I’m Lost in Translation

I think that there should be a Reset button on certain days.  Today was over before it began.  I had a bit of trouble with my bank, with my phone, and had my shoulders scrunched so high, that I now have a kink in my neck.  Happy ending report: I figured it all out, without hyperventilating. I still have the kink in my neck though.

When I finally left the hotel, it was 5:30pm here. Bummer. I’m not resetting my internal clock very well it would seem.  It was a lovely walk in the rain though– dark and misty.

It was such a surreal experience, walking into the grocery store (called COOP here).  All manner of languages were being spoken – German, Swiss German, Italian, French, Russian …

I had moments of frustration. Such tiny aisles. Doesn’t anyone understand I’m being slow because I’m translating labels? But then I realized everyone was frustrated with everyone, not just frustrated at me. That made me feel better instantly.

I bought some milk, some probiotic drink for my stomach, some granulated Nestle coffee (oh, I remember this well from my UK student days), and some beer and wine. I also bought pickles. I’m not sure how any of those things go together. I think I was just practicing going to the market.  I do that sometimes, just to figure out my surroundings. I remember when I was living in Derry in Northern Ireland … I would write letters or postcards just so that I could learn how to mail something in the post.

So I now have an odd assortment of sundries.

The wine is God awful.  Never, ever buy La Timbale Beaujolais wine, ever. It’s a disgrace to your tastebuds, much less your stomach.  The beer, I don’t know yet. Zuri-Hell. Yes, I bought it primarily for the label, which I learned not to do in the US, but it makes me laugh, and that’s worth everything today.

During check out, I carefully watched everyone ahead of me in line. Place items on the runner. Place tiny basket in the basket holder. Credit card/Bank card goes in the little slot thingy. Ok. I can manage. I hear the cashier speaking French, German, Italian. I can do this.

But then… I speak French and she acts like she doesn’t understand me. I say a few words in German.  I give up. I speak English.  In weird utterances … like. Bag, yes? Where, there? I pay, yes? In here, yes? All with this weird upward high pitched note at the end of everything I say.

I pay. Then realize I don’t have a proper bag to bag my groceries. Suddenly I realize that Switzerland is very green. You buy your bigger bags for .30p and reuse them.  I need a bigger bag. I don’t have .30p on me, but I have a debit card. No. No. No. Can't use that for .30p. Just take the bag, she says gesturing, pushing the bag at me. She shakes her head. I want to crawl inside that bag and not come out.

My hands are shaking as I carefully place my items in my bag. I am not going fast enough. I can hear her say something about “American” and people in line laugh. I want to cry. I hate being laughed at, much less being laughed at when I am trying so hard. I look at the nice young student type fellow in the red Puma jacket and mostros, thanks for helping me, I say, lip trembling. Yeah, sure, it’s not a problem, he replies. And smiles. That makes me feel a bit better.

I took a few pictures on my way back.  I didn’t mind that it was raining. I’m kind of grateful for the rain whenever I feel like crying. It felt good on my face which had turned, I am sure, a bright color of fuschia – as my embarrassment spread from my toes to my fingers.

The nice fellow who works at the front desk was really kind to me. He asked what was wrong. I told him I epically failed at the Market. He reassured me and said it was alright. I told him I appreciated his fine English speaking abilities and told him how sorry I was that I don’t speak German. He said, it’s ok, English is the world language, yes? That made me feel better.  He didn’t call it the American language. It was the world language. Suddenly English felt very, well, worldly.

Back in the hotel room, I discover that the wine is atrocious. And the pickles are terrible too. I am sure they would not be so terrible if I was the kind of person who enjoyed sweet pickles. But I don’t. They make me nauseous, They are probably delightful sweet pickles to sweet pickle connoisseurs. 

I decided to eat at the restaurant in the hotel for breakfast-lunch-dinner. My one meal of the day aside from endless snacking. The nice fellow who seated me spoke amazing English. I tell him so. He says, no I don’t think so. I say, well I speak amazing English and I think so! That’s so great you can speak so many languages. He says, me? Oh, only four.

Only four.

I would feel like the smartest person in the world today if I could speak any language other than English.  I thought I spoke passable French, but, alas…

So, my day was a bit – Meh.  I couldn’t find my groove today. But, as that nice fellow said to me, Yes, sure, it’s not a problem. 

Some days are just like that, even in Switzerland.

Hugs on the journey,



  1. Reply


    February 15, 2011

    oh dear
    i feel you so much on this.
    the language barrier is one thing
    but the barrier on how society acts… learning where we gel and fit in. how to find that groove and blend to not stumble around and be ‘the american’
    you’re already finding your groove.
    it takes those little fumbles before we find our footing. you’ve already discovered horrible wine and rotten sweet pickles- and NOW know what to avoid. hee so that means that next time at the shop, you’ll bring your bag- know how to pay, and also avoid that atrocious wine.
    you’re brave and wild and don’t you forget it.

  2. Reply


    February 15, 2011

    Aww. I love you! You made me smile so much! Thank you! You made my entire day! I wish you were here traveling with me, or me there. I remember being in Galway for a month and trying the terrible poissin? The potato fermented crazy alcohol that people keep under their sinks? One day! I am going to visit you, for certain.xoxo!

  3. Reply


    February 15, 2011

    i’ve never tried this crazy potato alcohol you speak of… er…
    it sounds like it’d be vodka?
    where the hell have i been?!
    though. i think i’d pass on potato alco. gross…
    i should just hop on a plane and come stay with you. 😉
    how fun
    okay, now i need to see pictures of the toilets and what not.

  4. Reply

    Jason Bird

    February 15, 2011

    Still judging wines by their labels, darling?  Pickels and beer…sounds like a list I would make. I hope you’re taking care of you. You’re a light no matter where you go.

  5. Reply


    February 21, 2011

    ohhh, tiffany. i want to hug you. i would have felt the same way in that situation. but how amazing are those kind souls in moments like that?
    reading your posts inspires me to travel alone again. especially in a foreign country. what an adventure!

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