Posted by: expaticainhelvetica | September 16, 2009

Culture Club

Details, as promised, on my Schweiz experiences:

My random coffee outing with an 80-year-old Swiss man
I was crossing the street a month or so back when an elderly gentleman looked at me and smiled. First thing to cross my mind “oh, no – creepy old man.” He started speaking Swiss German and I smiled, with my best helpless look and said “Spreckenzee English?” His eyes lit up and he said “Why yes!” He proceeded to chat with me for a minute and then asked if I wanted to have a coffee with him. Why not, I figured. Once we cleared the air on the creepy old man thing (“Yes, I am actually married.”), we sidled up to a cafe and enjoyed two hours of conversation. Come to find out, Msr. was from the French side, and though his English wasn’t the best, he was just happy to have someone to chat with. He told me about his life (he had lived in Colorado and Montreal and worked for a hotel – the Hilton, I believe). He was a baker and even spent time working for Sprungli, the fab chocolate maker here in Switzerland. In the end, I realized he was just lonely. The experience was bittersweet because I gleaned from our conversation that he was single, his family didn’t live near by, and he just spent much of his time riding the train and stopping in towns to grab a coffee and walk around. It made me a bit sad and quite appreciative of the fact that I am surrounded (even miles away) by wonderful people who love me.  The meeting ended with a walk to the train, a pleasant good bye, and both Msr.and I heading our separate ways.

My experience with the French rail system
Just because you’re on a train that says it is going to Geneva doesn’t mean the WHOLE train is going to Geneva. Case in point, on a trip to visit mes amies in Grenoble, I was on a train that, for all intents and purposes, I thought was going to Geneva. When the conductor came around and looked at my ticket, he spoke in rapid-fire French. My understanding of French is limited to food (shocking), so I gave him my helpless look. He then motioned me to follow him. He introduced me to some English-speaking passengers who told me that the train would be splitting when we reached the next stop. What? Splitting? Why yes, some cars would be going to one place, the others would be going to Geneva. Ummm….right. Needless to say, I scurried to the right car, but thankfully I was pointed in the right direction, or else I may have ended up in Marseille. Not a bad thing, but still, not home.

My interaction with a neighbor at my old apartment who was none to happy about the fact I kept my awning unfurled for a few days too long
Apartments here have awnings so as to prevent the sun from heating your place (so green of them!). In my temporary apartment, I left my awning unfurled for a few days since the sun would beat in nearly every day. One night, I came home and was watching BBC news (the only station in English at my temporary apartment) when I hear a knock on my door. First reaction “WTF?” I answered the door and there was a lady there and she started the rapid-fire Swiss German thing. “Spreckenzee English?” “Nein.” “Spreckenzee Deutsch?” “Nein.” Perfect….

What followed was a game of charades. Long story short, I was getting scolded for leaving my awning down a few days too long.

I was once told every Swiss person is a policeman. I’m beginning to see what they mean by that.

My experience trying to return an item to a local electronics store
I bought a new point-and-shoot camera to carry in my bag 1) Because I don’t want to carry around our SLR every where I go and 2) I doubt Expaticowill let me carry around the SLR when he arrives with it in tow :-). That being said, the screen was all blotchy with green dots. Within two hours, I go to return it. I get sent back home saying “that’s normal.” I go home, decide it is not normal and return it a few days later. Needless to say, returns are not an option. Repairing is the way to go. This is all fine and dandy, but the customer service was abhorrent. “I don’t see a problem.” is what I was told. “Umm…the screen has green dots all over it!” “Well, those are just the fruit in the tree.” “What? That’s a sign for a gas station. Signs don’t grow fruit. Try again.” I finally got someone to take me seriously. The camera was sent back and when I went to pick it up, I was told nothing was wrong with it. I am now stuck with a sub-par Nikon point and shoot. I’m sure I’ll make do, but I do miss the days of going back to Best Buy, making a return, no questions asked.



  1. As for the Swiss man…
    I want to hang out with him! He’s got to have a lot of good topics to discuss.

    About the camera…
    I feel that, for electronics and anything breakable, I would buy online from a monter like Amazon since they have a “no questions asked” return policy.

  2. The Deutsche Bahn does that too with its trains. It usually only happens on the ICE trains though, when they stick two whole (seperately numbered) trains nose-to-nose, so it’s a little more difficult to get on the wrong one (but more difficult to make a quick change when you do)..

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