The things I do for blog post fodder.
I’m mostly kidding, but sometimes I do look around me at whatever weird Swiss antics I’m up to this week and think that I need to write this up. A couple weeks ago (I’m a bit behind on, oh, everything in life), I spent a snowy Sunday afternoon in a tiny town in the Swiss countryside selling lotto cards at a Bingo convention. Or at least that is the closest English translation my tired brain can come up with for what I did.
How did I end up in the middle of nowhere watching a bunch of seniors aggressively shush anyone breaking the deadly silence while trying to win sausages and chocolate? Well, Benno is as per usual the culprit. Once a year his shooting club organizes a Bingo fundraiser in a gym hall in his hometown, population 9,000. This year they needed someone to man the moneybox at the front, and Benno’s friend asked if I could help out. I was halfway flattered to be asked (sometimes it is not immediately apparent whether a Swiss person likes you or not, especially given I am the strange foreigner bungling grammar and confused half the time), but was apprehensive about my level of German being sufficient for dealing with hundreds of old people who have probably not spoken to a foreigner in years communicate about their specific Bingo needs. However, Benno and his friends are definitely aware of my limitations so I thought I’d give it a go.
So, I’m all set up with a buddy at the front door. The first person hobbles in with their walker and makes some rapid fire Swiss German joke and I am immediately lost. I decide to enter onto firm, non-small talk ground, “Lotto card 20 francs,” plus a 100 watt American smile (a good replacement for small talk). This continues on repeat for around an hour and hundreds of people. Luckily my desk buddy and occasionally Benno step in to help me with the small talk, but this is just WAY above my Swiss German level. It’s one thing to have one on one or even group discussions with Benno’s friends, who know I’m a foreigner and more or less which things will go over my head (sidenote: I never realized before how much of language is based on habits or previous knowledge. For example, when we say, “When in Rome…” that actually makes no sense unless someone contextualizes the rest of the expression. Benno’s friends will usually explain the rest of the expression to me after they say it. Old people from the countryside just repeat the same thing again, louder, and then conclude that I am “special” when it is clear I still don’t understand). Adding to my confusion is the fact that every single person seems to be speaking a slightly different dialect, so I’m sweating it out a bit as I’m trying to figure out exactly HOW MANY cards they want and then count out the change while keeping up with whatever these people are asking me, which usually has to do with explaining the rules of a game I’ve never even heard of before. It was a fun mess, which pretty much describes a lot of my life now that I come to think of it.
There’s one thing I can say- if you want to learn the numbers in a million different Swiss German dialects, manning the moneybox at an old person event + playing Lotto (what they call it) is A++ for learning. By the end I was a pro, even with 2 (high German zwei, Schwiizer Duutch ZWO), 10 (H.G. zehn, S.D. ZA), 11 (H.G. elf, S.D. OYEF)- I am convinced every Swiss person says these numbers differently. Anyway, because of the bad weather there were fewer people than expected, and I was actually able to play a little under the watchful eye of Benno, with whom I verified my understanding of the trickier numbers because God knows a false Lotto would cause a riot. You could practically cut the tension in that room with a knife, I’ll tell you. The Swiss take their recreational gaming seriously. I did win a box of chocolate, though! And Benno won some sausages. So overall a complete win in the Swissness contest.
After about 4 hours of relentless concentration and silent giggling (on my part) the crowds dispersed promptly at 6pm and we broke down the tables and decorations with typical Swiss efficiency. Plenty of money was raised for Benno’s club and I confused many many Swiss seniors, so I count the day as a win in the life of Andrea in Switzerland.