Archive for September, 2010

Sep 29 2010

Switzerland’s fourth language (not English)

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Old City, Chur

There’s a piece in today’s New York Times about Switzerland’s fourth official-ish language, Romansh. It is worth a read, if only to sigh at the fact of Switzerland’s unexceptionality in this case when it comes to the promotion of minority culture. No one expects Switzerland, especially after the minaret ban, to be a paragon of multiculturalism, but Switzerland really is exceptional in its multilingualism and notable absence of a nationalism rooted in language. Compared with the lingual situation in, for example, Belgium (where the language divide threatens to split the country in two) or Canada (secessionist Quebec), Switzerland is something of a remarkable case. Visitors sometimes assume that French-speaking Switzerland is like France and German-speaking Switzerland is like Germany. But Switzerland is its own country, with its own culture, despite (because of?) its various languages.

By law, German, French, and Italian have official, equal status in the Swiss Confederation. Romansh, though officially recognized, is not quite up there in status. For business, at least on a national level, Romansh is non-existent. Swisscom technicalsupport offers four options, in order: German, French, Italian, and English.

A direct descendant of Latin, Romansh has been preserved for centuries from outside forces by the isolation of remote Alpine mountaintops and valleys—not unlike Switzerland itself. But now, as the article details, the language is dying, and the pressures are unremarkable: capitalism and homogenization. We saw Romansh street signs when we visited Vals, in Graubunden. The strange thing, though, is that the tongue displacing Romansh is itself a dialect: Swiss-German. And the people who speak Romansh are seen as provincial, according to the article. But as cosmopolitan as Zurich is, and as international Geneva is, Switzerland is provincial—it’s isolationism (and neutrality, for good or for evil) are what make it Switzerland.

All of this is to say that I hope Switzerland realizes what it has before it is too late. French and Italian are not going anywhere as minority languages, but national votes in recent years to make unemployment insurance less generous and to not join the European Union have split down language lines. A country with a a working model of multilingualism and language diversity gives hope—but not if one of the languages disappears even while the government attempts to promote it.

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Sep 17 2010

Moving, moving…

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The big news on our end is that we are scrambling to move ourselves from our apartment on the western periphery of Lausanne to the center of Lausanne, just beneath the train station (I say beneath because Lausanne is on a giant hill and the train station is part way up it, with Lake Geneva at the bottom), by October 1.  It’s not very far, but hopefully it’ll ease the commute that we both have to make while also making other activities more accessible within Lausanne.  It is smaller, but I hear the laundry situation is better, and there is no oven currently, which is a major problem for us that we’re trying to get resolved.  I guess we can survive for a while without an oven if we have to, though…  Let’s just say finding this apartment took Seth months of research, visiting, and applications, and we’re expected to be thankful that we got anything in a good location at all.  We don’t have much negotiating power.

Moving is a lot of work and quite expensive!  We are currently trying to find someone to do the deep cleaning necessary before we turn our apartment over to the landlord, which is rather pricey.  And people to rent this apartment from us so we don’t have to keep paying rent.  Boxes.  How to change our utilities and bills.  Also, movers.  Everyone in my choir just said, “Movers?  Oh, I didn’t use movers.  My friends and parents helped…”  But that strategy is tough when your parents live across the ocean, no one you know owns a car, and your friends are pregnant or in another country the week you have to move!

Well, anyway, since we’re still in Switzerland, and basically in the same city, that news probably doesn’t seem like very big news.  I guess it’s not really, it’s just a lot of work!  Moving is obviously always a lot of work, but when having to do it alone, while navigating the cultural, monetary, and language barriers of Switzerland, it is even harder.

Also, it’s probably a good thing we’re moving, because we just got into a laundry fight with a neighbor this past Monday.  He gets Monday afternoons every other week, and we get Monday afternoon the alternate weeks.  Somewhere along the way, while we were in the US or just this week, he decided his Monday was our Monday.  So he took over the laundry room on Monday while there was nothing I could do other than try to figure out what was going on, leave a note, and eventually confront him about it, which didn’t help.  He announced that the written calendar is simply incorrect, that we have our laundry day next Monday (that set of Mondays we cannot make because Yiddish class has been planned to alternate with our laundry days!), and too bad for us, he took off of work that afternoon like he did 14 days beforehand to do his laundry.  Infuriating.  We had time to illicitly wash underwear later at night, but we may not get another chance to wash our clothes until we move…

In other news, which is perhaps more exciting, my master’s graduation is this afternoon!  Watch it here.  It is a somewhat depressing graduation, without academic robes or caps or hoods, no speakers other than administrators and students, and diplomas that will likely have typos (if past years are any clue).  It is also a strange time of year, well after we’ve actually finished the school year, so many students are already gone and won’t be coming back for the ceremony.  But I guess after today I officially have a master’s degree.

Post graduation, we’ll head directly to the liberal synagogue in Geneva, eating our pre-fast meal on the tram.  Yay.  Speaking of which, best wishes for a sweet new year, and have a meaningful fast!  Leshone toyve, gut yontif, un gut shabes!

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