Sonntag, 30. November 2008

I want a new kiss (or's on my list)

The many subtleties of relationships are a language unto themselves. I have found that these subtleties differ from country to country, from experience. I have also found that I love discovering them or practising them.
In America, I got a charge from the subtle developments in relationships. The first time you can venture an "it's me" on the telephone. The first time the person answering the telephone knows who it is when you say "it's me". The first time you feel inclined to embrace a friend on a regular basis. The first time it seems appropriate to "pop-in" or "stop by" or any other number of cute terms use to describe disturbing someones peace and quiet.
In Switzerland I've learned there is a bit more formality to some of these developments, in some cases, even a ceremony of sorts. When inviting someone to call you "du" and use your first name only when communicating, it is sometimes required to invite this person for a drink or a coffee to discuss this new intimacy. As an American, there have been times when I have inadvertently injured a friend or acquaintance by using the wrong form. (I sometimes forget if we are already "du" and will say my full name on the telephone or say "Sie" by mistake. Sometimes I have seriously noticed offense. Other times I will accidentally "du" someone thinking that they are laid back and young and that I am the same. In Starbucks or at the hairdressers, it's always "du" at the bakery where I am a regular, I can show respect only by saying "Sie".)

In a land where I have kissed strangers three times on the cheek, merely because they are good friends of my husband or a friend of mine, there is a strange subtlety to kissing and a large intimacy in the hug. My best girlfriend and I embrace when we see one another, possibly with a kiss on the cheek, if it has been a long time. My closest male friends and I have a one-cheek-kiss agreement. Somehow this is more intimate than three. I can't explain why. At work, we greet one another with a smile or a wave on a daily basis, but after any absence or holiday, there are three-kisses to be expected. With children that I know well, and who are not my students, I typically offer one-cheek kiss, or a kiss on the top of the head or forehead.

But now, I want a new kiss. I kiss my in-laws three times. I kissed my in-laws three times back when we first met and they were simply the parents of a man I was seeing (and though I was ga-ga about him, the relationship was new and insecure). It's been years that we've kissed one another three times. When we stay together somewhere and I go to bed, I kiss them three times. When they give me a gift or I give them one, it is three kisses. When I go to dinner at their house or they come to mine, it's three kisses. I want something more intimate.

Now I need to decide, what sort of a special kiss do I want with them? They kiss their children quickly on the lips, but I don't want that. That seems more for blood-relations. I could give them a one-cheek kiss, but that is for my friends and children. Perhaps simultaneous nose and chin kisses (I've always loved kissing my sister that way). Also, does their need to be a ceremony? Do I need to invite them to drinks or coffee to propose this new greeting? So many questions.
On the plus side, I don't feel like this is a cultural difference or assimilation problem. The excitement of the prospect of the new kiss feels equal to the excitement of the ringing phone when you intend to say "it's me!" Nevertheless, I know that deciding that, the way I kiss my in-laws, too greatly resembles the way in which I kiss strangers who know the same people I do, seems uniquely European.

Donnerstag, 20. November 2008

können wir?

