Archive | November, 2016

Winter has arrived

30 Nov

At the risk of sounding like an old woman, hasn’t it gone cold all of a sudden? The weather has definitely turned and winter is here. Until the end of last week the weather was beginning to get a bit colder and I was managing to survive without hat, gloves, scarf and winter coat but I have finally admitted defeat!

I dug out my hat and gloves this weekend and got out one of my winter coats and I am glad that I did this morning. It was so cold that I was praying that God would be merciful and the train would arrive a few minutes early so that I could be inside the warmth of the train.

The problem with wrapping up warm in the morning is that the trains and tram are heated too much. First world problems, right? I need the hat, gloves, scarf and winter coat to walk from my flat to the train station in the morning but after that it is just uncomfortable to wear them on public transport. I start surreptitiously striping off before I pass out.

It is particularly grim when you see trams driving past with the windows completely misted up with condensation. You know that these trams are packed with people wearing too many clothes for them to be comfortable in any shape or form and are now sweating uncomfortably in close proximity of strangers.

I remember when I first moved over to Switzerland. Moving to another place at the end of autumn/start of winter is never a good idea but 8 weeks after I moved to Switzerland, I remember waiting at the bus stop in the morning and it being -8 degrees (that is minus 8 at the end of November). My colleagues assured me that this was the coldest winter that they could remember for 5 or 6 years and it wasn’t always this cold in November; I wasn’t sure if I should believe them or not.

It turns out that they were right. I haven’t experienced a winter that was as cold as my first one here since then. I have a feeling that this winter will be really cold though. Ski resorts have already been opened for a few weeks already because there is enough snow.

However, a colder winters in Switzerland doesn’t mean “snow days” as it does in England. For anyone who is unaware what a snow day is, this is when you wake up in the morning, see the snow and decide not to risk going into work because it will be far too dangerous. The amount of snow doesn’t really matter: 10cm, 1cm or a light dusting are all acceptable amounts of snow for phoning your boss to tell them that you’re just not prepared to risk it.

And we don’t have them in Switzerland because it’s winter and so they are prepared for the possibility of snow. And, yes, the trains run on time as usual.winter-234721_1920

The Reader

26 Nov

Recently I finished reading my first book in German. I mean an actual proper German book, not a children’s book, a comic but actual Literature (note the capital “L”). All 204 pages of it.

What I have dubbed “The Reading Project” started because my German teacher suggested that I should choose a book to read and at the start of each lesson describe to her what happened in the part of the story that I read since the last lesson. It would be a good opportunity to increase my vocabulary and to learn passively. The only caveat was the book had to be originally written in German; no German translations of English texts were allowed (which basically means no Harry Potter).

She gave me full choice of what to read. I went into a bookshop and browsed through the books until I came to a book called Der Vorleser. The English translation is The Reader. You might remember from a few years back that Kate Winslet won an Oscar for her role in the screen adaptation of this book. So, yes, in effect I was cheating a bit because I already knew the outline of the story.


It was only after I had bought the book and I had told my teacher that I what I was reading that I realised that I might have made a terrible mistake. Firstly, after a few pages it was apparent that this book was relatively difficult. In the beginning, it felt like I was looking up every other word and progress was slow and painful.

But my second mistake was that I had forgot what the main theme of the book was. If you have seen the film (or read the book), you will know what I mean. The main premise of the book was the relationship of the 15 year-old boy and a 36 year-old woman. The relationship starts of innocent enough and then develops into a sexual relationship. This meant that I had to explain some, ahem, intimate details.

My description of what happened at a certain point in the novel went something a little bit like this (translated into English):

Me: So, he was sitting in the bath and then she came in and she was naked, and so on…

Teacher: What do you mean by “and so on”?

Me: You know, they like did things that adults do when they are alone together in bed. Oh my god this is so embarrassing…

Teacher: It might be embarrassing but it is important to know this stuff in German as well!

I guess that she did have a point but explaining this stuff would have been embarrassing for me if in was in English. To try to describe it succintly in another language, while I desparately struggled to find words and phrases, was near on impossible.

