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Archive for January, 2010

Learning the local language is very important to us.  It never ceases to amaze me how many expats I meet who have been here for years and have yet to learn even basic German.  In their defense, it can be difficult to learn as most people in the cities speak fantastic English and with an expat community of over 30,000 people in Basel alone, it’s easy to surround yourself with nothing but English-speaking foreigners like yourself.  So the general yes/no (ja/nein), please/thank you (bitte/danke schön) and 1,2,3 (eins, zwei, drei) can get you remarkably far and before you know it, you’ve been here for two years and still don’t know how to say “how are you today?”. One: it’s a bit tricky (Wie geht es Ihnen?). Two: the expected German response would make no sense to you anyway.

The boys start Swiss public school in August and from all the stories we’ve read and parents we’ve talked to, they will be fluent in Swiss-German in less than six months. How that’s possible, I still have no idea but there is some psycho-babble reasoning for it, I’m sure.  Regardless, their going to come home yapping away in German and I’m sure it’ll only be a matter of time before I outlaw the language at the dinner table.  There’s just something incredibly wrong with your own kids being able to talk behind your back, right to your face.

And so I find myself in a weekly German class, learning a language that I truly have no desire to learn (let’s be honest…who would CHOOSE to learn German?).  And although it wouldn’t be my first choice (Italian?  Spanish? Better French? Anything!), I have to say that I’m enjoying the experience more and more as the weeks go by. Joining the class was also a chance to meet other women in the same boat as me but we were only ten minutes into the first class when I realized that our boats were in completely different oceans.  In fact, my boat was looking like a hundred foot yacht beside their inflatable dingy.

A simple question of What brings you to Basel? brought out amazing stories of personal triumph, hope for a better life and perseverance. Jemma, Jaenette, Jennifer, Marcell…beautiful women from all over the world, explaining how coming to Basel is their “new beginning” and their “chance for a future”.  I know I said something similar on this very blog. I spoke of coming to Basel as a “new beginning” — but not in the way these women spoke of.  One by one, they told their stories. Stories of oppression. Stories of being married for 20 years yet never living in the same city as their husbands who worked abroad to send money home. Tears came to my eyes and I was silently dreading my turn to share. What could I possibly say after this? My original answer of “we wanted to see Europe and give our kids a chance to experience another culture” suddenly became pompous and spoiled. Yes, we all chose to come to Basel, but my motivation was one of excitement and leisure. Theirs was survival.

That day in December will always stick with me. I think it was the first time this extremely-fortunate Canadian girl realized that what she thought she knew about hard times, she really didn’t know at all.

Stay tuned for Part Two: The Interview.

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You’re waiting for your tram.  Two teenage boys sit slouched on the bench beside you, hands crammed into the knee-height pockets of their baggy, ripped jeans.  Three girls pass in front of them and you watch as they take a visual inventory of all their assets, commenting to each other as the girls leave ear shot. They’re too cool for school, for this tram stop, and for the world in general. If life gave us neon signs above our heads to broadcast our inner thoughts, theirs would be scrolling “yeah, you know I did…”.

One of the boys sees his tram coming and stands up while putting his earphones back on.  The boys exchange a few words and a thug handshake.  And then…to completely ruin my beautiful stereotyping, it happened…

…a double-cheek kiss goodbye.

“…yeah, you know I did!”

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So much snow.
So little sunshine.
Be back soon.

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