Speaking German in California

Part Eight of What I Will Miss was speakingIMG_6439
and hearing German, and I wrote that I looked forward to German Table at Pomona College. This is where we practiced, once a week, before we headed to Switzerland. I was curious as to whether our conversational skills had improved. I know for sure that our comprehension had increased, and now, after our first day back at the table, I think that our speaking skills have also gotten better. Our endings are still schrecklich, but not quite as bad as before. I think those will take many years to improve.

Trivia for the day. One of the writers for Star Trek: The Next Generation went to Pomona College. This language dorm, Oldenborg, was the naming inspiration for the dreaded Borg with its maze-like halls.


What We Don’t Need to Miss: Or, What We Brought Back

Back in our first months in Zürich,Screen Shot 2015-08-06 at 10.40.49 AM a friend asked me what we might be bringing back with us from sabbatical. I can’t remember what I said, but I’m sure it wasn’t very much, and I’m very glad that we did not come back with any additional suitcases. For everything that we added to our bags, we left something behind. Mostly.

Of course we did bring back a few souvenirs. I already wrote about our Freitag bags, and I have just ordered some Sigg water bottles here (which are Swiss, but much cheaper to buy here than there).


Not one of our bags. Just one I saw in Lucerne.

What we did bring back and required no additional space in the luggage are some attitudes and habits that I would like very much to keep up.

First, I got used to eating regular-sized portions of food and to not stocking our pantry with so much excess food (which would sometimes go to waste – and waist). Right now our refrigerator has enough stuff to last for the next few days, as does our pantry. Although they look pretty bare, they also look very clean and uncluttered.

Second, I want to continue to walk to many places. I didn’t have a bike in Zürich, but I was so happy to ride mine here the other day that I want to ride it more. To be fair, I did walk quite a bit here before since we live close to the library, post office, shops, etc., but I want to see if I can squeeze in some more calorie-powered transportation.


Scientific Progress Goes “Boink”

Third, I am still practicing German on Duolingo every day, and I look forward to speaking at German Table at Pomona College soon. To enhance our enjoyment, we bought a Calvin and Hobbes book (in Bern on our last full day in Switzerland) so we can read one page a day over lunch as we used to do.


The time has come to deregister, IMG_6306letting the city of Zürich and the country of Switzerland know that we will soon be moving back to our Heimat. In August we registered with our Gemeinde (community), and this week we deregistered at the Stadthaus.

Working our way through all the tourists taking photos in front of the Fraumünster, we walked into the Stadthaus (which is open during lunch hours) and right up to an open window.

The nice lady was very helpful, taking our ID cards and typing in the computer and having us fill out a form. Because we have an “L” permit (good for only one year), she did not have to take it from us, but said we could keep them as a souvenir. Then she directed us to another room to make sure that our taxes were squared away with the country.


We waited for 1 minute in this room before we were called into a private office.

More tip-tip typing on the computer, a printed page with an official stamp and signature, and we were sent back to the original window where we had the privilege of paying 30 CHF per person for an official letter that we must send to our health insurance to prove that we will no longer need to pay them. We had paid 324 CHF to register, so it is nice that leaving isn’t as expensive.

Official stamp

Official stamp

When we arrived last August, we spoke English when we registered, but this time, we spoke only German.

What I Will Miss, Part Eight: German!

IMG_6308The expat life is like a continual espresso buzz according to a post in the Wall Street Journal Expat Blog. You step out of your home, and instantly you are enveloped in a language that is not your Muttersprache.

Even though I have only learned a handful of Swiss German phrases, and I can often understand about 5% of an overheard conversation on the street, I can honestly say that I am going to miss having German as a part of my daily life. I plan on keeping up German at home, but living here is the best reason for thinking about it every day.

There’s the daily reading of 20 Minuten, the near-daily interaction at the grocery store, all the signs in the city. Once a week I had to listen in German at orchestra rehearsal, and once a week I got to listen and speak for our German practice group.

