Thursday, June 5, 2008

Meeting the Neighbors... Ps. I've got flour.

Here some neighbors show their Swiss Pride in the run up to Euro 2008

The other day as I was leaving the apartment, I ran into one of our neighbors. Seeing as though we live in a 6 apartment building, you'd think this would be a common occurrence, but alas, it is not. A lot of bloggers have mentioned never seeing their neighbors so I took this opportunity at large and tried to make the most of it... however, I don't think my German skills really faired so well in this rushed exchange. Allow me to give you the translated version of the exchange, and what I realized I said only too late...

(Passing neighbor in stairwell...I'm going down, he up, as he's about a flight up, I yell after him..)

Me: Oh... hello! Do you live up top?

Neighbor: Yes.

Me: Oh! I am your neighbor! We live across from you. I know this isn't the best time, but I wanted to introduce myself.

Neighbor: Oh hello...(he says looking obviously scared for his life as I am now running up the stairs after him, with a bag of recycling, a garbage bag filled to the brim, and my purse swinging around, all of which I dropped at once onto the landing to extend my hand, he drops the 20 pounds of bottled water he is carrying to return the gesture... good start)

We exchange some small pleasantries about where we're from and how long we've been here... I can imagine this exchange is quite foreign to him, as I doubt he's met any of the neighbors before... who knows... all I know is I've run into a few other neighbors and they have only said 'Gruetzi' before shirking away. Let's skip ahead to the part I cringe over now.

Me: So feel free at any time to come over. I have flour. And butter.

Neighbor: Uh, oh, ok, thanks. Yeah, we'll have to knock.

Me: I mean, I know the supermarket is not far, but I have flour. If you need it. Just come on over.

Neighbor: Ok, thanks. (with a look on his face like, how do they let these people in... and why would I go over to her place for butter?!)

Now, let me explain. I was trying to do the average, neighborly (and as Jace explains overly American) thing and let him know that if he needed a cup of sugar or anything to just come on over.

But did I offer sugar? No. FLOUR of all things.

Did I try to explain that if he had an emergency or something or needed help to just ask? No.

Do the Swiss share their groceries here? Do they go a knocking for a cup of sugar or flour as it might be? No!

Does the only other person I know in the neighborhood think I might be nuts? Yes.

No doubt I came across as though I had some secret black market in my apartment. Great first impression. 'Come one, come all, get your flour! Great prices.' Who knows in this economy that might be exactly what he thought! I'll have bakers lined up around the block!

In the end, I think he understood what I meant to say and he said something like 'Ja, wir koennen uns nutzen' which roughly means 'We can use each other.' But whether or not he means 'use eachother' like in a neighborly way or in a 'if I need a quick hit because you've obviously got the goods' - flour included, I'll probably never know.


MattFM said...

Hahah! Funny story. You're right, sharing groceries is unheard of in most, if not all of Europe. If someone wants something, they go to a shop and get it. It was nice of you to offer though.

Jessica said...

LOL! I know, right! Lesson learned. From now on it's... hi my name is and that's it. It was like the worst neighbor pick up line ever...

So embarrassing! ;)

Adrian said...

Funny thing. I thought this would be different in America but I'm not seeing any difference around my residence.

I barely see neighbors and they all seem to avoid any contact or don't want to be roped into some small talk.

I'm not sure if this is because currently so many people are pouring into Austin, TX from other states or what.

Jessica said...

Hum.. perhaps my iconic America is dead. No more cup of sugar offered. No small talk. What gives!?

Update: A neighbor just said hello to me and introduced herself. She was in the laundry area during my day so she was probably embarrassed and didn't know what else to do (very taboo thing being in there on someone else's laundry day I understand, but I told her it was FINE.. absolutely fine. Keep you clothes hanging up. I won't throw a fit, I promise...). Regardless, she introduced herself.

Woah. ;)

M'dame Jo said...

Well, I'm swiss, living in Switzerland and I go to my neighbors to borrow sugar or flour when all shops are closed.

Doesn't really happen anymore since there are Coop Pronto everywhere.

And I also bring food to the nice lady upstairs when I cook too much.

But... now that I think of it... no one ever borrowed anything from me. Mmmh, they must think I'm a freak.

Sara in Geneva said...

That is a funny post.. I am a Canadian living in Geneva for the past 6 years. My observation on this at least in the French bit of Switzerland is that: You MUST say "Bonjour" to your neighbours in passing and you MUST NOT say anything else. If you either don't say hello or you ask "Comment allez vous?" (HOw are you?) you get the look of why are you being allowed to live in this country when you obviously haven't been briefed. (Came to your blog via SwissMiss--very fun trip)

Expat Traveler said...

I know this is a cultural thing. You stick to the friends you know and grew up with and do not meet new ones. You've already got enough friends and don't need to meet new ones... Thus the unfriendly never say more than hello attitude... At least that does exist a lot in Switzerland... Maybe not everywhere


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