Thankfully, not all of the book was like this. The themes of the book are complex and I realised that I had forgotten most of the story and the plot twists. A really difficult part for me to understand was when the story moved to a courtroom and there was a lot of legal terms and jargon that made it difficult to understand what was going on all of the time. I am an avid reader and the main reason for me engaging in reading is for pure enjoyment and escapism. An exercise where I need to look up words in the dictionary constantly takes away some of the joy of reading for me.

All in all, I feel like this is a huge acheivement for me but that is not to say that I am 100% satisifed with my progress with the German language. Just two days ago I was ready to quit learning and just give up because I don’t feel as if I am able to remember everything that I have learnt and spending huge quantities of time and money on it in the process. But I have learnt so much since starting to learn 3 years ago and sometimes it is easy to forget that.

I am always reminded by my friend who, when I was explaining how frustrated I was with this language, said “Language learning isn’t linear”. No, it isn’t. But I think it’s about time someone changed it so that it is.

Being a Minority in a foreign land

24 Nov


Being a minority in a foreign land is not easy. I’m not talking about nationality here. I am talking about being a hockey player. Hockey is not a well-known or widely-played sport in Switzerland. If you tell anyone that you are a hockey player here, people automatically assume that you mean ice hockey. When you say “No, I don’t play ice hockey”, they think that you must play unihockey (I have no idea what unihockey is apart from a game played indoors with a plastic stick and is very popular). Hockey, my hockey, is neither of these.

There are only 9 ladies teams playing competitively outdoors in Switzerland. This is such a huge change for me. In England, there are between 10 and 12 team competing in each league. The league is made up of local, regional and national leagues and games are played every Saturday up and down the country from late August until March.

With 9 teams in the whole of the country, this doesn’t happen here. Games are spread out one game every two weeks (or even longer between games) and we play each team once. At the end of the round robin stage, the teams are divided into the National League A and National League B. The teams play each other once again in the league and then the champions of the A and B leagues are crowned.

It is hard to adjust to the routine of not playing so often. This routine was my life for the majority of my childhood and my adult life.

On the plus side, this means that I am finally able to say that I am playing National League level hockey, which even when I was a lot younger was only pipe dream. People are so impressed when you say that you play a sport at a national level – I really need to stop pointing out that this is only because there are 8 other teams to play against so local and regional leagues are made redundant.

It does mean that you don’t have to feel guilty because there are breaks in between games and I can go away and enjoy doing other activities, like holidays, and can still commit to playing when the games come around. I feel that this gives me a more balanced approach to life and means that I enjoy my hockey all the more because there are only a limited number of times I can play competitively during a season.

Another plus point is that the season runs from August until the end of October and then resumes in March until June. In the interim period, the game moves indoors because of the weather. So, theoretically, the weather shouldn’t be too hot or too cold or too wet to play outdoors.

Indoor hockey is a completely different game with different rules and I am a novice. At the moment, it seems like it might not be my sport: the ball never goes out of play because of the barriers (I am not fit enough by far) and the ball can’t be lifted off the ground (this is the trick I used when I am lazy and have no energy to run around an opponent).

I am sure that I will get the hang of it in the end and something that improves fitness and ball control for the remainder of the outdoor season can only be a good thing!





What’s in a name?

16 Nov

In case you were wondering how I came to name my blog ourgirlinzurich, it is a reworking of the title of the Graham Greene novel Our Man in Havana. It is a satirical work which pokes fun at the intelligence services, especially the British MI6. It is a very good book, if you haven’t read it. Greene also wrote famous works, such as Brighton Rock and The Quiet American, which I think were both made into films. Our Man in Havana also has a film version.


I guess I used this title as opposed to any other because, in a strange kind of way, I feel like my move abroad was a bit like going undercover and into the unknown and the description of the language barrier in the book, if I remember correctly, is also apt. At one time I was actually thinking about applying for a job at MI6 (or was it MI5, I can never remember the difference) but I didn’t even make the application because I didn’t make the selection criteria.

It turns out that a) I am too tall for a woman (meaning taller than average) and b) I have blue eyes (only about 10% of the population have blue eyes) and this would mean that I would be too memorable and, therefore, not suitable for tasks such as surveillance. I did want to argue that I can talk to someone for hours at a party and 5 minutes later the same person would have difficulty in picking me out in a line up but it probably wasn’t worth the effort.

