Episode 4 of Dating Basel: Learning German as an adult

Do you have too much self-confidence? Do you need something to bring you back down to earth? If you are searching for solutions for mild to severe ego growth, you may want to consider this tried and tested self-confidence reduction process…learning the German language as an adult! 

You will be given kindergarten level worksheets (don’t worry ‘kindergarten’ is still a word of German origin) and baristas will ask you to speak in English when they hear you attempt German, but look on the bright side you will still get your coffee :)

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, just when I thought I was so clever I began attending intensive German language classes. The classes taught me more than just the basics of German, they have shaped the way I see the world. Knowing other languages is really like having different personalities, it broadens your view of the world and allows you to think in different ways. On a personal note, it has reminded me of the fact l am an eternal learner with far more questions than answers.

I grew up bilingual, my mother tongue is English but I am also fluent in Arabic because of my upbringing. I thought that by knowing what is classified as 'the second most difficult language to learn' that I would somehow be better at learning German and boy was I wrong! In German, like Arabic, verbs are conjugated and there are declensions, but learning these in another language is just a mind boggle! When you learn languages as a child you pick up the rules intuitively (sometimes without being able to articulate them to others) but as an adult language learner, understanding the mechanics of a new language is more complex. In a sense you are unlearning what you already know, especially when it comes to syntax. If you have no idea what I am talking about, you live in a happy place – stay there. In a nutshell, here’s what I learned when I was supposed to be learning German:

1.    The world is a lonely and confusing place when you can’t understand those around you: There is nothing more isolating than being in a public place and hearing people connect when you cannot. There have been tram announcements that we have missed, our tram changing paths and leading us into Germany because we had no idea there was a change to the route. For our family, this meant that we were often late to work or school but these incidents made me think about migrants (my own parents) and refugees. We are fortunate to know English, arguably the international language, for others life is way more difficult and discrimination often stems from ignorance and fear. 

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Bücher 📖

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2.    Swiss German and German are totally different: Learning High German in Switzerland is another obstacle because the Swiss have their own dialect. I was told that it is recommended one learns Swiss German only after they have mastered High German, so understanding locals at my beginner level is impossible. This means my language learning journey will be a long one. 

3.    Teachers are the best: I am biased because I am a teacher, but honestly my first German teacher Sara was amazing and I did not just learn German in her classes, she really taught me how to be a better teacher. There is no way I could’ve learned what I know now from Duolingo and podcasts alone, the connection you make with teachers and the encouragement they offer is invaluable. 

4.    I need German-speaking friends (and I made one in the most random way ever!): I have made many English-speaking friends, which I love, but this has not helped my German at all. In fact, you could quite happily live in an English-speaking bubble in Switzerland, but that’s not what I want, so I joined Tandem (no this is not Tinder, I am happily married, thank you very much!). For those who don't know, Tandem is an online language exchange group where you meet up with someone weekly and you teach them a language and they teach you one. The problem, however, is that there is an oversupply of people offering English for German. Enter my second language to save the day (thanks Mum and Dad), I found a message from a German speaker asking for someone to teach her the Levantine Arabic dialect. After some googling, I realised that I am fluent in that specific dialect, so I messaged the woman who posted the request and we have been meeting up for a coffee ever since. The people at the café we meet at must think we are so strange because we switch between English, German and Arabic every time we chat but hey! I’m learning. Slowly. (Langsam;))

5.    There is a word for the day after tomorrow: A fun fact that I learned in German class is that there is a word for the day after tomorrow (which doesn’t exist in English) it’s “übermorgen”. 

I know I started this post flippantly but on a serious note, if you want to step out of your comfort zone and try something new I recommend learning a new language as an adult. Sure, your confidence might suffer for a bit but you will feel on top of the world when you string a few words together (that people actually understand).


Frau Nomad Naomi

Episode Two of Dating a City: Seeing the flaws, venting and book escapes 

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There is no doubt Basel is beautiful. In fact when I first saw the city I turned to my husband and said: “Did they make this place specifically for Instagram?” The River Rhine sparkles and the trees, the trees are the lushest shade of green and the tap water here seriously tastes like Evian. It’s cliché to say but Switzerland really is picturesque. However, a few things have started to bug me. Let me tell you about three things that annoy me about Basel and how I am dealing with them with my positive mantra, which is simply “be positive” (I’m working on it):

Annoyance number one : There’s no self-raising flour! Yep, searched high and low and thought I was typing things wrong into Google Translate as I was rummaging through the shelves of the supermarkets and pestering staff, until a British lady confirmed what I suspected was true. She saw my head shoved into a shelf of bags of flour at the Coop, cocked her head and raised her eyebrows before saying: “You’re not going to find self raising flour here. I have to get mine from the UK, they don’t have it”. I was shocked, a clairvoyant, I thought. Until I saw her staring at my phone screen which was on the shelf next to me. Now, you probably think this is a massive first world problem and it is, but venting still helps. 

