Category Archives: Switzerland

Split loyalties

It is interesting to see how different countries present the news.  On a late-night news bulletin yesterday, I heard that Andy Murray had beaten his opponent in the semi-finals of the Australian Open. There was lots of talk about tactics, strength and skill.

I have just read in the Hamburger Abendblatt that Roger Federer has reached the final of the same tournament. Here there is lots of talk about how brilliant he is, how many tournaments he’s won etc. There is an implication that he will win this one, too.

But who do I cross my fingers for? I think Federer is fantastic, not only is he an amazing player he seems to be an incredibly nice person, too (and I’ve had the pleasure of translating some press releases about him).  I *always* want him to win. But it would be rather good if a Brit won the Aussie Open… it hasn’t happened for 30 years. It’s about time.

I might just have to screw up my eyes, turn down the volume on my ears and hide under the duvet until Monday morning.

In one way, I suppose, I won’t be disappointed whoever wins… but nevertheless, it all feels rather agonising.

Spreading the word

… not the Word, but the word. And to gather ideas, I am asking my gentle readers to give the following some consideration and to submit their thoughts in the little commenty box below.

The Ancient Roman City has a German Society, of which I am a member, nay, am on the committee. The purpose of the Society is to promote the German language and the culture of German-speaking countries. We do this by holding a monthly lecture in German. These lectures cover a wide variety of topics – some are somewhat (shall we say) ‘specialist’ and others have a wider appeal. We try to ensure the programme covers broadly the sciences, literature, art, social sciences so that we do not favour one particular stream of interest and so a there is a balance. Once a year we also have an Adventsabend which is more of a social event, with quizzes, carol singing, seasonal nibbles, Glühwein, etc. In the summer we have a pub lunch which is another social event and provides more of an opportunity to actually have an extended time to speak the language rather than just a quick chit-chat over coffee before the lecture.

Our members are native speakers of either English or German. The age range is mid-30s to 80+. Many of the native German speakers are older people.

Our problem is that although we have a small committed group of members we seem to find it difficult to attract and retain more people. Why is this? We’re not sure really. Some reasons could be that many of the meetings are held in the winter months and people may not feel like turning out in the dark and cold; the lecture subjects may not interest them enough; many people have busy lives and cannot commit themselves unconditionally (as it were).

Although there are quite a lot of younger (i.e under retirement age!) native German speakers in the area, hardly any come to the Society. Why is this? They probably don’t feel the need to connect with their own language/people because they enjoy immersing themselves in British culture (I’m speculating here!). Older people on the other hand seem to want to reconnect with their roots. Younger people don’t necessarily want to be “ambassadors” for their country; older people have been here too long to remember the detail of German everyday life (and some, as refugees from WW2, prefer not to remember those dark days).

In order to get any reasonable enjoyment out of the activities, members really need to have a level of German approximating A level – we don’t ask to see people’s qualifications (!) but in order to participate we suggest that they are at the stage of being able to hold a basic conversation. Their contribution doesn’t have to be grammatical but ideally they need to be able to get the gist of what is being talked about. One of our local universities offers German degrees – but we rarely see any under/post grads – and lots of secondary schools offer German to A level – but we never see any 6th formers.

To ensure the future of the Society, we really need to attract more people (of any age but a few younger ones would give the meetings a bit more zip). As you may have gathered, we are considering how this may be done.

Do any of you have any ideas? What would attract you to such a group? What would you hope the group would be able to offer? If you lived in, say Germany, would you be likely to join a monthly Anglo-American-Australian Society? If so, why? If not, why not?

All suggestions will be read with interest. There is a committee meeting in about 10 days’ time and it would be fab to be able to go with a few original suggestions! With thanks in advance 🙂

Swiss National Day

The Swiss may not have Fathers’ Day, but they do have a National Day. Such are the wonders of blogging that my gentle readers cannot tell if I am writing this post from Switzerland – to continue my tour of celebrating European National Days – or from the Humble Abode. You will have to believe me that I am in the HA.

“At the beginning of the month of August 1291” men from the three cantons of Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden swore eternal allegiance to one another, promising mutual help and assistance. The alliance was mainly formed against the Habsburgs, who were striving to strengthen their position in the strategic region leading to the Gotthard Pass. These three cantons were the foundation of the Swiss nation which exists today. The first of August has been celebrated as Swiss National Day since then – but has only officially been a holiday since 1996.

This fact surprised me when I read it as I remember being a part of the National Day celebrations in the early nineties. I feel sure that everyone had the day off work… perhaps the government felt it had to officially endorse what was already happening with or without its blessing.

