(This post is from June 2, 2014 and was posted late due to lack of internet access)
I spent my first day in Switzerland figuring out that though most people know English here (as I was told by many), not EVERYONE knows English. The situations in which people do not know English are the important ones. I went to two grocery stores this morning: one that belonged to a Greek family and one Coop (a chain of grocery stores in Switzerland). I knew on my way there that I should not buy the amount I normally would buy in the US. I have always heard that refrigerators in Europe are much smaller. It turns out that the fridge in my flat is about a fourth of the size of one you would see in a US home. The first store went okay. It looked like a little specialty store, so I worried I might not be able to use my credit card. In my mangled attempt at German that I learned on the plane, I tried to ask the cashier if she spoke English. She did not so I showed her the card and she nodded. All went well.
When I went to Coop (pronounced like ‘cope’), however, terrible things ensued. I realized that most people purchased one or two things. I tried to lessen the amount that I put in my basket because of this, but it still ended up being full. This is because I technically got here yesterday (a Sunday) and EVERYTHING is closed on Sundays. I had to eat a whole bag of trailmix and a protein bar for lunch and dinner because I just happened to have those with me on the plane. This meant that I needed to at least buy things for breakfast and lunch. Plus, I needed things like dishwashing soap. Also, I noticed when I was walking around yesterday that people bundle up their paper recycling using a special string that was there, so I bought it. The line to check out moved so fast. I tried to watch what everyone else was doing and copy.
First, many of them had bananas in bags and mine were not. When I went to check out the cashier noticed my bananas held them up and said something to me inn German. When she noticed my alarm she shrugged said something else and set them aside. I smiled (not being able to say anything else). At this point I realized that you have to weigh the bananas and fruit somewhere and put a price sticker on them (based on the bananas the boy next to me was about to buy). Right after that another woman in the store came up to the cashier and started arguing about something written on this piece of paper. When they were finished, the cashier went back to ringing things up mechanically and obviously mad. The problem was she had not finished my order and was ringing up the next boy’s stuff. I realized this and started to say something in English. She asked me if I speak Italian, German, or French. I know very little French and was trying to think of a barbarian way to say what was happening. Luckily the boy next to me knew English and explained to her what I was saying. She didn’t know how to cancel orders so she sat there and tried to figure it out. The English speaker had halted the well-oiled checkout machine that had been previously moving quickly and efficiently. I felt people getting impatient, as that was the only lane open to checkout. Finally, she figured it out, and I tried to use my card. Of course I did something wrong and the boy helped me again. I thanked them (at least I can say that in German) and left as quickly as possible.