OK, it's been awhile between posts. About 5 months, to be exact. It's not that I've had nothing to write about, but to say that the past few months were busy would be a huge understatement.
It started out like any other Thursday.
Wake up, make coffee, get ready for work..
But as I turned the corner, I nearly collided with a brightly-colored, metallic-looking, frilly, enormous dress and a ridiculous hat, similar to this:
The perfect place exists only in the imagination. No matter where you choose to live and how much you like it there, there are going to be the parts that you love and the parts that you don't. When you choose to live in a country (or culture) that's not your own, you also throw in those cultural differences that seem so strange and take some getting used to.
...that it is possible to sleep quite soundly in a giant tent with 100 other people?
It is much more difficult, if not impossible (for me at least), to sleep on an overnight train when you are not in a sleeper car (even if they promised you it was just as good).
Also, when planning a meeting place in a foreign city, be specific.
And have a backup plan.
And a backup backup plan.
Just in case one of you is half asleep while deciding where to meet and hears 'Piazza del Popolo' when what the other actually said was 'Spanish Steps'. They are not close.
The things you learn when you travel.
15. Life is so much more fun when you’re willing to look like a bit of an idiot.
16. People are incredibly adaptable. When you look back it’s hard to believe what has become normal that used to be new.
Like hearing various languages and accents throughout the day.
Or going to work via train.
Or frequent Skype calls.
Continuing on with the list of what Switzerland has taught me...
8. Living alone makes me even later than usual, especially in the mornings.
9. I’m an observer. I’ve known this for a long time, but being in a new situation, especially this one, really highlights it. I listen, I process, I think, and I formulate an opinion before I share anything. People usually think I am shy and quiet because of this. It comes as a big surprise when they later learn the truth.
About a year ago, I was packing up my life in DC, preparing myself to say goodbye to a lot of amazing people, and crying a lot. All you had to do was say Switzerland and I would lose it. I knew that what was coming was going to be an amazing experience, but the leaving part is so hard.
It has been a whirlwind year full of new.
If you had asked me 10 years ago if I ever wanted to live in a city, I probably would have wrinkled my nose and said “no way.” I didn’t like cities much. I mean, they're great to visit for a day, but live there? No thanks. Too crowded, too noisy, and just not for me.
Well, people change.
Florence was my first taste of city living when I was 21, where I experienced the joys of walking everywhere and being around lots of people.
Then after college came DC, which I absolutely loved. If Switzerland hadn’t happened, I’d still be in Capitol Hill, playing skee ball on H St and visiting Eastern Market every weekend.
And when I first walked out of the Luzern train station this past October, I already loved it. That night, Liz joked that I should move to Luzern. I decided that it was a fantastic idea.
Fast forward 6 months, and here I am in Luzern! It’s been 2 months since I moved, and it was a fantastic decision. Luzern is a small city, about 1/10 the size of DC, but it is a great place to live. I lucked out in my apartment search, and I got one exactly where I wanted to be. I can walk to the train station in 5 minutes (4 if I’m really late), to the lake in 5 minutes, to Liz’s house in 5 minutes, and to the old town in about 6 minutes.
The lake is beautiful, especially on those bright, sunny days…
The old town has cobbled streets, outdoor dining, and painted buildings scattered throughout…
And on those rare occasions when I get the urge to go running, I love running up the hill to the old town wall, where there are few people and pretty views…
I live close to some friends I already have, and I’ve made some new friends through Meetups, pubs, and other people. We’ve gone dancing, taken over the karaoke stage, enjoyed rooftop views, and won pub quizzes (although sadly I didn’t contribute too much to the winning quiz).
There’s plenty to do, and I love my new apartment.
I haven’t yet made it to the transportation museum, or into the KKL, or on a boat tour. But the weather’s warming up, the sun’s coming out from behind the fog, and the slugs are (unfortunately) back.
Spring has finally arrived.
Life gets busy, especially while preparing for a three-week trip home for Christmas. That's my excuse, anyway, for slacking off on this whole blogging thing. So here's a recap of some of the fun that happens in Switzerland during the Christmas season...
Snow started coming down in early December, and it kept on coming. Because they're used to that kind of thing here, roads and train tracks were constantly being cleared, so there were no days off of school.
However, I found that snow is much more enjoyable (even without the time off) when I do not have a car. No snow to clear off, no icy roads to worry about, and no cold car to sit in as it verrry slowly warms up. Just a walk to the bus as normal.
And since there is very little wind, the snow came down slowly and it stayed put. It stayed on tree branches, on rooftops, and even on fences. The constant snowing refreshed the old snow, so it stayed pristine and white. Unfortunately it was also slippery due to a lack of proper snow boots, but it was beautiful!
