Jan 28 2010

Vive la Bizarre Swiss Interactions

by at 10:26 pm

Three magical stories from the last three days to fill you with joy:

1) On the bus, about 10 pm on a frigid Tuesday night, returning home from choir rehearsal.  I get on the bus after waiting 10 minutes or so freezing my tush off.  Ticket control people step on the bus and ask everyone to take out their tickets.  I fumble through my wallet with my cold fingers looking for my all-inclusive Swiss transport pass.  Suddenly, a little electronic machine that they carry to verify everyone’s transport cards is poking at my wallet.  I continue to fumble, not understanding what’s going on.

“Wait, I have a general subscription!” I say to the guy poking at my wallet to get him to stop so I can actually get at my pass.  Turns out, his fancy card reader can read cards through wallets—but not the kind of card I have, only the Lausanne-only transport cards.

“Oh, I’m very sorry,  Madame,” he answers apologetically, immediately backing off.  He was so embarrassed!

2) I needed to get a final exam back to see the comments.  For some odd reason the professor dropped them off at the student services reception desk, which is every student’s go-to desk because no one has any idea how the administration actually works and the student services people tend to know, even if they often seem unhappy about sharing their insider knowledge.  The trick is getting to the student services desk when it is actually open.  I had to go the library, so I hung around school until 2, when the secretaries would finally be back from their 2 hour lunch break.  There was a long line when I got there around 2:15.  The student in front of me requested a transcript.  The secretary gets it, hands it to her, and quotes some smallish fee.

“Can I ask you a question?” requests the student.

“Yes…”

“Why isn’t my transcript free?” (Note that it is usually free.)

“Oh, because we are printing it out specially for you.  Even though grades are in, they can be changed up until February 15th, so we don’t print out everyone’s until then.  So for now, we’re taking extra time to provide a service just for you, which is why we’re charging you for it.”

Right.  As if everyone is supposed to know that bit about the grade changing thing and that they print out every student’s transcript after it, which is why they don’t normally charge.

Immediately after, a guy asks the same receptionist what happens if he fails the required French comprehension exam that every student at IHEID must pass before graduation.  It is his last semester.  They beat around the bush with her saying things like, “Oh, it is noted on your transcript” before he outright asks, “Will I graduate if I don’t pass?!”  “Oh,” she responds, as if startled by this question about a supposedly required exam, “Yes, of course you will.  It’ll just say on your transcript that you didn’t pass.”  He laughs, relieved.  He’ll be able to earn a degree after two years of hard work after all. He thinks.  But can you really trust these secretary/administer people?  No one ever knows how much power they actually have…. And now that she’s answered rather than pointed him to a higher-up to ask, he’ll never figure out which higher-up to ask…

3) And how could any post be complete without talking about laundry?  It couldn’t, I’m sure.  Perhaps the name of this blog should have been “Watching our Swiss Laundry for Two Weeks before Washing it in One Craaaazy Night.”  Yeah.

Anyhow, since my sister is coming tomorrow for a week and Seth will be at a conference on game theory in the alps, we were unclear on how we were going to take care of our laundry this coming Monday.  We decided to check the laundry room yesterday afternoon to see if it was in use, and, hallelujah!, the designated laundress seemed to not have taken his/her turn.  We stuffed in our towels, left a note where to find us should he/she arrive, and happily went upstairs.  Approximately 5 minutes later, she was at our door, demanding politely that we let her use her laundry time.  Darnnnnit.

Seth ran down to the basement, pulled out our soaking, soapy, steaming towels, put them into an ikea bag, and brought it outside to drain over a sidewalk grate.  Up in our apartment, I packed up the rest of our laundry into a big suitcase.  We were headed to our friends’ apartment in the center of Lausanne (they have open access to their laundry machines, there are TWO machines in their laundry room, and they have a total of 5 neighbors or something!!!), soaking hot laundry and all, which, incidentally, was INCREDIBLY heavy.  Really really really heavy.  All went well, our laundry was completed, we had a nice dinner with our friends, etc.  But I can’t end this wonderful tidbit without recounting the conversation I had on my way downstairs to meet Seth, who was outside attempting to wring out towels.

Our neighbor, an elderly man who lives with his wife in one of the other 2 apartments on our floor, emerges from his apartment at the same time as do I.  He seems to be struggling with the bags he is carrying.

“Bonjour!” he says, as all of our neighbors always say when they see us.

“Bonjour!” I respond, taking note of his bags.  “Ca va?” I ask, attempting to indicate that I am concerned for his welfare because of the bags he is carrying and that I might be willing to help him. (Hello!  How’s it going?/Everything all right?)

Pause.  He reflects.

“Euuuhhh…oui, ca va.  Et toi?” He finishes brightly. (Um… yes, I’m fine.  And you?)

Apparently, his struggle was only in my imagination.  Or one might say that I, in fact, had caused his struggle.  To understand why a neighbor asked him how he was.  Fancy that, saying something to a neighbor other than “Bonjour!”

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