Solution: I learnt how to use baking powder, two teaspoons baking powder for every spoon of flour. Yippee! If you follow me on Instagram (@gingerandbasel) you would’ve seen my jam drops. Super proud. 

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Annoyance number two: I can’t access online banking or pay my phone bill on the company's app. It’s so weird how much it feels like 1999 here sometimes. When I asked about paying my phone bill online or using an app, locals stared at me blankly. Turns out it’s either direct debit or wait for it… going to the post office. Young people pay their bills like my grandma and the Swiss grandmas can out run me in a marathon (okay, anyone can out run me in a marathon).

Solution: I had to pay my first bill at the post office, where I had to hand write things (throwback to Year 6) and then I set up direct debit (had to fill out a paper form, of course).

Annoyance number three: I have no mum friends at my children’s school. Yep. I said it, making friends in your thirties is hard! The mums at the school are lovely but they have their cliques. On top of that my children started school at the end of the year which makes it difficult to properly connect with other mums. Sometimes I wish I was kid so I can be like, “hey nice fidget spinner, wanna hang?”. Alas, I am a big person, and I know in time friendships will develop organically. Special shout out to my high school friend Celine, an experienced expat who gave me advice about how these things take time. 

Solution: I talk to my BFF (aka my sister every day), friends from Sydney, do yoga and read! All this time alone has given me time to read, which is nice.

Below is a list of books I have read or reread and recommend, especially if you’re into personal growth (the first two fall into that category). For all my busy friends, most of these are also available on audible. 

1.     Braving the Wilderness by Dr. Brene Brown. This book includes a series of anecdotes about belonging (very fitting for this post, I know). Dr. Brown is an expert in this field and her authentic voice makes it a great read. She doesn’t pretend to know all the answers, but makes you realise that there is power in vulnerability and that being authentic and kind should always be our primary goal. I love personal growth and am constantly reading books in this genre, many of them are patronising or too clinical. Brene hits the mark. She shares her academic research in a relatable way and although it took me three chapters to get into it, I am glad I kept reading.

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2.     Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis. Unlike Dr. Brown, Hollis is not an expert in the field of personal growth but she’s fresh. She is a mum in her thirties who has four kids and built a media platform. Hollis’ book is now a New York Times bestseller and the book is split up into sections about the lies many women believe about their worth, family and work. She debunks each lie through personal anecdotes. This book was recommended to me by a friend and I really enjoyed the take away messages, something her therapist told her: “what other people think of you is none of your business” and "nobody will ever care about your dreams as much as you do". 

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3.     Paris in Love by Eloise James. A friend of mine who is an author recommended this travel memoir. It is a series of vignettes about a family’s year in Paris. James’ posts are funny and uplifting and transport readers to Paris through vivid description. Although she is frustrated by the language barrier, the American author looks at her time away nostalgically and is grateful for how It transformed her family. Alone in a new city, but always together.

Love libraries! #reading #supportyourlibrary

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4. Confessions of a Domestic Failure by Bunmi Laditan. Author Laditon takes a humorous and often sarcastic approach to motherhood and pokes fun at the ‘Pinterest’ mums. As the title suggests, the debut novel is about drowning in motherhood but realising that everyone else is too. They just have better filters to cover it up.

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On that note, inspired by my reading list, this was my no filter, authentic post. Yes, Switzerland is beautiful but missing family can be lonely - but I'm not giving up, in the spirit of my mantra, I am working on it. I’ll get there. Slowly but surely. Until then, there’s chocolate, coffee and books.


