Chronicles of a writer abroad

Stepping forward and back


Sometimes I think, hey, I’m really starting to get the hang of this culture.

As I’ve indicated, we love the food. In addition to the milk, we have heartily embraced the cheeses. I would count the fondue I had on Saturday night among my favourite meals ever. It was a moitié-moitié, meaning that equal parts of Gruyère and Vacherin cheese had been mixed with wine and kirsch (cherry brandy) to create a delicious concoction that was brought bubbling to the table, in a small cauldron sitting over a flame which kept it bubbling hot throughout the meal. For dipping, we had cubes of bread, small nugget potatoes, gherkins, pearl onions, and even some pineapple and pear (the fruit was surprisingly good). My only regret is that we weren’t able to reach the bottom of the pot — apparently the baked crusty layer that has formed there is a special treat, and a reward for those who can courageously eat their way through so much melted cheese.

We’ve also experimented with making raclette at home. Normally, this is done on a grill made just for this purpose, but I’ve found that you can obtain good results melting it in a frying pan over low heat. Then, traditionally, the melted cheese is scraped/poured over foods similar to those used in fondue — potatoes, small pickles, and so on. It is also delicious, I’ve discovered, cooked in omelettes or scrambled eggs.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one of Stelian’s favourites: quark.

This is a sort of cross between cream cheese and yogurt. Stelian spreads it on bread and eats it with cold cuts and tomatoes. I haven’t really gotten in the habit of eating it yet, but I have to admit it tastes pretty good.

But while eating is easy, shopping can be hard. There is one key difference between grocery shopping in Canada and grocery shopping here (aside the fact that nothing is in English — I usually get by fine reading the French), and it lies in the way that you buy produce. In Canada, you select the fruits and vegetables that you want, bag them, and they are weighed at the register. Not so in Switzerland. Here, you select your produce, bag it, make note of its numerical code, and take it to a weighing machine, where you set it on the scale, punch in the code, and receive a label bearing the name of the produce and the weight and price of what you’ve selected, which you place on the bag. It’s an easy process, and one that saves time at checkout, but you have to remember to do it. At first, we were on top of it, but as we become more comfortable with grocery shopping, both Stelian and I have forgotten, and have had to utter feeble Entschuldigungs when the checkout clerk sighs and gets up to weigh it herself.

Then of course there is language. I can begin to feel confident in my German self-study at home. Yesterday, I ran onto a street called Goethestrasse, and since this street name was used as an exemplar in my Pimsleur CDs, it triggered my memory, and I realized that if someone asked me at that moment, “Wo ist die Goethestrasse, bitte?” I would be able to proudly proclaim, “Die Goethestrasse ist hier!”

And then I pick up the 20 Minuten, which is the free daily magazine (like 24 hours or Metro in Canada), and I understand this article (me, in my head: “Betrunkener Autofahrer = drunk driver; picture of car inside house — I totally get it! See, I’m doing fine.”)

But in all seriousness, normal articles and news reports are completely lost on me. And then there are practical tests of our knowledge. A husband who wishes to remain unnamed picked up his cell phone today, and received a flood of incomprehensible German, the only part of which he could decipher a reference to “Universitatstrasse” (we applied for an apartment there). After our go-to “Sprechen Sie Englisch?” failed, he could only resort to “e-mail, bitte?” And the property manager was kind enough to e-mail the offer, but we are still feeling chagrined. (Apartment update: we have, as of today, two suites to choose from — stay tuned for the decision, since we don’t know what it will be yet).

Anyway, we try, inserting our polite bittes and dankes wherever we can. But it doesn’t help that the Canton of Zürich’s welcome booklet, given to me by our relocation agent, lays out this unoptimistic view of the situation (and makes me feel even more self-conscious about my Grüezis):

Okay then. Well, Adieu, the Swiss-German word for “goodbye,” is more familiar to us who have spoken French, so at least we have some hope of ending the conversation on a good note.


2 thoughts on “Stepping forward and back

  1. quark! I love quark! there’s a delicious dessert called “coeur a la creme” that uses quark ( remember when I made it back in canada I had to go on a goose chase to find quark but here in europe it’s everywhere!

    • Mmmm — that dessert looks delectable! I will have to experiment with quark-based desserts. I can imagine it would be hard to find in Canada — I had never seen it before I moved here.

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