I’m in love (first thought).
We shuffle off of our delightfully hospitable, Swiss Air flight and find ourselves short for the first time in four months. Helloooo Geneva! Lithe and lovely, the Swiss populace around us strides by, long-legged and beautiful. After four months among the gorgeous, albeit, comparatively, Spanish gente, we have no idea how to react. I just smile a lot, swinging my head side to side, taking it all in until I begin to feel a bit nauseated. For the first time in four months I feel like a lady again- not towering and monstrous. For the first time in four months, TALL HUMANS! Decent stature. And the airport is so… clean. Sterile even, with crisp lines, impeccably clean plexiglass doors and clear signage guiding us to the train. We follow a slew of fellow passengers, freshly disembarked, to a little box that gives us free train tickets at the press of a button. Good for ninety minutes. First the free cheese sandwich and chocolate on the plane, now free public transport? The Swiss have got to be the finest humans around.
THIS is my country (second thought).
An hour later and we realize we don’t speak a lick of French. So the signage doesn’t do us much good. And our ninety minutes are dwindling away. We pace between train platforms, eyeing the dark tunnel ways like open mouths, hoping they’ll cave and give us directions. At last we decide to put our faith in a sweet, little huddle of Asian tourists who half bow several times in the direction of the opposite platform. We relocate. Still unsure however, and not wanting to get on the wrong train as it’s to be the last run of the night, I decide to board and ask a passenger the direction of the train. Racking my brain for any scraps of French, all I can conjure are lyrics from Lady Marmalade (probably inappropriate), bonjour, and My name is Claude from that episode of Friends where Phoebe teaches Joey French. So I’m basically pulling from a vacuous pit of nada. I take a deep breath and board. Not English, do not speak English, not English… A few generations of a family are spread across a couple of rows. They seem open-faced and friendly enough. And if Swiss Air were any indication, they’d be the friendliest folks I’ll meet.
“Bonjour, comment voulez-vous naviguer vers… eh…” Shit, I’ve forgotten the name of the station we are going to… Shit, what is it… “Eh…” All my brain registers is Not English and my mouth decides to run with it… “Sabes como navegar a…” Blank faces. I’m still thinking foreign, foreign, foreign, not English…and it’s coming up like word vomit. The thirty-something, tattooed soldier-looking man is starting to smirk, holding back a laugh. “Gutentag, hallo…” Doesn’t register, blank faces and now soldier boy is laughing. I can’t control it. I’m spitting out any and every word in any foreign language I know. But God forbid they answer me back in one of them… What then?! “Ni hao… eh… buon… ciao-”
The eldest man holds up his hand, “English?” he asks.
“YES. Please,” I sigh with relief and they all start howling. The little boy is in fits sprawled across the seats.
“Where are you trying to get to, love?” British. British accents. They speak my mother tongue perfectly. But they let me go through all that… still...I can’t remember the name of the station. I try to sign to Marissa who’s waiting on the platform outside to ask. I don’t know sign language either. I don’t think I’ve ever felt more inadequate. The family’s watching me like a carnival act- all cackling. Marissa is in similar form on the platform, pointing at me before doubling back over. Looks like I’m on my own.
I look back to the family, all turned to me expectantly, like the audience at a stand-up show. When’s the next punch line? I smile and shrug sheepishly.
“Nice train station then, isn’t it? Very clean?” I offer. The old man nods in agreement before they all burst out again. Fair enough.
I need to learn more languages (third thought).