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Of Sundays and other holy-days

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“Guest blogger and soon-to-be LA visitor, Bern-based Diccon Bewes, will share some of his fun observations about Switzerland through the eyes of a British expat. Diccon’s stories remind us “Auslandschweizer” about our homeland’s quirkyness – and offers a “Swissness Manual” for non-Swiss friends trying to figure out why we Swiss are sometimes… …quirky.

Save the date: on Thursday, June 23rd, Diccon will be at the Beverly Hills Hotel for an evening hosted by the Chariman and Board of the Swiss-American Chamber of Commerce. Come join us, have fun, and take home a signed copy of “Swiss Watching” (email SwissCenterLA@gmail.com for pre-purchase opportunity at a special price)” M:)

Public holidays in Switzerland can be a minefield for unsuspecting visitors – and expats. It’s all down to holidays being mainly holy-days and so can pretend to be Sundays. And Swiss Sundays are still special.

Today is Auffahrt. At least it is in the German-speaking parts of Switzerland; elsewhere it’s Ascension or Ascensione. Whatever you call it, it’s a public holiday to celebrate Jesus going home. Before I came to Switzerland, I was a bit hazy about the exact timing and meaning of Ascension Day, mainly because it isn’t a holiday in Britain. We have the much catchier name of Early May Bank Holiday, which does exactly what it says on the packet. But in Switzerland, most public holidays are still linked to religious festivals, so I discovered that Ascension Day falls 40 days after Easter, and is the moment when Jesus ascended heavenwards – which in German has the unfortunate name of Auffahrt. It can’t have been much fun up there for Mr Christ. Given that Heaven as we know it is essentially a Christian concept, it would have been empty back in 33AD as there were as yet no dead Christians. And not even St Peter to welcome you through the Pearly Gates, as he was still down on earth fretting about having betrayed Jesus three times in one evening.

In Switzerland, public holidays count as Sundays, at least in terms of what’s allowed and what’s not. So that means no shopping, no DIY, no recycling and no mowing the lawns. And since public holidays are classed as Sundays, it follows that the day before them are Saturdays (even if they are not), when shops have to close earlier than normal. For example, yesterday was a Wednesday officially but was actually a Saturday in shopping terms because the next day was Ascension Day, which is a holiday, ie a Sunday. So this week is rather odd: essentially it’s Monday, Tuesday, Saturday, Sunday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday. And because Ascension Day is always a Thursday, many people make a bridge by taking a day off for a four-day weekend. The shops are open, but many offices aren’t.

But when the day before a holiday is actually a Sunday, then it clearly can’t be a Saturday, since Sundays take precedence. This only happens for the date-related holidays, such as Christmas, New Year and Swiss National Day (1 August), which wander through the week. Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve and 31 July are thus logically always Saturdays, except when they fall on Sundays, when they stay as Sundays. Got that? The thing is that even if you live here, you tend to forget that the day before a holiday is a Saturday, meaning that the shops shut early. Just ask my friends who ended up at the convenience shop in the petrol station at 6.30pm on Wednesday evening, looking for food.

At least Ascension Day is recognised by all the cantons. There’s nothing worse than planning a day-trip somewhere, only to get there and find that that canton has a holiday the next day, so everything shuts early. Sorry, there is something worse: to get there and discover everything is shut because it’s a holiday. It happens. All the time, because this is Switzerland, where cantons decide their own holidays, so some have more than others.

The best canton to live in is Ticino, the Italian-speaking one south of the Alps, and not just for the food. The rest of Switzerland may cast aspersions on the Ticinese work ethic, or lack thereof, but it’s surely no coincidence that this is the canton with more public holidays than any other. In addition to the seven recognised nationally, the Ticinese get another eight to enjoy. That’s fifteen in total. They need to celebrate events like Epiphany, St Joseph’s Day, Labour Day and the day of Sts Peter and Paul, the canton’s patron saints. I wonder how much flats are in Lugano; maybe I should move there and get almost two more weeks off work?

Written by swisswatching

June 2, 2011 at 3:44 am

Posted in Little Switzerland

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Counting in Switzerland is not as easy as 1-2-3

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“Guest blogger and soon-to-be LA visitor, Bern-based Diccon Bewes, will share some of his fun observations about Switzerland through the eyes of a British expat. Diccon’s stories remind us “Auslandschweizer” about our homeland’s quirkyness – and offers a “Swissness Manual” for non-Swiss friends trying to figure out why we Swiss are sometimes… …quirky.

Save the date: on Thursday, June 23rd, Diccon will be at the Beverly Hills Hotel for an evening hosted by the Chariman and Board of the Swiss-American Chamber of Commerce. Come join us, have fun, and take home a signed copy of “Swiss Watching” (email SwissCenterLA@gmail.com for pre-purchase opportunity at a special price)” M:)

Last time I started with a crash course in all things Swiss, from A to Z; this time we take a look at numbers. After all the Swiss are a nation of bankers, so numbers are really, really important to get right.

Counting in a foreign language should be simple. Even if you are linguistically challenged, you can probably stretch to un, deux, trois from memories of school French. Or uno, dos, tres if you’ve ordered beers in Mexico, and you might even manage eins, zwei, drei from countless war films. But this is Switzerland, where nothing is that easy.

