Having settled into our apartment, and unpacked most of our boxes, the Frau and I now turn our attention to the next important matter for newly arrived visitors in this beautiful country – namely, learning how to have actual conversations with people other than ourselves.
For the last week or so, just about every conversation we’ve had has started with a polite, “Do you speak English?”
And the Swiss person we’ve addressed – modest by nature, I guess – always looks slightly embarrassed and then replies, “A little.”
Well, that “little” bit of English the Swiss admit to knowing usually turns out to be stunningly good. Sir Laurence Olivier would weep over the impeccable grammar and pronunciation.
Which of course puts us to shame.
We know “a little” German too. And by that I mean that we know next to nothing. I can say “bitte” and “danke” (please and thank you), with a pronounced American Midwestern accent, but beyond that I, uh, am pretty much lost. If members of the International Protestant Church had not guided virtually every step to this point, we might still be standing at the Zurich airport luggage carousel.
So, that means the Frau and I will be attending language school. According to Swiss law, I will need to achieve a “B1” level of German proficiency by this time next year, and for some reason this has captured my attention more than Professor Kreutzer’s final exam in the subject at Calvin College more than 30 years ago. I wasn’t worried at that point in my life about not having my visa renewed. (How do you say “date night” in German?)
We’ll both be taking an entrance exam to determine our level, which I can already sense is closer to “beginner” than to “advanced.”
Constructions workers outside, laying in a new sewer line, can occasionally be heard shouting to each other. I’ve heard a couple of words more than once and am pretty sure I know what those words mean. It’s interesting that after “bitte” and “danke” those should be the first Germans words I learn.
I won’t be repeating them here, but I assume they’re terribly important to know to get along in the workplace. I’m hoping to add a few more soon.