Thursday, April 15, 2010

Neuchatel and Stroller Placement

After dropping Abe off at Chinderinsle for his Wednesday afternoon playtime, I hopped a train to the Zurich main station. Where I was going, I had no clue…only that I needed to get out of Zurich, preferably to spot where they don’t speak German. After standing for a while in the middle of Zurich HB, staring at the departures board, I glanced at a map and discovered Neuchatel, a town in French-speaking Switzerland only 1.5 hours away. Bingo.

My express train caused only minimal motion sickness, and by 2:20pm I was gliding by the glistening Lac de Neuchatel. At 2:30pm, I disembarked in search of a WC and a cup of coffee.

A short walk around the city proved the people very friendly, and not at all upset at my lack of French skills. I thanked the helpful madame behind the information desk and complimented her on the quality of the tourist center. I smiled at shopkeepers. And here in this lakeside bistro, I just had friendly conversation with the waitress who brought my café au lait. The afternoon experience reminded me of what a generally nice person I am.

Such a refresher course was necessary after yesterday’s encounter. Not feeling too well, I decided to go home early, and boarded a bus with Abe and Wally in tow. We pulled away and, within a minute or two, I heard a woman speaking in English behind me: “She doesn’t speak German,” she said. “That was rude…some people are just in their own world. I try to be nice when I am in a foreign country.”

Are they talking about me? I wondered. I was sitting at the bus stop…I got on… I retraced my steps. Surely not. I had no idea what had happened. She continued to go on about the rudeness.

A minute more and the woman got off the bus. As she did, she turned to me and rebuked, “You know, you really should be more considerate of people!”

Shocked, I replied, “I really don’t know what you mean.”

“Well! Think about it…you blocked the sidewalk with your stroller! Just think about it!”

I guess I just wasn’t feeling well, and didn’t realize the angle of Abe’s stroller. It wasn’t completely blocking the sidewalk of the little side street, but apparently it was too much for this lady.

She walked away and, immediately, I thought to myself, “I’m just going to brush this off.” I made it up the hill and three flights of stairs with Abe and Wally, put Abe in front of Veggie Tales and laid down to rest. Doug got home; only a few words were said before the tears came.

“She said I was inconsiderate,” I sniffled. Such a comment is like salt in a wound to an expat. God knows the efforts I’ve put toward fitting in here. Still there’s often some rule I don’t know, a custom I haven’t observed. It is not abnormal to give my best to a task – public transit, laundry, conversation, making a new acquaintance – only to miss the mark.

Yesterday it was stroller placement.

“Do you think you are inconsiderate?” asked my sweet husband.

“Well, I am kinda in my own world sometimes, and I wasn’t feeling well, and I just can’t keep track of all the proper things to do all the time…” I continued, frustrated and sad.

Since then I’ve thought of how people here live more inward, private lives. Where I’m from, folks have a decidedly more outward existence; and I admit I can be especially outgoing even among my own kind. This is bound to annoy some people.

Doug smiled. “But are you inconsiderate?”

A moment’s thought and, “No,” I replied. Tears still streamed down my face.

A bit more processing with my patient love, and I was up again. “I don’t do it perfectly all the time,” I resolved, “but it is in my heart to be good to people.”

That evening I headed out to a girls’ night. On the way, I met Mrs. Aida, my nice elderly friend who lives at the end of our street. We talked for a while and she gave me three kisses on the cheek – a Swiss gesture that means "Hello," "Good-bye," and generally "I like you." Down at the tram stop, a girl asked me for directions and I showed her the street she needed. Then I helped a woman with feet problems get on the bus.

It was as if God was giving me opportunity to see, Jesus is shining out of me.

Still, just like that disgruntled lady on the bus, I have rolled my eyes at people who weren’t doing what I thought they should do. How could they be so ­­­–––? I have thought to myself. We’ve all done it. From now on, I hope I am slower to judge, or don't judge at all. Maybe that person was tired, or sick. Maybe they really are a good person, and they just didn’t notice. Maybe they honestly didn’t know the proper thing to do.

Ok...they've cut the overhead music in this little café for the live entertainment to begin: a pianist playing along with karaoke tracks. His first numbers, “Imagine” and U2’s “Beautiful Day”…sung with a French accent. “Bon soir,” he just said. He’s really good. These moments are best enjoyed with macbook closed, I’ve found, so I guess that’s all for now. Thanks for listening…

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