When the woman took a seat across from us on the train ride back from Murten, she looked normal.
She had come on with a pack of senior citizens, all rattling in lively conversation. She hovered over some people who we thought must be old friends, clutching about half-dozen twigs in her hand. They were only about two feet long – too short for basket-weaving.
She then eyed our cluster of seats, flopped down with an exaggerated gasp of exhaustion, and appraised us silently with her enormous brown eyes. Her chin-length hair was auburn brown and her posture suggested she was fit, but she had bags under her eyes and what looked like a patch of skin cancer on her cheek – she could have been 55 or 80.
She addressed us in German, then raised her eyebrows at our fumbling response: “No German,” not meaning that there are no Germans, or that we refuse to associate with Germans, much less attempt the language. She leaned closer, waved at the bundle of twigs and said in English, “I put sticks in and get wine. You know, sticks, water.”
No, we didn’t know, but we were sitting knee-to-knee within grabbing distance so we nodded politely and mentally calculated how long to the next train stop.
Was she insane? Would she pinch one of us by the arm and force more alcohol-related recipes on us?
As she pressed us into conversation with her not-totally-broken, but not quite all-there-English, we tried to not look like we were thinking about the distance to the next train station, but it didn’t work. She somehow deduced that our estimation of her mental faculties was not as it should be, even though neither of us gave into the rising urge to claw madly at the stop-buttons and demand the train doors open (we had already done that earlier on the ride into Murten).
She returned to the wine-twig topic and elaborated until her meaning became clear: That she would stick the twigs (dried vines) in the ground, water them, and eventually they would take root, produce grapes and then wine. She was not expecting to get wine from them that evening.
Her mental stability established, we relaxed.
We have seen signs of such friendliness before. The day earlier, in a grocery store line-up a woman discerned our foreign-ness and invited us on a boat trip over Lake Biel. Suspicious North Americans that we are, we politely evaded the question, but we can’t help noticing that overall the Swiss are extraordinarily friendly.
Either that, or they are all stalkers-in-waiting. We shall see.