Welcome to the swamp! Here, lurking in the muck, where creativity spawns, you'll find Mrs Crocodile, aka Colleen Dunkel, a costumer and teacher based in Basel, Switzerland.


Saturday, February 26, 2011

Falso friendo

I knew my German had really improved this year when I started spitting at my boss.   

I feel for you if you are struggling to survive in a language, where, correct me if I'm wrong, but enunciate and spit are the same word.  To honor this German mishap, I would like to dedicate this post to what language teachers call: False Friends and "borrowed" words.  If you are not aware of these little nasty guys parading as friends, get to know them. They steal about in different languages usually dressed in drag in the foreign language you are supposed to be learning.  They will really mess up your conversations when you are trying to be serious. 

On the up-side they will lend your small talk some pep when dinner parties turn to "Yawn, no, actually I wasn't falling asleep, please tell me more about what it was like to buy your house".  Drinking enough wine and telling stories about my family seems to help my listeners' eyes widen, too.  But if you never got arrested or no-one got kidnapped or no-one discovered the other side of the rainbow, and not one of your family members ever went diving with sharks, try the false friends and borrowed words topic.  Talking about language in Switzerland is a national past-time anyway.  So, in a country which does not boast of insipid traffic jams or baseball, rugby or late trains, language talk is small talk.

So if the words are borrowed, would you give back eine Dousche, das Handy, der Oldtimer, der Smoking, der Slip or der Pullunder?  To name a few.  They are, and to mess you up a bit, I'm not writing them in the correct order: cell phone, tuxedo, underpants, a shower, vintage car, undershirt.  However, I think the the most famous false friend, which really messes up German, French and Italian as regards English speakers is Preservative--strangely some language teachers insist that it is borrowed, as if any speaker was going to give back the word, because, well, honestly, who knows where the condom has been? 

Yours, because, you are a good friend, and I just thought someone should be looking out for you,
Mrs Crocodile



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Sunday, February 20, 2011

Dousch! Douche! Tush!

"Whoa! They are really into douches in this country, huh?" Said Mom-One-Won in her really American accent years ago as we walked down an aisle in a supermarket in Switzerland.  I'm not sure why, but her remark stuck with me.  I think it is proof-positive that learning a foreign language is a long, twisted, rough, at times, sticky, wet, and not to mention, muddy dirt road upon which it would be better to drive a 4x4 rather than public transport, even if it is on time.  Back in the grocery store, in that patient way Expats or Cowpats do for loved ones flown in from the Country Formerly Called Home, I explained to Mom-One-Won, "In German and French, Dousch or douche is the word for shower."
"Oh! So it comes from French then!" she exclaimed.
It doesn't take a rocket scientist or even a linguist to tell you zat French just soundz good, non?  Except when they say NASA which comes out sounding like nazi.  Rockets and douches aside.  The point is, soap and therefore douschgel, shampoo, and possibly washing detergent are totally over-rated.  I tend to prefer more obvious distinctions like the one between window cleaner and toothpaste.  But soap and douschgel are just dumb.   First of all, neither one is good for Crocodile skin, we prefer oil.  Second, you know that saying going around on the internet, "If you can read this, you are intelligent.  If you have a computer, you are rich."  I would like to add to that, "If you have shampoo, soap and Douschgel in your bathroom, you are filthy rich and suffer from dry skin."
Do you realize how many times I hear the word dousch in Switzerland?  It is also the word Alla and Kazam use when they are pretending to shoot at each other.  They have never learned the American English equivalent of Pow! or even Bang! Bang! Their education is sadly lacking in any other sort of mouth exploding shot sounds.  When Alla and Kazam are shooting at each other they say "Dousch! Dousch! Dousch!" Usually while holding up the last bare toilet roll that nobody has replaced or bought a replacement for.

