Archive | March, 2017

A question of Time

26 Mar

Everyone seems to complain about the day when the clocks go forward. One hour less sleep is not a prospect that people look forward to. I am no different. I regularly experience an hour gained or lost when I fly to the UK. For some reason, I find it a lot harder to adjust to one hour than I do when I fly to America, for example, where the time difference is a lot bigger. Perhaps one of the reasons is because you would think that an hour less would make less of an impact than a 6 hour difference. This, I think, is just false hope.

The hardest thing about the large time differences and jet lag is that your body is hungry when it shouldn’t be in the new place that you have arrived in. I did read that the best way to combat this is to fast for 24 hours after you arrive so that your body clock is reset. But who has the patience and the will power to do that?

This method can definitely not be used for a one hour time difference. You just end up having a bit of an early or a late dinner instead. I wasn’t sure if there was a time difference between Switzerland and Norway or not. Through the power of Google I can confirm that there is none. It seems strange that a country so far away has no time difference with here but the UK does. Even more surprising was when I went to South Africa. I expected a horrendous time lag but it’s the same time zone as here in Switzerland. I know that time zones don’t work on how far away one place is away from another but I can fly from here to the southernmost part of Africa and the time is exactly the same.

When I fly to Thailand, the flight leaves early evening and lands in the morning so if I get a good night’s sleep on the plane, then I should (and I really am keeping my fingers crossed) have no problem with the time difference and I will be ready to start exploring straight away.

The question that I always hear, and I have also heard it today, is do the clocks go forward as well in Switzerland? The answer is definitely yes. This is a question I am constantly having to explain to family members. The time difference is always one hour and not two hours in front (when the clock go back in October) or the same time (because the UK has caught up). It’s worrying that after almost 5 years of being in Switzerland that I have to answer the same question twice a year.

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Technology makes the clock changes a little easier for us these days, with devices automatically updating to the correct time. I remember a time when I was at school when someone missed the start of a hockey match because they didn’t realise that the clocks had gone forward. The automatic updates from technology does not prevent the panic that preceeds after waking on the morning of the clocks going forward. I woke up and checked my Fitbit and wondered if it had already been updated. I looked at the clock on the bedside table and the time was the same. I had to get up to check the only “old-fashioned-analog clock” in the kitchen to discover that both the Fitbit and the alarm clock in the bedroom were already updated. It turns out that the alarm clock is also Wifi enabled so it had changed itself.

One good thing about the clocks changing is that there is one less hour in the day. So this makes me feel justified that I haven’t been so productive and my to-do list is the same length as it was yesterday. I will get back to completing it tomorrow when no one will be stealing an hour from me…

Holiday season: Coming Soon!

20 Mar

It is only the middle of March but I’m ready for holiday season to begin. For some reason, this year seems to have been so long already even though it seems to have flown by. It’s a complete contradiction but I think you might know what I mean!

In less than 2 weeks I have a quick trip to Oslo, Norway planned. This will be the last of the Scandinavian countries that I need to visit. I have been to Stockholm and Copenhagen within the last 12 months and I fell in love with them. Although I dream of spending a week or more cruising through the Fjords, I am constrained by time on this occasion but I hope to get a good sense of the atmosphere, culture and food while I’m there. The flights were on offer when I bought them. I saved about 300 Swiss Francs or more on a return trip. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse.

The following weekend I will have a trip back to the UK. It’s a flying visit as usual. I will be going to see the Grand National for the first time. I’m really excited about this. I have been to a few horse races live (once at Happy Valley in Hong Kong as well as some more local races) but nothing as well-known and spectacular as the Grand National. My choice of dress, shoes and hat have already been made! There will, of course, be a little bit of time to see the family and on Monday morning I fly back to work and my job.

A mere 4 days later (I know, I planned this really well), I jet off to Bangkok, where I spend a few night before flying to Vietnam. In Vietnam I join an organised travel group and make my way through Vietnam and Cambodia until I reach Bangkok. After a few more nights there, I head back to reality. I suspect I will land in Zürich with a large bump!

All of these things have been on my bucket list or things to do list for a long time. It will be great to tick them off and how incredible to do them within a few weeks of one another.

