Sunday, 9 October 2005

Switzerland - Life at the Importner Hotel

It seems that my need for a job coincides most effectively with the needs of the Importner for more staff. Up until a few months ago this hotel had been run and owned by the Eggli family - Herr & Frau Eggli and son Hans-Uli who is in his late twenties. But then Frau Eggli died and Herr Eggli decided to ‘retire’. The hotel was sold to the Ekkhard Hotel, but the Egglis retained management. The hotel is now run by Hans-Uli. I will be working on the floors with Maria, an Italian who speaks neither English nor German lol! It seems Frau Geiger used to work with Maria until the death of Frau Eggli, but voluntarily took on the manageress position lol! So I have now stepped into the position once occupied by her.

There are a great many Italians in Switzerland, consequently, they find that they can get along quite well living in their own little enclave, many Swiss speak some Italian, in fact many Italian words seem to be in daily use, pretty much as we have absorbed French words without even realising it. So Maria, her family and friends get along very well by only having to use the occasional German word. There are several Italians working here, so I soon discover that it would be quite beneficial for me to learn Italian......... I am not averse to this, as I love the lilting accent, much more fun than German. So Maria and I get along very well, I learn lots of words and complete sentences that we use on a daily basis. Maria cannot read, so she brings in Italian newspapers and magazines for me to read to her. In a quiet moment, we will sit on the stairs and I read to her in my best OTT Italian accent lol. Maria corrects my pronunciation as we go along and we have a good giggle. As my pronunciation improves, Maria claps at the end of my reading and shouts verry gooood!! She is now very proud to be able to say gooood morrrning, and I can say buon giorno in my best Italian accent. Maria is rather overweight and has trouble with her legs, so she is pleased to have someone who can run up and down stairs fetching and carrying. The linen cupboard is situated on the 2nd floor, and there are 4 floors, so with Maria on the top floor and me on the second we lean over the bannister and I will call up " Hey Marrreeya, quanti tovaglioli per camera due" (How many towels for room 2) I was apparently very convincing as an Australian women stopped me in the corridor and began jabbering away in Italian, Maria joined us and I looked to her for help, on hearing me speak English, she apologised and said she thought I was Italian lol! They say to have a little knowledge is dangerous, and so it was to prove - time and time again......People simply do not expect to find an English girl working in a Swiss Hotel doing this type of work and imagine me to be any other nationality - mainly I get mistaken for Dutch, partly because of my fair complexion and partly because my German is so ropey lol!

I have a very small room in the attic of the Importner, there’s just enough room for a single bed, a chest of drawers and a sink - not too many parties in here then ;-)

Maria has a family so does not live in the hotel, although she has the use of a room on my floor, as mostly she only works in the morning. I am the first one up at 6.30. I get the huge espresso machine going and have a nice cup of coffee and a cinnamon bun. We don’t have breakfast until 8.0am when the bread delivery arrives - still hot from the oven. It is the best meal of the day in my opinion, as in general I do not like the food here. I love the creamy, saltless butter spread on the hot bread - crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. The jam and marmalade are quite runny, not a patch on English jams, but I’m content with just bread and butter. Maria, Frau Geiger and myself will devour a whole loaf between us, washed down with lots of hot, fresh coffee. Around about 1.0pm the word ‘mangiare’ (to eat) will echo around the hotel and everyone makes for the café where the staff eat their meals. A favourite meal amongst the others is one I truly despise - great thick pieces of ‘spec’ (belly pork) lay on a bed of over-cooked stringy, green beans. The belly pork is extremely fatty, there are just very thin layers of pork in between the fat. I loathe fat anyway, and always cut it away from my meat, but this is just impossible and I make do with just a desert.

Despite my running up and down stairs all day, I still manage to put on a stone and a half during my time in Switzerland :-((  Because I do not like the food at the Importner, I have got into the habit of going along to Migros (supermarket) where they have a counter devoted to the most incredible assortment of tortes and gateaux. I blame Maria, if she hadn’t sent me along there in the first place I may not have got into this appalling habit, we buy a large assortment and indulge ourselves during our ‘repose’.

