Главная страница «Первого сентября»Главная страница журнала «Английский язык»Содержание №15/2009

The Land of Non-Barking Dogs

A small land surrounded by and separated from neighbouring European countries by high mountains which, like sentinels, guard it from misfortunes and disorders, Switzerland lives its own habitual and steady life, raising envy in other states.

Travelling to other countries means comparing their way of life with that of our home. And the saying “So many countries, so many customs” is absolutely true.

One always notices good traditions and order established in a foreign state and feels on an equal footing if one finds there the same faults and shortcomings which exist in their own land and society. Going to Switzerland as a tourist I was assured by my friends who had visited Geneva that, with my knowledge of English, I wouldn’t find any problems in communicating with local people. Alas! Having arrived in Lugano, the biggest city in the Italian canton of Ticino, I found out that almost nobody there could speak English. Even a taxi driver who was taking us from the airport downtown did not understand a single word in any other language but his mother tongue. We wrote the address of our hotel in Italian – Villa Sassa, Via Tesserete, 10.

“It seems that Ticino people are at sea with English, as much as most Russians,” my companion remarked sarcastically.

Switzerland and a language barrier! Why?

We puzzled out this enigma in the Tourist Agency housed in the Town Hall. A middle-aged senora in charge of the office spoke English fluently and explained the situation.

Historically, this region was a part of Italy and only in 1803 became a canton of the Switzerland Confederation. The Ticino Canton has more than 300.000 inhabitants – 4,2% of the population of Switzerland and for most people (84%) the Italian language is their mother tongue.

There are three official languages in the country: German, French and Italian. At schools here pupils learn German and French. English is not compulsory. Residents of Ticino are happy to live where they do and though they are undeniably Swiss, from the cultural point of view they feel Italian. The defence of this identity is one of the fundamental problems of the canton. The Italian character of Ticino is not threatened by the institutions and laws of Switzerland.

Polyglots have always roused suspicions. It was said that Benito Mussolini had thought of interpreters as “potentional traitorous individuals” and believed in saying “Traduttore – tradi tore” (translators are traitors).

Many residents of Switzerland consider the Ticino Canton as a remote place of the country where people do not especially need English in their everyday life.

The total opposite is the situation with the English language in Geneva. Many international organisations and institutions, including numerous general consulates of foreign countries, are located there. A lot of various conferences and seminars are held in Geneva annually. Hotel employees, shop assistants, cashiers, waiters, bus and taxi drivers all understand and speak English. Walking along the streets you can see now and again some posters, advertisements, inscriptions written in this language.

I saw a very curious inscriptions in buses: coaches are equipped with special electronic displays on which now and again appeared such phrases as “Be aware of pickpockets”, then followed another inscription: “A detective is with us”. The next moment the passengers could see on the screen a figure of Sherlock Holmes holding a big magnifying glass.

It was interesting to watch people’s reactions – some of them were turning their heads right and left staring at the passengers standing nearby. In summer, legions of tourists invade Geneva attracting all sorts of crooks: shoplifters, pickpockets, and pilferers.

There are many dogs in small and big towns, but the streets and parks are clean because there are no stray animals at all. The owner of a pet immediately picks up and takes away all excrement in his black plastic bag. All parks have special plots with signs allowing or forbidding walking man’s best friends.

But what really surprised me was that the dogs were very quiet and never barked! Why? I talked to one dog owner in Geneva about this strange phenomenon, and he told me a very simple thing.

It is advised to put a special dog collar on a puppy. When a young animal starts barking, the collar causes pain to it and, little by little, a puppy loses this “injurious” habit.

In Lugano I spoke to a Bulgarian woman married to an Italian. The couple had a little dog and failed to rent an apartment in the town. The landlord did not permit them to have a dog in his house. “Other residents will object because your Bulgarian dog barks,” he said. So the couple had to stay in the hotel for the time being.

Switzerland is famous for its watches, which are very accurate. The same reputation refers to their trains, which tightly follow railroad time. The distances between station are not very long and carriages have only sitting places. The total length of the railroads is more than 5,000 km, which is quite long for such a small territory.

On each station a controller enters the car and checks and fines passengers who travel in first class with only second-class tickets. Passengers without tickets are treated leniently – the controller makes them buy tickets on the spot, and the price is a little higher.

Also reliably precise are buses, trams and trolleybuses. The fare is three francs. To get on or off, the passenger has to press a button, and it is allowed to use all three doors. The controllers then inspect public transport rather often, and those without tickets are fined 80 francs.

There are many retired people in Switzerland who lead an active life. It is a usual picture: an old married couple walks along the street holding hands, both wearing small rucksacks.

Once I was going up Monte San Salvatore in Paradise, a small place on the outskirts of Lugano. There were about 60 passengers in a funicular car and half of them were people of advanced age. All had rucksacks, staffs and wore heavy boots.

I talked to one of the couples. “I and my wife will walk down by foot along a special path,” said a man in his late seventies. “This is good exercise for our legs and we go to this 912 m mountain twice a week,” smiled his wife, a gray-haired lady.

Switzerland is a land of mountains and lakes and many towns are situated on their shores. Cruising on the lakes is very popular among local people and foreign guests. The first steamship, William Tell, sailed in 1823 on Leman lake (as it is called by residents of Geneva).

Currently there are 16 shipping companies possessing 139 ships. Annually, they carry 12 million passengers and earn 300 million francs.

On the last day of my stay in Lugano, I found out that the local shipping company decided to reduce the cruising fare for retired foreign guests. They need to simply show their passports to a cashier, bearing in mind that the retirement age for women in Switzerland is 63 and 65 for men.

By Yevgeny Kunitsin ,
University of Natalya Nesterova, Moscow