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My First Swiss German

I didn’t feel accepted in Switzerland until I mastered my first Swiss German phrase – then suddenly, doors opened…

You know how it is, arrival doesn’t seem so bad when so many people speak such good English. Then you start practising your German, and it is as if a curtain comes down.

Like many Brits, I didn’t learn any German in school, and the rudimentary school French from less than two hours a week seemed irrelevant in Basel. And they didn’t understand it in the Alsace either. However, I went on a course, and began to use a few words here and there.

The first time I tried to use my non-existent fluency was at the local Kiosk to buy a bar of chocolate (always go to your lessons hungry – it does wonders for sharpening the concentration!). I’d wait in line, then when it was my turn I’d ask “Haben Sie eine Mars, bitte?” only to feel completely ignored.

This went on for a few weeks until my ears had tuned in a little better and I realised nobody else in the queue asked in quite the same way. It sounded a little like “Hanzeeeineshockeeoder” which I thought was rather rude as in the UK you don’t mention a persons body odour face to face, particularly if you think it is shocking.

Coming up towards the end of October, the man with the loud voice that I usually listened to in the queue must have been ill, or on holiday, and I had to listen to quieter folk. They used a shorter version “Hanzeeeineshokee?” which seemed to get an extra smile from the assistant.

Must be something to do with halloween, I thought to myself, smiling at the tricks some kids play on the unwary. Maybe the assistant had had quite a big shock this morning from her kids?

One day I was feeling brave, and decided to try out my “Swiss German” skills. “Hanzeeeineshokee?” I asked innocently, to be met with the warmest smile from the assistant, accompanied by two or three other fine sentences in Basel Dytsch and the promptest service I had ever had! I had no clue what she had said, but for the first time I felt accepted and treated like any other Swiss customer.

Later I discovered that in Swiss German “Haben” is shortened to “Han” and Sie is added in as a suffix, pronounced with a “z” and not an “s” sound, and that a “Shokee” is really a “Schoggi” – a chocolate bar. Sounds obvious now, but at the time it was like a switch being turned on in a darkened room. Most illuminating!

Next time you want to use “Haben Sie…” try “Hanzee…” instead and see the difference it makes!

2003-11-15 00:00:00


Comment from debra sun
Time 27th April, 2009 at 3:40 pm

thanks for that … lol… that was as very enlightening

Comment from Steph
Time 21st March, 2012 at 5:08 am

Hi there! I was born snd raised in Basel and it s so funny how you explained the ‘hanzeeshokee’ !! lol

Never thought one can explain it like that! Well, compliments on the teacher and the student for handling Baseldütsch so well! Keep it up!!

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