Trying to navigate in a language you don't know can be a challenge. Throw into that a lack of some of the consumerist conveniences of home and you have another hurdle. Top it off with the psychological differences between French versus Swiss grocery stores and you have a recipe for full-blown culture shock.
At times like these, it's good to know someone who a) speaks the language, b) has been here a while and knows their way around, and c) is willing and happy to help you on the fly. Repeatedly.
Whenever there's something we need or we're trying to figure out, we'll start talking about it and wondering how we can arrive at a solution sans French. Sometimes, we work ourselves into a frenzy over it. Occasionally, we only think about it for a moment. Invariably, though, the solution we arrive at is "Penny."
Who is "Penny," you ask? Penny is our work colleague. She's originally from the UK, but has lived in Switzerland and France for the last 16 years or so. She came here to do a three month internship and ended up staying. Penny is the person we turn to for everything. And I mean, e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g.
"We need to see if we can get cookie sheets and cooling racks. Do you think Carrefour would have those or will we have to go to Manor?"
"Let's ask Penny."
Turns out either of those would work, but so would going to Aligero--the Swiss equivalent of Costco. Thanks, Penny!
"I wonder where we can find a place that does facials and pedicures?"
"Dunno, but I'll bet Penny knows."
Why yes, yes she does. Urban Day Spa is a good bet. One day we'll get over there.
"Damn! I just called the Mobility guy about the car and he doesn't speak English. Do you think Penny would help with that?" Absolutely!
What about good Chinese? Penny. Or sushi? Penny. Or fondue? Penny. A good patisserie other than Brocards in St. Genis? Penny. How about clothes shopping or bookstores that sell English-language literature? Penny. Where does one go to buy good French wine that won't break the bank? Penny.
Or, how about why aren't we using electronic publishing software at work? Penny. Who do I contact about contesting a parking ticket? Penny. What is the history of this document and why is it still living when it should clearly be dead? Penny.
What's the best way to get to Provence? Penny. What is the Alpage and where can we go to see this phenomenon? Penny. What is the Escalade and why does it involve soup? Penny. Where can we go away for a weekend that is beautiful, but won't break the bank? Penny.
The answer to all things unknown is, very simply, Penny. She's a goddess and we'd be SOL without her.
Photo copyright for the Swiss Flag and Flowers: D.C. Confidential.
Photo source for the French Flag and Eiffel Tower: Getty Images. All rights reserved.