To which I say, "Please close the door.  The bathroom is getting cold, and I'd like to help the world, one douche at a time."
Yours, spreading my tail out of the tub,
Mrs Crocodile

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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Body parts and other bits to avoid in the post Valentine's season

How many times have you heard Swiss men say:  "Oh Valentine's day, it's just another over-commercialized holiday."  
To which I respond to all bankers: "Why export a holiday if it's not going to do any good for the flow of the economy and therefore the flow of love?"  Just think: Where would we in Europe and America be today if they hadn't exported Christmas from the Middle East?  Swiss people actually call Christmas "a fest of love",  which surprised me because I thought they were talking about V-day.  And then I remembered Jesus was all about love, too.
Well, we did better than old J.C. this year; we survived it.  Surprisingly, so did the 100 or so men standing in line at the Coop flower market yesterday evening just before closing time, where the line snaked all the way out of the shop and up the escalators to street level: The image is good, non?  I wish I was an illustrator, but I have to use words.  All of the men who think Valentine's day is an over-rated, over-commercialized, imported, annoyingly American fest are on an escalator going down, down, down to get their red roses and there are so many of them they can't stop, so they all start falling on top of each other and trying to run back up the escalator to safety.  At times, you see a few heads popping out of the crowd with a white wrapped up sort of triangular package, they are carrying it upside down like good European flower carriers and are now traveling up and out of the over-rated, over-commercialized, imported American red love fest and making it home to their sweetie where we hope they will remember to practice the out-of-bounds rule on body parts, which is this:  anyone, even yourself, discussing certain negative aspects of your body (and clothing) is completely off-limits.  This includes, hair, hips, arms, thighs and anything else which might be closely related to your anatomy.
If you keep this up throughout the year you may survive the pile-up at the bottom of the escalators,
Yours, with love,
Mrs Crocodile

For more help on buying roses for a loved one in Switzerland: Swiss Survival Tip: Grocery Shopping


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Sunday, February 13, 2011

Expat or cowpat?

As with all labels, "expat" gets old.  You know what I'm talking about.  You've lived as long or longer abroad than you lived in the place you were born.  At least it feels like a life-time.  You made friends with people who spoke your language in the expat community, until you realized that they kept mysteriously disappearing as if there was some kind of guerilla war going on.  And you thought this was a neutral country.  You've learned to guiltily, yet discreetly slip the question to new people you meet at parties: "Is this a permanent move?"  Because you don't want to invest the time and energy in someone who is just going to run off at the drop of a hat to the next better paying job and cheaper country than this one.  You actually speak the language of your host country.  Your own country feels like a host country.  You are tired (really tired) of people asking you: "Why are you here?"  The answer to this question gets longer and longer the amount of time you've lived in your host country so congratulating the person on asking such a great open-ended question is the only right answer.  Because you know that person does not want the three-hour-answer.  We all know that the why-are-you-here question always follows the pre-requisite where-are-you-from question, so you could at this point run.  I have another tactic: if someone asks either of those questions I respond, "I can't remember actually.  Let me think..."  and then I change the subject.  If you're tired of talking about the weather, I suggest the topic of shoes.  Both male and female human beings seem to have a lot to say on this subject.
"Oh!  So you really want to know why I'm here?" at this point, try to smile and not look tired: "I'm a cowpat, I'm not an expat.  I'm working on the soil here and fertilizing it.  Actually, I just got some great new shit-kicking boots on sale.  And you?"

Break a leg, dear readers, I am, as usual, yours, but this time with with water-proof footwear,
Mrs Crocodile


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Friday, February 11, 2011

Bloggers do it with lists (part 2): Time saving tips

Notice I didn't say lips.  But I rather like the sound of bloggers do it with lip.  Do crocodiles even have lips? Never mind.

Here are some tried and true Mrs Crocodile time saving tips:
1) Try a vacuum cleaner that really sucks: Warning: watch out for the kids and certain parts of your anatomy.
2)  Read Mommy blogs:  They are entertaining and remind you that you like your own kids heaps more than anyone else's and you won't have to go through the hassle of breeding again.
3) Keep more than one lover:  I know you won't believe me and I don't have to state the obvious, but breaking up will be a lot less time consuming.
4) Try putting this in your next personal ad: "Watching a man doing my laundry, washing my dishes, taking my trash out, washing my car, washing my windows, carrying my groceries, vacuuming the kids up, cleaning the toilet and doing light DIY work around the house always does it for me.I have a new vacuum cleaner which really sucks."
5) Room dividers: If no-one responds to the personal ad, buy a room divider and put it up in front of the mess.  I have one with a man silk-screened on it.
7)  Meditate: Use that gray matter between your ears for a mini-vacation.
8)  Buy a bull-horn and always keep it with your mobile phone: people may get the message faster than you think, you save time and your voice.  Someday they may come up with a Harry Potter "Howler" App for iphones.
9)  Buy a watch:  You can buy a watch but you can't buy time: so go out and splurge on a great new time piece.