Over the years, traveling has become a passion of mine. So has experiencing new things in general. Before a trip, especially the big Asia trip, I start to get into panic-overload as planning for the trip starts to begin in earnest. The worst part of the whole trip is getting from the airport to the hotel. You arrive in a country miles away from where you started, dazed and confused, and you have to suddenly think about how you are getting to your hotel. It’s at that point when you are vulnerable and people (mainly taxi drivers) lie in wait ready to rip off unsuspecting new arrivals. Before I set off, I will have a clear plan as to my onward journey. Once I am at the hotel and my luggage has been dropped off then the holiday can really begin…

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Curling into the weekend

19 Mar

On Friday evening I went to try curling for the first time. I am not sure if this make me sound really middle class or really Swiss. Possibly it is a subtle mixture of both.

During the Sochi Olympics in 2014, I created an unhealthy obsession for curling. At every opportunity I was sitting down to watch the progress of the GB team, even though I was not sure of the rules. Even now, after playing the game for the evening, I am still not sure of all of the rules. I became so addicted to the Olympics because the GB team did so well and, not being a nation known for winter sports, that I worked from home for a few days so that I could watch the matches, especially as it got nearer to the medal matches.

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Like every sport on TV, the professionals make it look a lot easier than it actually is. I was also surprised with how small the playing pitch is. On the TV it looks like the playing strip goes on and on forever. In reality it is not that long at all.

We were given what I can only describe as a flip-flop to put over our left shoe. The flip-flop was flat on the bottom so this was the foot that you have to use to glide over the ice. Already this evening was turning out to be a lot less glamourous than watching the GB team win medals.

The instructions were given in Swiss German, just to make things even more difficult for me. I always think that I manage to pick up the main information in Swiss German. This evening taught me the hard way that this was not necessarily true. Apparently when you step on the ice, you should always step onto the ice first with the foot without the flip-flop because if you do it the other way round you have no grip on the ice and it is more likely that you will do a Bambi and fall on your backside. This was something that I was very keen to avoid.

We practiced “throwing” the stones for a while which I found difficult. I am a bit unsure on ice anyway and it wasn’t always easy to keep your balance when balancing on one foot that is completely on the floor and other is scrapping along the floor as you slide or at least try to.

You would think that the stone would easily glide across the surface of the ice but the stones are 20kg and if you try to move them without some sort of kinetic energy behind them (getting technical here) then you have no chance to move them. It almost seems as if the stone is stuck to the ice with glue.

The main problem was that it is hard to gauge just how much force is the right amount of force. Most people had the problem that they applied too much speed and the stone just flew off the end. I had the opposite problem – I never seemed to get enough speed on the bloody thing, which meant my teammates had to do a lot of ice-brushing to try to get the stone into play. Nevertheless it was good fun, even though I was on the losing team.

After a hard game, I was ready for dinner. A nice healthy salad, fondue and a not-so-healthy creme schnitte was waiting for us. Overall a great evening and I am already looking forward to the Winter Olympics to watch how the professionals do it.

The literal nature of the German language

16 Mar

The other day I was thinking (and I have no idea why before you ask) about the German word for breakfast. I have no idea why I was thinking about Frühstück while I was waiting for my tram but I was. If you deconstruct the word, you are left with früh which means “early” and stück which means “piece”. The word literally means in English “early piece”. This make so much sense because breakfast is the first meal of the day and my theory is that the word “piece” is fitting for the German speaking world because most people have a croissant or a piece of bread as their first meal.

This doesn’t really work in the English language because we tend to have more lavish and complicated breakfasts. We don’t just take “a piece” and go. Can you imagine if you took a piece from an English breakfast and you mistakenly end up with a baked bean? That won’t stop you snacking until lunchtime.

This got me thinking about other German words which are literal in their meaning. The word for shoe in German is Schuh and the word for glove is Handschuh. So Germans genuinely think of a glove as a shoe for the hand, which it sort of is.

The German word for a sloth is made up of the word faul meaning “lazy” and tier meaning “animal”. I’ve watched David Attenbourgh and that animal is lazy by anyone’s standards.

It is, therefore, perhaps not surprising that there are some laughable mistranslations when Germans try to speak English. I mean laughable in the nicest possible way. One mistake that is frequently used in the office is emails that start with “Hello together”. In German the email would start with Hallo zusammen meaning dear all. The problem is that zusammen also means “together”. You can say Wir gehen morgen zusammen which means “We are going together tomorrow”. I have a colleague who proudly walks into the office every day, cheerily declaring “Hello together”. Part of me thinks I should politely point out to him his mistake, the other part of me thinks it might be a bit rude to say anything at all. It’s a modern-day dilemma.

