I walked up to the immigration officer in the Zurich airport and handed over my passport, excited to finally be out of the plane and onto Swiss ground. She asked me the usual questions, like “where are you coming from?” and “where are you staying?” and “did you bring any apples?” and “how long will you be here?”

me: “Oh, I’ll only be in Switzerland for a couple of days, to visit a friend.”
officer: “Where are you going next?”
me: “Geneva.”
officer: “… um … ok … and after that?”
me: “I’ll be in France and Germany for two weeks.”
officer: *shakes head* “You can go.”

I realized later that Geneva is actually in Switzerland and thus my response made no sense. I had thought it was part of France since they speak French there, which is just another classic example of a clueless American tourist but at least the officer let me and my dumb self through immigration.

My lovely Swiss friend Sina

Having arrived at 9am with only a couple hours of sleep on the plane, I was determined to stay awake through sundown in order to shock my circadian rhythm into adapting to the new timezone. My friend Sina works as a teacher at a primary school and wasn’t going to be home until 4pm, so I decided to walk around Zurich for a bit and then went to a lunchtime crossfit class. Yes, it has become a bit of an obsession but especially when traveling it’s a great way to get in a quick and relatively predictable workout without having to think too hard because a coach is telling me what to do (in English because my German is nonexistent).

I also quickly realized that the only things I know how to say in German are hello, good morning, good night, and thank you. A pretty solid starter pack, but there are some key phrases missing like “what’s your name?” and “lovely to meet you” and “where is the bathroom?” and “can I take a shower here?” and “where are the barbell clips?” and “how many squats was it again?” You know, the everyday basics. At least I survived two train transfers and made it to her apartment eventually.

The view from Sina’s apartment

The geography theme came up again the next morning when I accompanied Sina to school to give a presentation to her 9th graders about American culture and traditions. I talked (in English) for ten or fifteen minutes about some basic topics like geography, weather, the school system, holidays, state vs federal government and how elections work, and some general comparisons to Switzerland, and then they asked me questions and we chatted for a bit about Taylor Swift and Friends and Avatar: The Last Airbender and yellow school buses. Mostly I was impressed by their level of English.

My favorite question of the day was, “Is it true that Americans are really bad at geography?” Which is a hard question to answer because I want to tell this fourteen-year-old that we’re not all idiots but clearly I am not the best representative here based on recent experience. We ended up chatting a bit about how fewer Americans tend to travel to other countries compared to Europeans, but the United States is also bigger than all of Europe so we have a lot of ground to cover in our own land and the states themselves are almost like little countries with different accents and traditions. But I do think that in general, Europeans (and Swiss people) tend to be a bit more worldly on average than Americans in terms of traveling, experiencing other cultures, and speaking multiple languages.

Over the weekend, we went to Mount Pilatus in Lucerne, which I learned is actually spelled Luzern since it’s in the German-speaking part of Switzerland. It’s basically a cable-car ride up to a fun café with some walking paths and great views if the clouds cooperate. A very touristy spot but for good reason, demonstrated by the photos below. Luzern itself is also beautiful with a lake and cobblestones and pretty buildings and mountains in the background and basically exactly what you think of when you imagine a Swiss town.

On my last night we made a very typical Swiss meal, which I was told is their version of macaroni and cheese but I felt compelled to break the news that it’s definitely not macaroni and cheese. It’s basically a mix of cooked pasta, cooked white potato cubes, and cream, topped with some grated cheese and baked in the oven for a while, and then after baking it’s topped with caramelized onions before serving. A bit heavy on the starch and cheese for my taste but the caramelized onion topping on pasta is a fun addition that I will be stealing for the future. If I magically come up with a good recipe I’ll post it.