It began with us sprinting through the train much to the horror of our fellow passengers, but it wasn’t really our fault. We blame multiculturalism and its child, multilingualism.
In Canada, multilingualism earns high respect, but here in Europe it leads to high-annoyance. My international readers will correct me if I’m wrong, but even the multilingual Swiss can have trouble clearing language hurdles.***
As an example, the lease negotiations between Dave’s corporate rep and our apartment’s leasing agent were conducted in English, although they both spoke French and German. So why English? Because it was their strongest common language and to use the descriptor “strongest” is stretching it.
We, the mute, listened as they waffled back and forth in three not-very-good languages, hearing one question spawn the response “yes” at one moment and “no” in the next. Consequently, the terms of our lease are a mystery to us.
It brought back memories of my multilingual European father who back in the early 1960s decided we would speak English only, saying that it was better to be eloquent in one language than an idiot in many.
Before you write your angry letters, let me say I know there are people out there who are masters in many languages. I just have not run into many yet.
But I drift from my topic, which is Murten/Morat and how we got lost trying to get there. I don’t drift too far, though, as language formed the foundation for our trouble.
We got on the right train, heading in the right direction. As Biel fell behind us and the Swiss countryside opened up, we paid attention to town signs and watched the villages for castle ramparts and ancient churches – the attractions that were bringing us to Murten.
After what seemed a reasonable interval, we began to worry that we had missed our stop.
I recalled hearing the train’s recorded announcement heralding “Morat,” which was not on the map or in the train schedule. As it turns out, Morat is the French name for Murten.
We learned this later – that Swiss villages/towns frequently have both German and French names, but for some reason hidden in Swiss Rail’s corporate headquarters, they switch languages in a sporadic manner. Maybe it prevents invasion from foreign armies, or too many tourists amassing at any single point.
In any case, that is how we missed our stop.
We got out at Cressier, which by Swiss standards is absolute Heck as you can see by this photo (right), and then feared that this being a Sunday, there might not be a train for hours. Stuck in Cressier! Switzerland’s “Brugge.”
We were wrong about that and with some help, soon boarded a train returning to Murten.
But our travel-nerves were jangled, so we watched anxiously for signs of Murten – or Morat, call it what you want cause that’s what the Swiss do – and the minute we saw something that remotely resembled the pictures in our guidebook, we got on our feet. The train came to a stop, but the doors wouldn’t open. We don’t know how trains work here, so we sprinted in a frantic manner through the cars looking for an open door, like rats stuck in a trap.
One of us may have shouted, “Stop the train! Let us out, let us out, we want to go to Murten,” but I’m not saying who. At that point, a passenger said, “We’re not there yet.”
It is comforting to know that we gave our fellow passengers something to laugh about on that otherwise quiet ride. It is also comforting to know that we will never see any of those people again.
As it happened, the doors did not open because we weren’t actually at a station yet. If we had gotten out, we would have plunged down a steep incline. So sorry to have missed that.
By the way, we have also learned that the buttons we thought were for opening doors were actually emergency-stop buttons.
Eventually, we found our way to Murten-Morat, a charming medieval village by any name at all.
***This is a rant, and so is not bound by logic. If my Dad had decided to school us in European languages, our little sprint could have been averted. But where would be the fun in that?
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I think that it is great asset to speak many languages. It was precisely due this idea because my daughter and my son went to French school in Helsinki and graduated in it. English, that one can to learn during the rest of your life. Well, my children learned also English, German and Spanish. I do not bother to mention Swedish, but that too because we are bilingual country.
When one lives in a small country, people must know many languages and travel is easy. Sorry, my English, but I try my best.
Your English is much better than my Spanish or French! Thank you for writing.
I must know what happened when you hit the emergency stop button. Did everyone bang about, just like in the movies?
Shockingly, it didn’t work. I had a feeling those things were placebos.
Thank You so much. Maybe You noticed that my blog is also in Spanish and French.