Swiss Survival Guide: This is where we start

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I am a regular visitor to Switzerland, being married to a swiss, and so when visiting, I occupy the privileged position of being able to observe the swiss at close quarters. I am now (almost) able to understand what is being said in swiss german after many years of my GCSE- level German being utterly useless in the face of the sing-song gobbledygook that is ‘Sweetzer Dooch’. A couple of years ago I thought things were looking up when, sitting on a plane leaving Amsterdam for Zurich I had a breakthrough.

‘Hey! I can understand everything that flight announcer is saying!’ I chirruped enthusiastically to my husband.
‘He’s speaking Dutch’ he replied dryly.

Anyway, I do, mostly, get the gist of what’s being said, (especially if I already know what they are talking about) and I’m pretty good in the emphatic tense as applied to kids:
‘Get dressed!’ (Aar-lekke) ‘Get your shoes on!’ (Lek deenie shua ah) ‘Sit down’ (ab sitze) ‘Eat your dinner’ (is deeser snacht) ‘Go to bed (gang ins bet)

The spelling appears to be mostly arbitrary in Swiss German, as they use High German for written documents, so I feel justified in using my own form of phonetic written Swiss here, I hope you are saying each phrase out loud to yourselves, don’t they sound funny?

We regularly visit the same places each year and each visit I feel a little like an amateur anthropologist, trying to understand Swiss people and Swiss culture, and trying to fit somewhat into a place so utterly alien from the comfortable chaos of life in Scotland.

I thought I should write a few observations of Switzerland and the Swiss to help me get through the visits. In the spirit of ‘if you can’t laugh, you’d just cry’. It might also act as a bit of a survivors’ guide to visiting Switzerland.

I hope you enjoy….

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Swiss Survival Guide part 1: ‘HOW Much??!!’

After many years of fretting about the cost of buying anything at all in Switzerland from the smallest postcard to the shopping for a week, I now realise that things get much easier once you reach a state of acceptance I call ‘wallet zen’. When you reach this state, rather than coming to every transaction with a rising blood pressure and an impending sense of doom, you can just open your wallet and say ‘Really, just take it all, I have no need of it’

It is almost impossible to overestimate how much things are going to cost you in Switzerland. So here are a few survival pointers:

1. Food
A couple of years ago we met up with my parents in Switzerland and my mum kindly made a meal for 10: her usual speciality- a beef stew with baked potatoes. It was very delicious and warming after a day in the snow, but the constant refrain during the meal, and indeed the rest of the holiday, stays with me to this day.

“Do you know how much this stewing steak cost? FOURTY FIVE POUNDS! thats £45, not 45 Swiss Francs….. and that was just the steak!”

But panic not! there is a solution. All traditional Swiss food seems to be based on a theme of starch and cheese, with a bit of cured meat if you are lucky. This is presumably because it was not so long ago that the very smartly besuited and be-booted Swiss were all peasants, living off their höflies (pron. herflees – meaning little farms).

So if you stick with tradition you can eat pretty much as cheep as you can get in Switzerland (so long as you don’t eat up in a mountain restaurant where your fondue will cost you £45 – and that’s per person…)

So here’s my survival guide menu for a week in the mountains:

Day 1: Rosti and fried egg
Rosti (pronounced Rer-shti) is grated potato fried in a pan. It’s the authentic Swiss egg and chips

Day 2: Pizzocheri
This is stodgy buckwheat pasta with boiled potatoes, sage and cheese.

Day 3: Spazeli and fleishkäse
This is egg pasta fried in a pan with something rather like sliced spam (though I would recommend to eat spazeli with baked ham but that’s less the budget option)

Day 4: Fondue
Melt three cheeses (a good melter like Raclette or vachrain, a tasty one like Appenzeller or mature gruyere/comté, and a bulk one like a milder gruyere or cheddar) with lots of white wine, add kirsch, nutmeg, pepper and then fight the folks sitting either side of you with long pointy forks to get your fait share.

Day 5: Käseschnitte
This is the leftover bread from the fondue in the base of a casserole soaked in white wine with the leftover fondue mixture on the top. Then you bake it in the oven – yum!

Day 5: Raclette
This is basically melted cheese on potatoes with some picketed gherkins and onions.

Day 6 : Mac cheese.
An obvious mainstay if we are talking starch/cheese combos. With some chopped ham mixed with the cheese sauce. The Swiss will have a fancy name for it but it escapes me.

It will still be expensive, but perhaps not quite so crippling on the wallet. The food expense doesn’t help that there is a pretty effective duopoly of supermarkets in Switzerland (co-op/migro) and that there aren’t many independent food shops to speak of but you might be lucky and come across one of the excellent farm gate stalls or farmers’ markets which can be cheaper. (Which will be the subject of another blog)