In an article in a Swiss magazine, the author asked "can we?" He wondered if the election in America, with all of the excitement, optimism, movement and emotion, would be possible in Switzerland. Of course, the Swiss don't elect a president, so it'd have to be a variation of what we had in the US.
I was thinking of the words "Yes We Can". I was thinking about the possibilities of translation, and instantly, Bob the Builder and not Cesar Chavez, popped into mind. I'd known the Bob the Builder song from my half-brother. "Bob the builder, can we build it? Bob the builder, yes can!" In the Kindergarten, one of our students from Berlin, would often sing the German Bob der Baumeister song. It is terribly awkward, the extra-long German words crammed into the American melody. Though, when literally translated, it is closer to Chavez and Huerta's motto, than Obama's. "That we can achieve/create"
When Ivo and I were in Petersburgh, we actually speculated about what the Bob the builder song would be in Russian. This was not simple wild wondering, the cartoon was playing on the TV in the kitchen, and while waiting for the song to come on, we guessed at what the literal translation of the song would be. "It must be done", was my guess. Ivo's Russian teacher answers "it must go" when asked "how's it going?". Ivo purely translated "yes we can" in Russian. That seemed too optimistic for Russians, in my stereotyping mind.
The answer was revealed when the strangely animated-Russian speaking crew of builders and building machines began to sing. In answer to the question "can we do it?" he answer is piz problem. Without problem.
Just like the various translations of a big-headed builder's optimistic melody, I think that the excitement and emotion of this American presidential election can never be copied exactly. It makes me proud. I know that part of it is semantics, like the varying parliamentary and governmental organizations stand in the way of repetition. Ivo points out that our situation is limited to colonizing or other former slave-owning nations.
Let's face it, the Beatles were talented, but it was the right time and the right place. For all Obama's charisma, intellect, and fairness, we were ready for change. It isn't only the awkwardness of the language that stands in the way of stimulating the masses.
"Können sie es schaffen?" wahrscheinlich nicht.

Donnerstag, 13. November 2008


If I sat and took the time, right now, I'd remember if it was or wasn't in 2005. I know that it was spring, the weekend of Mother's Day, that Ivo and I drove to Philadelphia to visit a potential apartment. I would begin my master's program in the fall.
On our way, Ivo began to droop and sag in the heat and humidity. We played a Prince mixed cd for the umpteenth time and cursed the choice of whether or not to use the air conditioner. Underneath all of the discomfort was that we were visiting a city 8 hours from Providence. We were preparing for me to leave him. We had no idea what this move would mean for our very new relationship, but it was easier to focus on the weather.
At the apartment, we met an Egyptian man who was doing the painting. The place looked a mess and in need of a good deal more than just paint, but the man made huge promises of how he would set the place in order. He said that he was a friend of the building manager. He said that my dog would be welcome there (this proved later to be untrue) and he said that I would really love it there. He then went on to say that his day job was actually in a seurity company. Then he began to expound on the buisness oppurtunities in Iraq. That's it: it was 2004.
When I moved in to my first apartment in Philadelphia, none of the promises from the painter were true and I arrived to confront the fact that I knew exactly noone. I tried to make the best of it and set my bed up in the kitchen. This was my optimism at work. I was promised new carpeting in the bedroom in a few short days, and I didn't want to hamper the building manager's best efforts.
New tenants moved into the first floor. Far more than there was space for. They were artists and sculptors, which meant that they worked in grocery stores and cafes. They were all from Jersey.
While my apartment was not nearly the Utopia that the painter had described, at least it had a working shower. The 6 kids on the first floor had none. They admitted this to me after a week of living there, when we chatted as I took out my garbage.
"You're welcome to mine." I said. I was secretly excited about the company. Indeed, each one sat and chatted (thankfully after having showered) when they came up to use my facilities. When the last was clean, they said that they would like to repay my kindness and invited me down to dinner. This was a huge blessing as I was job-hunting and eating very little at the time.
When I came down, we ate on the porch. They' made all sorts of things that they'd found at the Ethiopian store up the street. The real thank you, they insisted, was to share some opium with me. It smelled lovely, like jasmine. Like everything else, since I'd arrived it was unexpected and unusual.
The short time in this apartment, which ended when I came home from work and found that all of my doorknobs had been removed by the building manager's partner, was a mixture of oddity and anxiety. At some point, the building manager took me out for a burrito. We'd just been fighting about my lease agreement which he had lost and begun defying. I told him that three people had been by and told me three different amounts of rent to be paid at three different times. We were also arguing about whether or not it was my responsibility to find flat mates for the other two bedrooms. I had been told that the building manager would be doing this, and while I wasn't thrilled at the idea, it made me surprised to sudenly be threatened with the whole of the rent for not having found tenants yet. In the middle of this fight he said, "let us discuss this over dinner." and we did.
I'm amazed at how well everything turned out in Philadelphia as I ignored my better judgement on an almost daily basis. Smoking opium in return for letting strangers use my shower. Letting the cuilding manger pay for my burrito and being so taken by stories of his life in Iraq, that I joined him for a drink in a bar which had a Russian brothel on the second floor. Riding on the bike handles of a stranger I met at a David Sedaris reading, and asking him if he knew of anyone with an apartment for rent.