Later alligators, 

Nomad Naomi

Basel Switzerland.jpg

Episode One of Dating Basel: The Awkward Stage

The school drop. Photo: Naomi Tsvirko 

The school drop. Photo: Naomi Tsvirko 

There is this scene in Gilmore Girls where Rory goes to a restaurant on a first date and her date sits next to her, not across to her, but next to her! Awk-ward! So Rory calls her mum, Lorelai, and asks for advice on how to deal with the date and her mum tells her to move seats and blame it on an air vent. Why am I telling you this story? Because if you’ve been reading my blog (hi Mum) you will remember I had this plan to date a city. I mentioned romantic strolls by the Rhine and candlelit dinners. Well let’s just say, I’m Rory and Basel is sitting next to me, not across to me (okay, maybe Basel is Rory and I'm the awkward one). So anyway, here’s how the first date went down:

It was a Tuesday and I dropped the children off at school and thought ‘freeedooom and must have coffeeeee!’ But nothing was open. At 8.35am. Nothing. I could not find anywhere to have a coffee near their school (nothing like Stanmore school drop offs). I took a tram into the middle of the city and strolled for ten minutes. Still nothing. Eventually I found this cute little café that looked open but actually didn’t open until 9am. By that stage, that would've been a 15 minute wait for coffee. Way too long for someone who gets those awful coffee withdrawal headaches, so I decided to go back home and then, bam! Right there in front of Marktplatz tram stop I found a bakery! I rejoiced, my first date with Basel was saved, and the sweets looked a-may-zing! In my coffee deprived brain I even heard that ‘Halleluiah, Halleluiah!’ song when I saw the window display, and i'm sure a glistening ray of light shone on a croissant. 

Strolls across the bridge, Basel. Photo: Naomi Tsvirko

Strolls across the bridge, Basel. Photo: Naomi Tsvirko

.Confiserie Schiesser, Basel. Photo: Naomi Tsvirko

.Confiserie Schiesser, Basel. Photo: Naomi Tsvirko

Annoyingly, there wasn’t anywhere to sit outside, but I took that as a good sign, a sign that the coffee would be great. I walked/skipped in and asked to sit down but the woman at the counter couldn’t speak English. She looked right through me. I looked around and there was an empty table facing the counter, I shifted sideways to that seat, maintaining eye contact with the woman to ensure it was okay to sit there. I must have looked like Mr. Bean as I sat down staring at her silently because she looked puzzled.

I sat there in silence for five minutes before a waiter walked out of the kitchen and looked startled when he saw me sitting at the table. “Grüezi,” he said politely but didn’t take my order, he just disappeared upstairs. I pulled out my notebook and tried to act ‘local’. Two Swiss men walked in to pay the woman at the counter. I watched on, envious at how swift and easy the transaction was. Finally, the woman took my order which was relatively painless, ‘a cappuccino and a croissant please’. She nodded, a win.

I devoured the crispiest, freshest croissant and best coffee I'd had since Sydney, and as I was finishing the last bite another waiter walked out of the kitchen and stepped back when he saw me, he too went upstairs. That’s when I realised the locals go upstairs! Turns out I was sitting awkwardly alone in front of the lady at the counter when I could have been upstairs where everyone else was being served. Arghhh. If you’re ever in Basel and want great coffee, the café is Confiserie Schiesser Basel and if there aren’t any seats outside, go upstairs. You’re welcome. (scroll down to read more)

Marktplatz, Basel. Photo: Naomi Tsvirko

Marktplatz, Basel. Photo: Naomi Tsvirko

Following this awkward alone date, I went to the Migros supermarket to get groceries because when you drop kids off at school it feels like you get ten minutes alone before having to pick them up (and when you pick them up they’re always hungry). I caught the tram to Claraplatz and asked three employees where I could find honey. Not one of them could speak English. I resorted to wiggling my index finger in a zig zag motion and began to buzz like a bee and repeated the word ‘ho-ney’ loudly. I soon had an audience of two staff members and one shopper staring at me as if we were playing charades. I continued to say the word ‘hon-eey’ as if the woman would understand if I buzzed or raised my voice. She looked beyond confused, possibly scared and kept her eyes on me as she called a colleague who could speak English. I was sent to level two, where I found honey and two security guards.

That night, I called my mother to tell her about the coffee date, she told me I should have gone upstairs and blamed it on an air vent, nope, that's a lie and what my fictional mother Lorelai would say. My actual mother told me to toughen up and learn German.

Date one. Awks. But I still like Basel.

Later Nomads,

Nomad Naomi 

.The view of the counter - Confiserie Schiesser, Basel. Photo: Naomi Tsvirko

.The view of the counter - Confiserie Schiesser, Basel. Photo: Naomi Tsvirko