This post will change your life, or maybe mine.

May 18, 2010, 2 Comments

The thing about working in a bookshop, especially an English Bookshop in a non-English-speaking country, is that you get to know your regular customers rather well. You know that Mr X likes Tudor history books, that Ms Y will be in for her twice-weekly chat, and the Mr Z will ask again tomorrow what the new Michael Scott novel is called (still The Necromancer) and when it will be published (still May 27th). It’s like being at the centre of a community in microcosm. And sometimes being a part of that mini-community brings surprises; or even more than one.

After three weeks in temporary quarters, the English Bookshop in Bern now has a permanent new home, all stylishly modern yet somehow still cosy. And the customers love it. Who said that the Swiss didn’t like change? Not one single negative comment yet, which is probably a record given that many Swiss like to grumble as much as the British. That was Surprise Number One. The second came in the form of an American customer who saw the poster for my book and asked me about it. After listening carefully, she said ‘This book will change your life.’ I thought that was overstating it a tad. I’m not about to give up the day-job or be the next Bill Bryson just yet. But today I had a taste of what is coming up. Today I did my first interview for Swiss Watching, with a very nice young man from the Berner Zeitung. It was all in German, which seemed odd at first given that the book is in English, but it went swimmingly and we both left happy. As if that wasn’t enough, I then got an email from my publisher in London to say that I’m going to be on BBC Radio 4 in a few weeks.

This time last year I didn’t even have a contract for my book and now it’s going to be reviewed in newspapers, talked about on the radio and sold in bookshops all over the place. In exactly three weeks I’ll be standing in front of 120 people at the London launch, hoping that at least some of them enjoy reading my book as much as I did writing it. What started with one little sentence written in a Geneva writers’ workshop has become a big part of my life here in Bern. My book most probably won’t change that life but it’s certainly making it much more interesting.

Of course the best thing about working in an English bookshop abroad has nothing to do with me having written a book; it’s the neverending potential for misunderstandings. My favourites are the slight differences in pronunciation that come from talking with an accent. Here, for example, a ‘g’ and a ‘k’ often sound very similar, especially in English. A colleague once asked me why British people never hadn’t any glue (as opposed to not having a clue). Or me offering a Swiss friend a fig, which she heard as something slightly different – just change the vowel in the German word ‘fick’ to understand that one. Best of all was the customer who wanted the book ‘about a shag in the woods with Jesus’. I couldn’t give a fig (now I know where that phrase comes from; surely someone somewhere misheard it?) about embarrassing myself but it’s not the done thing to laugh at others. Never have my face muscles twitched so much in an effort not to laugh. I managed, but only just, and found her the book – The Shack by William Paul Young, all about a man rediscovering his faith in an isolated log cabin. Definitely no shagging in that shack.

2 Comments on "This post will change your life, or maybe mine."

  1. Janie Friday May 21st, 2010 at 12:02 AM · Reply

    Since I would love to live in Switzerland, I really love to hear about what the people are like and how they live. I love your website because it gives me that information. Thanks, and please keep writing. The cultural difference are interesting. Americans tend to smile a lot at least in the South. Do Swiss really act grumpy? Why? They live in such a beautiful country. Just looking the beautiful pictures of Switzerland makes me smile.

  2. swisswatching Friday May 21st, 2010 at 06:52 AM · Reply

    Hi Janie, and thanks for the comment. The Swiss aren’t really that grumpy, at least no more so than the British. They are just a little more reserved in public, and especially with strangers. I smile a lot, and get some rather funny looks in return, probably because they just aren’t used to people doing that without a reason. But the Swiss do smile and laugh and tell jokes, though humour in Switzerland is like sex and gambling – something best done in the privacy of your own home.

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