I think that when I moved out of my first flat is when I decided to start trusting my gut again. After all, I was the "totally uncool" housemate who said that she didn't feel comfortable with the fact that one of the houses keys was given to a couple who, although they had chosen to live in their van were camping out in our living room and entertaining guests. (These people were strangers whom one of my housemate had me the day before they began inhabitting our home free of charge.)
When I think back to that first apartment, I can barely comprehend who it was that was making the decisions that I did. I'm glad that Lucas came to visit and played Jimmeny Crickett. Come to that, I think that I may owe my guardian angel some opium.

Dienstag, 4. November 2008

daisycutters at dinner

I was listening to some music today and heard something that sounded like "IED", but I wasn't sure. It made me start thinking about changing vernaculars and what words are being introduced to the young generation of today.
I then instantly was reminded of an office Christmas party. It was a moment that will always be the beginning of what made it easy to relocate to another country. We were at a lovely restaurant enjoying an exquisite meal and one of my colleagues started talking about daisy-cutters and the bombing of Afghanistan. I was disgusted by the conversation and the glibness and the disregard for human-life, while in the same breath they would describe the lives lost in the twin towers with such a worth that they would apparently sell their common-sense for them.
At the same time, in a ethics course I was being lambasted for admitting that no one knows what is in someone's heart and one should probably not attempt to know the inner workings of someone's heart or mind. This was terribly unpopular among the blood lust at that time.

I am so ready for the meanness that seems to surround elections to end. I am ready for coded and non-coded hate-speech to recede from the forefront of most media. I am hopeful that I will be able to see the more attractive side of my country instead of the ugliness that I have seen now and again.
I wish that I were stronger and better able to stay in America and make it a better place. I wish that whatever children I may raise with multiple citizenship could learn from me by example to believe in the best in America and Americans. I wish that I could show them grass-roots power first-hand. Nevertheless, I thought that I would be able to protect them more in Switzerland, these future children who do not yet exist. I thought that while they were learning multiple languages I could filter out hateful language or angrier language or ignorant language or words that no little children need know. That they could be raised thinking that daisy cutters are a tool for a florist.

I am so proud of both of my siblings for the work that they are doing for one of the countries, of which any children I have, will be citizens. I'm glad that they have more patience and courage than I.

Sonntag, 2. November 2008

language what-not continues

I know that it's been a long time in Switzerland and that language differences should probably no longer amuse me, but that is sadly not so.

The use of English words, in ways that no English speaker would them, makes many foreign speakers confused. This seems unfair to me. It isn't like those times when English speakers and German speakers fudge, by hoping that a word is the same in both languages and say the word with a strong accent hoping that they won't be found out for not knowing the actual word.


German mother: "My son broke 8 times last night" (the verb for "vomitting" is erbrechen.)

American girl being raised in Switzerland: "Bobby is stirring me" (the verb for "disturb" is stören)

What I mean, on the other hand makes far less sense. It is not as if the word is merely being hoped for or implied, an actual english word is being used where it doesn't belong, giving people the idea that it is, in fact, english.


"will you go make wellness?" (the verb "to make" is often used by German speakers. "Wellness" is believed here to mean "spa")

"do you use peeling?" ("peeling" is used for "exfoliant")

"will you wear your wind stopper?" ("wind stopper" is a "wind breaker" this example is less dramatic, thus it's listed last.)