Yours,
With no time on her hands,
Mrs Crocodile

*You don't have to mention exactly what it does...


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Sunday, February 6, 2011

Introducing Hurricane Alla

Ever seen a 6 year-old-cat use a sewing machine?  I liken it to driving lessons with a teenager.  A few days ago--we are still cleaning up the mess--Hurricane Alla threw herself on the floor in front of the sewing machine, "I HAVE TO SEW LUCA A PILLOW!!" Alla screams so the shop across the street and everyone in the tram one block away can hear.  Remember dear readers, Luca is the transvestite dollie, aka Emma.
"In a cat costume?"
"YES!" she screams.
"No," I say and bare my teeth.
Alla throws herself on the floor again.  "I NEED A NEW PILLOW FOR MY BABIES!!!!"
"Stand back Kazam, we may need life vests," at this point I'm sheltering Kazam from the storm and I come back with more:  "Alla, I haven't forgiven you for the time when you were two and climbed up on my sewing machine and peed," I walk into the next room pretending with all of my might that this discussion is over.
"She did?"  Kazam doubles over and laughs himself silly on the couch. When he's able to speak again he asks, "Did you do that Alla?"
Suddenly Alla stops scrambling like an egg on the floor and we enter the eye of the storm.  "Did I do that?"
"Yes, you did.  And you can say sorry now."
"Sorry."
We all exhale.  The storm is subsiding.  Blue skies are returning.
"Okay, let's sew.  But you need white.  I'll thread the machine.  Kazam, do your homework."
Oh the joys of motherhood.  Who knew that we would also become hurricane hunters?
Mrs Crocodile


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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Swiss Survival Tip: Grocery Shopping

Once you get over feeling illiterate and dumb, you can relax and start enjoying yourself.  You will be able to relax after you have learned three languages and one form of Swiss German fluently.  It sounds daunting, but don't be discouraged.  For dialects, I would try Basel-Dootsch; it is peppered with French and English and the odd German word is re-cycled in it, so you will being doing something good for the environment by speaking it.  The other upside to learning Basel-Dootsch, unlike some Swiss dialects, is that people won't think you're choking on something.

Here is the fine print on feeling dumb all of the time.  It is required by law in CH (which stands for Concrete Hobby-horses and is the official name of this country) to sell products with three languages on them.  This is supposed to help you distinguish milk from orange juice.  I don't need to say this, but the label does come in handy if you like warm frothy orange juice in your coffee at breakfast-time.

However, the process of labeling products helps in distinguishing those which are even more alike.  In this lesson, you learn how to distinguish a bunch of roses from a bunch of parsley.  Here is the context for our first lesson: a common enough situation in which you have made a lover's faux-pas and need to make up ASAP.  You have found your way to the supermarket.   Now go to the section where you see flowers.  Good job!

On the package of roses it says Rosen, Roses, Rose, which sounds like a Latin declination exercise so you can feel great about yourself that you are actually learning four very useful languages.  We'll even throw in a dialect for the same price!  This is handy because up until this point you were feeling a bit in the dog house (remember what you had said in that state of intense agitation) and illiterate, which everyone knows is an awful place to be.   Luckily, you can still read my blog which is read by only the best dogs. 

Just in case you didn't get that it was a bouquet of roses and not a bouquet of parsley, you can check the parsley: Petersilie, Persil, etc..   Persil is also the name of a soap, I can't figure out why they named a washing detergent after parsley but I guess since it'z French it soundz better.   Everyone needs washing detergent, too, so don't feel too badly if the washing detergent makes it into the basket with the roses and the parsley;  as in learning any language you may make mistakes.  It's all part of the learning experience.  If you really want to sleep in your own bed and not use the dog as a hot water bottle, you could offer to do some laundry.  Laundry and roses speak volumes so forget about learning a practical language: try ze language ov luv and launderettes.

You'z wi'z a revard ca'd in 'and,
Madame Crocodile

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