I heard this the other day and I thought it was hilarious. I think the term exists in English, but I’ve never heard it used in everyday speech – usually it’s referred to in specific political discourse.
How important is your accent when you learn a new language? Obviously you want to be understood, but how essential is it to actually sound like a French-, German-, Italian-speaker? It’s been preying on my mind lately as I try to start using more and more German.
There are languages where it seems essential, such as Chinese where an inflection can change a meaning – but in European languages, it is heading further and further down my to-do list (right under doing my German verb drills).
Sometimes people say something and I just don’t understand. I technically know what the words mean, but they don’t make any sense.
This winter, I learned to ski. Well, I learned to slide from side to side down a slope on skis and stop at the end. Just about.
Learning anything new as an adult is hard. But add in lack of control and a healthy dose of terror and it seems near-impossible. Day one seemed to go well. We started on a basically flat section. I could stop! I could turn! Yippee. We then went onto a slight slope. Turned out I could fall as well…
Or the lack of them.
I genuinely like vegetables. And here you can get some lovely vegetables. Humorously shaped squash that would never make it onto the shelves in the UK. Beautiful tomatoes, fresh lettuce, juicy fruits, all proudly grown here and labelled Swiss. Just don’t try to eat them with your meal.
The side salad is officially NFI in Switzerland. Order a salad and it comes first. Order it at the same time as your meal and people look at you as if you asked to wear it as a hat. I ordered a salad alongside a pizza. The pizza arrived. I could see the salad. Sitting there. Waiting. And everyone ignored it.
I spent two years at school not learning German. I had two lessons a week in which I expressly tried my hardest not to remember a single word.
I didn’t like it (or I didn’t like the teacher); I preferred the romance and gallic sentimentality of French, where you could simply shrug a bit and put on an accent. German was all hard letters and aggressive punctuation. Who needs that anyway?
Me, it turns out. I’m pretty good at nodding and smiling – even laughing – at the right moments. But then the inevitable happens. Someone addresses something to you. It is immediately apparent that you have just been pretending for the last fifteen minutes. It’s awkward.
If you had told me five years ago that I would own hiking boots before I owned a house I would have laughed you out of the room. I did the Duke of Edinburgh award, an overnight orienteering challenge, and I hated it. The idea of me doing adventure sports or serious outdoor activities has people in hysterics (it’s kind of offensive. But true). I love to walk. I love certain sports. I love being outside. But I like pretty things. I like meandering, I like riding a horse gently through a forest, or playing in the park, or walking by the river. I don’t like walking uphill for a 500 metre elevation.
That’s why it took several trips to several shops to find the right boots. That matched the jacket. That matched the wind shell jacket. But now I have them. And more to the point, I have used them.
I will have been in Switzerland for six months tomorrow. This time last year I had no idea that this is where I would end up. It is an adventure. And like most adventures, it has its up and downs. Most days I love it, but there are times when I also hate it (sometimes simultaneously). I’m lonely, I’m bored, I miss MY life and the things I did that made me ME. Because whatever those seemingly seamless expats tell you, at first, it’s HARD. But, you know what? I think that’s ok.