I’m glad that I have a chance to go to German table at Pomona College when the semester starts at the end of August.

* * * *

I will not miss being frustrated by Swiss German!

Reading Dutch

Dutch. What a language! So many Zs, Js, double vowels, and yet so many words that an American or German speaker can understand. Even many more that I can’t. We had so much fun looking at all the signage.

If you know that Zandvoort aan Zee is the city, then you can see that Help mee (looks a little like English) and voor een schoon looks like vor ein schön (for a beautiful). So, please, pick up your trash, people.


Green is the color for emergency exits. This one looks like the German signs we see that say Notausgang Freihalten (leave free for emergency exit).


I finally figured out that fietsen meant bicycles (that word is plastered everywhere), but I had to look up geen (meaning no), and plaatsen then meant placing. Don’t park your bike here! This is an important sign in the Netherlands.


This one threw me for a complete loop. So Google Translate to the rescue. It was at the train station, and I know that perron is platform in French. This one says that you must have a valid ticket to get on the train.


So, cross your eyes, know your context and pretend you are reading Swiss German. Easy peasy!

More Fun with German

When I work on Duolingo these days, Screen Shot 2015-06-16 at 12.14.08 PMit now gives me a percentage of how fluent I have become in German, and it hovers around 50%. I’m not sure exactly how you can quantify this kind of information, but I think it seems about right. Some conversations I have feel totally natural to me (at an unsophisticated level), and when other people speak to me, I feel as though I have no idea what is happening. I like reading 20 Minuten and other things in German, and even when I don’t know all the vocabulary, I can often figure out what is going on.

The other day when I was buying coffee in the Migros take-away, the woman asked me what else I wanted. I added two wraps to the order, and she asked me if that was all. I said, “yes, for today.” That is something I would say in the US, meaning that I would be back another time and get something else then. She took it to mean something else, I think. She replied, “That’s not much for today.” I smiled and said, “Oh, well, it’s just for lunch.” I think she might have known what I meant, but, who knows?

The Black Forest (Der Schwarzwald)

The first thing to know about the Black Forest is that it is not in Bavaria. I used to think that it was close to Munich, but it is actually quite close to the French and Swiss borders in the state of Baden-Württemburg. Germany’s very famous castle, Neuschwanstein is far from here.

Screen Shot 2015-04-28 at 1.30.38 PMWith all of the very touristy famous places we have been this year, we thought that a quiet weekend in the country would be a lovely change. We found very few foreign tourists wandering around (and no selfie sticks!). It turns out that this area is where many Germans like to visit.



A group of German tourists.

Not knowing exactly where to go, H found Black Forest Tours online where you can buy a multipage PDF with many recommendations for self-guided tours. After looking through the possibilities, we bought the Panorama and Cuckoo Clocks Tour. This day tour had more things to do in it that one actually has time for in a day, so we chose what looked most interesting to us (and actually skipped the cuckoo clock stuff since H said that if he had to go to a cuckoo clock museum and/or shop, it might put a major strain on our marriage …).

Because we had the rental car, I started looking for AirBnB accommodations outside of Freiburg and found our favorite place we’ve stayed yet. In the tiny, tiny town of Tutschfelden (pop. 600) we found this top-floor apartment in an old rectory. The owners live downstairs and have renovated the upstairs to look like something out of a magazine. The balcony was fabulous and looked out towards the town church which right now has a pair of storks nesting on the roof. We spent time watching as one or the other would swoop in with a beak full of nest material.

Although we had communicated with the owners in English, when we arrived, we carried on most of our conversation in German. In fact, we were once again so happy to realize that our German is better than we think it is than when we are in Switzerland, where we are never quite sure. At one point we asked someone for a map in English and she was surprised because she told us that our German was good. We felt that most of the people we talked to spoke slowly and clearly, not just for us, but as a general rule.