This week I’m “liveblogging” my trip to Ukraine. Unlike traditional reports, these posts will be shorter and more frequent.
Switzerland is one of my favorite countries in the world and unlike its bordering neighbors, represents a unique blend of languages that can sometimes be an enigma and create a difficult language barrier.
The Language Enigma Of Switzerland – An Italian Swiss Citizen Lost In Germanic Zurich Airport
In Switzerland, the official languages are German, French, Italian, and Romansh. I’ve never encountered the Romansh, but have done business in Geneva, Lugano, and Zurich and therefore seen first-hand how different regions look (and sound) so very different.
While walking from my gate to the lounge in Zurich, a woman who appeared to be about 65 years old stopped me after failing to stop several other passengers who walked by her. She frantically spoke to me in Italian…and sadly I do not speak Italian. She was holding a boarding pass and Swiss passport, so I addressed her in German. Blank stare. Then in English. Blank stare. Not a word.
She kept pointing to her phone. Then she said wi-fi and handed me her phone. She had a smartphone I did not recognize with an Android platform. I tried to connect to wi-fi, but also failed. She also had no signal.
I offered her my phone, but she was not familiar with how to use an iPhone.
I opened Google translate and asked her who she was trying to call in Italian. She opened WhatsApp on her phone and showed me a number. I entered it into my phone and called the number. No one answered.
This woman began to panic. I took her by the hand and told her via Google Translate that it would be okay.
And it was.
Moments later my phone rang. That number on WhatApp, a SWISS number, was calling me back.
I handed her the phone and you should have seen the smile spread across her face.
Her daughter was waiting for her in baggage claim. We walked a few more paces together and I pointed her in the right direction.
Switzerland is not unique in having multiple official languages, but I found it so interesting that a citizen was absolutely lost in a place like Zurich Airport. Not only was it interesting to me that she could not speak any English or German (which is truly not a criticism, just an observation), but it was interesting to me that no one around her could speak Italian.