, either. I think I’ve already mentioned my steadily increasing German credentials thanks to the sheer quantity of Germans whom I have befriended here, so of course Germany also has my support. In addition, Greece’s victory against Russia last night was a welcome pleasure thanks to a Greek I am fond of here.

So it’s nice to have more than one team to support in favour of those people you care about, but the flipside to this will fast become apparent come next round. What if Greece plays Germany? I have already been grilled with regard to this possible outcome as to which team I would give my support… Torn loyalties, anyone? If England were to face Germany, that would be a most amusing but rather out-numbering (for me) experience, though hopefully not too personal… It’s sheer politics!

I don’t pretend to know the first thing about football (though I do know the offside rule, a’ight?), but I do know that it is a hell of a lot of fun bringing all us different Europeans together to have a beer (or three) and enjoy a bit of healthy rivalry. It’s been funny watching some of the gentlest people I have met here become impassioned and vociferous before the television screens; I guess competition and patriotism can do that. I don’t have an England football strip or flag, but I’ll be showing the love on Tuesday, and tonight, it’s all about Deutschland.

Accent part 2. Or, say that again, I love your accent…

We all know by now how big a deal accent becomes when you throw a load of different nationalities together (see Accent part 1). Increasingly (to my secret delight), francophones have been telling me how I have a “joli accent“, or even better, not much of one at all. But in fact, I now see the importance of actually keeping an accent. And it’s not even to retain a bit of exoticism or charm, but for purely practical reasons.

A Frenchie once told me, “It’s essential that you don’t lose your accent completely. That way, when you make mistakes, we can forgive you. If you have no accent, we won’t.” A bit of a harsh way of putting it, but hey, he was French. My own experience in China, where I look and more or less sound like a local, has taught me that having something that marks you out immediately as foreign can be a good thing. When shopkeepers address me with simple questions which I can’t understand, I do just literally look like a simpleton.

So what makes one accent attractive, and another offensive? Naturally it depends on individual taste, but outside of England the English one seems pretty universally popular I’m happy to report. Even the chavvy English accent seems, for some mystical reason, to wield a sort of quaint charm. So whether David Beckham or Hugh Grant, the Brit accent is a winner all round (clearly the main reason English boys pull outside of the homeland).

But it’s amazing how an accent can layer on or strip away someone’s allure in an instant. Surely you’ve all experienced that moment where you see a visually appealing boy/girl, but then they open their mouth and you can’t understand but one word, or they seem extremely maladroit? Pity. Or inversely someone can be incredibly appealing simply because they are so dashingly well-spoken, or have the cutest of accents!

Then sometimes the effect of accent can be rather perplexing. For example, a Swiss German I know with whom I normally speak French but who comes out with a heavy Californian accent every time he speaks in English (random or what?!). Or just plain bizarre, such as an Ancient Greek teacher I once had who, massive, skin-headed, and always clad in black t-shirts emblazoned with disturbing graphics from heavy metal groups and spiked jewellery, spoke in the most refined, genteel, dignified of English accents.

I’m banging on about accents because I just happen to have done a presentation for my phonetics class all about how difficult it is to acquire an “authentic” accent in a foreign language. And it’s true; no matter how impressive your mastery of a language, however grand your written skills, it’s your accent that’s going to betray you in an instant when you open your mouth to speak.

The article that I was studying suggested that we are inherently resistant to acquiring an accent in a foreign language because it is a sort of attack on our identity, which is deeply rooted in our mother tongue. What balls! Nobody who hears someone’s English accent while they are trying to speak French wants to sound like that! On the other hand, my Swiss friends are convinced that the fact that the French tend to have a notoriously strong accent is yet another indication of their narcissism, and how they can’t be bothered to try in another language, so proud are they of being French. But let’s not open that can of worms; the subject of the Swiss vs. the French will provide much rich material for a completely separate post…

Pronunciation is not generally something that is actively taught in a foreign language class, and is usually neglected in favour of the actual mechanics of a language, which is a pity. I’ve met people who have an excellent level in a foreign language, yet still struggle to make themselves understood.

So don’t under-estimate the importance of getting the accent right. I’m not even nearly done on the topic of accents. Next post is still going to be about accents, but in one’s own native language. I know – you can’t wait, right?