Saturday, February 25, 2012

Nach Zürich!

I'm writing this blog post from my hotel room in Zurich, Switzerland! In case you were asleep during that last sentence, let me reiterate: I'm in Europe! A week (working) in Zurich, then a 4-day vacation to Munich.

My team at YouTube works closely with another YouTube team in Zurich, and so here we are (are will be, as teammates arrive over the weekend) to visit with them face to face. Forrest has tagged along for the ride (out of pocket). This is going to be so awesome.

Language on the Non-Stop Flight

The plane ride over was a direct flight on Swiss air from SFO to ZRH. We flew in coach, which worked out okay for 5'2" me, less so for 6'2" Forrest. The on-board dinner, chicken and gravy-goopy and rice, was actually edible, so that was nice. And the wine was free! The stewardess was like, "Um, also, everything else is free to," just in case I was uncertain. :P

I was expecting to hear a lot of German on the plane, but I wasn't expecting there to be so many French-speaking passengers on the flight too. I know that the eastern part of Switzerland speaks French, but Zurich is in the western, German-speaking part of the country. There was an elderly couple seated next to me who clearly didn't speak English. I couldn't hear them as they talked quietly together, but it didn't sound like German, so I figured it was probably French like the passengers behind me.

Throughout the flight, the elderly man and I communicated wordlessly. He tapped me on the shoulder for help when he had somehow gotten the entire cradle for the funky remote control to pop loose, and again when he needed help with the retracto-cord for said remote. We gestured and "spoke" with facial expressions when he needed to get up to use the bathroom or stretch his legs. Every single time I got something from my backpack in the carry-on compartment above the seats, he reached out to help lift it (ineffectually, but I know he was trying to help out a stranger).

It wasn't until we were descending for landing that I clearly heard the old man tap on the seat-back display and say to his wife, "Un grado," referring to the temperature. I assumed that they spoke Italian, the third* official language of Switzerland and screwed up the courage to see how far my Spanish would go with an Italian-speaking Swiss man.

I was shocked to discover I had been sitting next to a Spanish-speaking madrideño the entire flight! I wish I had tried asking him what languages he spoke at the beginning of the flight. I'll try to take this as a reprimand/lesson to be bolder in approaching people on this trip!

We remarked on the snow in the distance out the airplane window and commented on how San Francisco had no snow and was in fact very sunny, warm, and springlike in comparison. The couple had been in California for the past month (treinta días rather than un mes) visiting their daughter who lives in Burlingame. I told him I lived in Los Gatos, near San Jose, and we chuckled about all the city names in California being Spanish names. He told me that they had visited a mission while they were there, and I told him that all California school kids have to do school reports on the missions. And then it was time to disembark. But it was awesome to see that my Spanish really is good enough to have a conversation, at least a simple one with a willing partner. :)


Forrest and I didn't really get much sleep to speak of on the plane. So we were the zombies, trudging through the airport. The customs agent didn't ask us a single question, just stamped our passports with an indulgent smile when I specifically requested it. Unlike the customs agent in Madrid (eleven years ago!), who had haphazardly opened to a page at random and faintly stamped my passport crookedly, the Swiss agent made a neat, crisp stamp aligned with the margins on the first page. We extrapolate from our single data point that all Swiss must be neat and orderly. :P

We met up with my manager, who had been on the same flight (business class), picked up our checked bags, and zombied out to buy train tickets. The automated tellers require credit cards with smart chips in them, so we had to buy the tickets from a person at the window. This turned out to be necessary anyway, because there were like 20 different ticket options plus a "more options" button, so we really didn't have a clue which ticket we needed to buy from the machine anyway. The woman at the counter was very friendly and helpful (and English-speaking) and we ended up with the tickets we needed for the week.

We took the S2 train from the airport to our hotel. We checked in, intending to fight off the jetlag and wait until it was actually bedtime to sleep. But Forrest sat on the bed and we were doomed. I set an alarm for 2 hours and we napped. Well, I napped. I'm up writing this blog post now while Forrest continues to sleep. At first I tried to reason/cajole him out of bed, but after half an hour I gave up. He's not gonna be happy about messing up his sleep schedule... :(

But anyway, we're here, we'll eventually get our internal time clocks straighten out, and I'm looking forward to being a new place with new languages and new experiences!

The fourth and final official language is Romansch, spoken by about 1% of the population.