Rosemary is very happy that I am now settled in at the Importner, she told me that various people have asked her about the English girl, wanting to know what I am doing here. There is a private boarding school on the outskirts of St Gallen, and the pupils, who are in their late teens, are often to be seen sitting around in the various cafés. They are not Rosemary’s favourite type of customer as they try to get out of tipping her, which makes her very cross. They all come from well to do families, but apparently do not get much pocket money lol! One of them, Roman, who is from Germany, has asked Rosemary to introduce me to him. He’s a nice polite young man who’s command of English is quite good, but he wants to perfect it. We get on very well, and he asks to take me to the cinema. I am aware that he is only 19 and I have just celebrated my 23rd Birthday, but it doesn’t matter because I have no designs on him, lol! My heart still belongs to Eugen. I have Wednesdays off, and if it is convenient, I go up to Walzenhausen, or we will visit the little hamlets on the mountainside. We found a café in a quite remote spot, very high up, which gave us a lovely panoramic view, but what I remember particularly was the tiny jukebox that had just four choices on it - Elvis Presley, Eddie Cochrane, a local song and Gene Pitney!! I had an opportunity to relay this to him, as I got a call from Dottie, the telephonist at Stratters, telling me that Gene was back and he had been asking after me, so she found the number of the Importner and gave it to him. It was a lovely surprise hearing from him - made me feel quite home-sick, he was delighted to hear that he had fans in the mountain tops of Switzerland lol!

Saturday, 8 October 2005

Switzerland - Moving On

Things do not improve between Mrs. B and myself and I’m thinking of moving on. Friedel rang to tell me that Eugen is arriving tomorrow and would I like to go round to see her this evening. Friedel and I get on so well together that I am saddened to hear that her husband has a new job and they will be moving to Schaffhausen very soon :-((

We talk mostly about Eugen. It’s obvious that the whole family would like to believe that there is a strong relationship between me and Eugen and that he might consider settling down in Switzerland again..........I would like it too, I am as surprised as anyone that Eugen is doing precisely what he always said he would not do - go back home to work.

I get two half days a week off and I usually go into the old town of St Gallen and wander the narrow streets. There are some wonderful café’s and bakeries cum coffee shops. I have very little money so I cannot afford to indulge my love of cream cakes. I go to my favourite café and sit at one of the small tables outside in the sunshine. I can just about afford a cup of coffee. Rosemary brought my coffee and sat down opposite, she wanted to talk to me in English and asked me to correct her. She asked how I was getting on in my job - "Not very well", I told her. She nodded, knowingly, " It must be very difficult for an English girl to get used to the Swiss way of doing things". It was true - the Swiss make cleaning a way of life - it was difficult adapting. I told her that Mrs. B. and myself did not get on very well, she was always berating the English, saying what a dirty, lazy lot they were. "Yes", Rosemary agreed disarmingly, "How do you find time to drink so much tea?"  I laughed at that. "So that’s what you think of us, that we just sit around drinking tea all day! We stop at a certain time during the day to take a break and drink tea or coffee, that’s all". It became clear during my time in Switzerland that this was the general view of the English. I did my best to speak up for us, but I could see that a nation totally obsessed with cleaning, would find anything less than their high standards, simply not acceptable. Yep - we were a filthy, lazy lot lol!

Maybe things have changed since the early Sixties, but at that time, there was a very distinct division between the classes in Switzerland - those who worked on farms and those who worked in the town. Also Switzerland looked after its own first and foremost - the Swiss got the best jobs, ‘foreigners’, whether they could speak the language or not, had to do the more menial jobs. Rosemary was Austrian, she lived just over the border in the small village of Dornbirn, she had moved over the border to Switzerland in the hope of a higher standard of living. She wanted to work in an office, but had to work in Switzerland doing more menial work for at least 5 years before she would even be considered, and even then, a Swiss person would be given priority. Still, she was content, Rosemary practically ran the Neugasse as the owner was disabled and in return for a room at the café’, Rosemary looked after her. In the cafes, restaurants etc. the staff do not get paid by their employers unless they are behind the scenes, washing up, preparing food etc. They rely on tips for their earnings, but the accepted practice is to give the waitress extra according to how much you are spending. If you want a cake or a savoury tit-bit, they will bring a large tray from which you make your selection, for one piece you will pay for it then give her perhaps 1 rap (1p) extra, for two pieces maybe 11/2 or 2 raps. The savoury tit-bits, rather like canapes are small but delicious - and it’s difficult to buy just one, so you must bear in mind how much it is all going to cost before you get too greedy lol!

To work in a shop was a reasonably prestigious job - but then all the shops were quite ‘posh’. It never failed to amuse me that no matter how small the purchase, the assistant would spend an inordinate amount of time wrapping it up as if it were a gift! I loved the jewellery shops, the windows were so beautifully arranged and I loved the modern styling of the rings in particular, although I knew I could never afford to buy one. Same with the clothes, they were just so elegant - and expensive!