Other howler is the use of the words “some when” which is directly translated from the German word Irgendwann (irgend meaning some and wann meaning when in the precise sense of what time). A friend asked me if I wanted to go to the cinema with her some when. I pointed out this way wrong. Firstly, she is my friend and secondly, she specifically mentioned that it’s ok if I pick her up on mistakes. The modern-day dilemma was clearly avoided in this case. When I told her the question should be “do you want to go to the cinema some time?”, she looked at me a little confused and said “when do you use some when?” To which I replied “well, never. It doesn’t exist in English in the way that you mean it”.

The verb to ski in German is Skifahren, literally “to drive skis”. This time I was on the receiving end of the confusion when a friend told me he would like to drive with me. I had to stop myself from saying words to the effect of “That’s lovely. Maybe we can drive somewhere later but right now I would like to go skiing”. Then it dawned on me what he meant and I smiled and followed him down the mountain.

These miscommunications, while at times can be frustrating when learning a language, provide light relief. In some of the above cases, it makes it easier for me to remember phrases in German because of the funny story or association behind it. At the moment, I wish there were some more funny stories that would stick more vocabulary in my head; recently my memory has been like a sieve and I need a way to bung those holes up!

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Trends on the train

13 Mar

I have noticed a trend that I find quite worrying on public transport. Or should I say completely irritating rather than worrying?

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Lately I have seen several people on the train using their phones. OK, slightly irritating but mobile phone are so-called because people want to be mobile when they are using them. This I can cope with. What I can’t cope with is people using FaceTime during the journey. On one occasion I saw someone doing this without headphones.

I’m not quite sure what would possess anyone to do this. Zürich is very international and I completely understand that people might want to contact their loved ones in another time zones before it gets to late but why do this on a train packed full of commuters who just want to sit in silence, read the free paper and get home?

If it really is that important to speak to someone via FaceTime on your commute then why not stay behind at work for 10 minutes? Find a meeting room and have a chat with you nearest and dearest in private without strangers listening in to your conversation.

It is infuriating enough to hear one side of a phone conversation on public transport let alone being able to hear little Benjamin or Florence’s excitable shrieks in response to daddy’s questions about how their day at nursery was.I don’t know how social norms come into existence but, in my opinion, this is the opposite of both social and normal.

I even saw a man in the supermarket who was watching a TV series on his phone while shopping. The reason it caught my attention was that he wasn’t using any earphones. He was lholding up the device to his ear to listen to what was happening and not watching what was happening on his screen. If you are really so busy that you can’t sit down and watch the acting (which must be a fundamental of the show or it would just be done on the radio and would save the producers a lot of money) then you shouldn’t even bother.

Even more irritating for me is when someone sit near to me on the train and the music that they are listening via headphones to is so loud that I can hear all of the lyrics of the song. Of course this is irritating but, for me, there is added cause for concern. I used to work for a hearing aid manufacturer and I know the amount of damage that can be done to the ear when it is exposed to loud noise over a prolonged period of time. The ear is a very fragile organ and needs to be protected. The ear didn’t evolve with the intention of having a ear bud shoved down it and Justin Bieber on full blast.

I am never sure if I should politely lean over to my fellow passenger and explain that they might be doing some harm to their ears but I’m not sure if they would be able to hear me or, perhaps more tragic, if they would care about my friendly advice.

I appreciate that I might sound like a bit of a bore but private conversations are called private for a reason. And you might get a few less angry stares from your fellow passengers on the 17.31 if we can all hear a little less of Justin Bieber.

A Monday evening with a cracking surprise!

9 Mar

This week, on Monday evening to be precise, I became something that I never aspired to be and something that I never thought would be possible when I was living in Switzerland. At around 21.00 when I was finally back at home after a long day at work and my German lesson, I became an earthquake survivor.

Maybe it sounds more dramatic than it was in real life but the earth did move for me and, boy, did I feel it. I had just finished speaking to someone on the phone and decided to curl up on the sofa and get some reading done, when the whole apartment suddenly shook. I would say it was a building equivalent of when a dog comes in from the rain and proceeds to shake itself dry. It was over so quickly that it’s a bit hard to remember what actually happened. I remember the glasses in the cabinet that we have in the cabinet in the corner jangling as they shook back and forth. Then it was quiet. There was no warning that an earthquake was about to come and then there was a sort of deadly quiet; as if it had never happened at all.

