My Not-So-Daily Diary

March '05

Monday, March 14, 2005


     We've had a couple of cold weeks here in Oberwil. Okay, my Minnesota friends would laugh at me for saying that. But I'm used to the weather here now and anything below zero (32°F) is time to put on wool socks, an extra sweater and avoid all activities that take me outside. One day last week, I woke up to see the sun - another rarity this time of the year. I was so excited. I had been waiting for a day that I could sit on the patio and work on my computer. The birds were singing, I could hear farmers out working in the fields and that sun was warming the kitchen to the point that I dressed in a T-shirt, jeans and only one pair of socks. Well, it was all very misleading. I went out to have my first cigarette of the day and was overwhelmed by how cold it was. Maybe those birds that I thought had been singing a happy mating song were actually screaming, "Where the Hell is Spring?!?" At least that's what I was screaming.

     Today it seems as if my waiting is over, at least for one day. I hurried to get everything done today that I needed to do and now I'm outside. Life is good.

     This past winter, Herbert signed me up for a course on high German. He said that I communicate well in Swiss German, but he thought it would help me to also know some normal German. The newspaper and many of the TV shows are in high German. I had thought that I didn't know anything, but after the first evening, the teacher asked me to move up to the second class because she thought I would be bored in the beginner's class. I was really surprised how much I understood and that most of the mistakes she corrects for me are pronunciation mistakes. I hadn't known that words that are the same in both languages are not pronounced the same way.

     Anyway, it's going well except that I seem to study the same way I did in engineering school. I leave everything to the last minute and assume that it will be easy to whip out the correct answers for the homework. I have class this evening and left it all until this afternoon. I ended up having to call Herbert at work to ask for help. Now he's in a meeting and I have to wait so that we can finish. Maybe tomorrow I should work on the stuff for next week? Yeah, that'll happen.

     As I was looking up words in my German-English dictionary, the 500-some page book kept opening to the same page in the middle of the book. The first half is German to English and so the middle of the book is the A section of English to German. You know how dictionaries always show the first word on the left page and the last word on the right page at the top corner so you can quickly flip through and find the right place to find your word? And these words are in bold-face. Well, the word in the upper corner of the left page is anus. Maybe it's the prude in me, but that word is always there, every time I open the dictionary and it bothers me. I know it's just a word - part of the human body- but couldn't they have controlled how many words were on the page so that antonym or anvil would have been the bold-faced guide word for that page? Just a thought. What's interesting to me is that I've never looked to see what the word anus is in German. But, I did just look now and in case you're curious, it's After. Guess that's another word that has an entirely different meaning in German than in English.

     Gift is another one. Of course in English a gift is a good thing to give to someone you care about. But in German, it means poison. A man in Oberwil was telling me about a trip he took to the US. His English isn't that great and I asked him how he managed. He said that he really only had two problems. The first was when he was going through customs and they asked him if he was bringing any gifts in with him. He was annoyed and a little bit angry that they would suggest that he would bring poison in with him and he spent a little bit more time in customs than he wanted to. The other problem he had was with the signs on the highway that say, 'No littering.' He didn't know what this word littering meant and wanted to make sure he avoided it because he understood that it came with a $1000 fine. Luckily he had a dictionary with him.

     As I've learned Swiss German, I've also made a lot of mistakes. One of the first was a normal mistake for an English speaker. In English we say, "I am cold." or "I am hot." I knew very early on how to say, "I am..." and because I moved here in August, I often said, "E be hayss." (This is Swiss German for I am hot and because Swiss German is not a written language, I'm writing it phonetically for English speakers.) One day a woman told me to stop saying that and all of our friends laughed. I was completely confused because it's such a simple saying and I didn't understand why she seemed to be annoyed with me. Then Herbert explained that in German (and Swiss German) the correct grammar is, "I have hot." or "E hah hayss." What I had been saying to everyone around the village was, "I am horny."

     Sometimes my mistakes are only a matter of pronunciation. I used to tell Herbert's mother that I could help her 'Zamma leega'. I wanted to help her fold the laundry, but I was telling her that I could help her lay down together. I should have said, 'Zamma layga'.

     The most well known of my pronunciation errors is a story that people here like to tell...

     Once a year, the rifle club invites people to come and shoot. It's a competition with prizes for the best scores and because you pay almost a dollar per bullet, it's also a fund-raiser for the club. A couple of years ago, Mädi had asked me to go with her to the small caliber shooting event. On the evening before, I was sitting at the stammtisch, the community table, at her restaurant. A man asked me what I was doing the next day. I was so proud of myself that I could tell him in Swiss German because I knew the word for shooting. (I'll write what I told him in English so you can understand, but I'll substitute Swiss German for the word shooting.) I said, "I'm going sheesa." He looked a little surprised and asked me to repeat it. "Tomorrow, I'm going sheesa with Mädi." The other people at the table stopped their own conversations to listen. The man asked me, "Where will you go sheesa with Mädi?" I told him, "In the sheesa house." Everyone laughed. Mädi had been behind the counter and I asked her for help. I didn't understand what was so funny. Did they think that an American woman couldn't shoot? Did they not know that I had been a U. S. Marine?

