Sometimes I have sudden moments of, “Oh! I forgot this isn’t my country.” I’ve been here long enough, and have gotten into the swing of things so much so, that I don’t always feel that shock of “other-ness.” I go through my day, run errands, head to a doctor apointment, grab a few things from the store, call my mom, drop off dry cleaning…all the usual things that people everywhere do, and then suddenly something totally foreign will happen. Like a Swiss farmer will be taking his cow herd for a walk through town and they’ll have the streets blocked-off so he can have the right-of-way. And I will be caught in a moment of “Oh yeah, I’m the only one around here that thinks that’s weird.”
Or I’ll be on a tram and a group of teenagers will hop on after school and each one is drinking a beer. Openly. With alcohol in it. What are you 14 or 15?? And again I get caught in a state of “Oh goodness. I’m the only one on this tram that is shocked right now.”
Once an old man took my hand on a street corner, motioned to my pregnant belly, and babbled on and on in Swiss dialect, assuming I understood all the clever things he was saying, then patted my hand, winked at my daughter in the stroller, and off he went on his merry way. “What? Oh right. I’m the one that’s different.”
Usually those moments leave me with a smile and I pray a little prayer of thankfulness for the daily adventure. But, of course, because I really am not from here, and some days you really don’t want to be caught in a moment of “I’m so different. I’m not at home,” that those moments are enough to bring you to tears. A hair dresser that doesn’t speak your language and has just given you un-requested bangs, a cashier who refuses your card and also calls you “foreigner,” or a store clerk who shouts at you for not speaking the language and tells you to go back where you came from. That too, is a daily adventure…I guess.
Today I feel at home in Switzerland. But as I sit here at the Women’s Hospital waiting for the midwife to call my name, I spy a young, Ethiopian mother-to-be across the waiting room who I think is having a “This is not my home” moment…and I don’t mean the whimsical kind that leaves you with a smile. I doubt speaking English to her at a time like this will help much, but I am gonna smile as kindly as I can, and maybe take her a glass of water from the refreshments cart, in hopes it will soothe that burning-in-your-throat-pain that comes as you try to hold back tears. If we’re all “foreign” we ought to stick together, right? That’s also part of the fun of living in another country. You know what the locals look like, and you know what the the non-locals look like. Whenever I see ’em, be it Eritrea, India, Columbia, or Korea, I think, “I see you, and you see me, and I know that you know that we know, ‘This ain’t our country.'” And I smile. Daily adventure.
And also, there’s always a refreshments cart in hospitals and waiting rooms here stocked with bubbly water, still water, and sometimes hot coffee. What?! Oh yeah, I’m the only one that thinks that’s weird.