Over the past week I’ve had several little thoughts on Swiss life and travel, and no good ideas for a single themed post. So, this week I thought I’d do a brain dump…some bite-sized reflections to share so I can clean them out of my brain and make room for more scrappy experiences!
La station d’essence
I went to get gas yesterday at the gas station, or “station d’essence” (I am always tempted to call gas “gaz,” but if you say that people will think you are asking for carbon dioxide…as in sparkling water or “eau gazeause.” Car gas is called “l’essence,” which sounds to me more like perfume–but there you have it).
In Switzerland–or at least the gas stations near me–there is no pay-at-the-pump option. You have to go into the shop and tell the proprietor which pump you’ve just used and how much you’ve spent at it. Which is why I have created a new little sport for myself: stopping the pump on a round franc number, with no cents, so I don’t have to say a really long complicated number to the clerk. “Trente francs” is so much easier not to screw up than “trente francs et quatre-vingt-six centièmes.”The first few times I got gas, I tried gamely to say whatever number came up on the pump dial, with poor results…brought on mainly by the fact that I tried to rehearse the number before going inside. Instead of, “trente francs et quatre-vingt-six centièmes à numéro cinq,” I blurted out something like, “trente-cinq et quatre-six-vingt à numéro francs.” Hence, my new sport of precision-pumping was born.
This is amusing to me because a pet peeve of mine has always been when people try to squeeze extra drops out of the pump after it has stopped automatically. But if my reason for doing so is purely linguistic, that makes it OK, right?
La pharmacie et le champignon
This might be too much information, or “TMI” as the internet likes to put it, so I apologize in advance for the following anecdote.
I’ve been going to a local gym and, as a result of which, have contracted a minor fungal infection on my left small toe. This is nothing new to me…after a childhood of swim team, soccer, fencing lessons and various summer camps followed by a college career of team sports, fungi tend to treat my feet like an NYC youth hostel…always open and convenient, with no need to be particularly clean.
At any rate, I recognized the symptoms immediately and concluded that, given the absence of CVS and Walgreens in Switzerland, I’d have to pay a visit to a traditional pharmacy. Pharmacies here are actually quite wonderful. They are a cross between a Bed, Bath & Beyond and a hospital, if you can imagine such a thing. There are shelves of pampering body indulgences (lotions, perfumes and bath salts, etc.) right next to a long counter manned by clerks dressed in white coats. If you are looking for something vaguely medicinal, you need to talk to them directly. They will expertly and promptly size up your medical situation and offer you the proper treatment, along with usage directions and advice. In most cases, you do not need a prescription…they simply go into the back room and come back a moment later with the correct box or tube or bottle for your needs.
I was able to communicate what I needed to the woman behind the counter fairly easily using a mix of French and English, since I was not exactly sure how to say “athlete’s foot.” After exiting the shop, I opened the package she had given me and took out the tube to make sure I’d gotten the right thing. There, in French, was printed the contents of the tube: “Treatment for the mushrooms that attack your feet.”
Le savon de bain
Last week I bought I gigantic liter bottle of almond-scented lotion for just 2 francs. What a bargain! My thrifty sense was all a-flutter at my shopping success. Until I got home and slathered it all over myself and discovered that it was, in fact, shower soap.Pro-tip: In French-speaking countries, if the bottle says ‘body cream,’ do not assume this means lotion. It could just as easily mean “cheap shower gel that happens to be opaque and creamy in texture but is actually meant to be used in combination with water.” The more you know!
In the late 90s and early 2000s, razor scooters were all the rage in the U.S. I never owned one, but city kids rode them everywhere. They were slim and hip and could easily be slung onto a backpack after zipping to class. But like the beanie babies, they eventually lost their popularity.
Not so in Switzerland, it seems. Again, razor scooters are everywhere…but for one small difference: they seem to be primarily popular with adults rather than children as a mode of transportation. On Friday, I saw a sixty-ish man glide sedately by me in a parking lot on his silver and green steed, propelling it along with an impeccably leather-clad foot.
Here is a closing [awful] joke for you, courtesy of a good friend. Apologies in advance.
Q: What’s so great about living in Switzerland?
A: Well, the flag is a big plus!