Yes, Switzerland is mostly very very clean. The trains I’ve been on so far are immaculate. The stations have granite and marble tile.
Graffiti is not fined, and you see spots of it here and there in the big cities, but it isn’t as prolific as, say, New York City, or Los Angeles, or any of the big cities in the US. It is considered a protected form of free expression, and therefore no fines are given.
Tipping is not a common practice. If a waiter or someone similar has done an exceptional job, then you can leave him or her a few francs. Our dinner last night was such the case.
Drugs (heroine, cocaine, marijuana, etc) can be legally possessed, but it is illegal to sell them. Thus, there is some drug use in parks, and in homes.
No, not everyone in Switzerland speaks English, despite what I’d read or been told here and there. But yes, you can get by with pointing, and a by saying “Bitte” and “Danke” you can at least let them know that you are polite.
The Swiss German language is the oddest European language I’ve ever heard. Not odd in a bad way, just different. A lot of the time, it sounds like a mash of French and German. Sometimes it sounds Russian to my ear. And nearly everyone seems to have a soft quality to their voice – tones and syllables are rounded and not sharp (most of the time) like pure German. Perhaps those qualities make the Swiss seem like such nice people.
One phrase I keep thinking of is the line by the annoying neighbor boy in the movie Home Alone: “Bye! Have a good trip! Bring me back something French!” Switzerland is a very multicultural city. There are little shops to get kebobs and gyros. There are TONS of Italian restaurants (I swear I’ve seen more of those than traditional Swiss restaurants). There’s Irish pubs, and McDonalds (the only American chain I’ve seen), and Chinese restaurants (supposedly closer to the American-style Chinese food than actual Chinese food), Thai, and French pastry shops. I’ve even seen a candy shop filled with gummy bears, jelly beans, and other US-type treats.
It is hard to get used to being a “stranger in a strange land.” People turn their heads when they hear you speaking clear American. I don’t much remember my short excursion to Mexico with my parents, but I think that there were enough Americans there all the time (it was a small border town) that they didn’t gawk at a change in language. I think I finally relaxed about it by the end of the day, however. I know my ears prick up when I hear a non-English language in my native country.
I’m so fearful of coming off like a big brass dumb American, that I’ll fill some negative stereotype. Is it a need to fill accepted? To prove that I’m not some loud mix of every Hollywood type that splashes across the news? That I’m not full of hate and pro-war? Or even worse, will I come off belittling in my comparisons of their world to mine? Am I just being silly with this fear?
There are French language channels in our hotel. The news reporters (which is what I’ve mostly seen) talk super fast, but I’m picking up more words than I thought I would remember. It has reminded me that I really shouldn’t let a learned language go. I really should get off my butt and go back and take some refresher French courses.
I found that while I may not know the local language, my culinary experience helps me slog through the menus (mostly), and I can pick out things somewhat easily… especially in the Italian restaurants. 😉 Plus, that little German place that used to exist near our house taught me a bit about German food and words. And some items are in French, such as French Fries – they call them Pomme Frites.
So, yeah, that’s about all for now.