Living with The Ambassador – Part 1

May 13, 2011

My husband (Darrell) and I usually live in Bellingham, WA, but when we got the chance to temporarily move to Switzerland, we jumped at the chance and have been here since September. Knowing that we would be here for a year, we couldn’t imagine leaving our 13 year old dog (Fiona) behind, so she is now a Swiss dog and we’ve never looked back on that decision. She has her own pet “passport”, has learned to love cheese, and now knows a few German phrases.

The three of us have a different life style here, with one of the biggest changes being that we don’t own a car. All of our travel is done by train or bike so we needed to buy Fiona a train pass and a kinder cart that attaches to the back of Darrell’s bike for her to ride in. She quickly mastered the train and has even done an unplanned trip by herself (that is another story).

The train has turned out to be a marvelous place to meet people, and having Fiona along has made it so easy that we call her “The Ambassador”. For us living in a foreign land, connecting to the people is part of the adventure and helps us become part of this world. Often the connections are fleeting – for only as long as the next stop, but sometimes we make what are likely to be lifelong friendships, or at the very least Facebook friendships. You know right away that someone is going to start talking to you because of Fiona. They change their body position, look at Fiona, glance at you, lingering looks at Fiona, eye contact with you, and then the conversation begins. It has turned out to be great practice for our German as well, all you need to do is listen for a few key words when someone is looking at your dog, but talking to you –for example, if we hear a phrase that includes the German words for “old” or “breed”, we know they are asking: how old is she? or what breed is she? Conversation then can continue into more complex topics like if she is from the USA, how we brought her here, if she likes it here, and so on… We learn about their dogs if they have one, about their experience in the US if they’ve been, where they live now, about their children… and this all starts because of The Ambassador.

We are lucky that Fiona is a mellow dog. She doesn’t bark and has intelligent eyes rimmed in black eye-liner that she uses to lure people in. This happens when we are not using the trains also. If we leave her alone outside of the grocery store, we can come back to find people petting her. We’ve been able to use her to meet our neighbors – for example our downstairs neighbor has a little girl (Jasmine) who is afraid of dogs. Darrell helped her learn how to approach Fiona and pet her. Now, anytime Jasmine is outside when we come home with Fiona, she comes running up to us shouting out Fiona’s name, approaches her cautiously and pets her. We have other neighbors that often come and take Fiona for walks because they like to show her off to their friends in our village.

Being from the Pacific Northwest, we do like microbrewed beers, which are a challenge to find here – but find one we did. They are only open 1 day a month, so we don’t go often. It is in a small village and most of the patrons are locals. The first time we went, Fiona found a way to stick her head under a stranger’s hand for petting; that hand complied for most of the night. The next time we went was 2 months later and the owner of that hand was there. He recognized Fiona first and then gave us a big, warm hello. We now know several of the cast of characters from this village and always feel welcome, just like Cheers… where everyone knows Fiona’s name.

About the guest bloggers – Ruth and Darrell Sofield are living near Zurich until September, 2011. They are keeping a blog of their adventures here. Fiona has given up on the common leash and only wears the Release-N-Run from Rad Dog. It works as well in the urban environments of Switzerland as in the backcountry. Have fun connecting!

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