Tag Archives: language

Notes on Switzerland

  • Switzerland has more graffiti than I’ve seen outside of the US. It completely contradicts my image of Switzerland as clean and orderly. In Zürich there’s a long wall where graffiti seems to be allowed, probably in an attempt to redirect some of that tagging impulse.


But I guess it’s not enough for some people.


  • My German sucks*. I can read most of the signs and order things in stores, but my vocabulary far exceeds my grammar knowledge. I know words like Fußbodenschleifmaschine, but I fall all over myself trying to say that I’d like to check out of my hotel room.
  • And Swiss German is another creature entirely. I’m not sure how much I’d understand even if my Hochdeutsch were fluent. I think it would be like learning English and then taking a trip to northern Scotland. Some of the words would be familiar, but… Swiss German has a lilt that makes it sound Scandinavian. And they’ll start words with ch, which I don’t think standard German ever does. (I saw one sign that spelled Kinder as Chinder.) The standard greeting is Grüezi, which is sometimes pronounced as one would expect, but is often pronounced Grüße. And they roll their R’s like Spaniards, especially in rural areas. I wish I had a recording of the way the train conductor in Lauterbrunnen pronounced Mürren. They also frequently use merci for thank you and ciao for goodbye.
  • I like currywurst better than döner kebabs.
  • Almost everyone in Switzerland speaks English. Most of them humored** me in my attempts to speak German, but English is always available when needed.
  • Zürich’s Hauptbahnhof is one of the most trainstationy stations I’ve seen. It’s big and cavernous and the trains come right into the middle of it. I’d say it’s second only to Gare du Nord in its trainstationiness.


  • Tessalon*** does not seem to be OTC in Switzerland. In fact, you have to ask for ibuprofen, which is $11.00 for 20 tablets.

* No, autocorrect, I don’t mean “dicks.”
** No, not “humped.”
*** Not “Thessaloniki”! Just stop!

Notes on Singapore

  • Singapore is the most food-intensive place I have ever seen. More than San Francisco, more than Paris, more than Hong Kong, more than Fremont…more than just about anywhere. All cuisines and budgets seem to be represented. And there are a surprising number of tapas bars.
  • It’s humid, but not as humid as I was expecting. It’s been mostly around 80%, which is not as bad as Ohio in August. Of course, the humidity goes up during thunderstorms.
  • Most restrooms don’t have paper towels. What they usually have instead is a big roll of toilet paper near the sinks. Have you ever tried to dry your hands on toilet paper?
  • Napkins are also nonexistent. Tissues are sometimes available to purchase. I mostly just used my pants.
  • Cousin Mosquito is still around.


  • There are four official languages — English, Mandarin, Malay, and Tamil — but English is officialer than the others. A lot of signs have multiple languages, but if a single language is used, it’s always English. Even in the multi-lingual sign below, the words “notice” and “SBS Transit” are only in English.


  • Oh, yeah, man. Free Flow Kimchi is awesome. I saw them open for Toad the Wet Sprocket.


  • Photos are available on Flickr.

Notes on Korea

Sometime in the last 25 years, hanja seems to have disappeared. That makes Korean a lot easier to read for us non-Asian types who didn’t spend 12 years learning Chinese characters in school.

You won’t get mugged in Korea, but you might get run over. It’s the only place I’ve seen someone talking on the phone while riding a motor scooter. On the sidewalk.

Korean people don’t seem given to wearing shirts with bizarre English on them the way Japanese people are, but almost every shirt I saw with writing on it was in English, usually an American brand of some sort. I think some of them were fake brands (one shirt simply said “Authentic Genuine”), but they looked like American brands. That seemed to be the main thing.

Passport control was just a matter of taking fingerprints and a photo (Japan did that too) and stamping my passport. Customs just took my form and put it on a pile without looking at it. I think it was the easiest entry I’ve ever encountered.

Other than the traditional hanok-style buildings with the sweeping roofs, there isn’t a lot of what you would call architecture in Korea. On the train from Seoul to Busan, the cities I saw were all miles of high-rise apartment buildings done in what you might call a Soviet style, with a smattering of Christian church steeples.

Everyone in Korea is doing something on their smartphone at all times. It goes far beyond anything in the US. Not surprisingly, most of the phones are Samsung or LG.

In Busan I saw a man wearing a shirt that said, “The Funniest Man in the World.” So that’s where he lives. Busan.