Heidi spricht kein Deutsch

One of the things freshers have prominently in their ‘to do” lists, when they arrive in Zug is to enrol in a German language course.  Breathless with enthusiasm to be part of the scene and fit in with local life, they excitedly anticipate that learning “the language” will lead to being accepted, loved, making friends, and enjoying the native culture.

However, in six years I have yet to hear of an ex-pat who has learned the local language well enough to hold a fifteen minute conversation with a local.  In fact, the better your command of Standard German (don’t call it ‘Hochdeutsch’ ), the more frustrated you will be as you find yourself failing to amuse and engage the local populace in the kind of chit-chat you enjoyed at home.

I am not referring to the kind of basic German which any idiot can pick up in a few weeks. Or the equivalent level of English an au pair will command after a few months immersion in the UK.

Many times you will have proudly requested “ Können Sie mir bitte  helfen?” to be served in a Zug shop, only to be met invariably with the reply  “ Of course, what are you looking for?”, from the sales assistant, who probably also wished you “have a  nice day” as you left.

The reason for this is that Heidi communicates in Schweizerdeutsch , and after three months of lessons (the average most endure before giving up the struggle) all you will learn at the German class you have enrolled in is lots of German grammar and enough vocab to order a taxi.

If you stick it out for a year or so, you may well have enough German to understand what’s going on around you in a German city, but the language spoken in Zug will continue to be as mysterious as Chinese.

When we originally arrived from London, we took the precaution of bringing our German au pair with us.  We thought it would be very useful having  someone with the language as her mother tongue, on tap for the first month so that we could quickly negotiate the inevitable transactions where fluent German was needed and our limited German inadequate.

However, after a couple of days she admitted defeat.  Although she was born and lived in Munich all her life she could barely understand a word.

Frankly, unless you are immersed at work every day  in the 100% company of  Schweizerdeutsch speaking, Swiss born co-workers, you might as well save the effort and stick to English, because nearly everyone under 40 speaks it fluently here.