Zee Zee Za Zoo: My Swiss Fail

· And other epic failings of my time in Zurich ·

Do you recall me telling you that the church bells were charming?

Yeah. That was only when I thought, oh, look, that’s so Swiss.

Let me tell you how this really works – the bells chime every 15 minutes. Every quarter hour! And then on the hour, you hear the time. Six o’clock equals six chimes, only after four bing-bong sequences of the quarter hours which then sounds like this: bong-bing, bong-bing, bong-bing, bong-bing, bong, bong, bong, bong, bong, bong!!!!

Yes, that’s so charming. But my very being is very … er, Italian. Time is this weird – oh yeah, it’s whatever time i have no idea, I should be chatting with my friends.

What this becomes when you are trying (desperately) to adjust your internal rhythm to a new locale is a lot like having one of my children in the room…

Bing bong. Hey, guess what 15 minutes have passed since you first tried sleeping. Bing bong, bing bong. Whoa – looks like 30 minutes now. Are you asleep yet?? Huh? Are you? Oh whoa! It’s 2, it’s 3, it’s 4?! Asleep yet?

And then the unthinkable happened. For the first time on this trip, I realized the bells don’t stop ringing for 30 or so minutes at 7 am.

Bong- bong- bong- clatter – bong – are you asleep huh? What? You’re not? Why not? It’s been five hours? You’re still awake? Want to have breakfast? Want to check your email? Want to … Want to … walk over to the Church and slaughter the ring person? Ring… bell… I don’t know. I’m sympathetic because I still envision Quasimodo .. but these bells are probably programed on a Swiss clock and are fully automated.

I had two hours of real sleep last night. Until Eddie Izzard appeared in my dream at an amusement park and my dad was so happy, and I thought, I know I’m dreaming now… that was 2am Swiss time. Bugger.

I did visit my beautiful soon to deliver friend. And then I managed to pour two pounds of salt on her tiny toddler’s food. Yay. My contacts suck. If I had a tail, it was tucked way beneath my legs.

I left around 7pm to take a taxi to my new hotel.

I say goodbye. Take the elevator down. The nice taxi man is already there. He looks like the man from Usual Suspects.. Hi, I say… blah zzeeee blooo zzeee .. he says. He doesn’t speak English.

My bags go in the car. I go in the car. He goes in the car.

And we sit.

And sit.

Zee blue zee zoo zah?


Zee zee zoo zaa zah?

It occurs to me he doesn’t know where we are going. It also occurs to me that I don’t know where we are going.

“oh don’t you have the address?” I say. Zee. Zoo. Zee. No.

I call my friend who brings me the map to my new location. I get back into the car. And he needs directions. Dear God, please help me learn German very quickly.

Soon we are off. And soon we arrive. I give him 4 Sfr even though my friend said … only 2. I was hoping to buy help up the stairs with this suitcase.


It buys me a thank you. In English. Crap

But I ring the hotel at the door.

And soon the door opens itself (no joke ! It’s on a garage door opener automation system!). Hello? Hello?

A very nice Thai boy comes to help me. We stuff ourselves into the elevator. My bag is bigger than the two of us combined. And I feel like there is no oxygen thanks to that darn bag.

We arrive at floor 7. And voila the door opens. And voila my jaw is on the floor.

Do you remember the hotel in Home Alone 2? The one in NYC and adorbale Macaulay Culkin runs through the suite screaming? Yeah. Bigger.

“Wow”, I say.

“It’s ok?” he asks.

I no longer know English, Spanish, French, German … I nod.

Blah blah. Don’t hear him.

He leaves.

I eventually come to my senses after running through the suite and making myself laugh… I put the laptop on the living room (yeah – that’s LIVING ROOM… ROOMS… gah!) table. Free internet. Thank the lord, since I have been buying internet minutes and six hours goes by in 30 minutes apparently, thanks to the weird calculating measures of the previous hotel.

No idea how to connect. No wifi. I call the front desk. Martin answers. He brings me a modem.  I have a doorbell! Of course I sat on the couch waiting for him, not realizing that the weird chong-bing-bong was my doorbell. I finally open the door. He is in flip flops. I love him already. He is shorter than I, spry, and more shy than i am. Aww. Shy? I love you.

We plug the modem in. I tell him I am broiling. He moves the temperature thingy this way, that way. Done. Huh? Oh, it will take awhile because the heating is in the floor. Wow. The floor. I still don’t know which way to turn the dial.

I ask him how to make coffee. It’s not coffee. It’s espresso. And these little pods go in here. Then we both look for the little cups. I ask him if he is the owner. I know he will say yes, and I will tell him thank you, how much I love his hospitality. But he becomes even more shy – yes, I should know where everything is, I’m not a very good host. I want to hug him and reassure him, but then I remember this is Switzerland. No, no. So even though he speaks perfect English I suddenly speak like I don’t speak English at all. “Love. Me. Here. Wow. Gee.” And then I smile my best smile and he looks at me like he thinks I’m putting him on.

Darn espresso cups we couldn’t find.

So he leaves. And we say good bye. Which is a lot of thank you’s and wow’s and ok’s.

I close the door.

Brrrong. CLong. Brong. Cling.

My front door! Eeep! Who could it be in the less than 10 seconds since Martin left.

“My shoes,” he says.


He wants to crawl in a hole in the floor, i can tell. I get that feeling a lot.

He grabs his little bamboo flip flops and says, Sorry, not going too far without my shoes. His face is fuschia – just like mine gets. We’re twins! But my heart breaks for him because I know this feeling all too well – a lot like being lost in the grocery store or pouring gallons of salt on a 3-yr old’s food.

He leaves. I struggle for several minutes trying to figure out how to close the front door again.

And then I take pictures of every room and do a funny Home Alone impersonation again.

Hugs on the journey,

(* a bidet! I don’t even know how to use this contraption I’ve heard so much about … )



February 17, 2011


  1. Reply

    Jason Bird

    February 17, 2011

    Wow. Your room seems very charming…and big. I can’t even imagine your psychological battles with those bells. Do the Swiss have Valerian Root? I do love reading of your exciting tales. You are my angel.

  2. Reply


    September 26, 2017

    Oh my goodness gracious. At least you have many stories to tell!

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