Saturday, May 28, 2011

Even the Bubbles in Switzerland are of Better Quality

For the 2005 fall semester, I studied abroad in the gorgeous, breathtaking, mesmerizing, and incredibly boring country of Switzerland. I say boring because...well, it is. Anybody who has lived there and in any any major city outside of Switzerland knows this is true, so stop pretending to be angry. Your display of bias and emotion is sooo un-Swiss. To be fair, I still find it amazing that in a country where the only thing that can be bought for less than one Swiss franc is a bar of chocolate, no one is fat!

Anyway, the majority of my fellow study-abroaders used much of their time and money for the most common American study abroad in Europe activity: live in a constant state of drunkenness. I, however, chose to engage in the second most common American study abroad in Europe activity: pretend I'm European. In the nearly six years of reflection since, I have seen enough idiot Europeans to be happy with just being one of those cool Americans who understands that Andorra is not in Africa.

Since my primary interest at the time was showing my fellow Europeans how Europeany I was, when the opportunity came to stay in the house of a friend of a friend in Geneva, I couldn't resist. My friend said that his friends would just put the keys to the house in the mailbox for me. So I put on my best French jeans, coolest Italian shoes, new Swiss watch, and favorite German shirt, carefully hid my annoyingly blue US passport, and Europeanly walked to the train station while Americanly scarfing down 50 grams of chocolate. Old habits die hard.

Riding the trains in Switzerland is always hilarious. The Swiss Italians in the south HATE the rest of the country for their total neglectfulness. Still, the Italians recognize the merits of having more than 30 seconds in between a train arriving and departing at the station, as well as having a postal system that has been updated since the 19th century. They therefore choose to stay in Switzerland, but refuse to show any national pride. In fact, most wave the Italian flag on the front of their Swiss homes. The Swiss Germans, on the other hand, loooove their country. They don't bother learning the other national languages, and instead all speak English and fly the Swiss flag everywhere. This in turn confuses German tourists (from Germany), because Swiss German sounds like gibberish to them, and flying a flag reminds them of a dark-haired fellow with a mustache from World War II who talked about...well, you know. The Swiss French just don't give a damn, and tend to fly flags that represent a bank, the UN, or perhaps even Andorra. This national culture via flags is clearly seen from train rides in Switzerland.

Finally having arrived at my destination in the part of the country where they don't give a damn, I walked to the correct maze of city houses, and realized I had no idea where the hell the mailboxes were. Slightly panicked, I ate another 50 grams of chocolate, while Europeanly walking around the block. I eventually found them tucked away in a corner. Thankfully, they were clearly labeled. Not thankfully, it required a code to open. This being before the time of smart phones, I had no way to check my email to see if my friend sent me the combination. This being Switzerland, sending a text or calling would require 7,204,587 francs, and so I had insufficient credit.

Completely annoyed, I went back to the train station area, and got a room in a hotel close by. After I paid the full non-refundable price, I sat down at their computer station, checked my email, and found the combination sitting in the top of my inbox. Brilliant. When Europeans get frustrated, they blame Portugal or take a bubble bath. Sometimes both. Portugal seemed out of grasp, so I went to the closest Manor (department store) and bought myself another 200 grams of chocolate, a bottle of red wine, and Swiss bubble bath.

The French instructions on the bubble bath said to use with caution, but French instructions also sometimes say this about sugar. That so, I poured half of the bottle in the tub, turned away for two seconds, and then turned back around. In those two seconds, the Swiss bubble bath managed to cover nearly half of the surfaces in the bathroom. I didn't have the heart clean up the mess, so I piled the bubbles in one corner, and went to bed thinking they would be gone by morning.

WRONG. Apparently even the bubbles in Switzerland are of better quality than in America. American bubbles would have moaned for three hours about being in a socialized country, then passed out from drinking too much beer. But these damn Swiss bubbles stood tall and attentive 9 hours after being summoned from the bottle.

Still too tired to clean up the mess, I found the sink, brushed my teeth, and went sightseeing for the morning. The bubbles had to be gone by check out, right? WRONG. Two hours of trying to dissolve the bastards later, and I had only managed to make a small dent in the seemingly indestructible pile of fluff I had created.

I heard a knock at the door. It was the concierge making sure I would check out in time. Not knowing what to do, I tried throwing some of the bubbles out of the window, putting as many as possible in the trash can, and covering the rest. After surveying my work, I decided to cancel the credit card I had used to book the hotel room. The bathroom was a total disaster.

Since I hadn't responded to the knocking in awhile, the hotel employee used his key to let himself into the room. I tried slamming the bathroom door shut, but it was too late. He saw the mess, walked into the room, and started laughing hysterically. He turned back at me and said (translated for your convenience), "Not Swiss, huh?" "Uh, what?" I said. "You're not Swiss, are you?" He asked again. " How did you know?" I replied. He said, "You used too much bubble bath! I'm from Morocco. The first night I got here, I poured the entire f-ing bottle in!" My face fell with relief. I told him I'm American...a very sorry American. "Don't worry," he said, "The maids can clean it up. We get a lot of tourists here."

And so the bubble saga ended. The cool Moroccan even let me store my stuff the rest of the day, and let me hang out on the hotel couch until my 5 AM train ride that morning. 40 hours after I gave life to the millions of indestructible Swiss bubbles, I sat on the train, Europeanly gazing at flags while Americanly eating more chocolate.

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