Learning how to breathe


This morning, I attended my first Class Coffee of the year. I dread these due to a rather unfortunate encounter at one such coffee last year, in which a woman interrogated me over details of my husband’s job in a manner befitting a member of NCIS. I still refer to her as The Interrogator, although perhaps I should have called her The Accuser as she apparently believed me misinformed as to where my husband works. Fortunately, I’ve learned to ask the questions as opposed to answering them.

We met for coffee at a park directly across the street from the grocery store. I planned to shop after the meeting, so I parked in the garage beneath the shop, noticing only after I pulled up to the barrier the sign pointing out a 90 minute time limit. I hatched a plan to finish with both the coffee and the shopping in exactly 90 minutes. I almost synchronized my watch because, hello, this is Switzerland. Which also explains why a grocery store in the middle of the suburbs requires you to pay for parking as well as your bags and your shopping cart. I arrived at the coffee only to realize I grossly underestimated the amount of time it would take to discuss our thoughts on this year’s teacher, why none of us can speak German, and where we all lived prior to moving to Zürich.

I made it back to the car within my 90 minutes, but without a cart full of groceries. I did the only logical thing. I paid for parking, got in my car, drove out, turned around and drove right back in again. As I pulled back in, I waited a moment, fully expecting someone to jump out and perform a citizen’s arrest. The Swiss don’t take too kindly to rule benders, especially when it comes to parking. I know this from personal experience, and while it’s disconcerting to be yelled at by strangers, I find it especially uncomfortable when I can’t understand a word the person says. How do I respond? What do I do? Who am I? Why did I sign up for this? All valid questions when confronted over flagrant displays of parking subterfuge. People often ask me what it’s like to live overseas, and I want to tell them this. This is exactly what it is like. It isn’t all gorgeous views and weekend travels. It’s holding your breath for three years and wondering if you’ll ever breathe easy again and then one day, finding that you do. Even when faced with a fantasy citizen’s arrest, or a cashier asking you why you didn’t weigh your broccoli, or an Interrogator at a friendly class coffee. It’s like learning how to breathe all over again.