     Mädi had me repeat what I had said and after she stopped laughing, she corrected me. She told me the word is pronounced 'shee-a-sa', not 'sheesa'. She used some motions to show me what 'sheesa' means and then I was very embarrassed. Here's how our conversation really went...


               The man:   "What are you doing tomorrow?

               Me:          "I'm going shitting."

               The man:   "What?"

               Me:          "Tomorrow, I'm going shitting with Mädi."

               The man (laughing): "Where will you go shitting with Mädi?"

               Me:          "In the shit house."


     When you think about it, a foreigner in America could make a similar mistake. Say the words shooting and shitting and you'll see that even in English, they aren't that far away from each other. Anyway, it's good for a laugh now. And I'm sure that as I continue to learn, I'll make more mistakes. It's part of learning.

     Speaking of language learning, I'm still busy teaching English. I have the two children on Wednesday evenings. We bake, we play games, we sing, we make crafts and we laugh a lot. And all three of us are learning. They're learning English and I'm learning that I love teaching kids. Hopefully I'll have more kid's classes as time goes on. Here a photo I took of Fabienne and Christopher during one of our Christmas themed lessons last December...



     Fabienne also dances as part of the children's trachtengruppe. Herbert took this photo of us one evening of the Heimatabend...



     My friend Christianne still comes for English every Tuesday morning and now her sister comes, along with Fabienne's step-grandmother, for a beginner's class on Tuesday afternoons. Other people have asked about classes and hopefully I'll add them as time allows.

     Time to get ready for German class.




Tuesday, March 15, 2005


     Last fall when I was in Iowa with my mom, we got hooked on the show Desperate Housewives. I was frustrated when I came back because I knew I wouldn't be able to see it anymore. Last night, Herbert told me that the show will be starting here in April. I'm so happy.

     We do have a few American shows here, but most of them are at least a year old and some of them, like 'Tru Calling', have been canceled in the US. Another show we have here that I've become hooked on is a show that I never watched in the States. Here, in Switzerland, it's called 'FBI'. I did some research on the internet and found out that the title in the States is 'Without a Trace'. Apparently it's a hit in the States and I hope that means that we will continue to get it here.

     I think I've done a pretty good job of adjusting to my life here among the Swiss, but I still miss some of my American cultural things. Herbert was in the States on business for three weeks. He got home this past Saturday morning and started to unpack. I stood there as he handed me some of the 'essentials' that I had asked for: cake mixes, instant pistachio pudding, puffy paint for crafts with the kids, medicated sports creme, NY times crossword puzzle books and some current movies on DVD. When he pulled out a book I had asked him to look for, I felt like a GI stationed overseas who finally received a letter from home. I hugged the book to my chest and did a little dance. I know, I know. It's amazing what can excite me. But, I had read about this book online last year and forgot to buy it when I was in Iowa. And remember, this isn't the US. I can't just run out to a store and pick up something that I get a craving for. I could probably find the book here, but I'd have to drive to Bern, find parking, pay at least twice the price for the book than I would pay in the States and then I'd have to pay $5-6 for parking.

     Anyway, the book is 'The Five People You Meet in Heaven". It's a small little book and I read it in a few hours this weekend. I don't know if it's because my dad died this last fall or what, but that book really touched me. On Sunday evening, Herbert found me sitting at the kitchen table working on a crossword puzzle. He asked if I had finished the book. I told him that I only had about six pages left. He couldn't understand why I didn't just finish it. It was hard to explain that I didn't want it to end. I didn't want the story to end and I didn't want the experience of reading it to end, especially after I had waited so long for it. I'll probably read it again in a year or so. If you see this book, pick it up and read it. It won't take you long.

     Almost four years ago, I moved to Switzerland. Although I sold almost everything I owned and shipped only two pallets of my most important belongings, I never officially moved here. I kind of just existed. Just like in the States, it's not so easy to immigrate to Switzerland. I was here on a normal tourist visa. I was restricted not only in what I was allowed to do, like not being able to work, but I was also restricted on how much time I could be here. I could never stay more than 90 days, I had to leave for at least 30 days and I couldn't be in Switzerland for more than  six months per year. It made it difficult to think of this as a home.

     Some of the times when I had been here for almost three months, Herbert and I had trips planned, like our four months in Asia. But the other times, when I had to leave, I was never really sure where I was supposed to go. Of course my first choice was always to go 'home' to the States, but where? And where would I get the money to pay for the trip? I had friends and family that were happy to have me come visit and they were nice enough to let me stay with them. But I was never going to my 'home'. I felt like a homeless person.

