The art of slicing bread, and other observations Larissa Miller’s monthly report from Switzerland

By on March 6, 2013

If you were one of those kids who always tore the crust off your peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, then Switzerland would not be the country for you.

Most of the bread that we eat here has a tough crust, and sometimes it even feels like half of the bread is the crust. However, that is only part of the way the Swiss like their bread.

When my host mom doesn’t bake the bread herself, we almost always buy it un-sliced, straight from the bakery. I have learned during this year that there is really an art to slicing bread, and it takes lots of practice to produce a slice that is equally thick at the top, bottom, and on both sides.

At the beginning of this month, I was actually on vacation. One might compare the Swiss schooling system to year-round school, since every couple months we have two or three weeks off and then a longer summer vacation.

This particular vacation exists so that students can go skiing in the Alps in the winter, and that is exactly what I did with my host family. We stayed in a small cabin in a valley where all the roads were extremely narrow and windy, and the buildings in the little villages looked almost medieval. We mostly lived on bread during this week.

I had never skied before in my life, so my host dad first taught me on a small street that had its snow smoothed over. Naturally I was terrified when I actually got on the skis, and during my three days of skiing, I learned how to fall often and quite spectacularly. However, I also learned how to ski pretty quickly, and I never got any injuries, so I can say that I really enjoyed skiing.

The only thing that I didn’t like about skiing was the ski shoes. They are extremely uncomfortable and are not designed to walk in, so when you do have to walk, you look like a robot.

My favorite part about this trip was skiing down the easiest of the long slopes. We started near the top of the mountain where the only things you could see were the snow, the sky, and the peaks of all the surrounding mountains, and it was just breathtaking.

Lots of people here ask me why I chose to come to Switzerland if I wanted to learn German, since the German in Switzerland is very different from that in Germany. It is a very peculiar situation here because the Swiss people speak their dialect of Swiss-German everywhere except in school or in formal settings, but almost everything that they read and write is in High-German.

What makes Swiss-German even more interesting is that there are so many different dialects, and every person has their own style. In my German class at school, my teacher once asked each student to say the word that they use to say “apple core,” and there were over five different words that were mentioned, and none of them sounded alike.

It’s weird for me, but for everyone here it is normal. They have this thing where they make fun of other people’s dialects like the ones who live in Valais or St. Gallen, but it’s always good-natured. It’s just a part of living in Switzerland, and they’re all proud of their language.

We actually spent a lesson in school talking about how German is beginning to acquire more and more English words. Obviously I’ve noticed this as I’ve been learning German, and I have always wondered why they use so many English words in their day-to-day language. Some borrowed words are: babysitten, Teddybär, snowboarden, scannen, and so many more. It’s not really clear why English is coming into the German language, but it just goes to show how universal English really is. I am becoming ever more thankful that English is my native language.

Now that over half of my year is gone, I’m really beginning to settle in here at Switzerland. I don’t always need to think as hard whenever I want to speak to people, I am actually learning things at school, and I have some really good friends.

However, that doesn’t mean that I can avoid the occasional problem. One day I went to the store to buy some contact solution, and I wanted to get rid of some of my coins because I had so many, and they took up so much space in my wallet.

In Swiss currency, there are coins that are worth one and five francs in addition to all the lesser coins, and at the beginning of this exchange year I thought that was really cool. Now I am beginning to think otherwise.

I stood at the cashier for what felt like forever, digging through my wallet, trying to find all the coins I needed, and I’m sure that the lady there thought I was really dumb. It certainly doesn’t help that the coins worth half a franc are the tiniest of them all, and the coins worth 20 Rappen — the equivalent of 20 cents — are almost the exact same size of the ones worth one franc.

Eventually I gave her enough of the right coins, and I could escape the store. Despite the embarrassment of many similar situations such as this, I think it is good for me to learn how to feel stupid while I’m young. That way when I’m older, I will know how to deal with embarrassing situations, and I won’t feel bad about myself.

Along with learning how to slice bread and speaking a second language, I would consider that a valuable life lesson.

Larissa Miller is a junior at Warwick High School. She is spending a full year studying abroad in the small town of Vordemwald, Switzerland. She will be living in all ways as a normal Swiss teenager and has agreed to share her adventures with readers of the Lititz Record Express. More SWITZERLAND, page A14