When one grows up surrounded by relatives speaking their native (non-English) language, the tendency is to pick up at least a few words and phrases that become a part of one’s own vocabulary. In the case of my husband and me, that language is Swiss.
Don’t bother trying to tell me there is no Swiss language because having come from a long, long line of Swiss-speaking relatives, that simply won’t fly. It is not German. It is Swiss.
So this morning, my husband and I passed my cousin in the parking lot near my office. He yelled “Vie gehts” at her. She grinned and responded with something equally Swiss-ish. Laughter ensued and suddenly we were transported back to an earlier era.
My cousins and I grew up listening to our Grandma Suter and her sisters talking in a strange mix of English and Swiss. We always knew when they were talking about us because interspersed with the “achs” and other Swiss words were very familiar names…”Mary…Claire…Cathy”. This was usually when we’d spent the night with her on the farm and they were in their Saturday morning phone fests.
My mother didn’t raise her voice at us often, but we knew what she meant when she said (this is spelled phonetically because I don’t know the true spelling and this is what we heard): “Sheeshta-veedle-ee-goochs.” (That “ch” is tricky — it’s not ch as in chat but more of a guttural as if one was saying “ach”. ) At any rate, we knew this meant that we should get our fingers out of whatever we were doing because whatever it was wasn’t for us. As in snitching cookies that were meant for company.
It was not until many years later that my mother finally admitted — somewhat guiltily — that the literal translation was “get your finger off the gun” — not an appropriate phrase for a pacifist household.
When I met my husband’s father, I learned some new Swiss terms — some my Mother claims to never have learned, despite the fact that she spoke Swiss until she entered primary school. My father-in-law spoke the usual stuff, but interjected some more colorful words and phrases here and there. Maybe it’s the difference between growing up in Allen county versus Putnam county. Who knows?
Because they spent so many of their early years with their grandparents, my daughters have their own favorite Swiss words. Lindsay learned it almost as fast as she learned English. I never knew if she’d answer the door with “Come in” or (more phonetic spelling), “Cho-mi’-na”. Somehow she had that gutteral sound down better than I ever had.
If you want to spend a few hours in the company of some real Swiss speakers, the local annual Swiss Day is fast approaching. They’ll even let you try some “nothings” even if you can’t speak the language.