30 January 2007

Pride Cometh Nicht

Yesterday we received an official-looking letter. GLH immediately handed it to me to translate. I was able to work out that our permit papers were ready and we could go pick them up. I was even able to determine what we needed to bring with us while only consulting the German English Dictionary one time.

This morning we returned to the Gemeindehaus (City Hall) with our documents, passports, id photos and a bunch of money. In exchange, we received our Ausländerausweis (foreigner identification card.)

The woman who helped us spoke very little English, but I was able to have the conversation with her in halting German with a few English words tossed in. (Gernglish, if you will.) Fortunately she answered me in High German, not in Swiss German, or I would have been lost.

I was able to understand most of what she was saying, quickly translated the important things to GLH and even asked a question regarding whether we had to carry the document with us at all times or not. (Answer: when crossing the Swiss border we must have the original document with us. Within Switzerland it is acceptable to carry only a photocopy.) But I was very proud of myself and quite happy that obviously my German is improving.

As we were leaving, the woman said something in very fast Swiss German to GLH. We both gave her blank looks as I was unable to translate it. I asked her to repeat it more slowly.

Turns out that she thought GLH was the one who spoke German and he was translating things to me, not the reverse. Once she found out that I am the one who speaks German and GLH understands no German, she gave us this horrified look. It seemed to say, "Wow. If that's the best you can do, you two are in trouble!"

She didn't repeat what she had originally said. It was likely a commentary upon my pathetic attempt to speak German.

Somewhat deflated, I walked away. Guess my German skills are not yet able to justify pride...


Andreas said...

Congrats on handling the situation.

The clerk probably didn't know Abe Lincoln's quote: "Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt."

What is it with immigration clerks at the Rathaus not speaking English? I mean, it's not like it's an obscure Third World language, like French. Heck, they've been taught them in school/vocational training for an average of 6 years. >8-(

OTOH, what I really like about Swissyland is that "just bring in/carry around a photocopy". Any other country would ask either for a certified copy ($$$) or even a notarized copy (even more $$$).

Global Librarian said...

In all fairness, I was the one unable to adequately speak any of the official languages of Switzerland.

And the clerk who did speak English was busy with another couple who arrived before we did.

The Big Finn said...

Don't worry...
The Gemeinde will be more than happy to accept your English-speaking Swiss francs when you pay your taxes!

Beth said...

I think she was saying "Your wife is an excellent translator. You do realise that you would be lost without her, don't you?!"