At first, I was not sure if I had imagined it all completely and this is one of the reasons that I haven’t blogged about it until now. At the time I was sitting on the sofa thinking, Was that an earthquake or am I going slightly mad? There is only one thing to do in this situation: ask Twitter. Sure enough, there were people asking the same question: #Erdbeben in #Zurich? Earthquake in Zurich? It was a mixture of excitement and relief that other people had felt it too. It was a partial confirmation that I am not utterly gaga yet! It is surely only a matter of time.

After 20 minutes or so, there was already information on Twitter about how strong the earthquake was: 4.7 on the Richter scale. I will round up to 5 because that sounds a bit more impressive. Or do I actually mean dangerous?

Maybe it isn’t so surprising that Switzerland experiences earthquakes. I am no scientist but the formation of the Alps, however long ago that was, must have originated from the movement of tectonic plates under the earth creating pressure which, in turn, created the mountain range. Most of the earthquakes in Switzerland are not so strong that they are felt but in 1356 the city of Basel was completely destroyed by an earthquake. There are plenty of towns in England where an earthquake or some other natural disaster would possibly increase the value of property, so it is a shame that the UK does not sit on active tectonic plates.

All joking aside, it was a terrifying experience. I cannot imagine what it would be like to experience an earthquake greater than 5.0 on the Richter scale. Nor can I imagine how it would be to live in an area where the threat and fear of earthquakes is a part of everyday life. To have you home completely devastated, while you are possibly sitting inside it, is a fear that I am glad I do not have to contemplate on a daily basis. I’m content with the earth moving once in a while so that I can appreciate the force of Mother Nature but please, no structural damage to the apartment or my possessions!cracks-2099531__340

 

Mystery Solved!

4 Mar

After my last post, I was seriously concerned about what I have actually been doing for the last 3 months. After much brain-racking, noggin-searching and head-scratching I have finally what it is. Though I warn you to be disappointed…

The last 3 months I have been mainly reading. Not very rock and roll, is it? I have spent most of my time with my head in a book and I have loved just about every minute of it. I would class myself as an avid reader but sometimes I can find reading a bit of a chore, especially when I can’t get into the book and the characters or the plot are unbelievable or unrealistic. This year I am yet to encounter this problem. It seems that I have effortlessly got into a book, devour it in a few days and then I am ready for the next one.

For the past few years, I have been attempting to read (on average) one book a week. I have always failed. I have an app called Goodreads, in which I can record what books I have read. This means it is easy to keep a record of how many I have read and what I have read. There is nothing worse than getting 50 pages into a book and realising that you have read it before.

Last year I read 39 books in total. In 2015, I read 31 books. So far this year, I have read 11 books and I am sure that I will finish my twelfth over the weekend. This means I am on course to read (on average) one book a week in 2017.

Four of the books that I have read this year have been in German. These books are shorter than a novel than I would read in English and a couple of them were aimed at a level that is a little bit lower than my level of German but I was still able to learn a few new words that I haven’t yet encountered. I am not sure if books read in another langauge should be counted as double for the purposes of this venture.

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Reading is actually a very good way to increase your learning of a language. Even if you do not understand all of the words in the story, you can look up words that keep reocurring and reinforce some of the grammar themes that you have learnt. Some people find it easier to rote learn grammar from a sheet but I find it much more effective to see how the grammar is used in context. Once you have seen the grammar three or four times in context, it is more likely to stick in your brain.

I also think that reading texts which are a little bit too hard is good practice if ever you decide to do a language exam. It is extremely unlikely that you will know all of the words printed on the exam paper and so it is important to be able to work out the meaning of the word by instinct and interpretation. A best guess is better than having no clue at all.

I am just looking at the list of books that I have read this year. It is an eclectic mix. There is the story of an MP who accidently kills an endangered species of owl, a story about life of teenagers living in the time of the Berlin Wall and a cult, who prey on vulnerable people in order to fund other nefarious activities.

Thinking about it in these terms, the reason why I have lost track of what I have been doing lately is because I have been transported to 1980s Berlin, I have been following the unraveling of a political scandal (with a Conservative MP as the lead, surprise, surprise) and I have been trying to piece together clues to solve a criminal investigation. And the whole time I was on the train to work!

That is why I love books.