Hats By Katrinka

Kate Brown Pernia is a Milliner on sabbatical in Switzerland. She has been designing hats and teaching millinery under her Katrinka label since the 1980s. Kate is also the founder of Houston Hat Net. View Katrinka hats and hat patterns at www.hatsbykatrinka.com.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Old Dogs and New Tricks

Well, it hasn’t been all fun and games. A few days after my arrival in St. Gallen I found myself alone for the day and tried to make my first purchase in the Farmer’s Market. A cheese vendor was nice enough to say, "English OK" and told me how to say 100 grams in German. Because he was so nice I lost it and started to cry! How was I going to get along here when I don’t speak the language?

My moment of panic subsided and I was introduced to Starr who is fluent in German. After a couple of shopping forays with my new American ex-pat friend I forged ahead on my own. I tell myself that if toddlers can babble away in German so can I. Our first attempt to register for a formal German class failed when the class did not make. So my husband and I work together every morning after breakfast with our language books, tapes and CDs. We read junk mail sale flyers with a German/English dictionary which I also carry everywhere in my purse. I’ve put Post-It notes all over our apartment with names of items in German and these are beginning to stick in our brains as well. When I ordered language software from Amazon we hit another snag. Amazon.com won’t send software to Switzerland. There may be a trade restriction of some kind that gets in the way. Oh well! Just keep going! English has some similarities to German plus my fragmentary French and Italian helps in the grocery story where everything is labeled in at least three languages (not usually English). When we go to an ‘Englisch sprachen’ movie there are subtitles in German and French.

This month we’ve started a German class where we are the only English speaking students and it’s fun! The class is held entirely in German - even the instructions. With practice we are beginning to get it. We practice every chance we get. People are generally patient while we try and it’s not so hard to learn a new language when the need to communicate is all around you. With no tv homework is actually entertainment!

Here’s the funny thing! We’re not alone. It turns out that Hoch Deutsch or High German is what is written but not spoken in Switzerland. Instead, they speak Schweizer Deutsch here which is a kind of dialect of German. Some local MBA students must take Hoch Deutsch classes to get their degree along with English which is also required.

Guten Tag! Or as they say here Grüezi!


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