Talk about a winter wonderland. For some strange reason I find myself with very few pictures, but I assure you it was gorgeous!
In the town of Küssnacht, Samichlaus visits in a parade on December 5. We met him (he looks like a bishop Santa) on our way in, and my friend even got a picture with him. We got some food and some glühwein and then stood with hundreds of others waiting for the parade to begin. Somehow we ended up in the font row with a great view. I thought this was great...until the men with whips came out.
The whips made loud cracking sounds, and they orchestrated it so that rhythms were created. However, with no physical barrier between us and them and nowhere to back up, the whips came terrifyingly close. At one point I even saw a woman's jacket hit by one. She, however, wasn't fazed. Although I kept thinking that I was going to be hit, the effect was really cool.
After a while of this, at the sound of the last whip, all of the street lights went out simultaneously. We were herded off to the side in the darkness in order to make way for the parade, and we ended up still being right in front. Leading the parade were more whippers, heralding the arrival of Samichlaus (these were actually more worrisome than the others because now it was dark and we could only hear the whips, not see them. The whippers couldn't see anything either. However, happily we all left unscathed).
Then came a procession of men and boys in white robes, each with a huge, lighted bishop's hat on his head. These were made from cardboard and intricately designed. Then colored, transparent paper was put on the inside and it was lit from within with candles. It gave it a incredible stained-glass look. They were gorgeous and ranged from about 2-5 feet high. They paraded and danced past, and I was pleasantly surprised that no one fell over.
This is, unfortunately, when my camera died.
Next came Samichlaus, accompanied by his Schmutzlis, men dressed in hooded robes whose purpose I don't really know.
The next part explained quite well why a coworker suggested that we wear earplugs.
Hundreds (they just kept coming) of men, each carrying a huge cowbell that bounced against their knees in unison as they walked by. Loud is an understatement. After them came about 200 more men, this time blowing cow horns, also in unison. Traditionally, all of the noise was meant to banish darkness and evil.
By the time we left, my ears were ringing and my toes were numb, but it was well worth it!
Conclusion: Christmas season is Switzerland is fantastic.
Next up comes snowboarding season!
I had a conversation yesterday that went something like this:
I'm on my way home from work. It's starting to rain. I walk past an old lady on the sidewalk.
Lady: Grüezi! (Then she says about 4-5 sentences in German, laughing goodnaturedly)
Me: (in German!!) I'm sorry, I don't speak German.
Proud of myself for being able to at least convey that thought in German, I smile apologetically and shrug my shoulders.
Lady: (says 3 or 4 more sentences in rapid German that I don't understand, ending with the word sprechen, which I do know means to speak)
I assume that she is asking me what language I do speak.
Me: (in German) I speak English.
Lady: (looking disappointed, but apparently not getting or not caring that I don't understand what she is saying to me, she continues to speak rapidly for about 30 more seconds, smiling and gesturing, then stops, looking at me)
Awkward silence. Confused look.
Me: Ok...well...sorry...umm...Guten Abend...
And as I walk away she is smiling and waving to me.
This was not the first of such conversations that I have had here. Gestures can be very useful in getting a point across, and people seem to appreciate it if you at least try to use German. But every once in awhile you come across the person who just keeps on talking even though it is painfully obvious that you do not understand.
I don't know how the kids at school do it. We have so many who come in speaking only Dutch, or Spanish, or German, or French, etc. They are surrounded by a foreign language all day long, and sometimes no one else in their class speaks anything even close to their native language. It takes an immense amount of effort just to get a simple point across. Despite the support and understanding given by the teachers and other kids, it must be exhausting.
I get it. Sometimes I just want to be able to read my mail, or speak to my neighbors, or understand what the conductor on the train is saying.
Looking at a Swiss newspaper I have a new appreciation for kids who are learning to read, especially in a foreign language. Most of us learned to read so long ago that it's easy to forget just how much goes into understanding a simple sentence. I know that those groups of letters are words. I can use the pictures and other context clues to help me figure out what the article is about. I can even sound out the words. But the words have no meaning to me yet. I can read an entire article out loud, with (I like to think) decent pronunciation, and still have absolutely no clue what I read about.
These encounters (plus the fact that I am tired of giving blank stares) have inspired me to once again pull out my German book and practice. I've been in Switzerland for three months now, and I'm no longer "settling in." It's about time that I started adding to my repertoire of phrases.
Besides being able to tell people that I don't speak German (a very useful phrase), currently I can count to 100, name most of the colors and many household objects, and I can conjugate verbs in the present tense. Of course, I only know about 6 verbs. But if ever I want to go, to come, to speak, to have, to order, or if I would like something...
I've totally got that.
Kelly is an American teacher living in Switzerland and enjoying everything the country has to offer.