The issue is not the four national languages, which are rarely used together unless you happen to be playing multi-lingual bingo. The real issue for number novices is how the Swiss use their numerals. In English numbers, such as a phone number, are generally given one digit after another: 021 364 7958 (all Swiss phone numbers, including mobiles, are ten digits) is said as ten distinct numbers with a slight pause between the three groups; a Swiss person would say that same number as zero twenty one, three sixty four, seventy nine, fifty eight. Not too difficult to follow in English, but in German, numbers are all backwards: zero one-and-twenty, three four-and-sixty, nine-and-seventy, eight-and-fifty. Try writing that down as someone is saying it and you’re bound to get a wrong number. Literally. You have write the 0, then leave a gap and write 1, go back to the 2, jump over to the 3, over again to the 4, back to the 6 and so on. Perhaps this numerical leap-frog is a way of breaking up otherwise scarily long German numbers. That 364 would be written as dreihundertvierundsechzig, which is quite a mouthful.

The Swiss way of saying phone numbers may sound odd, but at least as far as the languages go, it’s logical. The same can’t be said for the emergency numbers. In a country where everything is organised to the last millimetre, how is it possible that each emergency service has its own number? That’s federalism taken to ridiculous lengths. You have to ring 117 for the police, 118 for the fire brigade and 144 for an ambulance. What happens if dial the wrong one by mistake? And if you need a policeman and a fireman, do you have to ring twice? It would be laughable if it weren’t so serious. Plus the fact that directory enquiries is 1818; no surprise then that the fire service sometimes get callers asking for the number of the local pizzeria.

Making things more complicated are the local variations on normal numbers. Until I came to Switzerland I thought I could count in French and German. To show that they are really Swiss and not some French province, the people of Romandie have their own versions of 70 to 99. In the bingo example above, the frankly ridiculous quatre-vingt-huit would be huitante-huit in Switzerland. Easy once you know. As for Swiss German numbers, they were the cause of one of my more embarrassing expat moments. A new-ish friend was giving me his mobile number, patiently saying each number in turn, but in his Bernese dialect. The last three digits were 896, which sounded something like achty-noony-sechsy. All I heard was ‘afternoon sex’. Unaccustomed as I am to being propositioned in the vegetable aisle of Co-op, my face went as red as the tomatoes behind me. Apart from my blushes, the other outcome was me learning Swiss numbers asap. The one that still makes me smile is five: in Bern the ugly German fünf becomes füüfi, which brings a little white poodle to mind.

But there are even bigger number problems than that. The Swiss, like most other Europeans, use a comma for a decimal point so that my book costs 29,90 francs. To complicate things further, an apostrophe is used to replace the comma in numbers over four digits, eg it might sell 1’000’000 copies. Then, if it were to sell a thousand times that number (ie 1 plus 9 zeros), in Switzerland that would be a milliard; a Swiss billion is a million million (1 plus 12 zeros). That means it’s scarily easy to mistranslate numbers, and that much harder to become a Swiss billionaire. Such a hurdle hasn’t stopped a fair few of them achieving exactly that status, something I can only dream of, once I have counted sheep in German to fall asleep.

Written by swisswatching

May 5, 2011 at 2:11 am

Posted in Little Switzerland

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Albert Gallatin’s Legacy is alive and well!

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Written by M:)

March 7, 2011 at 11:51 pm

Posted in Little Switzerland

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Wintery Greetings from Adelboden

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Written by M:)

February 26, 2011 at 1:27 am

Experience Switzerland through the eyes of an Expat…

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Written by M:)

February 8, 2011 at 8:00 pm

Helvetic Beauty: Moon and Venus Over Switzerland

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Moon and Venus Over Switzerland

Credit & Copyright: David Kaplan

Sometimes a morning sky can be a combination of serene and surreal. Such a sky perhaps existed before sunrise this past Sunday [January 30, 2011] as viewed from a snowy slope in eastern Switzerland. Quiet clouds blanket the above scene, lit from beneath by lights from the village of Trübbach. A snow covered mountain, Mittlerspitz, poses dramatically on the upper left, hovering over the small town of Balzers, Liechtenstein far below. Peaks from the Alps can be seen across the far right, just below the freshly rising Sun. Visible on the upper right are the crescent Moon and the bright planet Venus. Venus will remain in the morning sky all month, although it will likely not be found in such a photogenic setting.

Credit & Copyright: David Kaplan, http://www.kplan.ch

Written by M:)

February 5, 2011 at 6:00 am

Posted in Little Switzerland

Angeleno-Swiss Marc Forster adds “Hotelier” to his title

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via HowdyHeidi and htr/hotelrevue

Our very own Angeleno-Swiss Movie Director Marc Forster (IMDB) is now also co-owner of the newly opened Hotel Matthiol in Zermatt.

Marc Forster, famous Swiss movie director (Monster’s Ball, A Quantum of Solace) has taken on a new role in his life: he becomes a hotelier in the Valais. The lifestyle hotel Matthiol in Zermatt, a noble lodging with 23 rooms just celebrated the official opening in January. “It is to become a veritable Marc Forster hotel”, says joint holder Betty Summermatter. “Of course, we named the master suite after him. It has a very special feature: if you take a bath in the tub you can enjoy a vista of the beautiful Matterhorn.”


Co-owners Betty Summermatter and Marc Forster

Written by M:)

January 21, 2011 at 12:09 pm

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