Thursday, June 24, 2010

Multiple Personality Disorder

I’m going to take a much-deserved break and sit down and write in my blog.  Why did I think that by combining two dreadful chores into one it would make each slightly less horrible?  Didn’t work.  Listening to French language CD’s while ironing dress shirts just doubled the dreadfulness.  So, to the blog for a breather.

I’ve been writing a lot about my travels in the rest of Europe and not so much about my own backyard, so let’s fix that and take a quick look around Switzerland.  Switzerland is a funny place.  Not funny ha-ha, funny as in odd.  If Switzerland was a psych patient, it would be diagnosed with Multiple Personality Disorder.

We will call one of the personae who lives there inside the mind and body of Switzerland Jan.  Jan speaks Swiss German and drinks a lot of beer.  Jan always plays by the rules.  He lives in the Alps and minds his cows and sells his milk to the cheesemakers who turn it into stinky cheese.  Jan then melts this cheese in a big pot and eats it with bread and potatoes.  Jan owns and wears lederhosen.

Jan’s house is directly attached to his barn so that he can always be surrounded by the smell of his beloved cows, even while sleeping or brushing his teeth.  Jan does not care for foreigners, which would include all persons who were not born and raised in Jan’s village.  It is rumored that Jan does occasionally let his hair down and have fun and tell jokes, but no one from outside Jan’s village has ever witnessed this, so, at this point, Jan’s sense of humor is still just a rumor.  When Jan travels to the big city, he goes to Basel, Luzern or Zurich.  He and his wife, Anna, stay in a charming hotel or gasthof, and buy Anna a new dirndl or two from the shops.

Switzerland has another personality residing with Jan inside its’ body whom we will call Fabian.  Fabian lives in Geneva and works in a bank depositing money for rich Middle Eastern men wearing dishdashas.  Fabian speaks French and drinks a lot of wine.  Fabian and his girlfriend, Amie, are in their late 30’s and have just had their first baby.  They all live together in a modern apartment of 80 square meters which costs Fabian 4,000 Swiss Franc per month.

The apartment has a view of the Alps and Lac Leman.  Fabian also follows the rules but has been known to bend them on occasion.  Fabian and Amie sneak across the border every Sunday to buy meat and do the bulk of their shopping in France, where they also see all of their other Swiss friends doing the same thing.  Fabian and Amie pretend not to see these other friends buying clandestine non-Swiss food products.  On Le Weekend, Fabian and Amie like to ride their bikes around Lac Leman, towing the baby behind in a snazzy little cart.  This activity keeps Fabian and Amie incredibly skinny, fit and looking good in their all-black wardrobes.

Jan and Fabian also share the body of Switzerland with Mario.  Mario is not allowed to have much room inside the body, just 10 percent, but it is the warmest part of the body, so Mario doesn’t care.  Mario speaks Italian and eats a lot of pizza and risotto.  Jan and Fabian like to vacation down in Mario’s sector on Lago Maggiore or Lago di Lugano. 

Mario drives a Formula One race car for a living and lives in a villa in Ascona.  Mario pays even less attention to the rules than Fabian.  Fabian and Jan think Mario is enjoying life just a little bit too much and, most of the time, completely forget that Mario even exists.

Jan has a shadowy second cousin, once removed, living there inside the body of Switzerland, named Benno.  The only confirmed sighting of Benno was back when all four men were boys and had to get together for their mandatory Swiss Army conscription.  Jan, Fabian and Mario have never seen Benno since.  Benno, along with approximately 31 other people, speaks Romansch.  He is only allotted the pinkie finger of Switzerland and never leaves his Graubunden stronghold. 

Jan, Fabian and Mario are a little spooked by Benno and don’t care to know what kind of relationship he has up there on his mountain with his sheep.

Now, if a Swiss person ever tries to tell you that Jan, Fabian, Mario and Benno are all one big happy family and play nicely together in the sandbox, that is a load of crap.  The only time these four feel like they live in the same country is every four years at World Cup time.  For four weeks every fourth summer the whole body goes into a nationalistic soccer-driven fervor.  All four personalities get out their red flag with the big white cross and hang it from their balconies or window sills.  After those four weeks have passed, the flags get packed up again and the body of Switzerland divides itself once again into its’ four identities.

Imagine for a moment, if you will,  if California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado all spoke one language, Florida and Georgia spoke another one entirely, Connecticut another and everybody else spoke English.  Now imagine if those people who spoke English all spoke a different version of English, according to which state they lived in.  Like, the folks in New Jersey spoke a slightly different English than New Yorkers.  Different enough that it was difficult for a New Jersey person to understand a New York person.  THEN, squish all of that entire land mass into an area the size of South Carolina, so they are all bumping into one another all of the time, (well, except for the people in Connecticut who never leave their state and are kind of spooky).  What to do?  How do they communicate with one another?

Answer:  teach them a FIFTH language in school when they are just children that then becomes the default language when they try to talk to one another.  Hence, in the body that is Switzerland that suffers from Multiple Personality Disorder, Jan, Mario, Benno and Fabian communicate with each other in English, the default language.  Fabian and Mario even went so far as to learn each other’s languages in school, but neither one of them was willing to tackle Swiss German, so Jan is out of luck.  Benno and Jan both had to learn to write in High German, because neither one of their spoken languages translates well into a written language, so those two can communicate if they pass notes.

And that, my friends, is a tongue-in-cheek look at life in Switzerland.  Who benefits from this Multiple Personality Disorder?  Travelers!  You get the feel of three different countries/cultures, (four if you are brave enough to go to Graubunden) all within a few hours of each other.  Why go to Germany, France or Italy when you can just tool around little Switzerland and get the same flavor?  Fabulous, I tell you.

Allright, enough playtime.  Back to ironing and French tapes.  Wonder if the Rosetta Stone does a version in Romansch?

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