     Then, this past summer, the community secretary from our village told us that he wanted to apply to the canton of Bern to try and get me something more permanent, It was a paperwork process that including having Herbert write the story of how we met, what our relationship was like and what our plans were for the future. The last week of my trip to Iowa this past fall, we got the answer. I now have a residence permit. I no longer have to leave every three months, I can work if I want (but only in the canton of Bern) and I can get a Swiss driver's license. I have to reapply every year, but for now, I can call this my home.

     One of the other things that changed was that I am required by law to have health insurance. Switzerland is different than the States when it comes to health insurance. There aren't any employer sponsored programs. Everyone has to find their own individual insurance. But, because it's a requirement it also seems more affordable and the companies can't reject you.

     For the past four years, I've gone without any kind of health insurance. Whenever I tried to find something through a US company, I was rejected because I travel overseas and I couldn't get insurance in Switzerland because I wasn't really supposed to be here. The few times that I needed medical care, I was able to go to a veteran's hospital because I'm rated as having a service connected illness. (MS, and a long story.) Let me just say that I'm thrilled that I don't have to use the VA's services for the time being. Although I had some very good care from some of the people I came across, in general they were rude and treated me as if I was a drug-addicted, derelict who lived on the streets and didn't have insurance because I was too lazy to work. Okay, technically I was homeless, but the rest just isn't who I am. I always left those facilities thanking God that I didn't need further care and feeling horrible for those who still did.

     Now I have insurance and now I have a regular doctor. And for the first time in four years, I can sleep at night without laying there wondering what would happen if I became seriously ill. It's amazing how important medical care can be and reminds me of what a mess the US has when it comes to health care. But that's a topic for a different day.

     Today I want to tell about one of my visits to the doctor here in Switzerland...

     After coming back from Mom's and after all the manual labor we did on her house in such a short time, I was experiencing a great deal of pain in my right elbow. Because I hadn't had insurance for so long, I was used to using the internet to try and diagnose my own problems. I quickly found that I had 'tennis elbow'. After reading that the treatment often involved a shot of steroids into the elbow, I decided to wait and let it heal itself. After two months, I realized I needed to make an appointment with the doctor. At the same time, I wanted him to look at my back. I had had lower back pain for most of the past four years and although I was getting used to it, I was hoping for an answer to what was causing the pain.

     The only other time I had seen the doctor in Switzerland, had been four years earlier when I had first had a problem with my back. I remembered that during that visit, I had missed the privacy I had been afforded from the doctors and nurses in the states and the way they leave you alone while you undress and put your gown on.  In Switzerland, there is no gown. The doctor stays in the office with you and simply waits while you undress. I had felt all my modesty kicking in that day as I took off my jeans and laid down on the table.

     This time, as I got dressed to go to the doctor, I decided to be smart about it. I put on my most conservative, without being matronly, underwear. No thongs, no holes and certainly a pair with working elastic. I knew that he would also have to look at my elbow and decided that I would wear a T-shirt. That would leave him access to my elbow, but leave me some form of modesty.

     After sitting with the doctor in his office and talking with him for awhile (he speaks English very well), he stood up and told me to get undressed and stand on the scale. I took off my shoes, my jeans, my cardigan sweater and stepped on the scale. Then he stood there and waited for me. I wasn't sure what I was supposed to do next and asked him. His expression told me that it should have been clear. He wanted me to take my T-shirt off. My first thought was, "Why?" My next thought was, "For God's sake man! Couldn't you have said that before you weighed me?"

     As he did the examination, I found out why I was next to naked. He did a complete examination - lungs, heart, reflexes, everything. I have to say that I've never had a doctor in the US be so thorough when I've come in for a specific complaint. Another difference was that he spent close to thirty minutes in that room with me. In the US, you may have a gown and privacy when you undress, but you also wait in that examination room for a nurse or doctor to have four to five minutes that they can spend with you. I think I can learn to overcome my shyness when I feel so well cared for.

     One of the other differences I noticed was that after he told me he wanted to do both back and chest x-rays and a complete blood workup, he had me make an appointment to come back. In the States, they would have just done it that day. But, I think that's another trade off to being in a small and friendly doctor's office and another thing I can live with.

     When I was back the next week standing in the x-ray room, the tech told me that she needed to go get the doctor to have him check the set-up. I was standing there in my underwear, holding my sweater above my chest, when she opened the door and went down the hall to get him. She didn't close the door and anyone walking by could have seen me. But, I didn't care. Maybe I'm becoming more Swiss with every day that goes by.

     All the tests came out fine. I found out that the pain in my lower back is due to the fact that I no longer have one of the disks between two of the vertebrae. And that's okay. I have a good doctor who's taking care of me.


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