The past few days have gone by so fast that at one point this afternoon I actually felt like I was on a carnival ride, with the wind blowing past my face and everything going by in a blur. Last Wednesday I went to a CouchSurfing meeting. For those of you unacquainted with CouchSurfing, it started out as a site which backpackers could use to find free, super-short-term (4 days or less) housing, actually living with local people in whatever city they’re passing through. Now it’s expanded and become a social networking and events site for backpackers and other openminded, nomadic folk. Over the past week I’ve hung out with CouchSurfers 5 times…usually just going out for a beer, but on Friday I went for a beer in the French-speaking next town over (Fribourg), and on Saturday I met up with a really nice girl originally from Kyrgyzstan. Her name was Irina. Her Russian and German were perfect, and we spoke Russian; I was quite pleased to find that it wasn’t as rusty as I thought. That night I met up with a Congolese guy named Antoine; we went to a Mexican bar and talked a lot about philosophy. On Sunday, when everything except the museums were closed, we went to the history museum with a Canadian surfer named Rochelle. Today (Tuesday) I just got back from having a beer with a few other surfers who were just passing through town. No more sob stories of me not having any friends!
I’m waiting for my sort-of-boyfriend to Skype me (and he has about half an hour *snarl*) so I’ll just touch briefly on the languages here in Switzerland. There are basically five. Most people speak Swiss German, which (not that I would know, but from what I hear) has different intonation and a bunch of different words from “school German,” a bit like Québécois and “French French.” The Germans and the Swiss also laugh at the funny ways each other talks. French is spoken by a significant minority in the western part of the country, and Swiss French has pretty much the same thick, rich sounds as French from France. They do have a few vocabulary peculiarities though; they call a cell phone a “natel” and say “septante, octante, nonante” for the numbers 70, 80 and 90– a lot more logical than the silly French-French “soixante-dix, quatre-vingts, quatre-vingt-dix.” German-speakers usually at least know a smattering of French, but “romands” (francophones) don’t usually speak much German. There are two romands at my work, who live in Fribourg (the next town over, 20 minutes from Berne, which is majority French-speaking). They live less than half an hour away from a completely German-speaking town but speak no German. Go figure.
There’s also Italian, spoken in several cantons (= provinces) in the south, and Romansch, spoken by about 70,000 people in the mountains of the southeast, which is apparently the closest living language to medieval Latin. As a diehard language geek, I would like to spend a weekend in some tiny village in the mountains just listening to that being spoken.
Not to mention English, which is used as a bridge language and in academia and business.
Swiss German speakers are not particularly creative linguists. Whenever they find a French or, especially, English word they like, they just slap it in the middle of the sentence. So a hairdresser is a coiffeur, “merci” is heard more often than “danke,” car sharing is car sharing, a bestseller is a bestseller, and, in an exceptional show of linguistic laziness, an energy drink is an energy drink, even though there exist perfectly good words for both “energy” and “drink” in German. Weird, huh?
Last note: At work, I can see the snow-capped Alps from the lunchroom window.