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Old 06.08.2021, 12:56
Caryl Caryl is offline
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Re: Military Service for Dual Citizen who only speaks English

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Thanks for the typical Swiss perspective.


My parents raised me American, not Swiss. I came here on a whim, because I heard the labor market is better for degree holders in Switzerland. And this proved to be true. "It's common knowledge" is condescending to someone who didn't grow up with Swiss culture or knowledge of the many rules they have here.

That is true for me too. My mum spoke Aargauish to my grandmother who lived with us when I was little. But no effort was made to teach me any kind of German: that was the early 1940s and German was a Nazi language, and people around us did not distinguish between Swiss German and German German.

I did take a year of German in college and can get around. I spent some time re-learning to read last year so I could read the bio of Paul Grüninger. I got 1/3 the way through it when I discovered that sells it in French translation. (It did please me -- I have a PhD from a Belgian university and speak only in French to my grandson -- to discover I'd got 2/3 of the sense of the German version of the book.)

But still -- at age 80 -- it's a challenge to improve my German. When I lived briefly in Zürich with my grandfather in 1961 (he told jokes on stage in Vaudeville in six languages), all educated Swiss spoke French: I was under no pressure to speak German, or more accurately my interlocutors had no incentive to respond to my bad German.

Today in Switzerland as in Belgium, French is the lingua franca. Here's the reason: (a 1997 article from Le Temps: speaking English is worth 15% more in lifetime earnings).

I came to Switzerland in 1991 as a U.S. diplomat in Geneva. My youngest kids went to Geneva schools. They already spoke French natively from having attended French schools in Korea, Algeria, Ivory Coast...; the teachers' attitude was not to push them to learn German because "you already speak English". The older of the two is married to a Frenchman. She works in San Francisco and speaks to her husband, whose English is mediocre, only in French. Neither of them has bothered to teach their daughters -- who have U.S., Swiss, French and British nationality -- French at all. More's the pity. And it's why my eldest daughter (a single mum) and I follow OPOL with her son: from birth he and I have spoken only French, with his mum he speaks English. He attends a French school in London. But: how's he going to learn any German? Not from me, nor from his mum who did get an A in O Level/GCSE German. Not that it proves anything, more's the pity.

My mum, who emigrated to NYC in 1917 at age 4, had her Swiss nationality restored in the 1980s and encouraged me to apply for facilitated naturalisation after I retired from the State Dept. in 1993. Today I, my 4 children and my 9 grandchildren have Swiss nationality. Some of them went to French elementary schools to age 10 or 11. Only the grandson who lives with me speaks native French. He is autistic in the way of Alan Turing, 3 years ahead of his class in maths. We own a home in Valais; whether he is likely to move there or not some day nobody can say: it's my registered domicile and if it weren't for COVID-19 I'd be there now.

Last edited by Caryl; 06.08.2021 at 13:06.
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