Holidays in Switzerland

I was never a fan of global warming until I started coming to Verbier for Christmas.

I remember arriving here three years ago in a flutter of white fluffy snow, a giant snowman down below our window, white rooftops everywhere. The skiing was incredible. That was the year of my first powder adventure.

The next year, we were lucky enough to have one snow fall the night I arrived and lovely, white, uncut mountains the next day. But then after that, the sun was bright and the groomed slopes revealed more and more rocks and twigs.

This year, then, was something of a shock. The roads were dry and almost empty as we drove up to the pretty alpen resort. In fact, one could see muddy, brown grass in the lift on the way up to the slopes more often than white patches of snow. Surprisingly, the skiing was not so bad. There was just enough snow to make the slopes nicer than last time, but barely so. However, not many slopes are actually open, and they have only so many snow-making machines. Last year, they had to close parts of the glacier run due to melting, and who knows if they will even open any of it this year.

The good thing is that we have had almost empty slopes for the past three days. Even Christmas eve was fairly calm. After all, John was in an awful accident last year because of too many irresponsible skiers, so it is an awesome experience to have the slope to oneself.

John and Marcus still expect a holiday rush tomorrow and the day after. We’ll see. I happen to think that many people decided not to come here this year since the slopes were so bad last year. TeleVerbier, of course, doesn’t seem to mind. For me, as an American, I would tend to take the view that with bad snow conditions, the company should do even more to attract and keep the customers that still come. The Swiss, however, think differently. To them, it’s as if there’s no point in even opening the lifts, since no one’s coming anyway. Which was why, I believe, the Savoleyeres lift fellow opened at 9:15am this morning instead of at 8:45am and had distinctly red eyes as if he had been partying pretty heavily the night before..

Christmas at the Xmas-bar Tree Flat

Last Saturday was our first annual Christmas potluck party. I was the main organizer of the thing and sent out an email to all CL students: Come join us for egg nog, cookie decorating, and a White Elephant Gift Exchange. It was a general invitation to all.

Perhaps I should have kept in mind the potential cultural disasters in bringing together Germans and the rest for North American traditions. I remembered the time my family had such a gift exchange. Everyone was told to bring a wrapped gift with a value of around twenty dollars to participate. For my family, it was a truly wonderful experience, not least because I happen to have a huge family and Christmas tended to be financially burdensome in previous years. And also for my family, Christmas games are a good way to neutralize family rivalries.

So, you can imagine how happy and excited I was with the idea. That is, of course, until I hit the ‘send’ button. I suppose I could have thought a little more carefully about the twenty euro limit, seeing as all the guests were students. And then there were all the questions like, “well, why would I get a gift when I don’t know who will get it?” Oh la, la, le stress. What if everyone hated it, or was offended by it for some reason?

And then there was the time issue. In my email, I wrote that the party started at 6pm. This was because it was a potluck and I felt that 9 or 10 was too late in the evening to eat dinner. However, when Germans write that there will be a party at a certain time, it means that one can come ‘anytime after that’, which means some might show up at 10, 11, or even later. Sure enough, all the foreign students showed up at or around 6, and the Germans showed up sometime after 9. Which meant that the early birds ended up milling about for an hour, gazing hungrily at the food, till finally I had to give in and let them at it. And anyway, not all of the German students seemed to understand the concept of potlucks. One girl actually wrote that she wasn’t bringing food since she will have already eaten… which, well, whatever.

I also tried to invite as many people as I could in order to see how many people would fit. In preparation, we bought bulk plastic-ware, removed all the carpets in the place, pushed all the furniture back and opened all the rooms.

And in the end… I think it was something of a success. Since I ended up pulling names out of a sock for the gift exchange, everyone was able to put faces with names, which made the rest of the evening very cozy. Since the kitchen was taken up with food and egg nog and glühwein, the cookie decorating happened in my room, which meant that eventually, small groups of people ended up in different rooms doing what they liked: playing cards, talking, and even dancing in the kitchen. Which, by the way, we now know that we can have dancing in our kitchen. Matthias again took some awesome photos, and I think we’re all looking forward to next year.


Last week I had to give my first presentation for a seminar in Ontologies. I worked quite a bit on it (since I really didn’t want to give something boring), but more importantly, I wanted to be able to write on my slides words like ‘modeling’, ‘labeling’, and ‘losing’ in order to point out to the Germans the wrong spellings of ‘modelling’, ‘labelling’, and worst of all, ‘loosing’. Now before I get flamed for this in the comments, just take a look at the proper spellings and see how much more elegant they are, truly.

For some reason, I can’t help but cringe when I see things like that on slides. I know I should be more understanding of non-native speakers, but it’s hard when their English is generally so good that I am already easily fooled. Some of the more memorable typos?
-[name removed to protect the unaware] well-formed linguists and lap sessions
-[name removed to protect the innocent] birectional and boostrapping (the last one sounds like a norwegian term for catching the bus..)

Foreigners in a Foreign Land


Last week I was invited to a Thanksgiving dinner by one of the administrative faculty, Bobbye Pernice, who hails from New York. Several other Americans attended, including an American couple with their sixteen year old son, and Marty, one of the professors in psycholinguistics at Coli. It was a wonderfully satisfying experience.

There is something comforting about being amongst those of your own in a foreign country. Granted, it doesn’t much feel like a foreign experience when half of my friends here are Canadian, and the other half speak English just as well as I can speak French. Even spending the day downtown doesn’t help. The other day in Saturn, for example, I asked in my very best German (halting and sputtering), “Sie haben kein mehr Xavier Naidoo. Wenn..” and it was at this point that the sales clerk grinned, “It’s so charming when Americans try to speak German.” That was, of course, one of the rare moments I actually spoke German. Most of the time I look around and say to myself, “Germany, really? Where!”

Still, it was comforting, as I was saying. Ex-pats will always notice the things you notice. And one of the topics that night was gestures. Like knocking on your desk at the end of a lecture to express your appreciation, rather than clapping as we would. This one threw me for a loop in the beginning, and for the first week or so, I refused to do it. Now I think it is amusing, especially when we find ourselves in the conference room and have only our legs to knock on, which needless to point out, doesn’t work so well.

Another peculiarity someone once mentioned to me is that, instead of raising one’s hand to ask a question during a lecture, German students will snap their finger. I found the idea extremely disconcerting, considering that is what one would do to a lowly serving girl if one were not so polite. But then, I saw someone in class do it! The nerve! Yet, no one seemed to notice.

Someone also mentioned that night that German lecturers sometimes have a habit of pointing at the whiteboard with their middle finger. But I have yet to see this.