What I have only just found out (isn’t Google amazing?) is that Graham Greene died and is buried in the French speaking part of Switzerland. So it would seem that my reworking of his book title has somehow come full circle.

There are a surprising number of famous people who have died and are buried in Switzerland. Charlie Chaplin and Audrey Hepburn are also buried in the French speaking part of Switzerland.

On one of many of my to-do lists is to visit the grave of James Joyce, who lived and died in Zurich and is buried at Fluntern Cemetery. It is in the centre of the city and I know exactly where it is but it feels a bit weird to go and visit the grave of someone that you never met seems to be a bit morbid. But I think in some sort of strange way, if I do go and visit the grave I might be inspired to read Ulysses finally. Because this is something else that is on a to-do list somewhere…

Bern, the Beautiful City of Bears

14 Nov

One of my favourite cities in Switzerland is Bern. Not everyone is aware that Bern is the capital of Switzerland and that might be due to the fact that the city itself is not as big as you would expect. In fact, Bern is only the fifth largest city in Switzerland.

The city name actually means “bear” and bears are all over the city. They feature in architecture and in the cantonal flag. I have no idea why the tongue on this bear is so long. It looks like a bear has mated with a komodo dragon or maybe it is just like that for artistic effect.bern

There are actually real, live brown bears in Bern. This is always a highlight for my trip to Bern. Up until a few years ago, the bears lived in a small bear pit. I guess because of the increased focus on animal rights and welfare, the bears were moved from the pit to a new Bear Garden which is along side the river Aare. The garden is 6,000 square meters and the bears are free to roam around and also play in the water. The bear pit still remains at the site and is still used when, for example, the keepers need to come into the gardens to clean up or leave food for the bears. The pit is very small, especially for the size of the bears. I am glad that they now have a larger space to live in.

When I visited with my mum in June, we saw the father and the daughter “fighting”. It looked pretty violent but I am pretty sure that they are actually just playing. The mother was not interested at all. She was off somewhere sniffing bark or something.

When I visited with my brother, the bears were not so animated. They had just been fed and were having a nap. But I did manage to get this shot of Ursula the bear before her food coma hit.



Politics and Pop Music

10 Nov

I woke up this morning wondering if what happened yesterday was some sort of dream or a virtual reality Hollywood movie that had mysteriously found its way into my flat. It just didn’t seem real. It still doesn’t. In case you didn’t catch the news yesterday, I am talking about the results of the US presidential electionclipart-ballot-fn0n3v-clipart and the news that Donald Trump will soon be moving into the White House.

I can imagine that many Americans took the news as I took the news of British Brexit vote back on 24th June. Shocked, appalled, complete disbelief are some of the adjectives I can use but somehow they don’t even quite cover it. With Brexit I also had a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach and, as the implications of what might and might not be, sunk in the feeling grew and grew throughout the day.

I am not so melodramatic to say that I felt the same feeling yesterday than I did when Brexit happened. On one side I had no right to vote so, in a sense, nothing that I could say or do would make any difference to the outcome of the vote and, on the other side, I think to a certain degree the political events of 2016 have desensitized me slightly. Now, nothing is impossible.

There are lots of similarities between Brexit and the US elections. The most worrying parallel is that both of the campaigns were centred on the negatives, on hate and on fear. Playing on peoples’ fears will always stir up strong emotions and the protagonist will hope that this fear will sway the voter to see there point of view. So much in both campaigns was made about immigration and foreign workers. This is a far too simplified view. Immigrants can bring immense advantages and often are not immigrants just to take from the country that they have emigrated to. I should know this as I am also an immigrant, expat, whatever you want to call me.

Where is the positivity? I remember campaigns where hope and promise of new beginnings was at the forefront of campaigning, not instilling fear into the nation so that votes are cast on irrational emotions and not on the facts or reasonable assumptions.

It might seem like a crazy comparison but I think the negativity of political campaigning is directly proportional to the demise of popular chart music in the Western world. No really, hear me out!

