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PIERROT ABROAD., Auckland Star, Volume XL, Issue 68, 20 March 1909
B4BEL AND ITS (WAYS. In Switzerland everybody is learning somebody else's language. Languages here are as much an object of passionate devotion as they are a matter of necessity. In fact, more so; for in a small initial acquaintance I have discovered peVsons who, for the sheer love of the thing,, have learned four or five tongues in addition to their own. French is, indeed, a sheer necessity, and English is a strong business asset; but when people get to Russian, one hardly imagines that their motives are purely mercenary. Tlie humours of language-learning are innumerable, but I will cite one incident that will throw some light on the extent of the language-fever in Lucerne. I entered a German cafe (as a matter of fact, all the chief cafes here are German) with the sole object of gaining half-an-hour's practice in that tongue. For, between ourselves, while my French is bad but rapid, my German is both slow and bad. I greeted mademoiselle the waitress, who was writing at a table from a book, in my deplorable GeTman; she replied in bad French. When she Ibrought my coffee I told her confidentially that I was trying to learn German. "And I am trying to learn English—moi," she said. "Voila ma grammaire!" And she worked on assiduously. Noble, indeed, is the desire for knowledge, but occasionally it leads to a dearth "of teachers! Talking of cafes, I have nothing but admiration for the Continental system as compared with the English, with which you are familiar in New Zealand. Such a thing as a public-house pure and simple does not exist. You enter a large, bright room, which is as orderly as a parish meeting, and you sit at a table apart. You know that coffee is always ready, and you know that it is as much the custom to drink coffee as to drink wine. You have all the leading foreign newspapers en the will, and you can have your drink in peace without incurring a reputation that 3'ou do not deserve. The ladies take coffee here with their husbands, or if they prefer a glass of wine the action is open and free from even the imputation of eccentric conduct. Wiy we preserve our idiotic system of the liquor-shop pure and simple I do not know,' especially seeing that there must be more profit in a cup of coffee at. fourpence than in a glass of good whisky at sixpence. Here, surely, is a hint for the temperance reformer. At last—after ten days of invisibility— the mountains have condescended to show themselves, although even now they are a little parsimonious with their charms. Nevertheless, so much as one can see is a revelation and a wonder. The lake is engirdled with great giants clad in blue for half their height and in purest white for the rest. The water, too, is a vague, misty blue, and the effect is wonderful, inspiring. When the sun set to-night the grandeur was beyond words. But one is always fated to have one's dreams interrupted, and as I returned in a pensive frame of mind I was suddenly confronted by a gigantic poster in German, which informed mc and other Englishmen somebody's shop was "all right." I do wish ers would learn some other English expression, and leave that monstrous phrase alone. Is it not strange that each race somehow regards the other as doing and saying a few things in one set way; whereas each nation, in its own selfconceit, regards itself as the quintessence of the universal spirit? Thus, on the journey here the dinner in the restaurantcar had for its piece-de-resistance a dish of roast beef. It is only on the Continent that one is given roast beef in a railway train. In England we eat like Frenchmen, but in France we have to eat ■like the Englishmen we are supposed to be. A town like Lucerne is in a peculiar situation. For three months of touristfleecing it grows fat and prosperous; for nine months it is undergoing a process of shrinkage, spending the money it has j made in its heyday. At present it is as I lean as its prices, which are extremely favourable to the purchaser; but. I am thinking hard on what to do for the summer, when anyone who bears the appearance of an Englishman has to pay 50 per cent, more as a tax upon the reputation of his race for generosity. I am seriously thinking of buying a swiss hat—for Swiss hats at their best are striking and characteristic. For example, there is a sort of clerical black hat which, combined with a short, melodramaticlooking cloak, gives the effect of a queer mixture of devotipn" _n. wickedness. Then there is the round fur cap—but that, of course, will not do for the summer. I do not mean to suggest that an overwhelming majority of the Swiss dress cUfferently from the rest of Europeans; but an Englishman is always a recognisable type if he does not take some desperate towards self-effacement. On the whole, I think that clerical hat might serve the purpose. ■ A characteristic of Lucerne is the number of its 'bridges. Three are to be found within 250 yards. But it is only just to add that these and two a little I remote are the sole bridges for miles. Two are notable in different ways—one for its antiquity; the other for its brazen newness. "The second is merely what we call a "sne bridge"— a structure used by the electric trams to pass from north to south; for Lucerne "is one of those seemingly most numerous waterdivided towns which lie north and south of their harbour, their river, their Uke. The other bridge is a most curious structure, a • covered passage of wood, ornamented inside by very old painted roof panels of religious subjects, and in the middle of which is a little chapel, with candles always burning. This quaint means of crossing a river has the great advantage that in wet weather it offers shelter from the rain. Lucarne offers striking proofs of the reading habits of the Germans, For example, an English railway bookstall is almost solely devoted to current fiction and light literature. Tne German station, on the other hand, is chastened by cheap editions, not Snly of all the best German authors, but of translations of the classics of England, France and Russia. I need hardly tell you that Shakespeare is as familiar in Germany as in England, and I am bound to say that the Schlegel-Tieck translation is good enough to account for the fact. In contrast is an opposite tendency—the prevalence of English and American penny dreadfuls, translated into both French and German. "Ned Carter" (or is it "Kick Carter:") anpears to be the favourite. The other day a doctor of letters turned froth discussing with mc quite profound questions of literary criticism to peruse the latest adventure of "Ned"—or "Nick Carter!" Perhaps after reading tbe longest sentences in a German newspaper a French, pennjr dreafiful is a relief. .
PIERROT ABROAD., Auckland Star, Volume XL, Issue 68, 20 March 1909
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