Saturday, January 9, 2010

Schmutzli, the anti-Klaus

Christmas Eve Day in Basel saw us walking around the town center--unfortunately the Christmas Markets had already been dismantled. But there were still plenty of things to see, including the Lällekönig (tongue king), who literally sticks his tongue out at resident of "Lesser Basel" which is on the other side of the Rhine.
The river divides the city into 2 parts, Lesser and Greater Basel.

Be forewarned, this guy is hard to find as he's kind of jammed in an outside
corner of a restaurant along the river.

I also saw the symbol of Basel, the basilisk.

We had hot chocolate at one of the cutest tea shops in the world--
I don't remember the name but it's right in the main square with the Rathaus.

It's above a
chocolate shop and it's exactly how you would think a Swiss coffee shop would be.

It had little old lady waitresses wearing black uniforms and white aprons and the whole place was panelled with really dark wood. Each little individual table is wrought-iron with marble tops. The only thing missing were the cuckoo-clocks.

Everyone says Switzerland is expensive and they aren't kidding. For a hot chocolate and a tea, the bill was 12 Swiss Francs (which is almost a 1 to 1 ratio to US dollars).

However, the waitress did give us two of these free chocolates for Christmas, so I can't complain too much.

I learned how to say Merry Christmas is Swiss German, "Frohi Wiehnacht". I have to admit, I'm still a little confused on Swiss German.

As far as I understand, there is no official written Swiss German but all Swiss people can speak German, although this is a foreign language to them. Also, apparently German people have a hard time understanding Swiss German. And not all Swiss German is the same. In Basel, since it's so close to France you say "Merci" while in Zurich (which is about 1 hour away), you say "Danke" like in Germany. From what I was told, there is a big rivalry between the two cities because of this. Who would have thought?

And they say British and American English is different :D

One really neat thing we did was to visit the monument Dreilandereck which is where the 3 countries converge (Germany, France and Switzerland).

We also drove into Lorrach, Germany, but it was Christmas Eve and nothing was open so I can't say too much about it.

One thing I found so strange about Europe was the proliference of Roasted Chestnut stalls. I've never heard of this (outside of the Christmas carol).

A Spanish guy selling them in downtown Basel let us have a couple to try (again with the free samples--I love it!). I have to admit, they weren't my favorites. I think they're called marones in French and German, but the idea of chestnuts roasting on an open fire is much better in theory than in actual fact. They were huge and kind of chalky with very little real taste.

At the end of the day, we went to my friend Laura's parent's house for dinner. It was so great to see how a real Swiss family celebrates Christmas. First of all, they have the big celebration on Christmas Eve, not on Christmas Day like Americans.

We had a wonderful dinner including this mushroom pastry they made because I'm vegetarian. How nice!

After dinner, everyone opened their
gifts, but unfortunately Schmutzli didn't come by the house. He is Santa's little evil helper, aka the Scariest Thing Ever!

The Swiss Santa Claus is called Samichlaus and he, along with Schmutzli, will come to children's houses on Christmas Eve. They consult a book and if you've been good, Samichlaus will give you an orange or candy.

However, if you've been bad, Schmutzli will stuff you in his sack and take you away to the Black Forest, the whole time beating you with birch twigs!

This actually happened to my friend's 40-year old coworker! Well, he didn't get taken all the way to the Black Forest--the Schmutzli let him out of the sack at the end of his driveway. But still, I can only imagine you'd be scarred for life.

I don't think today's PC world lets Schmutzli get away with those sort of things nowadays.

It makes the American Santa Claus look pretty tame by comparison.


  1. Jesus, Santa's Little Helper is effing scary!

    So the situation between Swiss German and Standard German is called a Diglossia. It happens in the world sometimes. It also happens with Arabic. The version that people speak socially and the version that people speak in formal, public situations (schools, governments) are so different that they have to be studied separately.

    The wikipedia page is kind of technical but you can check it out:

    I always argued with the people (fellow teachers) studying linguistics here that this is starting to happen in Brazil. And then they say dumb things like "no, Brazilians just don't know how to speak the "right" Portuguese!" and then I want to slap them. But it turns out that, according to the Wikipedia page, Brazilian linguists agree with me.

    Anyway, fun!

    And did the 40-year-old neighbor tell you that the Schmutli took him away? Was he joking, or crazy, or did he think that you were 6?


  2. I know! Did u click on the link?! Apparently, Schmutzli isn't even the scariest of the bunch. there's one called Krank or something, who looks like the devil, for real!~