So what do the Swiss do on their special day? They hang the national flag out of every window possible but as far as I know they don’t have national parades. I remember being invited to a barbecue and I think there were fireworks, but I can’t remember specifically.

Perhaps I shall ask my Swiss colleague when she’s back in the office on Monday. I know I won’t be hearing from her today….

The final push

Well done chaps! Awfully good show. 100 of the pesky pages are down now – so there’s light at the end of the tunnel and all that kind of stuff. Ho-ho – know the one about it being the lights of the oncoming train do you? What?!

My strategy is this: we make one final push tomorrow. Up bright and early and after stonking good brekky and a gallon of tea, we plough on ahead. Should be more or less downhill all the way now we’ve got the worst behind us. So 17 pages tomorrow – bit of a slog – has to be said – but it will leave us with a couple of days to clear up the debris – and time to go back and finish off those bits which refused to go quietly the first time round. They’re all flagged up so should be easy enough to find. Give ’em a bit of welly and show ’em who’s boss, what?!

That’s right chaps – keep that fighting spirit going for just a bit longer. Tally ho!

Guten Abend to my first visitor from Switzerland looking for information about Vatertag. It was Vatertag here in the UK yesterday but as regular readers with good memories will recall, the Swiss do not officially have Vatertag. Sorry about that!

Swiss humour No. 1

Sunday was Mother’s Day in Austria, Germany and Switzerland (as well as Australia, Canada and the US). I have shamelessly plagiarised this joke from a blog I read called Ms Mac – written by a Scottish lassie, married to an Aussie living in Switzerland. She calls it her favourite Mother’s Day joke:

Why is Father’s Day not celebrated in Switzerland?
Because in Switzerland, every day is Father’s Day!

Boom, tish!

[And hello to the Canadian visitor wanting to know how to kill off a Russian vine. I don’t know – but I may need to by next summer. I can report that my vine has grown about 5 feet (that’s about a metre and half – a bit more) in two weeks . It has reached the top of the bare wall and has tendrils waving about over the top looking for somewhere to go…. I think the only option is down the other side. I hope the neighbours won’t mind this invasion….)

Three in one

It will not have escaped your notice that today is May 1st, May Day or Maifeiertag. Given that many of my gentle readers are churchgoers of one sort or another, you will probably also know that today is Ascension Day – or Christi Himmelfahrt. This has been an official holiday in Germany since 1936 – which is somewhat surprising given the regime in power at the time. It falls rather early this year because Easter fell early and so all these moveable feasts will take us by surprise, and confuse us all as to which month we are in, methinks.

If you are a German (and so far, I have only had 2 German visitors to this blog, so the likelihood is that you are not), you will be taking the day off today. It must be a bit of a let-down that two events, both of which are given a holiday of their own, happen to fall on the same day. But before you get too depressed on the Germans’ behalf, I should tell you that if a bank holiday falls on a Thursday, it is often the case that schools and many places of work take a “Brückentag” or bridging day on the Friday to allow a nice long weekend. Sometimes May/June allows this to happen up to three times with May Day, Ascension and Pentecost. (I have a feeling it happened the year I lived in Austria as the courses held at the university on Thursdays and Fridays in the summer term seemed to be cancelled more often than they were held.)

Today is not only Maifeiertag and Christi Himmelfahrt, it is also Vatertag – Father’s Day*. Father’s Day is celebrated on Ascension Day because originally it was to do with being reunited with Gott, dem Vater. In the late middle ages, the religious side of things became less important and was rarely observed. In the 19th century, it was revived and was also called Männertag or Herrentag and became an excuse for males of any age and status to indulge in drunkenness and debauchery and it seems it became generally less to do with celebrating fatherhood and more to do with male bonding.

The 20th century saw the return of a more sober version of Father’s Day and has also been observed in Austria since 1955 (or ’56 – depending on your source) but officially, the Swiss have not yet added this day to their calendar.

I am not benefitting from the above holidays but am, rather fittingly, given the above, translating advertising material for a men’s spa – you know, beauty…errr, I mean, grooming treatments. The spa has missed a trick, here. If this work had been given to me a month ago, they could have persuaded lots of women to buy their men a day at the spa today. (Unless, of course, the spa is closed for the day…) No women clients allowed – but lots of female beauticians (…I mean…oh heck, what am I going to call these people? grooming consultants?) are required, I note from their sits. vac. page.

*Oh yes, lots of opportunity for schoolboy sniggering here!

Some trials of translation: never say “just”.

