Wednesday, March 7, 2012

My faltering German...

Speaking Standard German in Zurich is certainly like speaking a foreign language to the Swiss who live there.  My language is met with a bemused smile and a dialectical response to which I have to sometimes say, 'Excuse me?  I'm a visitor here and have difficulties with the language.'  That sort of talk is usually responded to with more dialect.  I'm a fan of all German dialects, but, really, when I think of Swiss German one sound comes to mind, and it's 'xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx'.  The ch is [x] and the back of one's throat really gets a workout with this one.  There are a great many variations of the dialect; not all who speak Swiss German employ the 'ch' sound, but it seems to be a feature of the language spoken here.

Being spoken to in so much Swiss German, I begin to stumble trying to speak the Standard.  I keep doubting my own paltry pronunciations, declensions, and vocab choices as what I am saying isn't being mirrored in what I hear spoken both to and around me.  'Viel mal' or 'viele male'?  I can't remember.  My 'Wiedersehen' is met with an 'Ade' or a 'Wiederlahaaha', or that's what it sort of sounds like to my untrained ear.  I don't feel confident responding in kind as I can't quite recognise the word.

The only good thing that I have going for me auf Deutsch is that I'm just as persistent (read: annoying) in German as I am in English.  I'll pester retail workers with inane questions (in a friendly way) and try for the odd cheap laugh with lame jokes.  My personality, for better or worse, shines through.

Case in point: I dropped into a cafe/sushi bar for a morning coffee and gipfeli (read: croissant) in the Altstadt of Zurich.  Afterward, I used the loo.  The loo was just beyond the sushi bar portion of the resto, and, even though it wasn't yet noon, there was a dude behind the counter already fashioning fish onto rice and setting out the finished product on little plastic trays.  I had to ask him how popular sushi was with the locals.  Based on both how he looked and the extent of his German I could tell that he was just as foreign as I was.  He didn't get my question because, well, it didn't seem to make sense as here was a fairly decent-looking sushi joint in the middle of town, so, yeah, sushi-eating was popular enough to keep it afloat.  Mind you, though, this place also doubled as a pastry and coffee joint that additionally sold continental cuisine, so how popular was the sushi selection really?  Anyway, I was told that this resto was the 'best sushi place' in town and that I should stay and eat some.  Yeah, I wasn't really ready for 'elevensies' already, so I had to pass.

Jede Menge Gipfeli!
The best phrases that I took away with me from my weekend in Zurich were 'Gruezi mitenand!' and 'Merci vielmal!'  It's certainly always best to be polite in whatever language one is attempting to muddle through.  I hope I didn't do too badly on that front.


  1. Best sushi? Definitely Ginger on Seefeldstrasse! And Zürcher are completely mad for Asian food, especially Thai and Japanese.

  2. Danke, Kathy! I'll be sure and check out Ginger when I hit town!


A piece of your mind here: