Yesterday morning, on my way out, I ran into one of B's neighbors for the first time. Cute little lady with white hair and a nice smile. She was bidding farewell to a few visitors (possibly adult children?) as I fumbled with our apartment lock. I smiled brightly and said "Gruezi!"- the catchall greeting in Swiss German (replacing Guten tag, etc), although I do occasionally hear Guten abend ("Good evening") here. She smiled and replied in kind, and I started to head down the stairs, pleased with myself that I was such a friendly, if rather mute, person.
But then she started talking to me and I turned back slowly, my eyes wide.
I used my one good German phrase - I'm sorry, I don't speak any German - with an accompanying apologetic smile. I use this a lot, to try to get across the point that I know I am in their country and I really should speak their language but well.... I don't. Not yet, anyway. (How does one say "I am starting class on Monday, please talk to me slowly in a couple weeks"?)
"Ah!" She nodded "What do you speak?" (Internally: "Score! I understood that!")
"English," I replied, adding hopefully, "ou francais?" My French is rusty but still functional, and it makes me feel better to offer another option. Unfortunately, nobody in Zurich has ever taken me up on it.
She gestured to the people who had just gone downstairs in mild regret. I sighed and performed an apologetic shrug (hopefully translated as "Ah, sorry - but what can you do?"), but she wasn't done yet. She started rattling off German - pronouncing it slowly and clearly, as if perhaps I was just a little slow.
At one point she gestured back towards my door. I thought perhaps she wondered if B was home. "He's...at work." I replied, realizing that I have no idea how to say "work" or "job" in German, I had no idea if she was even asking me that, and to top it off, she had no idea what I was saying - I was doing the exact same thing to her she was doing to me.
I caught one word, washing. "Ah yah, washing!" I nodded. Seemingly encouraged, she started again, and this time I caught four words - the washing dates that we are assigned each month (2 days per apartment). She said both our dates and her dates and several unknown verbs that appeared to end in a question. I nodded hesitantly and she seemed satisfied. I made a mental note to text B and have him talk to her, to figure out what I had just agreed to. She then sent me off with a merry wave and more German, and I realized I couldn't remember how to say "Have a nice day" or "See you later." All my transactions have been purchases at this point, so I always ended with "Thank you."
Let's just say, I'm looking forward to starting classes on Monday, and I have quite a bit of motivation for studying. Especially since we may not be able to do any laundry this month.
Do they have laundromats in Zurich?