Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Scoot This

Maybe I'm just cranky. 

If you didn't like this post, then bad news for you, you're not going to like this one as it's a continuation of the same rant. I think I've discovered something more annoying and disruptive than bounce houses. There is a scooter epidemic in Geneva. These two wheeled contraptions are choking the streets, sidewalks and parks and let's just say I'm not a fan.

In Joburg everyone likes to complain endlessly about the mini bus taxis. Taxi drivers wreak havoc on the streets breaking every traffic law within a five minute time period. If you are driving and you see a taxi you must assume the driver is going to cut across three lanes of traffic and then stop without warning. The difference between the taxis and these scooters is that at least taxis serve an important purpose. Without the taxis, millions of people would have no transportation and the South African economy would collapse. Scooters however serve absolutely no purpose, they are simply a toy and a most annoying one at that.

Since I'm not sure if the scooter scourge is a worldwide issue or not, let me show you a photo of the type of scooter I'm referring to. 

I haven't taken a formal survey, but my informal research tells me that every child in Geneva owns one of these. 

When faced with a puzzling mystery, one first must ask why. So I have asked myself why do kids (I won't even get started on adults) need scooters? Some quick research on Google indicates that humans have been walking upright for 1.9 million years. Why the sudden need to scoot? Is it that parents think their kids don't walk fast enough? Is it just a phase or a craze? I can't come up with an answer that satisfies. 

Don't think that these scooters are just for older kids either. Yesterday in the park I saw a kid with a pacifier in his mouth riding a scooter. Surely if you are still using a pacifier you don't need your own set of wheels. Your first order of business should be weaning yourself off sucking a plastic nipple when you go out in public. I also saw a parent pushing an empty stroller while the kid scooted up ahead. This situation says just one thing, this parent doesn't want his kid to have to walk, he can either be pushed or he can scoot but walking is frowned upon. 

There is a reason that kids don't drive cars and can't get licenses until they are older. It's because they can't steer. I can't tell you how many times I've been running in the park only to have a near miss collision with a four year old scooting uncontrollably. The parents don't even seem to notice that I've had to jump off the path and into a shrub to save myself from being taken out by their kid. The parents are too busy smoking and chatting away on their cell phones to concern themselves with my safety.

I sometimes like to play a little game of chicken with these scooting kids as I run. I will run toward them and not get out of the way until the last possible minute. While it may seem mean I am trying to teach them an important life lesson which is sometimes you need to %$&!%^ing move. 

But I know the real reason these scooters bother me so much and it's not because I am almost maimed daily or am simply mean. It's because I'm still dealing with culture shock having moved to fancy pants Geneva from South Africa. While there are plenty of wealthy kids living a plush (and bouncing castle filled) life in South Africa there were also a lot of kids who didn't own any toys. Anyone who has visited a township like Diepsloot or Soweto has seen kids playing outside using rocks, string and trash as makeshift toys. Once you've seen that, you don't forget that image easily.

One day Mr. Deep and I witnessed a temper tantrum which took place outside our apartment. A child and his mother were standing on the street corner and clearly the kid was having a meltdown. He threw his scooter into the street while screaming. The mother, calmly bent down and retrieved it. 

Had I been that parent, that moment would have been the last time that child ever touched that scooter. That scooter would have been boxed up and on it's way to Africa before that kid could ask "has anyone seen my scooter?" It would have been on its way to a needy and appreciative child who could ride it the 5km each way that he has to walk to and from school each day. 

Maybe I'm just cranky. 

Sunday, October 8, 2017

English Only

Before I arrived in Geneva, I had a grand plan. I would use my short time here to learn to speak French. I imagined a time in the very near future where I would dazzle Mr. Deep and visiting friends and family with my ability to exchange witty banter en Francais with the locals. Because I would be the only French speaker in the group, when visitors came, I would be responsible for ordering on behalf of everyone when we went out to dinner. "Poisson means fish you know," I would confidently tell our guests. 

Within a week of my arrival I had hired a private tutor and had paid for ten French lessons. Unfortunately the act of signing up for French lessons and having a teacher come to your house once a week doesn't automatically lead to French fluency. It seems that in order to learn to converse in French one has to study, practice and spend time talking with French speakers. Shortly after I began my lessons I remembered that I don't like studying and I don't like trying too hard to learn new skills. Too bad I didn't remember this before we spent significant money on the lessons. 

