If there were ideal candidate countries to symbolically represent the Tower of Babel, Switzerland would be for sure one of them.
With 4 official languages and 24% foreigners from all over the world (Swiss statistics website: http://goo.gl/uzKyFc), you can imagine how many languages can be heard in the small Confederation!
Apart from the Romansh, spoken in limited areas of Canton Graubunden (in the Southeast part of Switzerland), the other three official ones pretend to be well known European languages: German, French and Italian (in order of number of people speaking them). But they are actually not: they are just idioms and dialects resembling the languages of the three biggest countries founders of the European Union.
That’s why, for example, in Switzerland they don’t speak “German” (Deutsch), but they proudly speak “Swiss German” (Schwiizerdütsch). And therefore, when they mean the proper German language, they have to refer to it as “high” German (Hochdeutsch)!
Foreigners in a foreign country normally try to learn the local language to have a better integration. But in Switzerland, this is quite complicate: you can be the best student in your (high) German class, but then you go back to the reality hearing only Swiss German in the shops, on the bus, on the streets! Which is actually sounding like a totally different idiom. So different, that even a lot of Germans, at first, have difficulty to understand it!
The typical and most friendly Swiss will approach you mostly in English (somehow they are even able to recognize your non-Swissness from your appearance)!
And even if your German is not so bad, and you speak it out, they will go on in English…or say one or two words in their (high) German and then switch to English!
Hell! I want to speak German!
Yes, but my Swiss colleague (although it sounds strange) has to make quite an effort to speak high German, instead of roughly shouting his wild Swiss German.
Renouncing to speak German, unless you have been here for years and you can manage to understand the Swiss version of the German language, you have then a lot of choices. Or maybe not so many as you might wish.
In a group of friends or colleagues, there will often be the foreigner who cannot speak any German. Then everyone will switch to English…OK, actually to the Suissenglish, ve Italiano-english, ze Germanenglisch, se Frenschanglish, Croatianenglish, de E-Spanishenglish, etc.
So many languages, so many foreigners, so many cultures!
This is really great!
And if you are lucky, and if your language is not necessarily the Eskimo dialect spoken in Greenland, you will often find someone who can speak your language!
Many times even the Swiss can manage some foreign idioms…actually at their best the bad words of each foreign idiom.
This is also what is called “culture and knowledge of the populations of the world”, isn’t it?