If your brain only has space for one word in German, entschuldingung is the one to remember. It’s a mouthful of an apology, but I find myself blurting it out more often than I say hello, and in the 2.5 months I’ve lived here, I’ve managed to squeeze it into two syllables. I’m well-versed in the art of apologizing: to shop owners before I beg them to speak English; to random hikers on muddy mountainsides in Grindelwald; to pedestrians and poodles and tram cars I speed in front of on my rickety bike. Switzerland is a centuries-old machine whose water mills and cogs are polished smooth with efficiency and perfection, whose intricate tram system crisscrosses the city like so much lace, whose air is awash in cowbells and church bells and I have stood dazed in the middle of it all, quite possibly drooling to boot.
The first day I ventured out of my temporary apartment, I found myself at an intersection of several tram lines and roadways and stood there for a few minutes too long, terrified to cross. How do you lose your ability to navigate basic city systems? (Answer: Manila.)
A week into my stay, I decided to check out this Lonely Planet-recommended hike called the Rehberger-Weg. It promised verdant strolls across the border into Germany and a path well-marked with funky modern art. I took the tram to the Beyeler Foundation, only I couldn’t figure out how to get off so I rode a station too far and walked back.
The museum was not open, so I began the walk at a nearby bridge, where a kind woman with a dog pointed me in the right direction, toward what she assured me was a colorful cuckoo clock. What followed was a few hours of me walking a few meters, backtracking, and checking a screen shot of a cartoon map I’d found online earlier.
In Switzerland, my phone has a habit of chugging its battery life like a college student at a frat party, so I was left on my own to navigate the walk through mountainside vineyards punctuated by funky binoculars or random art installations (when I Googled the artist’s style, it came up as “difficult to categorize”). Anyway, I wound up at the Vitra Museum feeling absolutely dehydrated and keen for a sit-down at the cafe, but it was also closed and would not open until noon. Parched, I decided to hike back over the trail into Switzerland, and found myself back in the mountain vineyards in front of a stone fountain labeled “TRINKTWASSER”. To fill an empty bottle at a fountain is a beautiful thing.
This is much of my life in Switzerland. No matter how insane the days have been, there are mountains and the hurrying-Rhine to comfort you. It has taken me months to sit and actually write a blog post, largely because I’m toggling between living my life here or attempting to cement my life here. As I write this, I sit on my balcony, the sun in a slow set behind me, scorching my neck for just a little bit longer. (It was 86 today. Where is the autumn I’ve been promised?) My socks have little bits of pistachio shell and pizza crust stuck to them (testament to a Saturday of frozen pizzas with a friend), my glass is half-full of French Rieseling (courtesy of a trip to Riquewihar before school began), and I can rest easy tonight because my lessons are planned up to the break, which we are hurtling toward with alarming speed.
The perks of life in Switzerland include the following: a trip to Grindelwald, outdoor climbing (including lead, which I’d never done outdoors before) several times in both Switzerland and Germany, runs through the woods and over mountains, Aperol spritzes with friends, swimming/being dragged down the Rhine to a buvette flush with more Aperol spritzes. I bike to and from work – we could see clouds of our breath the other morning in the crisp air, though this baking sun tells me that was short-lived – and have gone for runs in the fields between farms, with webs of mist around my ankles. It brings me so much joy, gulping air un-smogged by Jeepney fumes.
The downside of life in Switzerland is that I’m not spoiled by my previous school anymore, so all admin tasks are completed by me. I arrived in July and registered at the Gemeinde for my residence permit, which should have arrived in July but has been waylaid by some administrative mishap. My shipping, which was meant to dock in Antwerp on Friday, has also been delayed, and the detailed inventory of my items and their cost, which I mailed to the shipping company in August, never reached its destination, so I needed to mail it again last week.
Delays and obstacles are a pain in the ass, but they also make for good stories. Where would Dracula be if trains arrived and departed on time and no one had gout?
An especially exciting adventure I had involved mailing my ICARD back to Manila, a task necessary for me to get the remainder of my paycheck from Manila. I was told to send it by UPS, so I showed up at a UPS store in Basel only to find a boarded up kiosk. I punched another one into Google Maps and found myself down some dodgy side street staring at a dinky UPS sign in what might have been a murder basement.
So I hopped on a tram to Shaulager, where I found myself at the doors of the UPS headquarters. I went inside, took the lift to the UPS floor, and ducked into the office through a door held open to me by a smiling woman.
Inside, there were dozens of offices housing miserable-looking workers hunched over their computers. I finally found a short woman with equally short hair and asked her where I might mail an important document.
She regarded me as if I’d just told her there was a nuclear core melting in the cellar and we were all going to die or be permanently mutated and said, “Who are you? You’re not supposed to be in here. How did you get in here?”
I explained that someone had held the door for me, but more importantly, could she mail an essential document to Manila?
Less out of kindness and more out of wanting me out of the office, she obliged. Before I left, she threw me one last tortured look and said, “But really, the next time – “
“There won’t be a next time!” I promised her. “I’ll never come back. I promise.”
I’ll probably run into her at parent-teacher conferences someday.
Otherwise, all is well here. We are fortunate to be at school with face-to-face learning, though I mean it when I say that there are some students whose faces I would not recognize if I saw them without a mask. Last week was class photos, and students had to pose solo and sans mask, and a few of them looked like total strangers. At least I know their names.
Another interesting development is that I’ve been given some kind of role as a fire marshal. I’m not sure if I’m supposed to disclose this special role, but I’ve been given a fluorescent yellow vest so I’m not sure it’s much of a secret. I carry a large binder and tick off whether students are all accounted for. I do not know how I got this job, but I was also given a whistle, so I can’t complain.
I promise a much more interesting entry down the line, but in a pinch, this is all I’ve got.
Thanks for the update, Nicole. Glad you are settling into Swiss life. Please keep up with your whistle, it seems very important!