By Laura Németh
Dear Zurich people,
Ron Orp rumour has it that the Brits have been invading Zurich this week and funnily enough to me it seems as if Manchester in turn has been taken over by Zurich these past few days! After not having heard any Swiss German from anyone in Manchester since the day I have arrived, I have heard it spoken several times this week in odd places. Not only was it Swiss German, but always a proper Zurich accent as well!
This Friday, for example, whilst I was testing innumerable lipsticks at Boots, I overheard a woman from Zurich, who apparently works in Manchester at the moment, having a rather lengthy job-related conversation on her mobile phone. Instead of being seized by the sudden impulse to run and hide as quickly as possible lest – God forbid! – I should be caught up in a conversation with one my fellow-countrymen/women as I usually am when I stumble across Swiss people on a holiday, I was overcome by a nice and homely feeling and stood there quietly smiling to myself over the lipstick-counter and pleasantly imagining for just a moment that I was back in my hometown.
So I guess there is a lot to Zurich after all that makes me miss it at times. On the other hand, however, I am also gradually realising more and more to what extent we are willing to put up with certain issues in our luxurious and beautiful town. The bathrooms, the quality of the tap water, the cleanliness, the beauty, the orderliness, the chocolate and the cheese obviously remain unrivalled and how I do miss these things when once more in the morning just before lecture the bathroom and half of my room is flooded by a mixture of shampoo and water or when yet another type of cheese tastes of absolutely nothing! There are loads of other things that make up for this kind of inconveniences however, and above all it is the incredible friendliness of the people here in Manchester. Coming from a place in which you are often made to feel rather guilty for disturbing the waiters at all because you want to order something – even though you are willing to pay an exorbitant price for it – I sometimes cannot believe the way in which I am treated here as a customer or more adequately as a person in general. Not only do staff actually encourage you to order tap water (free of charge, in contrast to some places back home!), but they often say things like “If you want more water for your tea, come back and ask!”.
In shops, they ask you whether you want to have some free clothes hangers and when I went to buy a new camera, the woman working there gave me a ten pound discount for my camera insurance after I had agreed to have one and said she is glad to prevent me from having to come back with another broken camera and having to buy a new one because the repair is too expensive! The going-out-of your-way friendliness of the people here apparently applies very literally to the police as well. Recently, when I was walking down a well-lit road in a really rather safe area just before eleven o’clock, a policeman stopped me and said “Miss, it is not safe for a young lady to walk home alone at this hour!” He asked me where I lived and subsequently accompanied me all the way to my halls – which took us a good ten minutes!
Friendliness is ubiquitous at university, too. In the main building, for instance, there is a so-called “Ask-me desk” where you can go and ask the people there any question that you might ever have. A few weeks ago, not having been able to enrol online for one of my seminars and therefore unable to see the venue online, I unwisely arrived at university just minutes before this class started with no idea as to which room or, as it were, even to which building I needed to go to. The woman in charge however, immediately made about four different telephone calls on my behalf. She did so with a zeal and enthusiasm as if I was about to attend a VIP conference or something of similar importance. In between the calls, she continually reassured me: “Don’t you worry, dear, we’ll sort it out for you in no time!”. And indeed she did- thanks to her I almost made in on time to my seminar – leaving the desk with a map and her indications as to where I needed to go and feeling extremely incredulous about her kindness and about the effort she had made for just a normal student who wasn’t able to find her room on her own.
I don’t know whether it’s the lack of tourists or the rough weather that makes all kinds of people that you meet here in your daily life – from the shoe seller to bank clerks – give you their personal hints on where to go in the city or in the countryside and whether the same also accounts for why 99% of the people that you ask for directions in the streets either give it to you straight away or else google it for you.
Yet another quite astounding incident of northern kindness occurred just yesterday. We went to this rather popular jazz club that would have cost 5 pounds entry. After asking whether there was a student discount (there wasn’t) and being told that I could get in for half prize if I bought a membership, I decided to give it a go and use a bit of charm and explained to the doorman that unfortunately we were not from Manchester, but visitors and buying a membership card would therefore not really pay off for us. Now imagine trying to employ charm on a Friday night at club in Zurich: “So what?!”, I guess would be the prompt reply, ”it’s 20 francs to get in”, and that would be the end of the story and it would be a lost case trying to charm the grim face guarding the door. How different this rather big, black and impressive but extremely kind doorman reacted: “Oh really?”, he said, “where are you from, then?” and when I said Switzerland, he miraculously declared: “Well, if you come back some other day and bring me some Swiss chocolate, you can both get in for free!!”. I honestly promised to do so and in we went – my company wisely refraining from talking so as not to give away his Mancunian accent!
I am very glad that my mum just sent me some chocolate last week so I will go back there tomorrow night just to bring this guy some exquisite mousse au chocolat chocolate – he really deserves it! Thus, I will also finally be able to return some of the friendliness that I encounter here everyday.
I wish you all a very friendly weekend and if you’ll have to spend yet another fortune to go clubbing tonight, I hope that you will at least be able to properly appreciate your showers and the temperature-adjustable taps in the morning!