Rosemary was saddened to learn that I was unhappy working for Mrs. B and said she would enquire around for any work that I would be able to do. Things worsened daily between Mrs B. and myself - there were some quite spectacular rows, where she would tell me to get out. I had suspected that she was reading my mail and listening into my telephone conversations on the upstairs extension. I was writing to many people back home, all the people I’d worked with, my new friend Kathy, Jenny, as well as my family. I had also struck up a bit of a correspondence with Tony Hall. I had spoken to him many times when I worked at Stratters, but we had never got around tomeeting, so it wasnice to hear his familiar voice over the airwaves - he presented a late night show on Radio Luxenbourg. So I decided to write to him and ask him to play me a request. He wrote back saying how nice it was to hear from me and hoped I was enjoying myself in Switzerland and that he would dedicate a record to me at the end of one of his shows and giving me the precise date. I listened hopefully, but it never came :-((

I soon got another letter from him apologising and saying the producer had cut the end bit off the show because of over-running, but he would play something for me at the beginning of his show instead - which he duly did. A few letters passed between us during my time in Switzerland and on one occasion he said he had been approached by Kathy in a Pub who said she was a friend of mine and had heard the dedication to me. Then he said that as he was walking along the street, another friend of mine, Jenny, had spotted him and introduced herself to him and said the same thing lol! He mused that everywhere he went now, he was expecting one of my friends to pop up and say hello to him! But I think he quite enjoyed the attention ;-)

Eugen has finally arrived and has invited me to go over to his home on Sunday. He lives in Walzenhausen which is a tiny hamlet halfway up a small mountain. It is a very short journey by car, and not too long even by train.  From the main railway station, it is just one stop to Rheineck where I catch the Bergbahn up to Walzenhausen, which takes about 10 minutes.  The journey in the Bergbahn is quite scary the first time round as one seems to be travelling almost vertically and the journey back down is even scarier lol. But I shall get used to it as I will do this journey as often as I can! Eugen’s mother met me, she doesn’t speak a word of English, but she is such a lovely, cheerful person that somehow it doesn’t seem to matter. Eugen’s parents have a café and metzgerei (butchers), his father does not speak any English either, he gave me a very brief greeting and disappeared, I don’t think I ever saw him again! His mother has cooked me two small medallions of steak - absolutely melt in the mouth fillets, and then a huge piece of chocolate gateaux and tons of whipped cream - Eugen decided he was going to join me in the dessert.......

We went a walk round Walzenhausen to work off the calories, but he bought me a box of kubelies (cannon balls) which are round chocolates filled with a lovely light fudgey-type mousse. I really loved the Swiss food in the cafés - Bratwurst, swebeln and rosti ( large, fat sausages, fried onions and potato cakes) would have been my choice if I could have afforded it, followed by rahmquark - the creamiest cheesecake imaginable. It was Eugen’s favourite too, and I would take him two pieces whenever I visited him.

Rosemary has said that if the worst comes to the worst - I can stay with a friend of hers, Annie, who runs a house for visiting Catholic girls. Rosemary took me round to meet Annie and some of the girls who are staying there, and we had a really nice evening. It is just as well this meeting took place because the next day Mrs. B and I had an almighty row and she told me to pack my bags and leave!

I was able to move into Annie's but I did not want to let Mrs. B know where I was staying, so it means I will have to visit Mrs. B again to collect my mail........

I have been in contact with Nancy who is working in Lucerne, so we decided to meet up and try my luck at finding work in a hotel there. It was a really beautiful journey there, the weather is very hot.  Nancy and I tramped around the various hotels, but they are so busy with visitors that it is difficult to get to see anyone.  I got the suprise of my life when I walked into one hotel and found Norbert ( who used to work for Grand Met) working on the reception!  Eventually, we decided to give up, I was beginning to feel and look the worse for wear - not the best way of presenting oneself for a job.  So we just enjoyed the rest of our day together, and then I went back to Annie's.

Rosemary and I did the rounds of the local hotels - in the New Town by the railway station is a large modern hotel - Ekkhards,  we decided to try our luck there.  The manager told us that a small family hotel in the Old Town, which they also own, require help.  The Importner is situated down a small street, Bankgasse, behind the Neugasse cafe, Rosemary does all the talking, but it is clear that the manageress is suprised to find an English girl looking for this type of work, but also pleased, as she is another one who knows a little English and would like to learn more, so I am welcomed aboard!

Saturday, 1 October 2005



Having left London in pouring rain - I arrived in Zurich to gloriously hot sunshine! I can remember clearly seeing two women coming towards me - one tall and smiling, the other short and - er, not smiling. I sent up a little prayer that the tall woman was going to be my new employer - alas, I must have been a bad girl at some time in my life because my prayer was not answered :-(( Ah well, it was a lovely drive through the most beautiful scenery towards St Gallen, in the German speaking part of Switzerland. The smiling lady tried to converse with me with the small amount of English she knew, and I was far too nervous to attempt to use any of the German I had tried to learn. I had a gut feeling that things were going to be a tad difficult...........

I don’t know what Mrs. B expected of the English girl she’d hired, but I kind of got the feeling that I wasn’t it lol! Maybe she expected someone more ‘homely’, I was tall and slim with long blonde hair (hanging in rats tails, thanks to the rain!). I didn’t wear much make-up - I hated the feel of lipstick on my lips and found that make-up base and powder just somehow looked wrong on me, so I never bothered with it, I did like my eyeliner and mascara tho............. Maybe Mrs. B expected to see a fresh faced, quiet, mousy little thing - if so, no wonder she looked so disagreeable lol!

