Is it Swiss Sunday already. Seems only seven days since we had the last one.

One of the things that strikes you about your time in Switzerland is the sound. In the Alps it is just the sweet sound of gentle wind – absolutely nothing else. On the hills it’s the hypnotic sound of cow bells. The waterfalls sound so magical. The thunder is almost Thor like as they echo around the mountains. The rivers always seem to be cascading over rocks. Even the sound of the Swiss Horn takes on an ethereal quality. The restaurants like anywhere can be noisy. But it’s a very polite noise.

The other thing that strikes you is the range of languages you here. In England you only here English really, yes different dialects but just one language. In Switzerland it’s different. One day we tried to count how many different ones we could pick out in a pizza restaurant in Spiez.

  • German
  • Swiss German
  • Italian
  • French
  • Dutch
  • English
  • Russian
  • Japanese
  • Korean
  • English
  • American (sorry)

With me being there you could also add speaking Bo****ks.

The place is so multilingual. The trains do announcements in German, French, Italian and English. It’s the one mainland European country you can get by in by just speaking English. I remember buying tickets for a bus somewhere near Zermatt. The ticket man apologised for his poor English. Then spoke in near perfect English for about 5 minutes about England, it’s weather and our fondness for warm frothy beer. Listening to him speak so fluently just emphasised my deficiency’s in my own language. It doesn’t even feel like it’s good enough to be my second language.

Another time a train guard came to check our tickets. I can see his image so vividly.

“Dad it’s Super Mario” – he was the spitting image of him.

The guard looked at our tickets then said he would come back. Oh no what have we done. A few minutes later he came back and sat down. He apologised that English was only his fourth language. He then spoke to us for twenty minutes until the train arrived in Geneva. He talked about English Politics, the English Football Team and how he respected the British Royal Family – but he didn’t like Charles as he was too much of a tree hugger. He loved reading about Churchill. The bloke could name most of our Royal Family, the London Major, most of our Government and our Football Players. His knowledge of another country put my knowledge of his country to shame. I couldn’t even name the Swiss President. This shouts out two things. The merits of the Swiss Educational system and the narrow mindedness of the English one.

I do know now that the Swiss President is Ueli Maurer….

84 thoughts on “Languages

  1. No need to apologize for adding American as a language. We did drop all the “U”s when we tossed the tea. Plus there are regional dialects that you’d swear was a different language completely!
    The Alps look beautiful. I love mountains. I’m very lucky where I live it’s less than an hour drive east to mountains that are 7000ft, a half hour west is the beach.

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  2. I once taught this student from Malaysia. I asked him how many language did he speak. He paused while he counted, then said 12. I asked him why his parents sent him to a school in New Zealand. He said, “To get a good education.” That was 40 years ago – I’m still laughing!

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  3. Spot on. And we’ve been in places…we used to take the girls to kind of back of beyond places abroad… where I still witnessed appalling rudeness along the lines of ‘doesn’t anyone speak English in this bloody place.’

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    1. I’ve seen Americans or I should say heard Americans travel in Europe and speak English to the locals. If the person didn’t understand them then they would repeat themselves getting progressively louder.
      That’s what happens when you grow up in a country in which you can drive for 3 days in 1 direction, step out of your car and expect the first person you meet to understand and speak English.

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      1. I would either end up apologising for their appalling behaviour or making out I was from some other country all together. Then there would be the ones who would walk into a tavern in the middle of nowhere on some sparsely populated island and ask bacon and eggs. I have no idea how they even got to these places but they did. Prob long lost British Empire red coats.

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      2. You are right but it goes beyond that. When we were in Prague, there was this idiot at the hotel bar who had not even troubled himself to check was the exchange rate was. I thought imagine coming to a country and not checking that.

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  4. When I was in Switzerland just recently I was astonished how easily my languages came back. My mother tongue is Swiss German Zurich dialect, by default I speak German, I’m fluent but out of practice in French and Italian? My parents speak it with each other, so I get by, but as we were in the Italian part of Switzerland with my English speaking family, I noticed I was able to communicate quite passably in Italian and get us around. 😉 This surprised me.

    You’re right though, most cities have people who speak English fluently.

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  5. Wonderful images Sir…. you can almost smell how crisp and clean the air is! (If you ignore the Cows***!)

    Living on an island can tend to make it’s citizens a little ‘insular’ in their thinking, particularly an island that basically conquered half the known world and transported it’s language and many customs along with it!

    Living in a country with many borders to others that don’t have the same language as you instills in the citizens a greater ‘need’ to learn a new language or two. 😉

    Over on my island however, it has become as common to hear Urdu, Hindi, Cantonese, Mandarin, Vietnamese, Tamil, Arabic (African and Middle Eastern) Malaysian and Indonesian spoken in shopping centres and restaurants, or in parks and open areas, as these cultural groups tend to get out and about in groups (often large family groups) that share a common language much more than the English only speaking ‘locals’ do.

    You so did not know the Swiss President’s name – you googled it, i can even see the ‘cut and paste’. 🙂

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  6. The English are not nearly as clued out about what happens outside of their country. The neighbours south of the 49th take the cake. I lived there for 4 years back in the day. They thought we had no roads and traveled all year round by dogsled and lived in igloos. In July they would drive north to the border and then ask directions to the nearest ski slope.
    If you really want a laugh go to You Tube and look for Rick Mercer Talks to Americans. Need I say more.

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  7. My attempts at foreign languages are Pitiful. I can see pity in the eyes of Spanish, French and Other languaged peoples when I visit their country. They smile and quickly switch to English (no matter how poor). Where on earth did Brits ever get the idea that we are educated? Especially when teachers are lost in the world of Billy Bunting postcard salutations. (OK, I’m really showing my age here).
    Love the photos of such a beautiful, educated country. 😊

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  8. Lovely memories. our children are taught French and Spanish but speak mostly English which is crude compared to yours. Ancestors form England and France.:)

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