There are some days when I try to avoid contact with other people, and it is amazingly easy to do so in Berlin. You do not have to talk if you are not in the mood. That is a bit sad, however. You can go to the supermarket, or for a walk, or to the playground, and you do not have to say anything to anyone. Once, I queued up at the post office, and a guy shoved me away and went in front of me. I did not say anything because I was not in the mood to defend myself in front of other people. I was not afraid of the confrontation, but rather of speaking German. I felt insecure, and I did not want to expose myself and my different way of talking, so I kept quite.
As a Swiss from Zurich, I naturally understand and speak German. However, it is not possible to hide my nationality because of my accent. I figured out that people are sometimes irritated by the choice of my words or when I try to be funny. Humour is a very tricky thing in a foreign language, especially when you are so close to that foreign language that people expect something from you. German people mostly understand what I am saying, but it sometimes can lead to misunderstandings or strange situations. I once tried to buy some bread at the bakery. I thought the slang word for a sandwich was “schrippe,” which is just a plain white bread roll, but it was in fact “stulle.” I pointed at it and told him in my best German that I’d like a schrippe. He nodded and rolled his eyes and then answered impatiently in English: “What do you want? A sandwich?”
Sometimes others try to copy my accent and make fun of me. I paused to visit my favourite coffee store, and one of the waiters shouted through the entire place, “Grüezi” when I entered the store. I am sure he just meant to be nice, but I felt uncomfortable to be exposed. I do not wish to talk about cows, mountains, chocolates or gold – not with strangers and not with my friends – although perhaps about Swiss cheese because that is something I really like. I wish to adapt to my new daily colloquial, and I realize after having been in Berlin for a while that I have to learn a new language. Moreover, I think it is much harder to relearn than to learn a language from the very beginning. Sometimes I wish I could, at least, pretend to be German to feel like I am undercover. I also think that prices increase when store employees recognize that I am Swiss. Especially when I go to the organic farmers market at Kollwitzplatz. Is it just a feeling that I have? A Swiss inferiority complex?
During one of the parent assemblies, we were told what to bring for our kids to the preschool called Vorschule. (During the year before they begin school, children attend Vorschule. It means that they learn some basics in writing and counting once a week). I did not understand half of the equipment we were supposed to organize for them, for example, Federmäppchen (a case for writing tools), Hefter (a folder), and Riss which means a Papierstapel (a paper stack).
While I was watching my daughter’s favourite movies, I also detected that they often have characters with a Swiss accent in the German version. For example, in Frozen or Tinkerbell. I do not know why it is often the characters which are a bit daffy. Don’t get me wrong. I really like being Swiss, and I know I am privileged. I can live abroad and be very comfortable with my everyday life here in Berlin. However, I can comprehend how many people have to deal with prejudices, language barriers, and inhibitions. As a consolation, I will soon go to the movies to see the latest Heidi movie.