For ten years, Mr. Deep and I lived in a house that had a pool table. Pool tables are difficult to move and so the previous owners of the home left it for us in the basement. In similar fashion I had grand plans. I would learn to play pool over the long, cold winter. My thought was that in the spring I would emerge as somewhat of a pool shark. I would then go to bars, pretend I didn't really know how to play, and school my opponent as I ran the table and defeated him while an astonished crowd looked on and cheered for me. 

The mere presence of a pool table in ones home does not a pool shark make. In order to bring my pool domination plan to fruition I would have actually had to practice shooting pool. But the basement was cold and one had to descend a staircase to get there and so my dreams were never realized.

Americans like to kid ourselves into thinking that everyone across the world can and will speak English.  While there are people who do speak English in Geneva, a lot of people either don't or prefer not to as many are not confident in their English skills. Even a doctor that I visited recently, who spoke perfect English, asked me if I spoke French, which I took to mean that she would have preferred to speak to me in French. Sadly I had to disappoint her and let her know that I didn't. 

Sometimes, I pretend that I can speak French. If a salesperson in a shop approaches me and rattles off a few sentences in French, I will stand there pretending I am following what she is saying, I'll even nod and smile, hoping that suddenly something will click and I'll understand perfectly.  Usually, I only understand one or two words. Such as "bon jour madame" followed by a slew of unrecognizable gibberish. Then, after the she is done speaking I'll usually just say "no" or shake my head. Sadly most times the question she has posed is not a yes or no question at which point the French speaker will either begin speaking English or slowly walk away with a confused look on her face. 

Below is a list of what I do know how to say in French. You may notice a theme. 

Bon jour - good day
Bon journee - have a good day
Bon soir - good night
Bon soiree - have a good night
une table pour deux - a table for two
biere - beer
une pint - pint
vin - wine
demi litre - half litre
cartes de vin - wine list
vin rouge - red wine
vin blanc - white wine
plus de vin - more wine
Le compte s'il vous plait - the check please
cappuccino - cappuccino (in fairness I knew this one before I arrived)
croissant - croissant (also knew this one)
merci - thank you

Sunday, October 1, 2017

No Soup

Last week I volunteered at a soup kitchen. While I've participated in many types of volunteer work over the years, I have never been to a soup kitchen before. I first found out about the opportunity when I met a very friendly woman at the American International Women's Club and she encouraged me to sign up to help. The AIWC sends volunteers to the soup kitchen once a month. Only eight volunteers are needed each time, but as I signed up in August I made the cut for September. 

I walked about 25 minutes from home to a place called Jardin de Montbrilliant where the soup kitchen is housed. It's an interesting looking building and one that I had noticed before, but I was never sure what it was. 

We arrived at 8:45 a.m. and were put to work washing vegetables and fruit and making salad. Then, after a break, we helped set up all the food in time for the doors to open at 11:30 a.m. The soup kitchen serves 150-200 people over the course of one hour.  At 11:30 there was already a line of people waiting to come in and eat and people kept arriving until 12:30.

We served spaghetti with a red tuna sauce and optional Parmesan cheese on top, salad, fruit and a yogurt like muesli desert. There was no soup. The volunteers were given the chance to eat the food before people began to arrive, but I didn't try it. It did look very tasty though.

The door where people entered to get in line for food.

We were instructed not to let anyone touch the food and also that if anyone brought his own Tupperware and asked us to fill it (instead of taking a plate) that we could do so but to be careful not to let the serving utensil we were using touch the Tupperware. 

Five of us served the food, two washed dishes and one person was a runner bringing more supplies to us as we served. I was in charge of the Parmesan cheese which is ironic because when I eat pasta I load on the Parmesan like you've never seen. I spent the hour asking each person "fromage?"

Most of the people who came to eat were men. I think there were only five women. A few people looked like drug addicts but most were well dressed and if you saw them on the street you wouldn't think they would eat at a soup kitchen. There was no one who was dirty, smelly or tattered. I kept thinking about some of the homeless people I would see at traffic lights (robots) in South Africa. Sometimes, they were kneeling in the middle of the street, or would point to their mouths to signal hunger. Sometimes, they had no shoes or were missing limbs. In America as well the homeless generally look very rough. But here in Geneva the don't look so poor.  Food is very expensive here so it could be that many of these people do have jobs but just struggle to buy food. 

About Me

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Hello and thank you for taking an interest in my blog. This blog tells the story of some big life changes. First, my husband and I have just moved to Geneva, Switzerland for a few months following a few years of living in Johannesburg, South Africa. The two places could not be more different. I'm excited to share our adventures, challenges and insights with you! My thoughts and opinions are my own.