I had to translate some travel directions today. The project manager blithely said “It’s *just* a small job; *just* translate these directions. You’ve seen worse…”

Well, it’s true; I *have* seen worse but I’ve been paid better for it (There. That’s that little grumble over with). These directions were not written with clarity in mind – or even with the idea that the wretched traveller might actually like to end up at the destination.

There were links to maps on the end-client’s website: so I checked them to see if I was describing the route accurately (see below for more detail as to why this was necessary). Smack bang on top of every motorway junction, all of which were on the very edge of the map so you couldn’t actually see which Autobahn number they were exiting, there were irritating adverts or useless “tips”. **Just show me the darn junction with a few road numbers!!** Gah.

The reason I had to refer to the maps was because the directions were written in as roundabout a way as was humanly possible. [Like the little pun there? Huh? 😉 ] I’m not sure that I am feeling sufficiently robust to explain just why it was so complicated… suffice it to say, the problem lay with ill-thought out use of words and the glories of separable verbs in subordinate sentences. I contacted the project manager to query the wording. She agreed that the phrasing was somewhat unusual but yes, my interpretation was correct. I am not one to argue with a German native speaker over the complications of their grammar but it still didn’t make sense to me. A couple of hours later, the project manager phoned back to say she’d sent an email to explain that she had been wrong… could I rephrase this bit (which came up four times as the same phrase had been used for directions from all four points of the compass) pretty pronto as the deadline was fast approaching.

Her email actually said that the scales had fallen from her eyes…. Just how clear are these instructions if a native speaker can misinterpret what is meant? It does not bode well if you are biffing along an Autobahn at 120kph and you need a five minute discussion to establish what the instructions mean as you zip past the required junction.

Whilst all the above was going on, I was doing a test translation for a new company. The instructions were *just* to translate the text into American English. I reminded the client that I am not a native speaker of American English and that to be completely authentic, it is not *just* a question of using a few 16th century spellings. The client was having nothing of it. *Just* get on with it – was the underlying message.

The text was talking about a new degree course supported by a Swiss company for their staff. This starts getting complicated because the Swiss education system follows the German system and neither has direct equivalents with the American system. I have some knowledge of the latter but had to strain my brain at points to think of an authentic sounding way of expressing certain terms.

At one point I felt quite pleased with myself because I managed to get a great play on words in a title where there hadn’t been one in the original. (Not easy when you only have a max of 5 words…) The only downside of this of course is that if the end-client doesn’t read German (or English, depending…), he won’t appreciate the brilliance that has been bestowed upon his text. Wasted, I tell you. Just wasted!

Enough to send you cuckoo

The other day, I mentioned to the Lödgerin that an event was going to start at “half seven”. I saw her face cloud over for a second – and I knew immediately what she was thinking. Of course, I meant “half past seven”. If you say “halb sieben” in German you actually mean it is half past six. For both of us, after all our years of speaking each other’s language, this is an area where we always have to think twice to be sure we get the right time.

The confusion does not end there. Oh no. Depending on where you live, there are different ways for telling the time. Broadly speaking, if you live in the north or middle of Germany, you will use a familiar form – i.e. 8:15 is “viertel nach acht” = a quarter past eight, and 8:45 is “viertel vor neun” = a quarter to nine. So far so good. But as you move further south in German-speaking areas, you will find that people start talking about 8:15 as being “viertel neun” and 8:45 as “dreiviertel neun”*. But it appears that it is not consistently used across the southern areas. When I lived in Austria, I had a flatmate from Salzburg who used the northern German system and one from Graz who used the southern German system. It didn’t matter too much. One was a lark and the other an owl so they rarely saw each other anyway.

I think the logic works like this: (Actually, I should confess that nobody has actually ever explained this to me… it is all entirely my own work. I cannot take any responsibility for flaws in the argument – use at your own risk. But it seems to hold water.) The ninth hour is completed at the point that it becomes “o’clock”. If it is a quarter past eight it is a quarter of the way towards nine, then half way towards nine and then three-quarters of the way towards nine. Easy, nicht wahr?!

But don’t get too complacent just yet. You probably know that the German system of counting is along the lines of “four and twenty blackbirds”. This is fine for after a while you get used to saying “ two and twenty past two”. But your brain can get scrambled when someone says that the time is “fünf vor halb neun (five minutes to half the way to nine – which, of course, if you’ve been paying attention is actually “five minutes before half past eight”). Or they say it is “fünf nach halb neun” (= five minutes past half the way to nine). By the time you’ve worked it out in real money, (8.25 and 8.35 respectively) it’s about five minutes later anyway.

I’m planning a trip to Germany and Austria for the near future. All I can say is that I’m grateful that timetables use the 24-hour clock.

*Literally “quarter nine” and “three quarters nine”