I attended a conference in Switzerland and at first had no intention of blogging about it because really when you go to these conferences you mostly see the inside of a hotel, right? In the end, I had a few interesting observations that I thought I would share.
The first piece of advice I'm going to give is: learn how to pronounce your destination before you leave home. I was in the throes of video production and left home in rather a frenzy. I had no idea how to pronounce the town I was trying to find.
I made eye contact in customs with the thought of asking where the train station was located. Bad idea. Never make eye contact in customs. I looked away thinking this wasn't the place to ask and for my courtesy I got to have my undies inspected. It was all very fast and efficient, but part of the challenge was trying to say where I was going. He couldn't understand me and I had no idea how to pronounce it which made me suspect.
I made it out of customs and was struck that everyone in Zurich airport seemed to be speaking French, so I incorrectly came to the conclusion that French dominated. In Switzerland, they have four official languages: German, French, Italian, and Rumantch (or Romanch). I did hear the cleaning guys in the train station in Zurich all laughing and carrying on in Italian. I think I heard Rumantch on the bus. Not sure what I'd liken it to - something with a touch of Slavic influence but still a romance sounding language.
The bus driver with the name of the town I was going to on the front of his bus (Oberägeri) could not understand my pronunciation of the town. His English was perfect but my enunciation of the town lacked something. I had trouble getting a ticket.
After the brown and dry summer of Madrid, I found the lush greenness of Switzerland soothing if somewhat chilly. It was the second day before the clouds lifted enough to realize there was a mountain range of serious mountains tucked between the two grand hills by the lake I could see from my hotel room.
Once in the German speaking section of Switzerland, there was no longer a whisper of another language. Our conference was at a convalescence/retreat/convent type place, but it was protestant and the nuns had rather a Mennonite look and spoke only German. As you can imagine, this was not the main tourist area and not everyone spoke English like in the city. No English signs or helpful hints in the hotel. Luckily there were no fire drills, so I didn't have to try to understand the instructions.
One elderly lady from the convalescence center decided to find out what our group was about and cornered someone by the water cooler/wifi nook. She seemed disappointed that we were a film making group. She'd made up her mind that we were a psychology group.
I ducked out of a session when the sun came out to sit for a minute on the terrace overlooking the lake. A large convalescing lady with canes came and sat with me and her husband proceeded to bring chairs and place them all around. (Them: Something German. Me: Smile and nod.) Eventually a family reunion took place and I decided to skedaddle.
After Madrid, I had the impression that everything was very orderly and efficient. Not trying to take up the Swiss stereotypes but they are apparently stereotypes for a reason. We were to check off our choices for dinner and lunch at breakfast and the wait staff didn't speak English so at times you just decided it was easier to take what they offered than to explain.
I thought perhaps it was just me but one of the British members of the conference commented that it all seemed very clean and orderly. When we were catching the train back to the airport (after two buses to get to the train), we were sort of watching to see if it left on time due to Swiss efficiency. The train left two minutes late. Our droll Romanian companion from the conference proclaimed, "We must make a report of this," and we all died laughing.
The conference did have an outing to a nearby park area on top of one of
the mountains and I saw Swiss cows and heard their cowbells!
We also had a bit of Alphorn playing our last night (a la Riccola commercial) which was interesting to see. I'm not making this up: one of the Alphorn players was named Heidi. I was trying to see it as a cultural moment but several of my companions were getting tickled. The Alphorn players said they'd play a really different song later, but despite having a wide tonal range they only had so many actual notes. (I'm not musical so excuse that description.) The songs started to sound similar at which point the chuckling became hard to hold in. It was a lovely taste of Switzerland, even if mostly from buses, trains, and hotels.