In the 80s and 90s we had hope that our politicians would deliver a better future and they urged us to vote on the basis of hope for the future and not fear of what might happen if we voted for the other guy. The chart music in the 90s also instilled us with hope. It told us, young girls, that there is a young man out there who will tell you he loves you and want to be with you forever and ever (in fact, sometimes forever wasn’t enough). You didn’t need to settle for second best; you would find someone who loves you and deserves you.

These days pop music is about twerking and bae riding in your pimped up car. There is no lyrical indication of the complex emotions that come with relationships, love and heartbreak.

Ok so maybe this is just a coincidence. But I think that it is definitely worth making a social experiment, or even a commitment, to bring back the sentiments and depth (a relative term!) of music from yesteryear  to see if my theory has any legs at all. If it doesn’t improve the vibes of electioneering, then at least we will have better music than we have today.

Learning the lingo

7 Nov

One of the reasons I decided to emigrate was to learn another language. It might sound strange to hear a native English speakers making this admission but I can wholeheartedly say that it is true. Native English speakers are not widely known for their linguistic flair and it is hard for English speaker to pick up another language for several reasons.

Here are just a few of the reasons: everyone (or almost everyone) can speak English well so it is very easy to be lazy and just resort to using English when on holiday, for example, even if you have been practicing for weeks and weeks at home, foreign languages are not, in my opinion, available enough in schools and because English is so widely spoken around the globe, it somehow seems logical for an English speaker to invest time and energy in another area.

But still learning a new language was in the “Pro” column of my list when I was deciding whether to make the leap to another country. Of course, I could have decided not to learn the language at all, which is what a number of English native speakers do when they move to another country where the first language is not English. At times I really think that it would have saved me a lot of time and money (and I mean save lots and lots and lots of money), if I just hadn’t bothered. And there have been times when I just feel like giving up completely, when I feel totally and utterly out of my comfort zone with it all but I persevere nonetheless.

I am now at an intermediate level but I am working so hard to try to perfect not only my pronunciation but also my grammar. It’s no mean feat. It is a constant working and reworking. Going over things that I promise myself I would learn and memorize months and months ago but I just never got round to doing it.

The perseverence will pay off one day I am sure and I hope sooner rather than later. I hope that this determination will somehow help my character to improve but also help my social life, for example, improve as well. In the meantime, I do have some funny experiences to share and I intend to share them on this blog soon, so check back for some updates soon.

Now I need to go back to my German verbs so that I can carry on improving….




World’s worst communicators?

1 Nov

People often think that being a native English speaker in a world where English is the global language is a distinct advantage. However, an article that I read recently says this is not always the case. In fact, it argues that being a native speaker can be a disadvantage when working with non-native speakers because there are common miscommunications that lead to confusion.

I would say that there is some truth in this from my experience. One of my complaints about learning German is that native German speakers speak too fast and it takes my brain a little bit longer to process some of the words and translate them in English so I have always been conscious to speak slower and clearer to avoid misunderstandings.

Where the problem comes is in the use of colloquial words and frames of references which are non-existent in the other language. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that you don’t initially realise that these words are not known or taught to non-native speakers.

For example, I mentioned the other day that I missed “spuds”. I got a very strange look from the person that I was talking to as they had no idea if I was talking about food or if Spuds was the name of a family pet. Potatoes to someone learning English are always potatoes. It would need a very broad knowledge of British English to know that spud is the colloquial name for the humble potato.

What could be more global and international than Neighbours but when I was talking about 90s music with my work colleagues and I mentioned Jason Donovan, they asked who he was. How can you not know who Jason Donovan is? Neighbours is a show that British teenagers and pre-teens have grown up with. It was what we watched every day at 5pm after you came home from school. If you happened to be off school because of illness then you had the great advantage of being able to watch it at lunchtime and then in the evening again.

Of course, there are some frames of reference that transcend the language barrier. Everyone, and I mean everyone, knows Monthy Python and, if I had a pound for every time someone told me how they learnt English from watching it/recited a sketch to me/asked me how many times I have seen Life of Brian, I would be a rich woman. Thinking about it, this also applies to Only Fools and Horses. And why wouldn’t it? We’re not all plonkers.

You can read the full article I read online here.