06.20.2013 - 06.20.2013 76 °F
“Call me Momo,” our 30-something waiter said almost in a whisper, flashing a subtle smile of perfect white teeth. Momo is a handsome Egyptian whose name is Mohammed. When we walked onto the dining patio, he greeted us with hello in four languages.
I responded with “Bonjourno,” one of three Italian words I know.
“Oh, Italiano,” he said, rattling off a few Italian sentences.
“Uh, no, Americano,” I said sheepishly.
“Ah, good,” he said, “I need to practice my English."
We were having dinner at the Stella del Lago, a hotel and ristorante in the small lakeside village of Hiltfinger. Sheri and I had had a drink there earlier in the day after our morning walk. Our waiter who served our drinks then was a friendly Italian who charmed Sheri with two words, “Ciao, Bella” upon our departure. When I had asked him for a local beer, he brought me a Moretti. “Good Italian, local beer,” he said, laughing.
Now, at dinner, Momo banters with us for ten minutes, and we learn than Momo has lived in Switzerland for eight years. He’s worked as a waiter for the entire time at the restaurant. He lives with his wife in Bern and commutes by bus and train. His best friend is an American who’s from New Jersey who also works at the restaurant.
Switzerland has four official languages. Momo speaks six. Sheri asks him, “Is that ever confusing having all that stuff in your head."
“Sometimes," he says.
I wonder what that would be like—being able to speak six languages fluently. Would you use different languages for different tasks? German for giving orders? Italian for flirting? French for cooking?
Earlier in the week while having dinner in Lucerne, I eavesdrop on the conversation of a couple next to us. They bounce from Swiss-German to Italian to French to English. So why do you do that? Are certain thoughts or ideas expressed better in one language rather than another? Or maybe they’re just showing off. Regardless, I’m jealous.