I was astounded to discover that not only did I understand the bulk of what people were saying to me, but they also understood what I was saying. The majority of my transactions at the Christmas markets or the restaurants or other places we went were in German. Indeed, at one stage while negotiating with a merchant at a Christmas booth I made a joke, in German. She not only got the joke, but actually laughed!
So why is this so surprising to me? After all, I have been studying German for the last 11 months. You would expect me to understand some of it, wouldn't you?
However, when I am in Switzerland I understand virtually nothing of what people are saying to me, even when they are trying to speak Hoch Deutsch (High German). And when I speak German to them, they don't understand anything I am saying. If they speak English, they immediately switch to that language. If they don't speak English, they generally just give up, leaving me without any recourse for communicating.
My German tutor has been telling me that I am really doing quite well and I should feel proud of my progress. But when I get no indication of improvement in my day to day life, it is difficult to believe I am moving forward. However, while in Germany and Austria I was thrilled that my ability to communicate was so obvious. I found myself seeking out even more opportunities to speak to people. While in Switzerland, I dread it.
I understand that my grammar is pretty bad and that my vocabulary can be limited. And people do need to speak slowly or I miss what they are saying. But the Germans and Austrians could understand me. Why can't the Swiss?
Will I ever learn German while living in Switzerland?
Sometimes it seems impossible.
Updated Later the Same Day
Shortly after posting this I left to do some errands. As I was walking away from my house, an older woman walking her dog said, "Entschuldigung Sie, Schweizer Deutsch Schweizer Deutsch..."
I replied , "Ich lerne Deutsch. Sprechen Sie langsamer, bitte?" (I am learning German. Could you speak slower please?")
She said, "English?"
When I replied that I did indeed speak English, she immediately launched into a rant about how nobody in Switzerland knows how to speak German any more. She went on and on and on.
I felt like saying, "Well, it's not like you speak German anyway." But just nodded politely until she had ranted herself out and walked away.
Periodically I start to feel a bit homesick and negative about Switzerland. Inevitably I will have a very positive interaction with a Swiss person who is a complete stranger and then I will feel much more positive about being here.
I really need a positive interaction now.