If Ticino and Bellinzona don’t sound very German to your ears, you are right. Switzerland has four official languages, none of them English. I think most people know that German and French are spoken here, but Italian and Romansch are also official languages. All the items in the grocery store are in German, French and Italian. Here is a map of where these languages are spoken in the country. Native German speakers (peach-colored section) make up 64% of the population, French (lavender) is 20%, Italian (green) is 6.5% and Romansch (yellow) is .05%. If you are counting on your fingers, you can probably figure out that the remaining 9% must be native languages spoken by us Ausländer.
Knowing that Ticino (pronounced Ti-chino) is the only canton where Italian is the sole official language, we brushed up our boungiornos and hoped for the best. Having spent 10 days in Italy a few years ago, we recalled the important words to know. The ever-helpful per fevore (please) and grazie (thank you) were at the top of the list. (If nothing else, try to learn how to say thank you wherever you go.)
The first sign that told me we were out of our language area was in coming off of the train, and I was happy to remember that uscita means exit. And, as you see, I could have figured it out, even if I hadn’t already known it.
Before heading to the castles, we wandered the streets in the old town through the Saturday market and past a number of outdoor sculptures. It was hard to wrap my mind around the fact that we were still in Switzerland. I remind myself that the US is such a diverse country and Los Angeles feels completely different than Boston or Savannah, but Switzerland is such a small country with such great diversity.
The buildings, as usual, drew my attention, and I even caught myself remarking about being in Italy.
Before we returned, I thought we ought to find gelato somewhere. Un piccolo cono is a phrase I remember well (a small cone) from our trip to Italy. Following a Google map, we headed to a shop near the train station, and as we peeked in the window, a man came by, opened the door for us, motioning us inside and saying Prego (which can mean please, or after you). We obliged and asked, gelato? Oh, no – waffles! It became apparent early on that they did not speak either English or German, and our Italian was sorely lacking. So, they spoke to us in Italian, we spoke back in whatever language popped out of our mouths, and we did lots of pointing and nodding and smiling.
In the end, we got one freshly-made-just-for-us waffle with a dark chocolate spread on one half, and an almond spread on the other, with banana slices, kiwi and strawberries and some peanut sprinkles, folded in half. It was not gelato, but it was really tasty. As we walked further down the street, we saw the gelato store, and it was closed.