Mrs. B already had a young girl, Irna, working for her, but she was from a farming family and had been called home to help on the farm. Irna was a quiet, shy girl, plump and rosy cheeked,  who didn’t speak a word of English, but we got on very well together. She showed me what my duties were and it was nice, the two of us working together, I was really sad when, after a couple of days, she had to leave.

Mr. & Mrs. B have a lovely big detached house in Rotmonten, which is high up, in the posh suburbs of St Gallen. It’s quite a walk down hill into the town, but it just takes a couple of minutes on the bus. I was up at 7.30 on my first day, which wasn’t bad really, because when I was on the early shift at Stratters, I had to be at work by that time, not just trotting downstairs. But when Irna left, I then discovered that my day started at the rather earlier time of 6.30am :-(  There’s plenty to do. Certain things have to be done on a particular day of the week - every week.......Washing up the crockery, making beds, dusting, vacuuming etc. was par for the course, but when it came to cleaning out the cellar, which was used as the laundry, I was quite taken aback by the extent of the cleaning. It was the usual type of cellar, white washed brick walls, stone flagged floor, large white ‘butler’ sink with great big brass taps and lots of copper pipework. The floor had to be scrubbed and the pipework polished till it gleamed - I was pretty stunned, I can tell you lol. Til now, cellars had always been grimy places where coal or junk was kept, but I soon found that ‘grimy’ does not exist in the Swiss way of life!

The dining room had a beautiful parquet floor, no one was allowed to walk on it in high heels, even Mrs. B’s daughter-in-law would kick her beautiful stiletto heels off at the door. Every Wednesday I had to get down on my hands and knees and examine every part of it, seeking out the tiniest blemish. This flooring had been down for twenty years - and looked like it had been laid yesterday lol!

Mr B. owns a fabric factory near Zurich, so spends quite a lot of time away, which is a shame because he is really nice, life is much more pleasant when he is at home, her son, too, is really nice and so is the daughter-in-law - it’s just Mrs. B who has the personality disorder.........

I had to go to Rorshache for a medical - and discovered just what a small world it is. I met a girl called Nancy who is from Yorkshire and used to work at The Grand Hotel in Sheffield! We have decided to keep in touch and hope to meet up again sometime.

Mrs. B has arranged for me to have German lessons with the student son of one of her friends and I go during my ‘repose’ or siesta, as they would call it in Spain! I have about 2-3 hours to myself before starting work again around 5.30-6.0pm, earlier if they are having a dinner party. Apart from a sense of not liking each other very much, Mrs B will insist on my eating enormous amounts of food, she seems to think that my stomach is a dust bin and wants me to eat ALL the left overs from any meal. I cannot eat large amounts of food - I am a ‘grazer’, so things are getting rather tense between us. She also puts down my friends, which really, really annoys me grrrrr. Soon after I arrived in Switzerland, Friedel, Eugen’s sister rang to welcome me and ask me to go round to see her, it seems she and her husband live in an apartment block really close by - walking distance in fact. Mrs. B could not believe that any friend of mine could possibly live in such an exclusive area and declared that they were probably only the caretakers of this quite up-market property. I was furious - I’m afraid that the relationship between Mrs. B and myself, worsened daily!

Mrs. B used to be a nurse and a senior one at that, she was a very spritely and rather domineering lady in her fifties, I thought,  but sometimes, come 6.0pm she would start to change - it was actually quite scary - she seemed to shrivel into a much older lady and would prattle away ten to the dozen in Switzerdeutch, which she knew full well I did not understand - believe me, it is very, very different to standard German.   Come the next morning, much to my relief, she would be back to normal. 

My student teacher, Heiney, who is not quite 19 years old, and myself, get on very well together on a social level, although he is a very hard task master and insists on the correct pronunciation of a word before he will move on.  I remember spending ages trying to pronounce the word 'brucke' which has an umlaut (2 dots) above the 'u' which changes the sound and I couldn't get it right, arghhhh! I got so cross because he would not let it go.  But in time I found that I was able to talk to him and he was not in the least suprised to hear that I was having trouble with Mrs. B.  I'm afraid I used to take all my troubles to poor Heiney, but he was vey supportive.  I told him about Mrs. B's 'queer turns' and that's when I discovered that in fact Mrs. B was actually 68 years old!

On my trips down into the town, I had taken to stopping at one of the many cafe's, one in particular, The Neugasse, became my favourite, Rosemary, one of the waitresses is very friendly and asks me to help her with her English, which is much better than my German.  Rosemary and Erma, another waitress, become my best friends.